With such a deep pool of varied athletes to idolise in recent times, we posed the question: What would make the perfect grappler? Who has the biggest heart or the best submissions? Who can formulate the perfect plan to victory and battle through from the brink of defeat?
After much deliberation at JJS head quarters, we took it upon ourselves to ‘build a champion’ and layout what we could consider to be the blue print for a grappling god.
If anything else, we may spark a debate!
GUARD: RAFAEL MENDES
Despite retiring from competition, Rafa Mendes will be remembered as one of the greats of our sport – and his guard wasn’t too bad, either!
Mendes racked up multiple World, Pan American, European titles – as well as two back-to-back ADCC crowns – and fans will struggle to remember the last time any adversary managed to pass his guard and secure points in competition.
Rafael is famed for the development of the innovative ‘berimbolo’ manoeuvre, a technique used to sweep the opponent and often transition straight to their back. The young fighter’s contribution towards developing such a popular technique is testament to his ability as one of the best guard players in the business.
Success in nogi events, such as the ADCC and WPJJC, has shown that Mendes’ guard is equally effective without the kimono. However, many argue that his complex style of fighting will not necessarily transition into everyone’s arsenal of techniques.
SUBMISSIONS: MARCELO GARCIA
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 15 years, you will have a pretty good idea of just how good Marcelo Garcia really is. ‘Marcelinho’ is a true wizard of the jiu jitsu movement – and his submission skills are second to none.
Marcelo’s trophy cabinet is illustrious to say the least, with the Fabio Gurgel black belt claiming a number of prize scalps along the way. The New York City resident has submitted many notable black belts in both gi and nogi matches, including Vitor Ribeiro, Bruno Bastos, Thales Leites, Pablo Popovitch, Ricco Rodriguez, Diego Sanchez, Xande Ribeiro, Jake Shields, Gregor Gracie, Mike Flower, Rolles Gracie, Victor Estima, Kron Gracie and Leo Vieira. It doesn’t get much more impressive than that!
The vast majority of Garcia’s submission victories have come via chokes, more specifically guillotine and rear naked chokes. One of the middleweight’s standout skills is his ability to hit modified guillotines from crazy angles. Enter his name into YouTube and you will see countless videos of Marcelo submitting all-comers on the mats at his academy, where the doors are always open for the worlds best to come in and test their skills.
Garcia’s submission skills are complimented greatly by his outstanding arsenal of arm-drags and x-guard sweeps, making him the most dangerous and versatile middleweight in the history of the sport.
STAND UP: CLAUDIO CALASANS
Calasans’ pedigree as a judoka and Brazilian national level wrestler complement his jiu jitsu perfectly, making him an absolute beast from standing. Claudio’s father, Calasans Camargo, was the first ever Brazilian to receive his coral belt in judo, so tachi waza skills were always going to be on the cards for Calasans Jr.
With such a stellar line of diverse grappling heritage under his belt, you would think Calasans’ approach to jiu jitsu would be based around throwing his opponent as fast and hard as possible – far from it. ‘Juninho’ uses his hybrid grappling to best suit the match he is fighting, and it takes a brave man to try and throw him and face the consequences of his lightening fast counters.
Despite Claudio’s exceptional skills from standing, the Atos fighter doesn’t limit himself to looking for a takedown and often pulls guard on his opponents. His preferred outlet of attack is the closed guard.
HEART: RAPHAEL LOVATO JR
Rafael Lovato Jr is one of the most dedicated fighters on the scene at the moment, having managed to compete in both high-level MMA and jiu jitsu in tandem. The American black belt fights under the guidance of the Ribeiro brothers, after facing Saulo as a teenager, who quickly noted Lovato’s skills and suggested he joined their ranks.
Perhaps the best example of Lovato’s huge heart and resilience came back in 2008 at the Pan American Championships. It was the final of the black belt heavy weight division and Roberto ‘Tussa’ Alencar stood in the way of Lovato claiming the title for his second time.
As the match got underway and after some initial tussling, Alencar pulled guard and secured a triangle choke. Lovato Jr resisted the temptation to tap and worked to escape from this position for the best part of five minutes, when he finally escaped to his feet and was met with rapturous applause from the fans.
With barely a minute left in the match, Lovato hit a pendulum sweep from the closed guard and transitioned to Tussa’s back, earning the points to seal his greatest victory to date.
After the match, Rafael was open is saying he nearly lost consciousness on numerous occasions when trying to escape from the triangle, but it seems a will to win and a big heart were enough to secure the win.
TOP GAME: RODOLFO VIEIRA
Rodolfo Vieira’s reign of dominance was undeniable, as was his destruction of any guard player he has ever faced. Be it Bernardo Faria and his half guard, Marcus ‘Buchecha’ Almeida’s open guard or Claudio Calasans’ closed guard – Vieira has prised them all open and passed his way to victory on numerous occasions.
Unorthodox but effective judo throws ensure that Rodolfo predominantly found himself working from the top and smashing past his opponents. This formula was flawless in helping him win gold in his weight class and open divisions multiple times at the IBJJF World championships.
Amazingly, Rodolfo’s guard passing skills were enough to help him secure victory of Braulio Estima at the Abu Dhabi Pro Trials in 2009 – while still just a brown belt! Though Vieira didn’t secure a pass during the match, his skills on top nullified Estima’s attacks as he eked out a close win.
Rodolfo’s top game isn’t just about passing guard and sitting on points to secure victory – far from it. The Grappling Fight Team representative is a keen submission specialist, having won the majority of his major matches on the IBJJF circuit via submission,
MIND: ROGER GRACIE
Many jiu jitsu fighters would love to get inside the mind of this man and see what makes him tick, as Roger Gracie is undoubtedly one of the calmest and mentally tough black belts we’ve even seen.
As an ambassador for ‘simple jiu jitsu’, Gracie left a legacy of devastation in his wake at major championships, never failing to deliver the goods when fighting under pressure.
Away from the tatami, Roger is known for his dry sense of humour and quick wit, but his prowess as a jiu jitsu player comes hand in hand with an ice-cold exterior and deep concentration.
Amazingly, Gracie has never been submitted in major competitions since he was a blue belt, but there have been a number of close calls that needed evasive action.
Fernando ‘Terere’ Augusto tested Roger’s concentration and ability to stay cool under pressure at the 2004 world championship. Terere secured a deep collar choke from Roger’s back, but Gracie stayed calm to elude the submission and went on to finish the match himself.
Xande Ribeiro also came close to submitting Gracie via a triangle at the 2005 ADCC, but once again Roger remained calm and escaped the positioning before going on to finish submit Ribeiro.
TACTITION: BRAULIO ESTIMA
Braulio Estima is a fighter who just got better with age and is an advocate of constant development. The Gracie Barra stalwart’s game visibly changed over the years, as he constantly looked to move with the times and adjust his skill set.
Estima’s tactical proficiency is illustrated in his sound preparation ahead of any big competition. 2009 saw the birth of his now famed reverse triangle, used to submit both Xande Ribeiro and Andre Galvao.
Braulio’s 2012 ADCC superfight with Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza was another great example of ‘Carcara’s’ ability to stick to and execute a game plan effectively. Having lost to Jacare on numerous occasions in the past, Estima laid out the perfect strategy to gain his first victory over the old foe on the biggest of settings.
PHYSICALITY: MARCUS BUCHECHA
Marcus Buchecha Almeida is an absolute BEAST of a man. Though fighting as an ultra heavyweight, he moves with the speed and freedom of a lightweight, giving him a huge advantage over most athletes he competes against.
Physicality has helped Buchecha develop a dynamic style of fighting that you just don’t see amongst many of the athletes in his category. Many of Buchecha’s sweeps, takedowns and submissions are more commonly seen utilised by people a good 25kg lighter than him. His devastating jiu jitsu style has led him to become the most decorated black belt in IBJJF history.