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ADCC 2019 Battles: Lower vs Upper Body Grappling

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John Danaher Closed Guard

Set for later this month, the ADCC World Championship has a long-standing history of placing opposing grappling styles against one another: From BJJ vs Sambo to Freestyle-Wrestling vs Catch-Wrestling, Judo vs Luta-Livre and many more have taken place in our sport’s most prestigious no-gi tournament. Out of the many competing systems, jiu-jitsu has traditionally taken the wide majority of the podium spots and stylistic battles.

The consensual ethos of jiu-jitsu has been, for many years, position over submission. This ultimately translated into: Pass the legs to achieve upper body control and search for the submission from this established dominance, but since its inception, the ADCC has continuously thrown a few wrenches at this dogma.

More recently, and by and large designed in the submission-only tournament scene, its been the lower limb based jiu-jitsu that has appeared on the horizon. A style that relinquishes the positional hierarchy of “standard” BJJ to focus on lower-limb attacks, driven to isolate heels and knees to force the submission.

This is not the first time this, leg entanglement based, style of grappling has attempted to take the ADCC crown, and without a doubt, it has had plenty of success in the past in men such as Baret Yoshida and Dean Lister. This time around the numbers of leg-lockers are much more consistent. They are no longer on the fringe of the sport and more medals are to be expected.

But who are the main figures in this clash of styles? This is what we will address below.

ADCC World Championship 2019

Date: 28-29 September
Location: Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim, California
Tickets: adcombat.com
Live Stream: FloGrappling

66 KG DIVISION

One of the most balanced divisions in the 2019 ADCC tournament is the 66-kilogram weight class (145 lbs). Veterans Augusto “Tanquinho” and Gianni Grippo are among the favorites to win the show, but newcomers Kennedy Maciel and Nicky Ryan have looked impressive all year.

Augusto Mendes has had two wars with one of the most dangerous leg-lockers on the planet, Eddie Cummins, and came out with a positive record. Tanquinho also has a submission win over Geo Martinez at the 2015 ADCC. That, however, was some time ago, and the leg-lock game has only improved since then. We can expect a much tougher outcome this time around, yet, given his past record, we would still rank Mendes as the favorite here.

Nicky Ryan is one of the youngest gentlemen on the roster, but this is certainly not an indicator of how well he ranks in this weight class. Ryan has a loss to Kennedy Maciel at Studio 540 a couple of years ago, but he’s definitely grown into his frame and developed substantially since then – as has Maciel. We would love to see a re-match between these two under these guidelines, but we would be inclined to give Ryan a slight advantage here. He is bigger and more accustomed to the ruleset.

Style vs Style Line-up (advantage to upper-body):

UPPER BODY LOWER BODY
Augusto Mendes Nicky Ryan
Gianni Grippo Geo Martinez
Paulo Miyao Tom Halpin
Kennedy Maciel

 

77 KG DIVISION

Hard not to go with the current ADCC champ JT Torres as the favorite. He is strong, knowledgeable of leg-lock defense, positionally perfect and looked tremendous against Vagner Rocha earlier this year, all the tools required to defend his throne.

Who we would place as the second seed in our race is very much up for debate. Garry Tonon reaching his athletic prime at 27 years of age, and he has never stopped improving on his previous ADCC performances. Tonon’s current focus on MMA might have helped with his wrestling and seeing that Vagner Rocha and Lucas Lepri (2017’s podium placers) are all well over the 30YO mark, we would say this must be one of Danaher protege’s best chances to take gold.

The big disruptors here may very well be Renato Canuto and Jonathan Satava, who have looked tremendous in their recent outings in nogi. Satava’s butterfly game and top half-guard pressure passing are fantastic assets against leg-locking specialists – a fact on full display at the ADCC US Trials, while Canuto has been on a tear at Kasai, against much of leg-lockers finest.

Peeking over these more established competitors are two leg-locking wizards, UK’s Ross Nicholls, and Aussie star Lachlan Giles. For sure two men who will have something to say about the division, particularly Giles as he has a much more varied set of tools at his disposal, meaning wrestling and solid passing game, unlike Ross’ 100% leg-lock focus.

Style vs Style Line-up (advantage upper-body):

UPPER BODY LOWER BODY
JT Torres Garry Tonon
Lucas Lepri Lachlan Giles
Renato Canuto Ross Nicholls
Jonathan Satava Oliver Taza
Vagner Rocha

 

88 KG DIVISION

It is at 88 kilos that the leg lockers pick up more steam. Arguably the man to beat, Craig Jones is a rare case of a front-runner who holds no big competitive achievements in the sport. A King of Super-Fights, if you may, the Aussie heel-hooking specialist has made a solid career outside the tournament schedule but is nonetheless, rightfully, one of the favorites to win the ADCC.

Jones’ favoritism is, however, shared with pressure passing juggernaut Matheus Diniz, another interesting case of an ADCC front runner who has yet to conquer one of the “Big Three” tournaments in the sport (ADCC, IBJJF Worlds – Pans). Diniz’s style is built for this ruleset: Scrambles for days, aggressive, with a solid wresting and gas tank.

Another big player in the division is, of course, BJJs Captain America, Josh Hinger. Hinger has the tournament accolades (3x IBJJF NoGi Worlds Champ), the killer instinct, the wrestling and the training camp required to make it all the way. If we were to point one flaw to mention, that would be his size. Hinger does not cut weight to compete at 88 kilograms and will be facing substantially bigger opponents at the ADCC – nothing new for the Hingertine Master, whom we hope to see on the podium.

Style vs Style Line-up (equal):

UPPER BODY LOWER BODY
Matheus Diniz Craig Jones
Josh Hinger Jon Blank

 

99 KG DIVISION

Gordon Ryan is clearly the front runner at 99 kilograms. The American is the current ADCC champ, he is the current ADCC open weight silver medal, he has wins over most of the big players in this weight class, with the exception of Vinny Magalhães. Ryan will also be one of the largest men in this weight class.

We would class Vinny Magalhães as one to share/challenge Ryan’s favorite status, given all Vinny has done in past editions of the ADCC. The only reason Magalhães is not part of this ‘Style vs Style’ list is for the fact that he is good in both areas, the same reason why we did not class Keenan Cornelius on the board below.

Patrick Gaudio and Lucas Hulk are most definitely behind as the pole bearers of “upper-body jiu-jitsu” at 99 kilograms, even though they are not large men for this weight class – particularly Hulk, who could clearly be challenging at 88.

Style vs Style Line-up (advantage lower-body):

UPPER BODY LOWER BODY
Patrick Gaudio Gordon Ryan
Lucas Barbosa Fellipe Andrew
Tim Spriggs Luiz Panza

 

+99 KG DIVISION

The big boys’ division is arguably where upper body grappling shines brightest. Certainly, there is room to entertain a few upsets by Tex Johnson and Yakuza Rafigaev, two very powerful leg-locking specialists. Nonetheless, given the history of the division, there is plenty of ammo for upper-body grappling at +99 kilograms.

Style vs Style Line-up (advantage upper-body):

UPPER BODY LOWER BODY
Marcus Almeida Tex Johnson
Orlando Sanchez Eldar Rafigaev
Yuri Simões
Kaynan Duarte

 

-60 KG DIVISION

The female under 60-kilogram division is looking fantastic this year, but not particularly balanced in this “upper vs lower body” grappling dynamics. 10th Planet’s Elvira Karppinen is and Livia Giles of Absolute MMA are the sole representatives of the leg-locking army in the woman’s roster, with the favorite mark landing on the current champ and vice-champ Bia and Bianca.

Style vs Style Line-up (advantage upper-body):

UPPER BODY LOWER BODY
Beatriz Mesquita Elvira Karpinnen
Bianca Basílio Livia Giles
Ffion Davies
Submission Back Attacks Instructional by John Danaher

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