Exclusive IBJJF Pans Breakdown: The Middleweights

Did you think we were doing an IBJJF Pans lower weight breakdown only? Well, think again. In the second edition of our IBJJF black belt Pans Breakdown: Middleweights, we are looking at the light-, middle- and medium-heavyweight divisions. As we said in the previous post, Pans are happening despite the covid hiatus. The event takes place Oct. 10-11.

Simulating the brackets and building each athlete’s position based on ranking takes a lot of time. We take into account the IBJJF ranking system, previous Pans winners, matches between every athlete and their outcomes. So give this post some love if you like the content.

As is generally the case with these middleweight classes, they are the most talent-stacked. Most divisions have three to four high-caliber athletes, but these divisions consist of the who’s-who of BJJ competitors. Each of them could easily take gold, especially in the lightweight division.

In this post, we’ll go over the favorites and possible match-ups based on current ranking. We’ll do a simulated bracket based on these assumptions and predict who will take gold in each division.

IBJJF Pans Breakdown (middleweights): Lightweight

Lightweight is stacked this year. It has 27 athletes registered and a ton of high-caliber competitors. Here are some of the names: Renato Canuto, Johnny Tama, Johnatha Alves, Jonnatas Gracie, Michael Liera Jr., Lucas Valente, Edwin Najmi, Marcio Andre and Rodrigo Freitas. That alone is a Worlds lineup. There are also some low key high-level competitors like Mathias Luna and Hugo Marques. If you have to pick one, this is the division to watch.

One interesting thing is that there’s no returning champion in this division. 2019 Pans Champ, Levi Jones-Leary, is moving up to middleweight. There is no clear top seed in this bracket. Canuto, the runner-up of the 2019 Pans, will be the favorite to win the whole thing.

He won’t have an easy road, since he’s not that far up the rankings. He won’t get a bye in the first round, and will probably face Liera Jr. in the quarterfinals and Valente in the semis. In the finals, he could face Alves, Najmi or Gracie.

I think the man to beat at the event is Canuto. With his aggressive passing, savage takedowns and tactical mindset, it’s hard to imagine someone outscoring or outsmarting Canuto. But the division is strong, and others, like Alves, Valente, Najmi and Gracie are going to give him a run for his money.

Our pick: Canuto wins the division beating Valente in the semis and Alves in the finals. Both of them via advantages in razon-thin matches.

IBJJF Pans Breakdown (middleweights): Middleweight

I love it when there’s no returning champion. The divisions are wide open for another athlete to come in and get the gold. It’s even better when no athlete from last year’s Pans podium is registered in the division. Isaque Bahiense tore through this division last year, but due to travel restrictions he didn’t enter this year’s Pans. Otavio Sousa and Michael Liera Jr. have switched divisions to middleweight and lightweight respectively. And Jaime Canuto is out due to international travel restrictions.

This leaves the division a free-for-all. There are five names that stand out: Levi Jones-Leary, Ronaldo Souza Junior, Yago De Souza, Lucas Valle and Felipe Silva.

Possible Division Winners

Jones-Leary is moving up from the lightweight division in hopes of becoming a two-weight champ. He brings his aggressive berimbolo game to the table with strong guard pulls and consistent back takes. It’s hard to know how being heavier will affect his game. Or how will it work against stronger, heavier opponents. One thing’s for sure though, he is one of the favorites to win this division.

Souza Junior is another monster competitor at middleweight. He has fluid movements and swift direction changes, mixed with sharp passing. This makes him a nightmare to deal with. His nickname is “The human highlight reel,” if you get what I mean. Once he establishes grips, it’s almost impossible to stop him.

There are three dark horses in the division: De Souza, Valle and Silva. De Souza is an amazing open guard player with a high submission rate. A third of his fights have ended by way of submission as a black belt. He is also a former IBJJF Pans champion. Valle is a half-guard player and a perennial contender. He should never be out of the podium question. Silva is a Unity representative with an amazing guard and a passion for kneebars. In his career as a black belt he has tapped 11 opponents with his favorite technique.

Our pick: Jones-Leary wins the division. My guess is that the toughest opponent will be Silva as he’s a savage guard player and a kneebar specialist. But chances are he’ll be on the other side of the bracket and he’ll have to face Souza Junior. I don’t know if they would close out if they met either. Either way, I’m expecting Jones-Leary to meet Souza Junior on the finals, and even berimbolo to his back.

IBJJF Pans Breakdown (middleweights): Medium-Heavyweight

Medium-Heavy has fewer competitors, but it’s loaded with talent. From last year’s podium, only one athlete remains. Lucas ‘Hulk’ Barbosa closed out the division last year with teammate Gustavo Batista. Batista isn’t doing Pans this year, so Barbosa is taking the lead. Bronze medalists Matheus Diniz and Rudson Mateus won’t participate either, so the podium this year will be completely different.

Despite last year’s podium being out, don’t think this division lacks star-power. Some amazing competitors like Manuel Ribamar, Otavio Sousa, Murilo Santana, Jake Watson and Matheus Luna are all hunting for gold. They will be trying to take Barbosa’s place as defending champion.

The Favorite

‘Hulk’ Barbosa is a terrifying top player. He combines his relentless top pressure with precise takedowns and is almost impossible to sweep. He is a judo black belt and his takedowns are top notch. But I think his best attacks happen when he effortlessly switches from judo to wrestling. He hits a beautiful collar drag to morote seoi nage that can faceplant anyone. Barbosa is also known for cartwheel passing over opponents guards left and right.

Possible Opponents

His toughest match-ups in my opinion are Ribamar, Santana and Sousa. Taking only current rankings into acount, he’ll probably face Santana and Watson on his side of the bracket and Ribamar or Sousa on the other side. Ribamar is a jack-of-all trades and has an amazing guard. He is an avid lapel guard player who favors what Keenan Cornelius calls the “Polish Worm Rider.”

Sousa is a three-time World Champion in the Gi (2012, 2013 and 2016). He made it to the finals of the middleweight division last year with two submissions, before losing to Isaque Bahiense. Sousa has a nasty omoplata and a relentless closed guard. He may be 34, but you should never count him out. He’s never faced Barbosa in his career.

Santana isn’t the highest-ranked athlete Barbosa could face, but he poses one of the most evident threats. Santana murdered Barbosa in a 9×0 points win at the 2016 Worlds. He didn’t just sweep Barbosa, but he passed his guard straight to mount. This was four years ago and ‘Hulk’ has improved immensely since their first encounter, but previous history is the only evidence we have. Santana has an extremely versatile game, amazing guard and tormenting pressure on top. People say he terrorizes the guys at his gym with his heavy passing.

Our Pick: Even considering the talent in his division, I still think Barbosa takes it. If we use only rankings to set the brackets, Barbosa will face Santana in the quarterfinals. This would be an epic match and I think Santana repeats strategy and pulls, only this time Barbosa blasts through his guard and passes.

Then it would be Ribamar or Sousa in the finals. Ribamar has lost all five of their matches at black belt and I think his lapel guard style plays right into Barbosa’s game. Don’t forget that the lapel master himself, Cornelius, used to train regularly with Barbosa. Sousa has never faced Barbosa, but I think the result will be similar. Sousa pulls and Barbosa either cartwheels over his pull or relentlessly tears through his open guard.

Michel Davidovich

Michel Davidovich is a BJJ Blue Belt from Montevideo, Uruguay. He trains under Mauro Lago, at Team MLDT. Specializing in mechanical engineering and being the BJJ enthusiast he is, his content tries to blend the two by providing an analytical and numerical perspective on the sport we all love. If you want to know more about the metrics used and how do we apply statistical analisys to grappling, hit him up on instagram or facebook!

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