picture of Erich Munis

A New Wave is Making The Gi Exciting Again

Oct 5, 2021

A new wave of champions is 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.