Well, just like that another Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championship is in the books. This weekend’s jiu-jitsu scene in Irvine, Calif., was about as good as you are ever going to see as the best brought their A-game’s and the underdogs of the divisions came out to play as well. As always there were the new names that took their turn in the spotlight and there was also the well-known veterans reminding the audience why they are still a force to be reckoned with even with the younger black belts coming in.

At roosterweight, there was not much that took the viewers by surprise as Caio Terra and last year’s champion Rafael Freitas worked their way past their quarterfinal and semifinal opponents to reach the finals against one-another. The two friends went head-to-head again, and once again it was Terra who came out the victor landing a knee lock midway through the bout to secure his second consecutive Pan title.

The light featherweight division was intriguing to many, including myself as there was a ton of high-level competitors registered to compete in the 141-pound category. The two stars were Bruno Malfacine and Guilherme Mendes, who both worked their way to the final through their respective brackets. In their much anticipated final, one sweep landed by the reigning roosterweight world champion Malfacine was all that was needed to secure the big upset win. Many were not giving Malfacine much of a chance especially with Mendes looming, but Bruno proved everyone wrong and shocked the world.

When looking at the featherweight category, although there was a long list of athletes to look at, only two jumped off the page: Rafael Mendes and Cobrinha. As expected (and hoped) by many, the two world champions met in the final once again and in the end there was no controversy about it, Mendes proved he is the best in the world today. At the four-minute mark, Rafa beautifully attacked with an armbar on the former five-time Pan champion and held it until Cobrinha was forced to tap, something no one has ever seen before. If you remember back to their earlier matchups when Mendes started winning, there was much complaint about how he won and that he played a stalling game; there was not a word of that now. After this performance the question now is: who is there to challenge Rafael at featherweight?

Coming into 2012, Leandro Lo is now no longer considered an up-and-coming threat, but now a favorite. Tabbed by many as the favorite to win the worlds this year, Lo started on the right track taking the Pan title away from Lucas Lepri — who has shared that title with Michael Langhi for the past three years. In a final where it was a battle of strengths, Lo’s unorthodox guard play eventually out maneuvered Lepri’s base and secured a lone sweep for the 2 – 0 victory, crowning him lightweight champion.

Just by looking at the brackets beforehand, you can safely say that the middleweight category was the deepest category of the entire tournament with big names coming in from all angles. In the semifinals, earlier considered a favorite, Kron Gracie ran into a wall that was Victor Estima; who defeated Gracie by a 6 – 2 score. On the other end, it was the end of the day for another Gracie, this time it was Clark, who would lose to Calasans after having his back taken. In the final, Estima and Calasans had a back-and-forth bout that was decided by a mere two points. In the end, Calasans would eek out the win and hang on to his middleweight title for a second consecutive year.

In a bracket that originally hosted world champions Andre Galvao and Romulo Barral and was bound for the possibility of an intriguing final, both athletes were forced to back out at the last minute with injuries. The loss of those two stars cleared the way for Kayron Gracie to show off his skills and snatch a second Pan title in three years. The Gracie Barra head instructor went through his bracket diligently until he fought Vitor Toledo in the final, where Gracie would take the back and choke out the Atos black belt. The impressive showing put the medium-heavyweight division on notice and it should be interesting to see how Kayron fares when guys such as Tarsis Humphreys, Andre Galvao and Romulo Barral are back in the mix.

The heavyweight division was all team Checkmat as old and new came together to close out the bracket. Moving up two weight classes, Lucas Leite didn’t miss a beat and showed fine form as he went through to the final defeating everyone in his way. On the other side, one of the more talked about new black belts around made his much anticipated debut at his new rank. Yuri Simoes put on a show as he defeated former world champion Rafael Lovato Jr. by a judge’s decision in the semifinals. When the two came to a decision, it was Lucas Leite who would take the title and Yuri would take silver.

The big revelation of the 2012 Pan was clearly Antonio Carlos of Checkmat who opened a lot of people’s eyes with his fast paced jiu-jitsu for such a big man. But in the finals he was taken back a notch as Bernardo Faria got himself back on track and snatched a potential super heavyweight title away from the young Checkmat star. For Faria, this was his second Pan title in three years and first at his new weight category.

In the ultra heavyweight division, all signs pointed to a potential final between 2011 “Grand Slam” brown belt champion Alexander Trans and Marcus “Buchecha,” and indeed that was the final that was given. In a slow paced bout, it took Buchecha a while to work his sweeps and Trans was really putting on the pressure, but with little time left, Buchecha came up with a sweep and a 2 – 0 victory. For Marcus this marked another undefeated Pan campaign as he had even more to show in the absolute that went down the day prior.

Finally in the absolute category there was a ton of action that stirred up the crowd on Saturday. The semifinals though provided the climax as Marcus “Buchecha” went to battle with Kron Gracie in a back-and-forth match that was eventually ended with a knee lock applied by Marcus forcing Gracie to tap out, sending “Buchecha” to the finals. In the other semifinal, it would be the first of two fights that weekend between Bernardo Faria and Antonio Carlos, this time it was Carlos who would secure the victory and meet up in the finals with his teammate. In a gentleman’s agreement, Antonio Carlos would take the gold and the absolute title, making up for his silver at weight.

With the Pans now in the books we can start looking ahead to the World Pro’s in Abu Dhabi, the Brazilian Nationals in Brazil and the World Championships in California. Still much to come in 2012 and you can read all about it here in the coming weeks. Stay tuned! Osss!

Photo: Bruno Malfacine (Ross Finlayson)

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.