Rafael Lovato Jr. is one of the top American BJJ competitors. A favorite to medal in the black belt division, Rafael is unfortunately sidelined with illness this year. He's put his energies into this great preview for the Mundials.
Gumby: While I love doing my pre show write ups, it's often a daunting task, particularly with the Mundials which has a lot of Brazilian names in there. Rafael Lovato Jr. is someone who is very familar with all of these names however, and although he is sidelined from this year's championships he was kind enough to pour his energy into this preview. It also made writing me own predictions that much more fun as there is someone to counter balance my points. So here is each of our previews (Rafael wrote his first) along with our predictions for the winners. Despite having the advantage of going second and my excellent streak in making prediction, I happily may have met my match here in Rafael.
Rafael Lovato Jr: Well, now it is almost time for the black belts to take center stage at the Tijuca Tenis Clube once again. Despite the absence of Jacare this year promises to be an exciting tournament with many stacked divisions. There are also many returning champions some of whom are changing weight divisions making things even more interesting. Since I have the brackets right in front of me (they can be found at the confederation's website http://www.cbjj.com.br/cgi-bin/montachaves.asp  ), I can make some fairly intelligent predictions. Here is my breakdown of each of the black belt divisions with my predictions and my thoughts on the absolute.
RL: This division has failed to have one dominate competitor, over the last few years. Felipe Costa (2003 Mundial Champ), Gabriel Moraes (2004 Mundial Champ), and Samuel Braga (2005 Mundial Champ) are all in this year. With Felipe and Gabriel on the same side of the bracket, Samuel Braga is a shoe-in for the finals. I think that whoever wins between Gabriel and Felipe will move on to beat Samuel in the finals and become champion. Felipe will be tough to beat especially coming off of a win last weekend, but my pick is Gabriel. His sweeps and his dominating Amazonian style will be his keys to victory.
G: Last week at the Copa do Mundo Felipe Costa defeated Samuel Braga 4-2. Samuel definitely got the easier side of the bracket, as his first opponent will have already had a match, and Gabriel Moraes and Felipe will likely meet in the second round. Despite all of this, I think the momentum that Felipe Costa takes with him will carry over here and he wins the Mundials as well.
RL: This division has belonged to the Amazon for a little while, meaning Bibiano Fernandes and other strong competitors from Oswaldo Alves and Monteiro and this year shouldn't be any different. Bibiano won't run into too much trouble until he meets the winner of Bernardo Pitel and Rodrigo Ranieri (Brasa - closed out the Copa do Mundo last weekend) in the semi's, which I think will probably be Rodrigo, who Bibiano will beat in a tough match. The other page of the bracket will probably come down to the winner of Carlos Lemos (Gracie Barra - 2002 Champ) and Leanardo Martins (Terere's cousin) on one side and Carlos Holanda (Oswaldo Alves) on the other. Lemos and Martins if it happens could be the best match of this division, both guys are lightning fast. I think Lemos will take it, but will fall victim to Carlos Holanda in the semi's. Bibiano is definitely my pick for the division, he resembles a mini Jacare and usually has many lightning fast submissions.
G: After winning the Pan Americans at Pena (but looking ore human in the process) I have a feeling that Bibiano Fernandes will come to the Pluma division stronger than ever (and we're definitely talking about pound for pound of the strongest athletes in the competition.) Bibiano is definitely my pick as well.
RL: With the absence of Fredson Paixao (not competing) and Mario Reis (moved up to leve) a new champion will be crowned and fans will miss out on one of the greatest current rivalries in BJJ next to Roger/Jacare. The fans will instead be treated to watching the return of Marcio Feitosa, who will probably look like a skeleton at that weight. Nevertheless, if Marcio isn't weak from cutting weight he will definitely be stronger and bigger than the rest of the competition. Marcio should definitely win his page of the bracket, waiting for him in the semi's will most likely be Reinaldo Ribeiro (Brasa). On the next page will probably be a rematch of Ruben Charles (TT) and Jonatas Gurgel, (Nova Uniao) which happened last weekened at the Copa do Mundo with Ruben Charles coming out the winner and the champion of the division. Waiting for Ruben in the semi's will most likely be Bruno Frazzato (BTT). The question will be if Marcio has lost anything by taking all the time off, not doing the Mundials since 2003. I think Marcio will get past Reinaldo Ribeiro, but he will lose to Ruben Charles, who has been on fire lately, in the finals.
G: Page one of the bracket also has Yuki Nakai. Do I think he will do anything here? Not really, but I'm a huge fan of his after watch "Choke" (Rickson Gracie documentary) and will always root for him whenever I see him. Megaton is on page four, again, big fan, but don't see him going that far. I think after dropping all the weight for ADCC last year Feitosa will be comfortable at this weight now, and one thing is for certain, the man knows how to win. I also think it will be him vs Ruben Charles in the finals, but I think Feitosa takes this one.
RL: This division is just straight stacked. There are so many possible champions, it is very hard to pick a favorite. I will give it a page by page breakdown. On the first page the notable names are Celso Vinicius (2005 Champ), Carlos Diego (Oswaldo Alves - had a good showing last weekend placing third), and the Japenese Daisuke Sugie. I think Celsinho will take this page, securing his spot in the semi's. On the second page we have Tiago Alves (last years runner up), Ramon Lemos (won 2nd place last weekend), and American Jack McVicker (has a win over Celso Vinicius when they were brown belts). Hard to say who wins this page, but I will take Tiago Alves. On the third page the big names are Alexandre Pimentel (this years Brasiliero champ - beating Tiago Alves and Rafael Barbosa), Rafael Barbosa (placed third last year), Mario Reis (pena champ), and the Japenese Mitsuyoshi Hayaka. I think Mario Reis is just too small for leve and I will take Alexandre Pimentel on this page. On the fourth and final page we have Fredson Alves (stong competitor at pena), Lucas Leite (Brasa), Claudio Calasans (came out of nowhere last weekend winning the Copa do Mundo and beating Celsinho in the process), and Carlos Eduardo Portuguese. I will take Cladio Calasans for this page. So it will come down to Celso vs Tiago and Pimentel vs Calasans, then I think it will be Celso vs Calasans in the finals. I am going to go with Calasans, he had some big victories last weekend and he is sure to have a lot of confidence and momentum. This is the most up in the air division and whoever wins this will be whoever is the most mentally strong.
G: Yeesh, too many strong candidates here and I don't want to make a prediction here if I don't have to. As Rafael said, anything can happen here. For the final four I'm going to say Celso vs Tiago and Barbosa vs Calasans. I'll take Celso over Calasans in the finals.
RL: Since Terere (who was arguably the world's best middleweight with the gi) retired, Marcelo Garcia has been almost undefeated at that weight (only losing to Cameron Earle at the Budo Challenge). This year started the new rivalry between Marcelo and Terere's former protege Andre Galvao. Marcelo came out of nowhere and defeated Galvao, last years mundial champion, twice in one weekend at this years Brasiliero. Most people are definitely expecting another match between these dynamic middleweights in the finals this weekend, but if there was going to be an upset it could definitely happen to Galvao, who has a hard road to the finals. First Galvao will have to get past the winner of Fabio Trindade and Vitor Estima both of whom are very tough, then he will probably face Marcelo Santos Azevedo who was a very strong meio pesado competitor and will be a huge middleweight. Then Andre could face off against everyone's favorite Nino Schembri in the semifinals. The question is will Nino still be able to compete well despite not competing with the gi for a number of years. I think yes and no, I think Nino can definitely make it to the semi's but I don't see him beating Galvao until he is more in the groove of competing with the gi again. On the other side is American Mike Fowler, Daniel Moraes, Guto Campos, and Marcelo Garcia. Fowler could definitely be a force in this division, but I think he will run into some trouble against 2 time leve champion Daniel Moraes. Marcelo should win this page pretty easily, but he could have some trouble against Moraes who plays a really conservative (kind of boring) game that slows down and frustrates many people. My prediction is that Marcelo will win this division convincingly beating Galvao in the finals again.
G: The thing about Nino is he doesn't quite train like anyone else, and I don't think the long layoff from active competition will hurt him. Besides, he's been talking about reentering gi competition for a long time now (thank God, I really don't want to see him in MMA for awhile). Nino's about the only person I could say this about, and it may just be the fanboy in me coming up, but at his peak on an unlimited time frame I'd put him against anyone. I think he matches up well against Galvao, perhaps the most pure offensive machine in the entire tournament, Nino has repsonded to that type of pressure before and done well, where as i don't think Galvao has enough variety in his game yet to handle Nino. On page it's basically going to be who gets to fight Marcelo Garcia, probably the hottest grappler going right now. My guess is that Daniel Moraes over Mike Fowler in the quarter finals in a match that could be very slow paced, going purely on experience, although it wouldn't surprise me to see Fowler pull of an upset here as he's very good at handling Moraes' tight, controlling style game. The finals will be Nino vs Marcelo Garcia in a match what I would consider jiu jitsu nirvana. Marcelo enters red hot, while Nino is Nino. THe thing is, I think it comes down to that I believe Nino will have an easier time with Garcia's guard than vice versa, so who is on bottom initially (and how they got there) will determine this match. I'm going with Nino in this one.
RL: With the absence of Jacare, Braulio Estima has got to be the favorite here. The only person to ever defeat Braulio in this category since he got his black belt is Jacare. Braulio is definitely looking good in this dvision having a considerably easier page two bracket than page one. The only person who could give Braulio a tough time on his page is Alexandre "Cafe" Dantas (I don't know how he got to this weight division, since he used to compete at super heavyweight) in the semifinals. Now page one is a totally different story, there are many people who could possibly make it to the finals. Demian Maia who is probably the number two in this division (since he has beat Romulo and Pe de Chumbo) has a hard road to the finals. First he will have to get past Tarsis (who is making his black belt debut, but he should of been a black belt a while ago), then Pe de Chumbo, and then Romulo in the semifinals. I will pick Demian to go to the finals mostly because I think he will be well rested and very focused, since he didn't compete last weekend. Although, Pe de Chumbo and Romulo (submitted Demian at the Brasiliero) could definitely take his place. In the finals, my pick is Braulio over Demian. I hope it is a much more exciting match than last year's where Braulio won by advantage.
G: Maybe they mixed up Cafe's entrance and Lovato's entrance, because I can't picture him this light. Braulio was definitely the favorite coming in, and these brackets make it even more so. He's going to have something to prove after his perfomance last week however (at a weight heavier, because he lost extremely convincingly to Xande Riberio one weight class up) I'm going to say Pe de Chumbo wins this side, coming off of his victory last week which he won in convincing fashion (submission) over Romulo Barral. Then it becomes a question of who rides the momentum into the final and who is more motivated. I'll go with Pe de Chumbo here.
RL: This division should be a cakewalk for Xande Ribeiro. Without any representatives from Gracie Barra, Brasa, Nova Uniao, or BTT there are no real threats to Xande. Xande will most likely face Leo Dalla in the semi's. On the other side is Eduardo Telles who is probably the favorite on his page, but I am picking Rodrigo Pinheiro to close out the bracket with Xande beating Telles in the semifinals. Even if Telles beats Rodrigo Pinheiro and faces Xande in the finals he will not be enough to beat Xande. There is not much else to say about this division.
G: I agree, it would be a major upset if Xande does not win this division.
RL: I hate to say it, but Roger wins this one again (will be third time in a row) easily. Despite what it says I am not in the bracket, I am still recovering from being sick. In the semi's Roger will probably face Comprido. On the other side we have Robert Drysdale (2005 mundial pesado champ), Roberto Tozzi, and Bruno Bastos. I want to say that Roger will probably face Drysdale in the finals but if Tozzi gets past Bastos he could beat Drysdale by stalling him out with an advantage or something like that. Nevertheless I will still pick Drysdale for that page, but he will succumb to Roger in the finals.
G: Rafael's sick from trying to bulk up to this weight (snicker). Roger is definitely the favorite here, but it's no cakewalk, as both Comprido and Robert Drysdale are as tough as they come. I'll also go with Roger over Drysdale in the finals.
RL: This division will come down to Leo Leite and Gabriel Napao almost for sure. On the first page we will have Leo Leite vs Marcio Corletta in the semifinals. On page two it will probably be Gabriel Napao vs Lucio "Lagarto" in the semifinals. Lagarto (usually competes much lighter but has gained weight and skipped super pesado to stay away from his teammate Roger) could upset Napao with his tricky guard and great triangles. Napao was submitted a month ago by Demain Maia with a triangle so this could be a factor. In the end though I think Napao will be too strong and to big as well as Leo Leite. The finals is a little trickier, the last two times Leo Leite and Napao have met they each have walked away with a win. I think this will come down to who is more tired, if one of these guys does the absolute than the other one could have the advantage. I will pick Napao since he won the most recent match with Leo Leite at the Copa do Mundo last weekend before he went on to beat Pe de Pano in the finals.
GL: Speaking of Pe de Pano, he is not fighting this weekend because of a bruised rib and concentrating on an MMA match soon. I think if Lagarto makes it to the semi finals he beats Napao and then over Leite to take the whole thing in an upset.
RL: Well, they make the brackets for the absolute the day of the tournament so it is a little harder to pick a winner, but for sure the favorite has to be Roger Gracie. Let's assume that most of the top guys from middleweight and above will enter the absolute. That would mean it could look something like this:
Andre Galvao Romulo Barral Comprido
Marcelo Garcia Xande Ribeiro Robert Drysdale
Braulio Estima Eduardo Telles Gabriel Napao
Demian Maia Roger Gracie Leo Leite
along with a few others ..
Of course bracketing has a lot to do with who makes it to the finals, but I think given the fact that Roger and Xande have pretty much beat almost all the other competitors that they have the best chances of meeting in the finals. Two people who could spoil that would be Napao and Leo Leite. Size and strength really do help and those guys are the biggest. I really hope that Roger will be matched up with either Napao or Leo Leite because it is not too often when Roger goes up against a big guy that happens to be really good also. A few other people who could make some waves in the absolute are Marcelo, Demian, and Braulio. These guys have proven to be some of the best pound for pound as well. I think the size of some of the other competitors hurt their chances of making it to the finals, but it wouldn't surprise me if they did, if they have a good bracket or if someone doesn't do the absolute. I know most people are picking Roger, but I will take Xande to win the absolute. I think that will be his time and the fact that his division is kind of weak this year will allow him to be very well rested for the absolute. There will probably be a lot of rematches in the absolute but here are some matches that I really hope go down:
Braulio vs Marcelo Garcia or Andre Galvao
Demian vs Roger or Andre Galvao
Xande vs Marcelo or Romulo Barral
Roger vs Napao or Leo Leite
I think all of these match ups would be very exciting.
G: Again, as Rafael say it will depend on the brackets. I don't see anyway around the fact that Roger is the favorite here and a finals match up against Xande is very likely. I think Napao is the spoiler however, I think Roger will have a tough time against him and might lose this match. If Xande gets Napao fighting someone that size and that caliber will definitely take something out of him as well. Marcelo Garcia as the Brasiliero Absolute champion has to be mentioned as well, and he also has a submission victory over Xande as well (albeit ADCC). Comprido is the only returning absolute Mundial champion here (a two time winner at that) and should not be taken lightly by any means.
RL I hope you have enjoyed my breakdown, feel free to add your comments and your predictions.
G; Stay tuned to OntheMat for results, news, interviews and more from the Mundials!