Worlds has been my favorite tournament to watch for a long time. Since I first saw videos from the Tijuca Tennis Club, to the first time I got to watch the black belt finals live from the Pyramid at Long Beach. There's something very special about Sunday at worlds, and it’s something I believe every jiu-jiteiro should experience. Watching the lower belts during the days leading up to the big show on Sunday is great as well, but there is something electric about seeing the black belt brackets play out, especially when the team title is on the line. All the teams sitting together to cheer and chant. Coaches and training partners pace just as nervously as the athletes. Competitors glance across the mat to eye up their opponents. It’s amazing.
Jiu-jitsu fans might not have March Madness, but jiu-jitsu has no shortage of brackets. Let’s take a look at this year’s adult black belt division. I have some predictions to make, and I’m curious to hear your thoughts as well.
Semis: Bruno Malfacine, Rafael “Barata” Freitas, Joao Miyao, Caio Terra
15 competitors is more than most years for rooster, which is usually a mix of Brazilian stand outs and Japanese wild cards. I think this is the year Joao breaks through and beats Bruno. Father time has to catch up with him eventually, and he has been dominant for almost 9 years, winning 7 times and taking silver twice.
Semis: Paulo Miyao, Gianni Grippo, Isaac Donnderlien, Ary faryas
One of the most interesting divisions just got more interesting. Gui, who had been holding the division down for years, has retired. Young American standouts like Gianni Grippo, Michael Musumeci, and Isaac Donderlien are hungry to become the third American Mundial champion. Ary is back from mini retirement, and veteran competitors like Daniel Belleza are still out there to show they can hang with young guns. I pick Ary to take it all. The last time he made it to the finals a close out with Gui was the only thing keeping him from his first world title.
Semis: Rafa Mendes, Cobrinha, Marcio Andre, Osvaldo Moizinho
Can anyone beat Rafa in the gi? Rafa may be the Mayweather of BJJ. While not always exciting, his technique is superb and he knows how to edge out just about anyone. Mario Reis out of the division opens up the opportunity for more young guys to make a run to the podium. In this respect, Marcio Andre and Queixinho are my picks to follow Rafa.
Semis: Lucas Lepri, Michael Langhi, Jonathan Torres, Michael Liera Jr
This division, as always, is just packed. Lucas and Michael are back in it. I believe no other teammates combined have earned more medals in any division. They are sure picks to make it to the semifinals, and I believe Michael Liera and JT from Atos will round out the semis. After that, I predict JT wins it all this year. He has wins over both Michael and Lucas already, and I think he puts that knowledge and years of high-level competition experience together to become the third American win Worlds.
Semis: Otavio Souza, Yago Souza, Claudio Calasans, Lucas Leite
Middleweight is completely stacked. Not only does it have 36 competitors, but there are so many guys that given a good day any one of them could come away with it all. Yago Souza, to me, is the standout competitor though. He has been running hot all year and I believe he will continue to do so, taking that momentum all the way to the top of the podium for gold.
Semis: Keenan Cornelius, Murilo Santana, Leandro Lo, Tarsis Humphreis
This is always an interesting weight class, I think Veterans like Tarsis and Romulo always have a chance to repeat, so I’m hesitant to count them out. At the same time, Leandro is a monster who may just move up one more time next year and conquer another weight class. For this year, however, I think he will add another gold medal to his collection.
Semis: Andre Galvao, Dimitrous Souza, Erberth Santos, Felipe Pena
Heavyweight will be Felipe and Galvao again. I can’t see this division playing out any other way. Galvao is my pick to run wild through the field, and I know that feels like the easy pick, but it’s hard to make an argument against it. Erberth Santos had some big wins at Abu Dhabi Pro, so he could play spoiler and make his way to the finals, but I don’t think he can find the same success in ten minute matches. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more from him in the future, though.
Semis: Leo Nogueira, Luis Panza, Cavaca, Bernardo Faria
Bernardo all the way. The man is one fire. Cavaca and Panza present some interesting threats as two of the best footlockers in the tournament. So while my pick is Bernardo, it is possible that we could see a big upset via botinha.
Semis: Buchecha, Cyborg, Aly, Rocha
This is Buchecha’s world, and he’s kind enough to let us live in it. He is the clear favorite here. Cyborg and Joao Gabriel Rocha may be able to give him a run for his money, but up until now I haven’t seen a performance from them that suggests they could dethrone the king.
Finals: Buchecha vs Bernardo
Open weight as always will be wild. Without seeing the brackets, predicting the semis is tough. But it will be some combination of Buchecha, Bernardo, Galvao (if he enters), and Leandro Lo. Leandro has been moving up weight classes to fare better in the absolute, but Bernardo has been able to overcome him. Bernardo’s heavy passing style and his half guard game give him an advantage over Leandro’s game. Meanwhile, Andre has all the tools but has come up short when matched-up against the likes of Buchecha, who also possess all the tools but has a much bigger engine.
Finals: Bruna do Nascimento vs Sofia Amarante
Sofia Amarante is a very tiny wrecking machine, but a wrecking machine nonetheless. Bruna will put up a good fight, and she could pull off the upset, but Sofia is our favorite to win this division.
Finals: Gezary Matuda vs Kristina Barlaan
Gezary Matuda is one of the most exciting BJJ fighters of our generation. I expect her to submit her way to the final to meet Kristina Barlaan in what should be a very entertaining final. I pick Gezary to take the title in the end.
Finals: Mackenzie Dern vs Michele Nicolini
There is no other way I see this division ending. These are two of the most dominant female grapplers in history, and this final should be one of the best matches of the tournament. Dern has come out on top in recent matches, so I give her the nod here. However, Dern’s recent focus on MMA might have distracted her from pure BJJ, so Nicolini could still come out ahead.
Finals: Bea Mezquita vs. Sarah Black
Bea will continue her stranglehold on the division. Sarah Black is a worthy competitor, but I don’t see any one getting through Bea’s pressure game.
Finals: Luiza Monteiro vs Monique Elias
Middleweight will come down to Luiza Monteiro and Monique Elias. Both women have amazing open guards, so this will be a great match to watch. At the end of the day, I think Monique takes it.
Finals: SIjara Banks and Andresa Correa
Sijara Banks and Andresa will make their way to the finals. These competitors are really close in skill, so this will be a tightly contested match. I expect Andresa to outpoint Sihara in the final, but it will be razor close.
Finals: Domynika Obylente vs Talita Nogueira
Dom, as her friends call her, should sweep this division. This east coast grappler is a talented athlete, and the other competitors in her division have struggled to keep up. An upset is always possible, but Dom is the clear favorite from where I’m sitting.
Finals: Domynika Obylente vs Mackenzie Dern
The absolute division was built to create great stories. Dom vs. Dern will be a lot of fun to watch, but Dom’s size coupled with her technique makes her a tough match for Dern. There’s a chance Dern pulls out the win, but the safer prediction is that Dom outpoints Dern after a close match.
What are your predictions? Where do you disagree? Share your thoughts!