At last it is here! The Pan Jiu-Jitsu championships are only a mere three days away and all the athletes are wrapping up their training camps and packing their bags for Irvine, Calif., for another run at IBJJF gold. Today we will be running through all of the black belt divisions and highlighting the names that we must watch out for this coming weekend.

At the roosterweight category, without Bruno Malfacine in the mix, the clear favorite going in is Caio Terra. The Gracie Fighter star will be looking for his second consecutive Pan title, but in a different category.

The light featherweight category is shaping up to be one of the more stacked brackets in the entire tournament with Guilherme Mendes of Atos leading the way as the favorite. Gui, a natural featherweight, is making a rare drop down for the Pans as he is looking to win a Pan title on his own, since none of his Atos teammates are in his category alongside him. Also, in a last minute sign-up, Bruno Malfacine threw himself into the mix and he would make for an intriguing final with Guilherme.

Featherweight is also another intriguing division because it will host the return of one of the better American black belt’s in the early 2000’s in Michael Fowler. The new Atos affiliate is fighting two weight classes down from his normal category so it should be interesting to see how he fares. But in the end, the big story going in is the possibility of another Rubens “Cobrinha” versus Rafael Mendes matchup. Rafa has won each of the last four matches between the two World Champions and right now looks to be unstoppable. Can Cobrinha or anyone else in the 154-pound category figure out how to defeat the Atos ace?

Right now, the lightweight division is hanging in limbo. One of the favorites, J.T. Torres from Team Lloyd Irvin, fell ill just yesterday and was taken to the hospital for examination, and there is no certainty that he will be able to compete this coming weekend. Without Torres, the favorite will be Leandro “Lo,” who coming into 2012 is no longer a surprising revelation, but a super star. Co-favorites are also Lucas Lepri and recent Abu Dhabi Pro Trial champion Zak Maxwell.

At middleweight, Claudio Calasans holds the most credentials and is the favorite for the title. Calasans is last year’s Pan champion and will be looking to repeat against competitors such as Murilo Santana, Kron Gracie, Otavio Souza, Abmar Barbosa and Clark Gracie. Don’t be surprised to see Calasans in the finals, but also don’t be surprised to see someone upend him and steal his crown. Anything can happen.

Medium-Heavy promises to be a show as old faces will be testing out their new weight category in 2012. 2010 Pan middleweight champion Kayron Gracie will be making his debut at this weight while 2007 Ultra-heavyweight World Champion Rafael Lovato Jr. will be making his debut at medium-heavy as well. Also we have the return of last year’s champion, Andre Galvao, along with two-time World Champion Romulo Barral thrown into the mix. Safe to say that there will be plenty of fireworks in this division stacked full of champions.

Lucas Leite has always been known as a natural middleweight. But the former World Champion has seen and done almost everything at 181 pounds so he’s decided to try something new. Now at heavyweight, Leite will be looking for another Pan title while another favorite and newly-minted black belt, Yuri Simoes, will be looking for his first at the highest rank.

The superheavyweight category only has seven registered competitors so the clear favorite for the title would be Bernardo Faria of Alliance. Joao Assis and Antonio Carlos de Barbosa could spell trouble for the Alliance ace, but it is clear to all that this is Faria’s title to lose.

Lastly, in the ultra-heavyweight category Marcus Buchecha comes in with the biggest reputation and the most credentials next to his name. There is no surprise why he is being called the favorite. But there could be an upset in the making as European Champion Alexander Trans is on a roll and hasn’t been defeated in the gi in a long time. He will surely be a force to be reckoned with coming in to the weekend.

So there you have it! There has been enough talk and enough build up for this championship so let’s just get this going! Next week we will come back and recap everything that went down at the Pan’s and start the build up process again for the World Championships in June. Osss!

Photo: Rafael Lovato Jr. (lovatojr.com)

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.