Almost three years ago to this day, João Mendes joined the black belt ranks after a stupendous brown belt season where he conquered several international open tournaments with the IBJJF as well as silver medals at the federation’s World and Pan American Championships. Hailed at the time as one of the featherweight division’s biggest up-and-comers, Mendes quickly established himself as a force in the sport by compiling a 10-2 record in the first 6 months of his career in the upper echelon of jiu-jitsu.
From there, João continued to progress as a representative of the Atos Jiu-Jitsu Academy in San Diego, California, one of the beacons of high-level training in this sport. This evolution, however, came to a halt last year with the pandemic, a global issue that stopped competitive sports on their tracks all around the globe, including ours.
Since the (slow) return of jiu-jitsu’s tournament scene, Bisnaga – as João is amicably called by his friends – has been busier than ever in trying to make up for lost time, competing in 6 events thus far, including a black belt debut in the no-gi ruleset. The high pace set by the formidable grappler led BJJ Heroes to reach out to Mendes to find out more about his post-pandemic marathon.
The first topic of our conversation had to be his no-gi debut. In the lightweight division, no less, one above Mendes’ traditional weight class. Although the experience pushed him outside his comfort zone, João appeared pleased with the tournament:
“I decided to enter [the no-gi Pans] because I spent too long without competing last year due to the pandemic. This was the first big tournament of the year with the bigger names of the sport, so I had to be there. It was a very good test for me, I had 3 very tough matches“.
With a few household gi players turning their focus towards no-gi, the topic begged for the question. Will Mendes turn to this new setting, given how hard most of the USA’s pro-jiu-jitsu promotions have been pushing for this ruleset? The answer was an emphatic “no“. “I loved the Pans No-Gi experience,” João said, “and I think jiu-jitsu is jiu-jitsu in any setting but this year my focus is the gi“, ending the topic by explaining that, although not his main objective, he still plans to compete in the No-Gi World Championships later this year.
Mendes’ re-steering towards the gi started with the EUG tournament qualifier a few weeks ago. A victory over coach Melqui Galvão’s rising star, Diogo Reis, which sealed João’s place in the exciting upcoming tournament. The EUG offers a fresh ruleset while trying to keep the matches more exciting, a new ruleset means more work for athletes to study and adapt. This is also a new trend in the sport, the novel rulesets. Currently, aside from the more established IBJJF rules, athletes have to know AJP rules, ADCC, EUG, F2W, Third Coast Grappling, EBI, etc. How much does this change an athlete’s approach to the game and how does Bisnaga feel about the avalanche of rules and time limit changes currently on offer?
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“Coach Galvão always changes the training sessions according to the tournament rulesets, so we can adapt” Mendes explained, “but we see time and time again athletes working around the rules to get the win. I don’t think the rules change how exciting the matches are at the end of the day. No one will change their style of grappling due to the ruleset, a staller will always find a way to stall, and an athlete who is aggressive and likes to push the pace will always fight forward. In my opinion, everyone should just follow the IBJJF rules“.
With so many plans ahead, this amount of talent, and one of the best teams in the world supporting João Mendes, expect big things to happen for the Paraná native this year. Currently standing as the #11 ranked black belt with the IBJJF due to his lack of activity, it is clear this standing will not hold for long, as it does not suit a man of his potential. We look forward to following this young man’s career in the near future. Stay tuned for more.