MAY 16, 2021 – NYTEX SPORTS CENTRE, TEXAS, USA, HELD THE 15th edition of the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) Pan American NO-GI Championship, one of the biggest tournaments on the federation’s calendar. The tournament gathered many of the league’s top competitors and, thanks to the updated 2021 ruleset which allows for heel-hooks and other knee attacking submissions, it also attracted plenty of talent from the submission-only circuit.
The event’s bigger stars were Lucas Barbosa and Elisabeth Clay, who won the tournament’s open weight titles in their respective male and female categories of the adult black belt division. Clay was particularly impressive in her run, given the high volume of submission wins, a game characteristic of the precocious 19-year-old talent. But there were plenty more stars to emerge from the event. For more details, follow our analysis below.
Arguably the biggest name to come out of the event was Estevan Martinez of ZR Team. Estevan has been on our radar for quite some time for his never-ending work rate on the mats. He is fast, acrobatic, and always pushes the pace, a style he stayed true to in his gold medal performance last night.
Martinez had a highlight-reel moment in his first match, against Keneth Nakagawa, finishing the clash with a reverse omoplata (first we’ve seen at the no-gi Pans in the black belt division), going on to beat two very solid opponents in Santos Rivera and Roiter Silva Junior.
Another breakthrough was Giancarlo Bodoni of Alliance Massachusetts. The young heavyweight had two very solid campaigns in both his weight class and the absolute, where he earned 1 gold medal (HW) and 1 bronze (ABS). In his weight class, Giancarlo submitted his way to the final, where he beat the tournament favorite Lucas Barbosa (Atos). Bodoni would end up losing to Barbosa in the semi-finals of the absolute, but his mark in the tournament was already branded.
Another breakthrough athlete we enjoyed watching was the lightweight bronze medal, Kieran Kichuck of Team Lloyd Irvin. Kieran has had a tremendous run since reaching the black belt level with a solid streak of submissions both in the gi and no-gi. We have made a reference to the talented Canadian in the past but will repeat the praise as it is truly owed. Kichuck submitted another three (3) opponents yesterday, including 2 very big names of the sport in João Bisnaga and Paulo Gabriel, before losing to silver medalist Johnny Tama on advantages in the semis. A very big star in the making here.
There was a lot to say about the new blood, but there is also plenty of praise for the veterans of this sport who still compete at the highest level (adult) even though they could easily transition to the Masters Division. The first one on the list is Paulo Miyao, the legendary guard player who struggled to amass a winning streak since his 2019 ADCC performance came back strong for the Pans, taking home gold without conceding a single point. Miyao was calm, strategic, and showed tons of flair.
Equally noteworthy was his former Miyao teammate 36YO Thiago Abud. The Murilo Santana black belt came out very strong and strategic, losing by 4 points to Josh Cisneros for a bronze medal performance. New Jersey’s Michael Trasso also had a fantastic bronze medal outcome, showing his wrestling skills are still very much up to par in the middleweight division.
Last but not least, in the Veterans Outperforming Their Younger Rivals category was Eliot Kelly. Another athlete with a wrestling background who did very well at the event. A real show of character for their students.
PATO PROVES HE CAN DO IT NO-GI STYLE
Diego “Pato” Oliveira is one of the top gi athletes in the world, known for his creative guard and lapel work, but those who believed his game would not translate to no-gi were severely mistaken.
Pato submitted everyone in his path yesterday, in a featherweight division teeming with talent with (supposedly) no easy matches. Danilo Moreira, Kyvann Jimenez, Orlando Castillo, and Josh Cisneros, were all forced to tap to Diego’s outstanding technique. In the final, against one of the top US athletes of today, Oliveira made it look easy, submitting the talented Cisneros in only 44 seconds with, what looked like, a lateral kneebar. Beautiful work.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
Let’s start with THE GOOD: John Combs‘ match with Valdir “BB Monster” Araújo was a sight for sore eyes when it comes to stand-up action. Those who love a good Wrestling Vs Judo battle will not be disappointed when revisiting this match.
Combs looked stronger in the battle for head positioning, but Valdir was the more explosive and got closer to the two points when fighting from the tie-ups. Valdir eventually got to a body lock and subsequent takedown, but Combs reversed the point disparity from the bottom, sweeping and taking the back of BB Monster for a high-energy ending. Arguably the match of the year in no-gi jiu-jitsu so far.
THE BAD, should really be called “The Heartbreaking”, and that was the many slip-ups due to poor understanding of the IBJJF ruleset by athletes traditionally focussed on submission-only tournaments. The best example of these was PJ Barch of the 10th Planet Freaks squad. On paper, Barch had every tool required to take home a medal, fantastic stand-up, solid scrambles, heel-hook knowledge, great from top and bottom and one of the most spectator-friendly games in the sport, nevertheless, repeated “rules” mistakes cost him a more ambitious run at the Pans this year.
The first mistake came to Eduardo Avelar in the 1st elimination round of the tournament, where he gave two “easy” points to Avelar after a guard-pull/back take attempt from the top half guard. Barch managed to recover from the point disparity and win the match, but another intercepted guard-pull against Joshua Bacallao in the 2nd round ended up costing him the match.
But there was also THE UGLY, and that came down to the refereeing. In particular during the match of Oliver Taza versus Rodrigo Gortari of Fight Sports where the Danaher Death Squad member was disqualified for using his hand over the mouth of Gortari from back control (a famous move used by Vagner Rocha in sub-only rulesets). We are not IBJJF rule set buffs but have taken multiple referee courses where it was explained to us that Hands In Face is a “Serious Foul” punishable by giving the offender a penalty, not an immediate disqualification. This was a human error with terrible consequences as a serious contender was prematurely removed from the competition.
Below are the final standings of the No-Gi Pan American Championships.
#1 Estevan Martinez-Garcia
#2 Roiter Silva Junior
#3 Lee Rosenfield
#3 Santos Rivera
#1 Gabrielle McComb
#2 Patrícia Magalhães
#3 My Bao Nguyen
#1 Nathalie Ribeiro
#2 Sheliah Lindsey
#3 Judith Gomes
#3 Victoria Montrezor
#1 Vanessa Griffin
#2 Erin Johnson
FEMALE MEDIUM HEAVYWEIGHT
#1 Elisabeth Clay
#2 Bridget Mceliece