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ADCC East Coast Trials, Who Are The Front Runners?

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Gordon Ryan Guard Passing Instructional

THIS WEEKEND, NOVEMBER 6-7, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA, keep your eyes on the 2021 North American ADCC Qualifiers.

As the jiu-jitsu tides begin shifting away from Brazil’s hegemony in this sport, particularly in no-gi, and towards a more dominant US circuit, so does the importance of the ADCC North American Trials, a tournament aimed to elect 7 representatives of the Northern Hemisphere, meaning athletes from either the United States of America, Canada, or Mexico, who will represent their continent at the promotion’s World tournament next year.

The ADCC is globally recognized as one of the toughest rulesets in grappling, being also one of the fairest for a broad range of stylists as it appeals to point-based jiu-jitsu competitors, submission-only grapplers, and even hybrid wrestlers.


This will be a massive event, but just how big will it be? Well, the numbers are out. 743 athletes will compete in the pro divisions of the trials (649 males, 94 females), with team 10th Planet bringing the biggest army. One composed of 71 representatives, miles ahead of the second team with most competitors, the Renzo Gracie Academy with 31.

Although no ADCC World champions have ever emerged from the East Coast Trials and only one medalist came directly from the event (Tammi Musumeci back in 2015) over the past decade, these qualifiers have catapulted many of its champions on to an elite status in our sport, opening many doors for these talented grapplers. Among the past champions, you will see names such as Garry Tonon, Tom deBlass, Geo Martinez, Vagner Rocha, Tubby Santana, Eddie Cummings, Johnathan Satava, to name a few. Therefore, this is, without a doubt, one of the most important tournaments of the year, particularly for those climbing the ranks of no-gi grappling.

Although the brackets haven’t been released and, for the most part, style clashes do matter when making predictions, we will try our best to decipher each division’s favorites, as well as its dark horses below.

Favorite: Gianni Grippo (Alliance)
Dark Horse: Cole Abate (AOJ)

There will be 23 members of the 10th Planet team in this division alone. Although it is true that there is strength in numbers, we believe Gianni Grippo is the man to beat here as he has the talent, the experience, and appears to be in great form as of late. Grippo had 38 matches in 2021 against the cream of the crop of the feather and lightweight divisions and lost only 5 of those matches. A very impressive record.

Equally impressive is the talented teenager, Cole Abate of the AOJ Academy. A tremendous athlete, Abate is seen by many as the future of the lighter weight classes in our sport, nevertheless, he is a juvenile IBJJF athlete and it is impossible to tell how far he will go in a new ruleset such as the ADCC. If his WNO performance is anything to go by, we would say he will do very well.

Also, a juvenile competitor is the youngest of the Tackett Brothers, Caleb Tackett. Although still a green belt, the Texan is already showing that he shares the same mental fortitude as his brothers simply by agreeing to go up against beasts like Adam Benayoun, Deandre Corbe, Keith Krikorian, Junny Ocasio, Estevan Martinez to name a few.

Favorites: Kade Ruotolo (Atos) & PJ Barch (10th Planet)

There are a lot of big names to pick from in this weight class, literally, everywhere you look there is a top-tier competitor ready to conquer the event. This includes JZ Cavalcante, Pierre-Olivier Leclerc, Kieran Kichuk, Andy Varela, Robby Malof, Alan Sanchez, Jonatas Novaes, Kody Steele, Rehan Muttalib, and even William Tackett as the very talented Brazilian Fight Factory will be dropping down a weight class to attempt a shot at the ADCC finals.

Although the names mentioned above have more than enough talent to make it all the way at the trials, both Ruotolo and Barch appear, on paper, to be best equipped for the job, given the pace they can pour on their opponents and the level of their stand-up game, a crucial part of the ADCC ruleset.

Favorites: Elder Cruz (Checkmat) & Jacob Couch (Pedigo Submission Fighting)

Another stacked weight class with tons of worthy qualifiers. Amongst tried and tested veterans of the ADCC world such as James Brasco, Josh Hayden, John Salter, Alec Baulding, and Matt Arroyo, we have selected two brown belts as the favorites to steal the snow. An odd pick some might find if they haven’t been paying attention to what these two young men have been up to over the past 12 months.

Competing in every rule set available in the jiu-jitsu world, both Cruz and Couch have taken no prisoners as of late. In the wise words of Michael Bisping: “Believe You Me”, these are not your average brown belts. Both Elder and The Hillbilly Hammer have compiled hundreds of matches on their way to their current rank.

Don’t sleep on those veterans though as they all have a pretty good claim to the ADCC trials spot and know how to play the tournament’s ruleset with their eyes closed. Brasco and Salter in particular have the perfect grappling style for the ADCC.

Favorites: Mason Fowler (CTA) & Devhonte Johnson (Unity)
Dark Horse: Joe Dierkhising (BJJ Revolution)

Once again, plenty of talent in this weight class, including the return of 2013s East Coast qualifier Robby D’onofrio and 2015s Paul Ardila, as well as 2019s runner-up Hudson Taylor. Although either of the names referenced has more than enough talent to take home the ADCC spot at stake, favoritism should lie on the backs of the current IBJJF World No-Gi Champion, Devhonte Johnson, and 2019s West Coast Trials winner Mason Fowler.

Both Mason and Johnson have the perfect style for this ruleset. Strategic, good stand-up, fast and athletic, they are rarely caught off guard and will be the men to beat at 99 kilograms. That said, Joe Dierkhising has been making waves this year with his submission-oriented style.

Dierkhising also brings forward a very athletic style, unusual speed for a 6’4 athlete, and a well-developed leg-lock game. Although less experienced, his talent may very well throw a wrench at this year’s trials predictions.

Favorites: Austin Baker (Gracie Barra) & John Hansen (Axios)

Not the most populated division, both in numbers of players and in numbers of top-tier competitors, the +99 kilogram division is well up for the taking, nevertheless, expect veteran John Hansen to be at the very front of the start-up line, as is Austin Baker of Gracie Barra.

Favorites: Amanda Alequin (Gamblers) & Heather Raftery (Atos)

Much like the 99-kilogram male division, the lightest of the female weight classes is well open for the taking.

Once again, the 10th Planet squad came with big numbers. 14% of all athletes in this weight class are representatives of the well-known no-gi school, nevertheless, expect the front-runners here to be Florida’s Amanda Alequin (2015’s EC Trials champ) as well as veteran lightweight Heather Raftery of Atos.

Favorites: Paige Ivette (Legion) & Kendall Reusing (Gracie Barra)

A very fun weight class on the menu here, with plenty of talent and plenty of fun grapplers competing. Although talented veterans such as Tara White and Cat Zingano are expected on the mats this weekend, expect favoritism to be on the side of the new generation of BJJ athletes. Particularly on Kendall Reusing and Paige Ivette, two of the most fun to watch competitors in the sport.

Bernardo Faria BJJ Foundations

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