It is safe to say that in a tournament of the magnitude of the ADCC, there are hardly any true Dark Horses, given the level of competition on display. All competitors have a wealth of experience in the sport and have the accolades to prove it, nevertheless, the tournament certainly has favorites and least favorites with every single division holding 16 different seeds in order of favoritism.
In this article, we bring you a handful of athletes that may have escaped your radar, competitors who could take a gold medal in their respective divisions even though they may not be regarded as Front-Runners. As such, without further ado, here are our picks for each division.
VICTOR HUGO (BRA / 6-Blades)
+ 99 Kilogram (+218.2 lb)
A superb athlete with a unique set of skills, Hugo will be one of the largest men in the tournament, but he is also a very flexible and clever guard player. A combination that is rarely seen in a division where being top-heavy and good at takedowns appears to be a common denominator among athletes’ styles.
The big question is, can a guard player pull off an upset in a sea of wrestlers? If 2019’s ADCC proved anything, it was exactly that as the current division champion, Kaynan Duarte, pulled guard on 3 of his 4 matches. If this trend persists, Hugo is an excellent candidate and we do believe, stylistically speaking, Victor poses a solid challenge to the +99 kilogram division favorite, Gordon Ryan, whom he could face in the second round of the tournament.
DEVHONTE “BONES” JOHNSON (USA / Unity)
99 Kilogram (218.2 lb)
A special athlete who will be making his ADCC debut this year, despite having over 100 matches at the black belt level. Johnson attempted to qualify at the ADCC USA Trials twice conquering #2 (East Coast) and #3 (West Coast) placements, a solid form that granted him the invitation to compete in the big show.
Although not a trials winner, Johnson is an IBJJF No-Gi World Champion, where he beat Fellipe Andrew and Joe Dierkhising, a tremendous feat in itself. The Unity Jiu-Jitsu representative does not have technical weaknesses in his game, being a very solid all-around player who seldomly loses a match by anything further than a decision.
Despite his Dark Horse status, Devhonte will have a big handicap to overcome, coming into the event as his lifelong coach, Murilo Santana, has been banned from attending any ADCC events following a physical altercation that took place at the open tournament on the Thursday of the World tournament, nevertheless, we believe Johnson is a threat to the 99KG throne.
MASON FOWLER (USA / CTA)
88 Kilogram (194.0 lb)
As we referenced above, it is hard to mention true “Dark Horses” in a tournament that features the best athletes of each division, nevertheless, when taking into account medals and accolades at the highest level, Fowler would be well behind the likes of his fellow 88-kg ADCC challengers Xande Ribeiro, Matheus Diniz, Lucas Barbosa, Isaque Bahiense, Josh Hinger, etc.
At the pro-level, Mason Fowler is still somewhat of a rookie with solely 35 matches, out of which you can only account for 2 losses, both of these “L’s” came to top-tier competition, and both prior to Fowler’s black belt promotion, therefore, the CTA athlete is virtually undefeated at the pro-level.
Physically, few can match Mason. He is strong, fast, and flexible, with a very solid competitive IQ, while technically he is equally formidable with a solid all-around game.
RUAN ALVARENGA (BRA / Alliance)
66 Kilogram (145.5 lb)
One of the hardest men to bet on, in this list is Alvarenga, not because of any uncertainty with regards to his potential, but because Ruan has been sidelined from the sport for the best part of 2 years.
During his black belt debut – and only event Alvarenga competed in, since receiving his black belt on Jan-2021, the young Brazilian conquered the South American title, beating incredible opponents such as Fabricio Andrey, and 2022’s champ, Ygor Rodrigues. Without a doubt, one of the rising stars in the sport, but will he experience mat-rust upon his return to the biggest submission-grappling show on earth? Time will tell, but we believe many will be surprised by how good this young man is.
GIOVANNA JARA (BRA / Dream Art)
+60 Kilogram (+132.2 lb)
The new kid on the block is Giovanna Jara who, just 3 months ago was competing as a purple belt. Back by the end of 2020 Jara had given up on jiu-jitsu altogether, but luckily team Dream Art came to the rescue and hired the young phenom as part of its squad. Under this new team, Giovanna became one of the sport’s phenoms and, arguably, the biggest star in the female colored belt division.
Jara is well-rounded and certainly tried and tested in competition, but she is mainly a gi-player, a handicap under the ADCC ruleset that she will have to overcome this weekend.