With the Worlds coming to a close last weekend in Long Beach, we can finally start looking ahead to the IBJJF’s Summer Opens around the country and the No-Gi Championships come fall. But, before we start jumping ahead, let’s take this week to look back on what was and share some of the best matches and best competitors the gi competition season had to offer us so far this year.

Rafael Mendes

This year’s major championships seemed to have a new look to them. More than ever before, in 2012 the jiu-jitsu community started to see a changing of the guard. This year, there wasn’t the presence of legends such as Roger Gracie, Marcelo Garcia, Braulio Estima, Rodrigo Cavaca and more, which didn’t go unnoticed. Also other icons of our sport such as Marcio “Pe de Pano” Cruz and Rodrigo Comprido made the 2012 Worlds their goodbye send-offs as they both declared their retirements from competing once the competition had concluded.

Although many of our older faces have drifted away, there is now the excitement of the newer young guard of icons stepping in, and Rafael Mendes is the face of that new pack. The youngest of the two Mendes Brothers had yet another stellar year that ended up with him winning his third straight World title in the featherweight category. This may have been Mendes’ greatest year so far, as now he’s not only winning matches and titles but dominating and submitting everyone on his way towards those titles. His best championship of the year was clearly at the Pan, where he submitted all four of his opponents using a wide variety of attacks from all positions. In the final of the Pan, Mendes shocked the crowd by submitting Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles with an armbar to cap off his incredible day.

At the Worlds, Mendes had a bumpier road to win his third title, going all the way to a judges’ decision with “Cobrinha,” but nonetheless, Mendes must still be ranked as one of, if not the best pound-for-pound jiu-jitsu players on the planet today.

Roberto Satoshi and Leandro “Lo”

For years now, the black belt lightweight category had been dominated by the old guard, and all they would do was just pass it along to each other year after year after year. Between Lucas Lepri, Celso Venicius and Michael Langhi, the World title has been won by one of them six of the last seven years. So, it’s safe to say lightweight was used to having a common winner.

But in 2012—a lot like the case with Rafael Mendes—there was a sense that there was a changing of the guard in the always-stacked division. The new wave of competitors includes Roberto Satoshi of Bull Terrier Bon-Sai and Leandro “Lo” Nascimento of PSLPB Cicero Costha. Everyone knew that these two new stars would be a difficult challenge, but no one expected them to already start beating World champions in their first few major tournaments at black belt.

This past year, the two newly-promoted black belts split the first four major titles, with “Lo” winning the Pan and the Brazilian Nationals, and Satoshi taking the World Pro and the Europeans. In the fifth and final major championship of the gi season (the Worlds), the two finally got a chance to square off in the semi-finals. By the end of the very active match, Nascimento took the win and eventually the World title by a 7-0 score. But no matter which way their head-to-head match-ups go, they are just another example of the new guard that has swept through in 2012.

Stat: Leandro “Lo” in a little under two years as a black belt has already beaten all three of the black belt World champions previously mentioned, defeating Venicius once, Lepri twice and Langhi three times. Also, in only Satoshi’s first year at black belt, he has defeated both Langhi and Lepri once each in two matches total.

Rodolfo Vieira and Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida

Well, where do I start in talking about this match? In this absolute quarterfinal, the jiu-jitsu world was given probably the greatest match of all-time between two of the biggest stars today—who also happen to be two new guard guys—with “Buchecha” and Vieira. Coming into this match, Vieira hadn’t lost in a ten-minute gi match since 2009 and “Buchecha” was coming in on fire having just won the World Pro and Pan championships. The stage was set for an epic battle, and boy did they deliver.

What probably made the match even greater was that the entire building was into it, as not only Checkmat and GF Team but everyone in attendance was hollering for either one guy or the other. To start, Almeida landed a beautiful takedown, scoring two points, but as calm as ever, the reigning champion came back with a sweep and a guard pass to take a 5-2 lead. Almost every time someone is down 5-2 against Vieira the match is basically over, but “Buchecha” would have none of that and showed a quiet and calm confident look on his face even though he knew he was trailing. Almeida’s road back from the three-point deficit started with another sweep making it 5-4, but once again Vieira responded with a sweep of his own, moving to a 7-4 lead. Unwavering throughout, Almeida soon landed one more sweep to draw within one again and Vieira stood up, leaving himself wide open for a takedown. Seeing the champion’s mistake, “Buchecha” shot in as fast as an ultraheavyweight can and landed the double-leg for two more points, making it 8-7 and sending the crowd into a total frenzy!

After lunging for a last-second submission attempt, the time ran out on Vieira and his goal of winning his second absolute title faded away as “Buchecha” was declared the victor. Almeida would go on to win his first black belt absolute title, defeating Leonardo Nogueira in another classic, but what will always be remembered was that battle with the once seemingly unbeatable Rodolfo Vieira.

What has been your favorite match or favorite competitor in this year’s gi competition season? Comment below and let us know! Osss!

Photo: Rafael Mendes (blue gi) has had an amazing 2012 thus far (GracieMag)

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.