This past weekend, the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) held yet another successful championship at City College in New York as the rashguards and shorts took the place of the traditional gi this time around.

Each year, since its inaugural event back in 2008, the Pan No-Gi championships has always had many memorable fights and fighters that have fought tooth-and-nail for gold, and this year was no different. As usual, there were a good share of surprises, but the crowd also was witness to some of the most consist competitors today just racking up more titles for their collections. Also, the action didn’t stop at the black belt categories, as many brown belts put in great performances and must be watched out for once they receive their black belts.

So, without further ado, lets see who stood out most at this year’s Pan No-Gi Championship.

1. Pablo Popovitch

Although Pablo Popovitch was one of the biggest winners of the day, it certainly didn’t start off the way he had hoped coming in. Popovitch, the heavy favorite to take medium-heavyweight gold, fell in the semifinals via judges’ decision against American Top Team’s Ezra Lenon. Then, surely, seeing Lenon lose in his final to Gracie Barra’s Kleber “Buiu” de Oliveira didn’t leave a good taste in the former ADCC champion’s mouth either.

Yet, as great champions do, Popovitch overcame and returned strong in the absolute category. In his way in the final stood Lucas Lepri, searching for that elusive IBJJF absolute title. In the battle between Popovitch and Lepri, it came down to Lepri’s difficult guard and Popovitch’s relentless and heavy guard-passing game. After a heated ten-minute affair, Popovitch would be declared the winner by advantage points for numerous strong attempts to pass the former Alliance World champion’s guard.

So for Popovitch, it wasn’t the greatest of starts, but certainly a sweet end to his Saturday in New York.

2. Lucas Lepri

Lucas Lepri, the head instructor of Team Alliance in Atlanta, must be considered the most consistent black belt today. For someone that competes as often as Lepri, he still hardly ever slips up and always manages to put on a great show for the crowd. Once again this weekend, Lepri put on display his great consistency as he won the lightweight category, defeating a familiar foe in Renan Borges in the final.

From there, Lepri wasn’t done, however, as he signed up for the absolute category. There, Lepri defeated the day’s medium-heavy champion, Kleber de Oliveira, in a tough semifinal, and only fell short to Popovitch by two advantage points in the absolute final. Even in the loss, it was an impressive display by Lepri as Popovitch weighs about 25 more pounds than he does.

So, when you define consistent, there should be a picture of Lepri next to it.

3. Henrique Rezende

Henrique Rezende has always been a tough and dynamic black belt, but he has never quite won the big match as a black belt. The Marcelo Garcia Academy instructor has been in the conversation as one of the top guys around, but he would always fall just a bit short. On Saturday, there were no shortcomings for him.

Due to the mysterious absence of reigning champion Caio Terra, the category came down to Rezende and Laercio Fernandes of Lotus Club. Fernandes, the clear favorite, had come in garnering a newfound popular reputation after his stellar performance at the past World championship. In June, Fernandes defeated both Samuel Braga and Ary Farias to reach the final and only fell short against three-time World champion Guilherme Mendes in the finale. But Rezende would have none of it, and brought his A-game straight to Fernandes. In one of the bigger surprises of the event, Rezende would go on to defeat the World runner-up by points and deservedly claim gold in the light-featherweight category.

4. Garry Tonon

When I mentioned before about up-and-coming brown belts that the black belts must watch out for, Tonon is the prime example. The Ricardo Almeida student has always been known as a grappling whiz-kid, but this weekend may have been his defining championship. The reigning No-Gi World champion put on a clinic, winning his weight and the absolute, in the process defeating stand-out AJ Agazarm not once, but twice on his way to double gold. At his weight category, Tonon would choke Agazarm unconscious in the semifinal and go on to defeat Alliance’s Jeffrey Cummings in the final.

After that, Tonon wanted more in the absolute, and he got it. After fighting hard through the preliminary rounds, Tonon would once again be squared up against Agazarm, who was looking for revenge in the finals. Tonon took Agazarm’s best shot and still came up on top, winning their second encounter by points after taking Agazarm’s back.

Look out for Tonon in the future, as the guy has a lot of talent and an endless tank of gas. He could easily be back at this championship next year making a serious run in the black belt division.

So there you have your 2012 Pan No-Gi standouts. Was there anyone else in the competition that deserved mentioning? Comment below and let your voice be heard! Osss!

Photo: Lucas Lepri and Renan Borges show off their hardware (Gracie Mag)

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.