In a sport as lopsided as jiu-jitsu, where the spotlight is seldomly pointed to anywhere outside the USA or Brazil, a small group of talented Argentinians is making themselves noticed. Their names: Pablo Lavaselli (black belt), Enrique March (black belt), Luca Ramaci (purple belt), Ramiro Leon (purple belt), Francisco Papasidero (purple belt), and Malena Sessa (blue belt).
Together these young athletes have been tearing through the international grappling scene- particularly in the USA – with Pablo and Enrique leading the pack in the black belt division. Most of our readers will know of Lavaselli. He’s had plenty of visibility through his wins over Gianni Grippo, Johnny Tama, Gilson Nunes, and Diego Ramalho, to name a few. March, on the other hand, has found success in the AJP circuit and at Fight 2 Win, while Luca Ramaci, Francisco Papasidero, and Malena Sessa have all medaled with the IBJJF at the Pan American tournament last year. Purple belt Ramiro Leon has also shown tremendous success in the no-gi circuit.
View this post on Instagram
These athletes are not solely bound by their Argentinian roots, there is another common denominator shared between these talented competitors, his name is Patrick Cooligan, a black belt under Renzo Gracie and the owner of RGA Orlando, FL, who is also the mastermind behind this Gaucho grappling bonanza.
But before we address Mr. Cooligan, let us wind back to 2014. At the time, Pablo Lavaselli was two years into his jiu-jitsu career, competing across South America as a blue belt. During that period he spent time at the famous fighter-house of coach Cícero Costha, training at his famous PSLPB Academy on the East Wing of São Paulo, Brazil. While at Cícero’s Pablo befriended one of the top students there, André Porfirio. Fast forward a few years and Porfirio was hired by the aforementioned Patrick Cooligan, as a jiu-jitsu instructor at his gym, in Florida.
Porfirio was one of the first coaches/athletes brought forth by Cooligan to Project Agora, the name of his free-scholarship program at Renzo Gracie Academy Orlando. With time, the success of the project laid out by Patrick allowed for an expansion of the team. Following the advice of André Porfirio, Mr. Cooligan brought a few (at the time) lesser-known – yet highly talented – athletes to the squad, one of those special grapplers was Pablo Lavaselli, who arrived in 2020, bringing with him Luca Ramaci.
View this post on Instagram
At the start of the project, the full-time scholarship athletes were in their vast majority Brazilian. Pablo came in as an outlier, but as time passed, many of the Brazilian competitors slowly drifted away and the gaps left by them were filled by Argentinian talent.
Even in a year dominated by COVID19 and with the slower pace of our sport’s international circuit, the talented 6 have brought their forth masterful back takes (the team’s specialty) and an equally impressive medal tally in the IBJJF league. Among their most prominent trophies are podium placements at some of the top tournaments of 2020 such as the Pan American Championship (gi) where they took home 3 medals, the Pan American NOGI (2 medals), and American Nationals (3 medals).
Not only impressive in their overall results this past year, the Gauchos have also brought a new flair to jiu-jitsu’s tournament scene, an interesting presence that differs from that of the typical Brazilian and American cultures. We hope to see more of this squad in the coming months, and hopefully see them inspire other Argentinian grapplers to follow the path of jiu-jitsu.