With 2019 is nearly in the books, and jiu-jitsu’s competitive circuit officially over for the year, and continuing a tradition started 5 years ago (find previous rankings of 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018), BJJ Heroes turns back to the last 12 months of grappling wats to discern who are the top submission artists in our sport. Competitors who have successfully placed the submission as the mission, ahead of or at least in parallel with their podium objectives in this sport’s international competitive circuit.
As in our previous ranking, the rules of this little exercise are simple: Every black belt athlete who achieved victory in a minimum of 10 grappling matches at a professional/high-level event was counted. This means a tournament/GP/super-fight promotion with talent depth similar to an IBJJF adult black belt style tournament. Please note that EBI overtime style submissions were not accounted as subs for this exercise as these are obtained outside the flow of the match, starting from pre-set advantageous positions.
One of the big changes from previous lists is the absence of long-standing members of the Top Finishers list, Keenan Cornelius and Josh Hinger, who did not compete as often as we, the fans, would have liked to see this year. Another important stat in this list is the rise of Australian based team, Absolute MMA, who have the most representatives here, alongside Alliance.
Full list below.
#10 LUCAS VALENTE (BRA) 62% SUB. RATE
Team: Gracie Barra
One of the most interesting players in the world is Lucas Valente, who has in his dangerous open guard his strongest asset. Valente won numerous IBJJF Opens and his first medal at the World Championships as a black belt in 2019, putting together a very impressive record of 19 matches and 12 submissions.
Impossible to pass, outstanding berimbolo’s, lasso and spider-guard and, more recently, Valente has also shown he can submit with the modern leg-lock adjustments without the gi. A bright future ahead for this young man.
#9 LUCAS LEPRI (BRA) 64% SUB. RATE
Lucas Lepri’s motto is “Be Precise”, though we believe he could easily add “And Consistent” to that line. Having been in the game, at the highest level, since 2007, a time when he won his first world title, Lepri has continuously demolished the lightweight division with a level of efficiency that has gathered our full attention earlier this year and made Lucas the subject of our game analysis articles (check here “Lucas Lepri vs The World“).
A full-time coach and a father, Lepri still found time in his busy 2019 schedule to compete with some regularity, earning his 7th world title this year.
#8 RAFAEL PAGANINI (BRA) 68% SUB. RATE
Team: Alliance SP
Like a bat out of hell, Paganini blasted through his first 6 months as a black belt, amassing over 30 matches during that period, both with the gi and without. During that time he has quickly established himself as one of the authorities in the guillotine department, having 8 finishes with his patented submission.
Truly one of the hottest prospects in the medium-heavyweight division right now, Rafael has conquered the Brazilian Nationals (No-Gi) and South American (Gi) titles, as well as a bronze medal at the No-Gi Worlds, and we look in great anticipation at what 2020 and what it may bring to this young man.
Prominent 2019 Finishes:
– Marcelo Gomide
– Kenji Sette
#7 HENRIQUE CARDOSO (BRA) 69% SUB. RATE
Team: Ceconi JJ
Maybe not as familiar to a worldwide audience is medium-heavyweight Henrique Cardoso, who, unfortunately, has not had the chance to compete in the United States, where most of the bigger events take place.
One of the most exciting athletes to watch in the sport, Cardoso has tested his skills wherever possible, mainly in Brazil and Europe, where he has gained plenty of traction. One of the peculiarities of Henrique has been his success against larger men in the open weight, where he beat high-level opponents such as Otávio Nalati, Guilherme Augusto and Flávio Junqueira.
Prominent 2019 Finishes:
– Ruan Oliveira
– Flávio Junqueira
– Caio Caetano
#6 DANTE LEON (CAN) 71% SUB. RATE
Team: GF Team
Always a regular appearance on our top finishers listings is Canada’s Dante Leon, one of the most trialed and tested athletes in the modern era. IBJJF, sub-only, ADCC, Kasai, Dante does it all and does it well. Submission oriented, athletic and always ready, expect Leon to have a beautiful career ahead of him.
This was a particularly good year for the young competitor, considering his 4th place at the ADCC and his win at the IBJJF World No-Gi Championship. His first world title as a black belt.
#5 NICHOLAS MEREGALI (BRA) 72% SUB. RATE
Team: Alliance Mario Reis (PA)
Arguably the most exciting gi-athlete in the world today is the Gaúcho super-heavyweight sensation, Meregali. A submission hunter by nature, few competitors can match Nicholas’ intensity on the mats, and his only two losses this year have come to opponents who opted to play very defensive tactics to shield themselves from his pace and aggression.
2019 was one of the best years for Meregali, who conquered his second world title and double gold at the Brazilian National Championship, submitting a lot of people along the way.
#4 GORDON RYAN (USA) 73% SUB. RATE
Team: Renzo Gracie Academy / DDS
One of those athletes that keep improving with each passing year is Ryan, who this year conquered double gold (weight & absolute) at the toughest tournament in the jiu-jitsu world, the ADCC, a deed only achieved by grappling royalty.
Although injured for most of the year, after going through knee surgery in March, the John Danaher pupil returned in September on time to cement his claim as one of the greatest to ever do it. In the process, he beat the elite of grappling, submitting many of them.
#3 “TEX” JOHNSON (USA) 83% SUB. RATE
Team: Fight Sports
Quite a frenetic year for the American, filled with ups and downs, which included 3 training camp swaps and a mixed record of 18 wins and 13 losses. One thing, however, Johnson has maintained consistency in: When he enters the mat, he will be on the offense.
A submission hunter, through and through, Tex lives by the sword and dies by the sword and his submission win over Felipe Pena this year at Kasai, might very well have been the upset of the year.
#2 LACHLAN GILES (AUS) 87% SUB. RATE
Team: Absolute MMA
What a year it has been for the Absolute MMA instructor, Lachlan Giles. Already regarded as one of the best jiu-jitsu coaches in the world, with students such as Craig Jones, Livia Gluchowska Giles, Jeremy Skinner, Lachlan Warne and more, 2019 has brought the best out of Giles as a competitor.
Arguably the “Grappler Of The Year” after his outstanding performance at the open weight class of the ADCC, where lightweight Giles beat a “who’s who” top-level heavyweight athletes on his way to a bronze medal, Lachlan has also conquered the ADCC Trials and Kinektic 1’s tournament. A fantastic ambassador of crisp jiu-jitsu technique.
#1 CRAIG JONES (AUS) 93% SUB. RATE
Team: Absolute MMA / DDS
Grappling phenom Craig Jones has been growing in the jiu-jitsu competition scene with every passing year since reaching black belt status. Supporting this claim is his 2019 run, his best year thus far. Not only has Jones conquered a silver medal on the greatest submission grappling show on earth, the ADCC, after placing 4th in 2017, but he has also improved his submission ratio from 64% in 2018 to 93% in 2019. This way reclaiming the title of Best Finisher in Submission Grappling for the second time, after earning the praise back in 2017.
Prominent 2019 Finishes:
– Gabriel Arges
– Tim Spriggs
– Adam Wardzinski