With the 2012 competition year soon coming to a close, with only a few tournaments to go, today’s segment feels like a good opportunity to catch up on some good old pound-for-pound rankings in jiu-jitsu.

This year we have seen the rise of many new top competitors already making a splash on the big stage, so expect to see some surprises.

Let’s start off with No. 10 shall we…

10. Antonio Carlos “Cara de Sapato”

In 2012, almost everything went right for this new CheckMat star. To start off the year, he won the absolute category at the Pans, closing out with his teammate “Buchecha” after defeating former World champion Bernardo Faria. From there, the young black belt went into the Brazilian Nationals full-steam and won his weight category and the absolute there as well. At the Worlds, if he hadn’t hurt his knee in the semifinals of the absolute against Leo Nogueira, we could have possibly been looking at the next super-heavyweight World champion. But, with as young and as talented as he is, you should expect to see him in the hunt for many years to come.

9. Roberto Satoshi

Another young up-and-comer, Satoshi had an amazing 2012 campaign. In his very first major tournament at black belt, he defeated both Michael Langhi and Jonathan “JT” Torres to win the European Championships. After his breakout in Europe, Satoshi went on to win the Abu Dhabi World Pro, defeating “JT” once again and Lucas Lepri in the finale. Satoshi’s only shortcoming of the year came in the semifinals of the Worlds against Leandro “Lo,” but, a lot like “Sapato,” expect to see Satoshi remain in the hunt for a world title for a long time.

8. Guilherme Mendes

It’s certain to say that Mendes’ year didn’t start off the way he had originally hoped. The reigning World champion was defeated by another World champion, Bruno Malfacine, in the Pan final, providing the biggest upset of the event. But, true to form, Mendes came back ten times stronger for the World Championships and dominated. Mendes would choke out Pablo Silva in the semi’s and then defeat Laercio Fernandes in a close match to claim his third title at light-featherweight. This also may have been his last run at the 141-pound category, as he had recently expressed a desire to fight up a weight class with his brother, Rafael.

7. Romulo Barral

It’s been a bumpy road for Barral in the last two years. Ever since his knee injury in the final of the 2010 World Championships, he has never quite looked the same. But, two years later at the 2012 Worlds, the Romulo of old came back as he claimed his third black belt World title in the medium-heavyweight division. Even through 2012, nothing came easy as he had to settle for bronze at both weight and absolute at the Brazilian Nationals. But a top-ten list would not be complete without Gracie Barra’s best competitive black belt.

6. Alexandre “Xande” Ribeiro

Along with Romulo Barral, 2012 was a comeback year for the former two-time absolute World champion Xande. Ribeiro has had an unexpected run this year as he has defeated opponents such as Andre Galvao, Romulo Barral and Bernardo Faria. Competing in as many tournaments as he can, Xande has racked up numerous titles including weight and absolute champion at the Masters & Seniors Worlds and weight champion at the Abu Dhabi World Pro. At the Worlds, although he didn’t come away with the gold, Xande’s best performance of the year may have come against Rodolfo Vieira in the heavyweight final. The underdog gave Vieira all he could handle as the younger champion only managed to squeak by via advantage points. Can Ribeiro make a full comeback next year, and claim another World title for his collection?

5. Leandro “Lo” de Nascimento

Probably the most active black belt in the world today, it seems almost impossible to stop Leandro “Lo” de Nascimento nowadays. In 2012, Lo has won countless tournaments including the Pans, Brazilian Nationals and Worlds. Besides that, he has won many tournaments (at weight and absolute) including the popular Copa de Podio event, where he won the event although much lighter than most of his adversaries. This is the first year Lo has cracked into the top ten, and it looks like it can only get better from here.

4. Bruno Malfacine

In maybe one of his greatest years ever, Malfacine definitely showed why he is the greatest roosterweight of all-time. The now five-time black belt World champion’s biggest win came at the Pans, where he defeated the favored Guilherme Mendes. After the Pans, Malfacine came back for the Worlds in his usual weight class and defeated everyone, including Caio Terra once again, for his fourth consecutive title and fifth in six years.

3. Rodolfo Vieira

The field is so strong nowadays, that I feel like I had to drop Vieira two spots although he lost only one match in 2012. Even with the drop, Vieira had another impeccable year, winning his weight and absolute in both Europe and at the Abu Dhabi World Pro. Afterwards, Vieira claimed his second black belt World title, but unfortunately for him, his Worlds campaign will always be remembered for his loss in the epic fight versus “Buchecha.”

2. Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida

Although Buchecha is the World absolute champion, that accomplishment still may not have been his greatest feat of the year. His greatest feat was a fight he didn’t even win. Last week at the Metamoris Pro, Buchecha took on an all-time great in Roger Gracie and gave everything he had to him.Buchecha went for submissions no one had ever seen Gracie have to defend against before, and it was safe to say that Almeida looked like the better fighter during the 20 minutes of combat, even though it ended as a draw. With this, there has to be a world of confidence in the 20-year-old CheckMat ace as he looks to defend his World titles in 2013.

1. Rafael Mendes

Mendes is the pound-for-pound king of jiu-jitsu, not only for his wins, but for how he wins. Once considered a staller in his early years at black belt, Rafa Mendes is now widely considered the most lethal submission artist in the world. This statement was proven with his beautiful submission victory over the once unbeatable Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles. With his skills, many believe Mendes has the capability to win absolute titles at major events. What do you think? Is Mendes capable of winning absolute titles at say…the Worlds?

So there you have my top-ten list for 2012! What do you think of the list—has anyone been left off that should be on there? Comment below and let your voice be heard! Osss!

Photo: Rafael Mendes (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.