With no other major tournaments on schedule until the end of the year, let’s take the time to look back and see who were the top ten jiu-jitsu competitors during the 2011 competition season. (These rankings will be based on the results of all major tournaments, gi and no-gi included.)

10. Kron Gracie

Although he fell just short of winning his first World Championship at black belt, Gracie’s overall year cannot be overlooked, as I believe 2011 was Gracie’s break-out year as a black belt. Not only did he have sensational wins at the Worlds against Leandro “Lo,” Michael Langhi and Rafael “Formiga” Barbosa, but he was also one of the toughest competitors at ADCC. In Nottingham, Kron tapped Claudio Calasans and beat Murilo Santana, and was the only one not to tap against Marcelo Garcia, only losing by a 2-0 score. Expect even more from Gracie in the future and don’t count him out as a possible favorite to take the lightweight title at the 2012 World Championships, no matter how stacked that division actually is.

9. Ary Farias

One of the newest black belts to emerge on the biggest stages, there was no rookie struggle for the Atos ace. Coming in with a World title at all colored belts, Farias lived up to his high expectations and won the European and Brazilian Nationals titles, beating legends of the sport, four-time roosterweight World champion Bruno Malfacine and 2004 World champion Gabriel Moraes. At the Worlds, Ary continued his success, defeating 2010 light-featherweight World Champion Pablo Silva and Samir Chantre on his way to closing out the category with his teammate Guilherme Mendes.

8. Guilherme Mendes

Coming off a disappointing 2010 where he was defeated in the first round of the 2010 Worlds, Mendes came into 2011 on a mission and proved that he is the best 141-pound black belt in the World today. Earlier in the year, he fought as a featherweight at the Europeans and Pans, beating tough competitors such as Leonardo Saggorio and Justin Rader. Once the Worlds came around, Gui decided to drop to light-feather and didn’t miss a beat. He had an impeccable Worlds, dominating Milton Bastos and Laercio Fernandes and winning a back-and-forth battle with former champion Samuel Braga.

7. Marcus “Bochecha” Almeida

Along with Ary Farias, this Checkmat prodigy came into 2011 as another new black belt with very high expectations, and he lived up to those expectations. Although he had some slip-ups at the World Pro in Abu Dhabi and Worlds, where he took second in his weight class both times, his overall results were simply outstanding. Besides winning the Gi Pan, where he also came in third in the absolute category, he was just recently crowned division and absolute champion at the no-gi Worlds where he dominated each one of his matches.

6. Sergio Moraes

The absolute champion of Europe and the Brazilian Nationals, and the medium-heavy World champion, certainly cannot be left off of this list for best competitors in 2011. Moraes excelled in his new weight category, winning everything besides the Pan Championships (where he didn’t compete). Although he fell short against Rodolfo Vieira and Braulio Estima, his wins against Claudio Calasans, Eduardo Telles, Rodrigo Cavaca and Romulo Barral cannot be forgotten.

5. Andre Galvao

The leader of the Atos academy out in San Diego went from not even considered in the top ten to automatically in the top five based on his outstanding performance at this year’s ADCC event. The ADCC division and absolute champion won eight fights on his way to winning two golds, beating fierce competition such as Gunnar Nelson, Sergio Moraes, Murilo Santana, Rousimar Palhares and Pablo Popovitch (twice). With those titles (along with the Gi Pan title he won earlier in the year), there is no question Galvao belongs on this list.

4. Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes

Maybe he didn’t collect the most medals of any competitor in 2011, but one in particular catapulted him to the (near) top of this list. “Tanquinho’s” performance at the Abu Dhabi World Pro was simply legendary as he beat four Atos black belts (Guilherme Mendes, Ary Farias, Eduardo Ramos and Rafael Mendes) on his way to gold. Along with his runner-up finish at the Worlds this year, beating beasts such as Bruno Frazzatto and Rubens “Cobrinha,” Mendes has certainly earned his place with the best in 2011.

3. Marcelo Garcia

Although he doesn’t compete in many tournaments anymore, as he is more focused nowadays on running his school in New York City, Garcia is still one of the best and he proved that in 2011, winning the Worlds and ADCC. In June, he fought his way to a fifth black belt World title and in September, he made history, becoming the first to ever win four ADCC titles, submitting all but one opponent in the process. Those two titles must automatically give Garcia a spot on the top ten list.

2. Rafael Mendes

Possibly becoming the pound-for-pound best Jiu-Jitsu player on the planet, Mendes accomplished almost everything he set out for going into 2011. He closed out his divisions at the Europeans and Pans with his teammates to start the year, won the Worlds for a second consecutive year in June and won his second ADCC title, once again besting his rival Rubens “Cobrinha” in the final bout. If it weren’t for his loss at the Abu Dhabi World Pro to “Tanquinho,” Rafa would easily be the number one competitor on this list, but that doesn’t mean he can’t take over the top spot in 2012, even if Roger Gracie is in the mix.

1. Rodolfo Vieira

Rodolfo Vieira celebrates (Ivan Trindade/Graciemag International)

Although he suffered a disappointing ADCC loss to eventual champion Dean Lister, Vieira’s overall 2011 campaign can never be forgotten and may be considered one of the best single years in Jiu-Jitsu of all time. Rodolfo began his impeccable campaign winning the Pans in Irvine, Calif., dominating all of his opponents (including last year’s champion Bernardo Faria twice). Afterwards, he continued his domination. Vieira won the no-gi absolute title, beating Rafael Mendes in the final, and won his weight and absolute at the gi World Pro, beating everyone in his path, including “Cobrinha” in the finals, whom he finished with a choke from the mount.

Vieira would cap off his gi season with another incredible performance at the Worlds, submitting Sergio Moraes, Claudio Calasans, Marcus Almedia and beating Rafael Lovato Jr. and Bernardo Faria (twice again). With his 2011 dominance, many are pairing him with three-time absolute champion Roger Gracie as the must-see matchup for 2012. Since Roger was out injured this year, we can only wait and see until the 2012 Worlds how that dream matchup will play out.

Top Photo: Rodolfo Vieira competes against Bernardo Faria at the Worlds (Ivan Trindade/Graciemag International)

About The Author

Gianni Grippo
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Contributor
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Gianni Grippo is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Marcelo Garcia and trains at the Marcelo Garcia Academy in New York City. Besides being a big fan of the sport, Gianni is also an avid competitor and has ranked among the best in the World from blue to brown belt winning 6 IBJJF World titles and 7 Pan Championships. Still at 21, Gianni looks to continue to compete for many years to come as his main goals are to win the World championships at black belt and win the ADCC title.