Grappling Bulletin: The New Wave of Grapplers is Making The Gi Cool Again

Grappling Bulletin: The New Wave of Grapplers is Making The Gi Cool Again

The gi is dead, long live the gi! No-gi is booming and we love it but the gi isn't going anywhere, as we learned this weekend at the Brazilian Nationals.

Oct 4, 2021 by Hywel Teague

You may have guessed that we really, really like no-gi here at FloGrappling. From working with the best no-gi tournament in the world (ADCC) to investing in our own ongoing series of events (WNO), we're all about making this spectator-friendly subset of jiu-jitsu a go-to for grappling fans all over the world. 

If you think that we've forsaken the gi then you're very, very wrong. Every single member of the FloGrappling team trains in the gi, just like the vast majority of global jiu-jitsu practitioners. We love the gi, and we always will. 

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There has always been a divide between the tribes of gi and no-gi, but there's greater crossover than some would like to admit. Gi practitioners often dabble in no-gi– some more than others. On the flip side, rarely will you find a no-gi grappler in the gi (it practically goes against their religion). 

Whether you're a gi aficionado or a diehard no-gi fanatic, it's possible to appreciate and enjoy both. It's harder to convince a no-gi viewer of the appeal of the gi, but a new generation of competitors is making this a lot easier. 

Here at FloGrappling we've been closely monitoring the comeback of gi competitions. The recent IBJJF Pan Championships in Florida gave us a look at a coming wave of exciting new grapplers, and that continued at the Brazilian National Championships in Rio de Janeiro as an entirely new roster of champions was crowned. 

Dive in as we discuss the future of gi jiu-jitsu and how this could impact the upcoming World Championships in December. All this and more in today's Grappling Bulletin. 

Jiu-Jitsu Looked Brand New at Brazilian Nationals  

A new wave of champions are changing the face of gi jiu-jiutsu

Quick fact: At the 2021 IBJJF Pans in September, six of the 10 male black belt champs were first-time champs. 60% is a respectable number when you're talking about the future stars of jiu-jitsu making their mark on the sport. You know what's better than 60%? Try 100%

As impressive as Pans was, even more astounding is the fact that every single one of the male black belt gold medalists at the 2021 IBJJF Brazilian Nationals was a first-time champion. That's right– 10 gold medals, 10 brand new faces on top of the podium. 

Compare that with 2019, the last time the Brazilian Nationals were held, when only 5 of the 10 champs were first-timers. 

The most impressive performance of the tournament belonged to 23-year-old Matheus Gabriel of Checkmat, the 2019 IBJJF World Champion who until a few months ago had not competed in any kind of grappling tournament in Brazil since he was a teenage blue belt. Gabriel stormed to lightweight gold, winning four matches by submission, including a stunning armbar from the 50-50 guard. That's not the first time he's taken out his opponents with this submission– look back to his match on BJJ Bet just a few months ago as you'll see him do the exact same thing. He'll be going for his second IBJJF World title in December, and will be a favorite to take home the gold. He has a go-forward game that can see him snag armbars from all manner of different entries and lightweights can learn from a lot from his aggressive style. 

Erich Munis of Dream Art took double gold, claiming super-heavyweight and absolute gold. The lanky black belt's lasso guard is his strongest weapon and he uses it to tie-up and off-balance his opponents but don't be deceived– once he gets on top he has fast footwork and very mobile passing. Munis is among the best of the brand new heavier grapplers and could be a serious contender to take absolute gold in December. 

Another name to watch out for is Fabricio Andrey of Fight Sports, who recently took bronze at Pans. Andrey's highly-charged style is always worth watching as he throws himself around the mats in search of the submission. From lightning-fast takedowns to relentless guard passing and savage submissions, he is a highlight reel waiting to happen and has a hunger and drive that could see him cause some upsets come December. 

So what's causing this changing of the guard? There are a number of factors: 

It's natural that generations change every few years

Nothing stays the same forever, and it should be expected that as athletes rise through the ranks and arrive in the black belt divisions that the hungriest and most talented will eventually win gold. Some exceptional athletes win sooner than others, with the very best winning in their first season competing as a black belt (the "rookie year"). 

A number of the more established Brazilian veterans weren't at the tournament 

The Brazilian Nationals is considered one of the toughest tournaments to win in the world, and competitors usually try and get it out of the way early in their career. Established veterans often skip it and prioritize Worlds, instead. That's exactly what Leandro Lo and Felipe Pena did, as they're currently quarantining in Mexico right now. They plan to spend a solid two months in the USA leading up to Worlds, which would have prevented them for competing at Brazilian Nationals. 

Travel restrictions are still a factor to consider 

Very often Brazilians based outside of their home country will fly back to compete at Brazilian Nationals. With U.S. borders closed to anybody except citizens or green card holders, non-immigrant residents have to jump through costly and often-prohibitive hoops to gain re-entry into the U.S. As such, many competitors would have chosen to stay in the USA and not risk being able to not get back into the country. 

Many competitors have changed their focus 

While it's hard to point to an exact number, the last few years of uncertainty has caused a lot of full-time competitors to shift focus from the non-stop grind of training and competing to explore other opportunities, such as opening gyms. With a reduced calendar in effect since March of 2020, the IBJJF's year-long season has been compressed into the final four months of 2021. Veterans on the cusp of retirement or up-and-comers unable to make living without regular competitions have opted to go elsewhere. We may see them back, but many notable names skipped Pans and the same applies to Brazilian Nationals. 

Take a quick look at the winners of the 2021 IBJJF Brazilian nationals and make a note of their names; you're likely to see in action a lot more from here on out. 

The women's divisions were equally novel, with only one champion having won Brazilian National gold before. Bianca Basilio was the lone returning champion, while the remainder were all first-timers. Much like the men's divisions, this signals a shift in the status quo and a possible sign of things to come at Worlds. 

  • Roosterweight: Mariana Rolszt
  • Light-featherweight: Ana Rodrigues
  • Featherweight: Bianca Basilio
  • Lightweight: Luciane dos Santos Silva
  • Middleweight: Éricka Wannessa Almeida
  • Medium-heavyweight: Sabatha Laís
  • Heavyweight: Graciele Del Fava de Carvalho
  • Super-heavyweight: Yara Soares
  • Absolute: Gabrieli Pessanha

Also worth noting is the fact that the CBJJ, the Brazilian national federation that is part of the IBJJF, awarded cash prizes to all black belt division winners. 

Male black belt champions got R$6000 (approx $1100) while female black belt champs took home R$5000 (approx $930). The absolute winners got R$9000 (male) and R$7000 (female), which comes to about $1670 and $1300. 

IBJJF World is BACK, but You'll Need the Vacc

IBJJF announced first World Championships since 2019

For the first time since June of 2019 the IBJJF will host a World Championship! And the timing couldn't be better, because the USA just announced that fully-vaccinated travelers from Europe, the UK and Brazil can enter the U.S. as of mid-November. 

We've already heard that a number of big names are in, such as Leandro Lo and Felipe Pena like we mentioned earlier, but this also opens up the possibility for the new powerhouse team Dream Art to send a squad. You can see who's registered by clicking on this link to the IBJJF website

Watch Live

Due to the reduced calendar black belts will only need 36⁠ ranking points to enter the tournament, and the IBJJF has a few more events between now and then at which to get those all-important points. 

The event will take place at the Anaheim Convention Center in California, and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test dated within 72 hours will be required to enter the building. More details here.

Upcoming Events on FloGrappling

How Will Heel Hooks Shape the IBJJF World No-Gi Championships?

No-Gi Worlds starts on Thursday, October 7 and we'll be live-streaming the entire event on FloGrappling. 

Every single division is worth exploring and should offer some exciting matches, but the middleweight division stands out. 40 athletes are registered for the male black belt middleweight division at No-Gi Worlds, making it the deepest of the tournament. That roster includes six ADCC veterans, three returning IBJJF no-gi world champs, and one Levi Jones-Leary looking to make his no-gi debut as a black belt.

For the first time ever, heel hooks will be allowed for adult black and brown belts at No-Gi Worlds. 

We're expecting a lot of leg submissions now that twisting leg locks are fair game, but the leg attacks open up interesting counters and even reversals, meaning we could see very different jiu-jitsu than we have in previous years. 

Will we see a wildly different podium? I doubt it. The best can operate under many different rulesets and the inclusion of leg locks doesn't change things that much for the elite no-gi grapplers. 

The IBJJF allowing heel hooks has brought out a lot of new faces, such as Bellator MMA fighter Jay Jay Wilson, 8-0 in MMA with 4 submissions, 10th Planet figures including PJ Barch and Alan Sanchez, and even 2017 IBJJF World No-Gi champ and former KASAI champion Renato Canuto. 

WNO: The Return of Gordon Ryan

The king of no-gi grappling, Gordon Ryan will return to action in a special exhibition match that pits him against UFC fighter Philip Rowe. With no official winner or loser, the match will continue for 15 minutes. If either man taps out, they will reset standing and go again. Gordon's already promising that this means he'll show a lot more of game than we'd usually see in a regular grappling match. 

The main event will determine champions in our 125lb and 135lb women’s divisions. Beatriz Mesquita vs Luiza Monteiro headlines the show in a 135lb title match, and Ffion Davies and Nathalie Ribeiro tussle for the 125lb strap. 

Also announced: Oliver Taza vs Levi Jones-Leary, who will compete no-gi for the first time since he was a purple belt. Taza is coming off a grueling performance that saw him win the ADCC European Trials and qualify for the 2022 ADCC World Championships.

ADCC Trials Will Set A New Record

Registration is open until October 6 for the 1st ADCC North American Trials. The tournament is set to become the biggest Trials in US history, with over 350 competitors already registered and hungry for that spot at the 2022 ADCC Worlds. 

The list of entrants won’t be made public until a few days before the event, but we’ve heard from many high level grapplers they intend to go all-in and claim their place at the big show. If you can't make it you can watch it live on on demand on FloGrappling on November 6-7, 2021. 

News & Results 

ADCC Trials Canceled 

The ADCC Asia & Oceania qualifier, which was due to take place in Singapore on December 11, 2021, has been postponed because of ongoing problems with the pandemic. Considering the current challenges, ADCC have decided to postpone the Asia & Oceania Trial until late spring 2022. More information as we get it. 

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PJ Barch defeated Johnny Tama via heel hook just 52 seconds into the grand prix final to win $10,000. Barch showed off his leg lock skills throughout the tournament,  earning a decision victory in the semifinal after a leg lock shootout with a dangerous leglocker, [Pierre Oliver Leclerc].

Leclerc had a standout performance in the GP, submitting Mathias Luna and Aaron Willson with heel hooks before falling to Barch in the semis. 

EBI is coming back in Spring 2022

After a long hiatus, Eddie Bravo has announced that he is bringing back the EBI tournaments that helped change the face of submission-only grappling. Speaking at his Combat Jiu-Jitsu event in Mexico, he said that starting in Spring of 2022 he will start alternating between EBI and Combat Jiu-Jitsu events. 

"We've got a couple of big names confirmed," said Bravo. "The first show is going to be the welterweights, we've got Tye Ruotolo, Nicky Ryan and Nathan Orchard all coming back for ya."  

Live stream upcoming events on FloGrappling 

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Dec 9-12, 2021, TBD