At last! It is Pan championship week, and now most of the competitors are starting to make their way to Irvine, Calif., or putting in their final preparations for what is expected to be the biggest IBJJF championship ever. The event is gaining a lot of hype. It is scheduled for five days for the first time ever, hinting at just how large the overall event is.

The tournament is bringing out the best at all belt ranks, as the hype does not only surround the black belt categories. Blue, purple and brown belt killers will be coming to prove their worth and that they are in fact the future of the sport, and that the black belts today should be on watch for them. Athletes to look out for at brown should be Keenan Cornelius (Atos), “Sinistro” Itturalde (Alliance), AJ Agazarm (Gracie Barra), Victor Silverio (GFTeam) and Paulo and Joao Miyao (PSLPB Cicero Costha).

But now it is time to take a more in-depth look at the big boys of the black belt categories. There are many stacked divisions with very intriguing match-ups, so let’s take a look at what we can expect to see this coming week.

Roosterweight

It is almost a certainty that we will once again see a showdown between rivals Bruno Malfacine of Alliance and Caio Terra of Brasa. Whenever they are both in the division together, they end up meeting in the finale, and this one looks to be no different. Their rivalry is steeped with battles and controversy. Malfacine has won their last four final encounters at the Worlds, but Terra did steal their only Pan final match back in 2011 when they both competed at light-featherweight.

Final Prediction: Bruno Malfacine vs. Caio Terra

Light-Featherweight

The pack believed coming into 2013 that they would have it a bit easier, as Guilherme Mendes hinted at his plan to stay at featherweight with his brother Rafael. However, Gui Mendes had a change of heart and is now registered to compete at light-feather once again. That almost assures a spot in the final for the three-time World champion. On the other side should be Mendes’ greatest threat in Laercio Fernandes of Lotus Club, who fought to a judges’ decision with Mendes in the final of the Worlds last year. Their anticipated rematch is one of the more intriguing matches people want to see, since Fernandes seems to be continually improving with time. But also watch out for Alliance black belt Thomas Lisboa, who is lurking closely behind the two rivals and could create an upset this weekend.

Final Prediction: Guilherme Mendes vs. Laercio Fernandes

Featherweight

This may be one of the most stacked divisions of the event, with athletes such as Isaque Paiva, Mario Reis, Samir Chantre, Osvaldo Augusto and Augusto Mendes in the mix. But in the end, it could very easily be another showdown between the two legends, Rafael Mendes and Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles. Any one of the aforementioned competitors has what it takes to bring an upset, but which one do you think it could be? In the end, count on another encounter between Mendes and Cobrinha. Could it end in another submission, like the finale did last year?

Final Prediction: Rafael Mendes vs. Rubens Charles Maciel

Lightweight

Lightweight sees the return of multiple-time World champion Michael Langhi, who was forced to skip last year’s major championships in the United States due to visa issues, but now is ready to claim the title he feels is rightfully his. With Leandro “Lo” now at middleweight, the road to gold may be a little less bumpy, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any challenges ahead. Jonathan “JT” Torres is always a threat and, now representing Atos, he could make some noise. Then there’s Zak Maxwell, who can always create some upsets.

Final Prediction: Jonathan Torres vs. Michael Langhi

Middleweight

This is clearly the most fully loaded division of the championship, although it will go without its current champion, Claudio Calasans. But with lightweight and middleweight World champions Leandro “Lo” and Otavio Sousa in the mix, things certainly will get interesting. The category will welcome two Gracies in Clark and Kayron, along with American talent DJ Jackson. My bet on one spot in the final is “Lo,” but that second spot can be put up for much debate. In the end, it could all depend on who has the better day.

Final Prediction: Leandro “Lo” Nascimento vs. Kayron Gracie

Medium-Heavyweight

This division has the perfect mix of old school (with Andre Galvao and Romulo Barral) and new school (with Felipe Pena and Renato Cardoso). Those four seem to be the ones with the best chance of reaching the top of the podium, and my prediction here goes with the two former champions and slowly growing rivals.

Final Prediction: Romulo Barral vs. Andre Galvao

Heavyweight

The heavyweight category looks to be the category where there isn’t too much of a favorite going into the event. There are plenty who could steal the show, such as Lucas Leite, Nivaldo Lima, Roberto “Tussa” and Diego Herzog. Last year’s champion, Leite, could be considered the favorite to some extent, but since he is giving up a considerable amount of weight, it is never a clear guarantee that he will repeat. The final, though, should be intriguing, as I see it coming down to Leite and “Tussa.”

Final Prediction: Lucas Leite vs. Roberto Tussa

Super-Heavyweight

The possibility of a closeout looks to be very real as the two Alliance stars, Bernardo Faria and Leo Nogueira, look to be the two best names in the division. Gabrielle Vella could spoil the fun for them and cause a break in Alliance’s plans, but we’ll see on Sunday.

Final Prediction: Leo Nogueira vs. Bernardo Faria

Ultra-Heavyweight

The ultra-heavyweight category features “Buchecha,” who is the hottest star in jiu-jitsu today, coming off his World absolute title in 2012. However, this category at the Pans will certainly be no cakewalk for the stud training under Rodrigo Cavaca with CheckMat. Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida’s biggest challenge looks to be Alexander Trans, who is coming off a huge win at the Europeans, where he defeated Rodrigo Cavaca and Leonardo Nogueira in consecutive matches. This potential finale would be a rematch of last year’s Pan final, where Almeida took the win by a 2-0 score. It should be interesting to see if Trans can change the result in his favor this time around.

Final Prediction: Marcus Almeida vs. Alexander Trans

So there are my predictions for the Pans. Do you agree with the picks? If not, who should be in the finals? If you can’t be at the event in Irvine, you can order the pay-per-view live stream on Budovideos.com for the entire five days. Talk to you all next week as we recap all the happenings at the 2013 IBJJF Pan Championships! Osss!

Photo: Leo Nogueira (blue gi) (Gracie Mag)

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.