Without any serious competitions going down in the last week, this week seems like the perfect time to take a look at some of the newer black belts that are going into their first full year as black belt competitors. Some have already competed in events as black belts and some have just gotten their promotion in the past month or so, but now the slate is wiped clean in 2012 as these athletes will soon be preparing for their first Worlds as black belts against the best out there.

1. Michel Langhi – Alliance

Langhi has been a well-known rising star for the last few years now at the lower ranks, even with his older brother Michael Langhi taking most of the spotlight by twice winning Worlds at black belt. Michel has always been a consistent competitor and has won Worlds at every belt level (blue belt in 2006 and 2007, purple belt in 2009 and brown belt in 2011). In his entire career, his only two losses at the World Championships came to now top black belts Ary Farias and Leonardo Saggioro. The Fabio Gurgel student will be heading into 2012 looking to cause problems for the Atos team as he looks to be a strong force in the featherweight category, where Rafael Mendes awaits.

The road to gold at black belt will not be easy for “Little Langhi,” but as he and his brother have proved numerous times before, they can never be counted out. Don’t be surprised to see Michel right there competing for the top spot in numerous big championships.

2. Yuri Simoes – CheckMat

This prodigy from CheckMat Jiu-Jitsu in California has been on a tear of late, and will be going in as a black belt with a lot of momentum on his side. The year of 2011 was a great one for Simoes, as he won the Europeans at medium-heavy and then won the Worlds at the super-heavyweight category. Later on in the year, he also had a great nogi campaign, as he was the star in the brown belt category, beating everyone to win his weight and absolute at the NoGi Worlds.

It was a long time coming for Yuri, who had his up’s and down’s at times, but he went out strong in 2011 with nothing but up’s and a bright future for him. Will he be able to topple competitors like Bernardo Faria, Xande Riberio, Rodolfo Vieira or Rafael Lovato Jr.? Time shall tell, but at only 21 years old, he’s got plenty of time ahead to make it happen.

3. James Harbison – Lloyd Irvin

Lloyd Irvin’s team, stationed in Maryland, now has two All-Star black belts competing for them. Harbison may have been the overall biggest star at the brown belt category in 2011, winning all four major IBJJF championships and completing the rare “Grand Slam” of Jiu-Jitsu. Winning the Europeans, Brazilian Nationals, Pans and Worlds was more than enough for Harbison to be awarded his black belt in early July amongst his teammates. From there, Harbison has already competed as a black belt in numerous prestigious NoGi tournaments such as the ADCC and NoGi Worlds. At the ADCC, he fought valiantly in his match against black belt World champion Sergio Moraes, only losing by points. At the NoGi Worlds, Harbison was one of the highlights, as he would upset four-time black belt World champion and legend Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles by a judges’ decision and take bronze in the absolute category. Not bad for a first time black belt, huh?

Expect more from this Lloyd Irvin prodigy in the future as he continues to grow as a black belt. Also, keep an eye out for him this year in the middleweight category, as he is bound to be tangling up with black belts such as Claudio Calasans, Lucas Leite, Victor Estima and Marcelo Garcia.

So there we have three of the top newly cemented black belts looking to make it big in 2012. Some of these competitors may be starting their black belt journey later this month, as the European Championships are only two weeks away. So stayed tuned for next week’s piece as we have a complete preview of the upcoming event and I give my predictions on who I think will take the titles out in Lisbon, Potugal! Osss!

Photo: Michel Langhi (Preston Smith)

About The Author

Gianni Grippo
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Contributor

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.