This past weekend, the IBJJF continued its string of quality championship tournaments, this time out in Carson, Calif., for the American National Championships. A building that had at one time hosted the best names in the world, such as Roger Gracie, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Marcelo Garcia, opened its doors once again for a new crop of top talent looking to earn some more hardware.

At the American Nationals, the crowd was witness to a new growing trend in the smaller IBJJF championships. This growing trend consists of the little guys not only entering the absolute categories, but winning the absolute, defeating much larger men in the process. This was seen in the purple, brown and black belt categories especially.

In the purple belt absolute, Atos lightweight (168 pounds) Michael Liera Jr. defeated numerous larger opponents on his way to the absolute final, where he closed it out with his teammate Mike Carbullido. Also, this wasn’t the first time the lightweight fighter has reached the absolute podium, as he was a bronze medalist in the absolute at this year’s Pan championship in Irvine, Calif.

At brown belt, after a surprising third place finish in his weight class, former Division I wrestler AJ Agazarm (another lightweight) came back and won the absolute category, defeating the day’s medium-heavyweight champion in the absolute finale. The next day, in the nogi event, Agazarm made another solid run in the absolute, but fell short in the quarterfinals, still giving his larger opponent a good fight.

At black belt, the trend of smaller men winning and medaling in the absolute stood out the most. In the gi event, Gracie Fighter roosterweight Caio Terra made it to the absolute final, defeating a slew of larger opponents before falling short in the final to middleweight Bruno Anutes by a judges’ decision.

The next day, Terra would return with revenge on his mind and would once again make the absolute final (in nogi) against Anutes. This time, he defeated his opponent, who had over 60 pounds on him, by a 2-0 score in advantage points. This was the fourth time Terra has ended up at the top of the absolute podium, as he has won the American National absolute title twice and the Las Vegas Open absolute twice.

With these impressive and usually rare results occurring more often nowadays, the question is: “How and why are the light guys winning?”

For this, there isn’t one correct answer, as there could be many reasons.

Sometimes the lighter guy is technically superior over his or her opponent. With this, the size doesn’t matter—if the lighter fighter has far better technique and skill than his larger adversary, there is a good chance the lighter one will come out the victor.

Another reason could be that, in fact, the big guys could be at a disadvantage at times. Small athletes can move faster, and it could be hard for the larger athlete to keep up with his or her opponent. Yes, the big guy has speed, but the small guy has speed and is much more agile and able to move around better.

This could easily be the main reason why, at purple and brown belt, it is not rare to see middleweight competitors win major absolute titles, since they have a balanced mix of strength, size and speed.

Yet, I feel that the biggest reason why smaller people have had more success with bigger opponents of late is that the smaller guys are willing to train with a lot of their bigger teammates. I can talk about this firsthand.

As a blue belt, I never trained with big guys and only worked with teammates my size (approximately 150 pounds). So, whenever I entered absolute categories, I would get obliterated because I was unfamiliar with dealing with the size and strength difference.

Since those memorable beatings as a blue belt, I have been training a lot more with bigger training partners at the purple and brown belt ranks. I began to feel comfortable competing with bigger and stronger guys, and from there my results in the absolute categories improved.

Whether or not that’s what all lightweight competitors are using to succeed in absolute categories is unknown. Who knows? Maybe they just have a knack for going against bigger guys.

Now that small guys are starting to win absolutes in bigger IBJJF titles, do you, the reader, believe that we could see a lightweight or a featherweight fighter win the black belt absolute at the Worlds? If so, who do you think it will be? Comment below and let your voice be heard! Osss!

Photo: AJ Agazarm (center) claimed the brown belt absolute division (IBJJF by way of Facebook)

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.

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    Bruno Malfacine, Rafael Mendes, or Guiherelme Mendes