With the jiu-jitsu competition scene still on “off-season” mode for a few more weeks, this week we will take a look at some of the top brown belts in the world today that could soon step up and make an immediate impact in the black belt categories. Keep in mind that these athletes have not yet received their black belts, but based on their past results, they all should be close to obtaining their belts soon from their respective instructors.

Ronaldo Candido (Atos Jiu-Jitsu)

Team Atos has always been known for producing tremendous lightweight competitors that have made a big impact on the black belt level, and Candido looks to be the next in line to continue that trend. The 23-year-old from Rio Claro, Sao Paulo, Brazil, has won almost everything there is to win at the brown belt level. In his first two tournaments in 2011, Candido won the Brazilian Nationals and Worlds, regarded as the two toughest tournaments on the IBJJF circuit today. From there, the scrappy light-featherweight did not stop, winning the No-Gi Worlds in November and then capturing the Pan title this past April.

Soon after claiming his second Brazilian National title at brown belt, Candido was unable to defend his crown at the Worlds as he lost to Alliance’s Matthew Maldonado in the semi-finals, leaving him with the bronze. Still though, with only one loss total, Candido has established himself as one of the pound-for-pound best brown belts in the World, and he surely will be a force at black belt once his professor decides to promote him.

Joao Gabriel Rocha (Soul Fighters)

Rocha has been a steady force at brown belt for two years now, and it will surely be a shock if we see him back on the competition scene at the same belt rank again. The Soul Fighters star is a two-time World champion at brown, winning the title in both 2011 and 2012. In 2012, though, he took two gold medals as he won both weight and absolute to become the grand champion of the brown belt level. Besides his success at the Worlds, Rocha is also a two-time Pan champion and two-time Brazilian National champion, winning weight and absolute as well out in Brazil. Look out for Rocha, a world-class competitor since he was a blue belt, to immediately make it tough on all of the black belts in the heavy or super-heavyweight categories.

Felipe Pena (Gracie Barra)

The younger brother of world-class black belt Augusto “Tio Chico” has certainly been making a name for himself in the last two years. His training under Romulo Barral in California has certainly had its benefits, as in 2011 he won the purple belt World title at weight and absolute. Soon after winning those titles, he was awarded his brown belt and continued his winning ways. In 2012, Pena won all four major IBJJF tournaments—the Europeans, Pans, Brazilian Nationals and Worlds—in his weight category.

At the Worlds this year, he fell short in the absolute final to Joao Gabriel Rocha by advantage points, but keep in mind that this is still only his first year at brown belt. Due to being very young—Pena is only 20 years old—there is a chance that he may still stay at brown for one more year, but if his instructors do decide to promote him to black belt, the medium-heavyweight category better be put on notice because this kid has been on fire!

Jonathan Thomas (Alliance)

If you are looking for another American to make a run at black belt gold, look no further than Jonathan Thomas. Thomas, a very tall featherweight, has won almost every tournament he has entered in the past few years. He is a two-time Pan champion and two-time World champion who over the years has been considered by many as one of the smartest and most disciplined competitors in the non-black belt categories.

Known as an excellent triangle-submission specialist, Thomas won his brown belt World title in 2011 by submitting all of his opponents via triangle choke. Although he fell short in 2012 at brown belt, losing to Lloyd Irvin’s Andris Brunovskis (also an excellent triangle-submission specialist), Thomas is still a dangerous competitor that will force any opponent at black belt to stay cautious and watch out for his lethal submission arsenal.

Renato Cardoso (CheckMat)

Another revelation to come out of Team Checkmat this past competition season was Renato Cardoso. With one of the most aggressive attacking styles in the game today, Cardoso produced stellar results by winning the Pans at weight and absolute and the Brazilian Nationals in May. At the Worlds, he lost in the quarterfinals to eventual World champion DJ Jackson, which in the end may have cost Cardoso his chance to get his black belt. Whether we see Cardoso at black belt or still donning the brown in 2013, you can be sure to look forward to some exciting matches and quick submissions.

So there are five of a potential new crop of black belts that can make an immediate impact when they are eventually promoted. What do you think of this group? Is there anyone that we left out? Comment below and let yourself be heard! Osss!

Photo: Ronaldo Candido (Photo by Pete Ulatan for NAKAMABRAND.COM / JITSPLAYER.COM; follow on Twitter: @NAKAMABRAND)

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.