Preview: Kasai Super Series

A number of grappling’s biggest stars collide at the aptly named Bomb Factory in Dallas, Texas this Saturday, February 2, 2019.

KASAI is using their first event outside of New York to break from their traditional tournament format, instead offering superfights between top competitors. Arguably the biggest name on the card is the ever popular Gordon Ryan, who will be facing Joao Gabriel Rocha in the No-Gi Heavyweight division. Ryan has risen to fame recently with a dominant finishing rate, particularly by Rear Naked Choke and Triangles (whether it’s a reverse Triangle, Triangle Armbar, or traditional Triangle Choke).

Ryan’s opponent is no slouch. The ADCC Champ and No-Gi specialist will have a challenging opponent in Joao Gabriel Rocha, who earned his BJJ black belt under Leandro Escobar and Rafael “Formiga” Barbosa (incidentally, Barbosa is also on the main card of this event). A former IBJJF Pan American Champion (2017 and 2018) as well as Brazilian National Champion, Rocha burst onto the scene in 2013, competing in the Copa Podio as a brown belt and winning two of his five fights – a result which earned him his BJJ black belt the same day. Rocha took time off in 2014 to recover from a bout with cancer, but returned to training in November 2014 and has had a solid performance since. Particularly noteworthy, Rocha has won just under half of his matches by points – while 4 of Ryan’s 5 losses have come by points. Both competitors have a strong record in wins by submission.

While the headliner may be enough reason to tune in, the remainder of the card is also stacked. Renato Canuto, the KASAI Pro Lightweight and Welterweight tournament winner and second generation BJJ black belt (after his father, Valdir Canuto), will represent Checkmat BJJ against challenger Marcio André. André is more than enough competition for Canuto, with wins at the IBJJF World No-Gi Championship in 2016 and three IBJJF European gold medals.

Also on the card is Raquel Canuto, an IBJJF Pan American Champion (purple belt), BJJ black belt under Robert Drysdale, and current Invicta competitor (though her last fight under the Invicta banner was a loss in a fight against Yana Kunitskaya for the Bantamweight Championship in August of 2017). She is married to Renato Canuto who, as described above, will square off against Marcio André the same day.

Raquel will face Chelsah Lyons, a BJJ black belt and current instructor at Marcelo Garcia Dallas. Lyons has medals at IBJJF No-Gi World and No-Gi Pan Championships in the colored belt ranks, as well as three Fight 2 Win pro victories in gi and no-gi. She began as an MMA fighter, but quickly found BJJ and has been vocal about the art changing her life.

Andressa Cintra and Jessica Swanson constitute the remaining female match on the main card. Cintra is a BJJ black belt under Sebastian Lalli, but has also worked under Luiz Guilherme (Guigo), Caio Almeida, and João Guedes, bursting onto the scene in 2016 by winning CBJJ Brazilian Nationals and IBJJF World Championships at purple belt. In 2017, she took home the same victories as a brown belt. She will face Jessica Swanson in what promises to be an exciting match. Swanson, like Gordon Ryan’s challenger Joao Gabriel Rocha, is a BJJ black belt under Rafael “Formiga” Barbosa. She also garnered the majority of her reputation at brown belt, earning titles in IBJJF World and Pan American Championships. A closed guard player, fans will see if she can control the pace and defeat Cintra on Saturday.

But the card doesn’t stop there. Aaron “Tex” Johnson, known for his aggressive leg attacks, will face former UFC fighter and IBJJF Worlds silver medalist (2009 and 2010) Ricardo “Demente” Abreu. For those who don’t speak Portuguese, Abreu’s nickname means “Madman” in English, and he has proven it to be true. This promises to be a very exciting, aggressive matchup.

Tom Deblass vs. Bruno Bastos might not be as explosive, but it will pit two incredibly experienced grapplers against each other. Celebrated grappler and coach Tom Deblass, a BJJ black belt under Ricardo Almeida, World No-Gi Champion, and ADCC vet will face Bruno Bastos, a fifteen-year veteran of competition at the black belt level. DeBlass and Bastos previously met and the New Jersey native will be looking to even the scores.

On the flip side, Dante Leon, 23 years old, will face Matheus Lutes, 24 years old. Both are extremely promising up-and-coming competitors. Leon earned his BJJ black belt in 2017 from Vitor Oliveira and Júlio César Pereira. He’s a well-rounded grappler from Canada, and has won IBJJF No-Gi Pans Championships in 2017 and 2018. Matheus Lutes is a brown belt under Marcelo Gracie coming off a submission victory over 10th Planet black belt Jeremiah Vance at KASAI Pro 4, a match that was originally supposed to be between Leon and Lutes before an injury forced Leon to pull out.

Rafael “Formiga” Barbosa, who has awarded black belts to two other competitors on this card (Joao Gabriel Rocha and Jessica Swanson), faces Lucas Valente, one of Gracie Barra’s top competitors. Though Barbosa helped found Soul Fighters, he now teachers at Best Way in Connecticut. Though the competitors have over ten years between them, Valente has been surrounded by martial artists since infancy (following an adult training routine as a preteen), while Barbosa started training at a more ordinary eleven years old, evening the playing field for experience.

The final two matchups on the main card are Alex Martins vs. Mike Medrano and Vinny Saenz vs. Junny Ocasio. Martins is a BJJ black belt under Junior Cardoso and founder of AMBJJ in the US. He has titles in the Masters division of IBJJF, American Nationals, and New York Open tournaments. His opponent, Mike Medrano, is a former MMA fighter whose losses came mostly by KO or TKO. He is a big proponent of kettlebells for conditioning, and is a certified CrossFit coach.

Vinny Saenz is a brown belt under Rafael Lovato, Jr., while Edwin “Junny” Ocasio trains out of Unity Jiu Jitsu in New York City, earning his brown belt in 2017. At Unity Jiu Jitsu, Ocasio has the opportunity to compete against fellow main card competitor Aaron “Tex” Johnson. Having faced black belts as a purple belt, Ocasio is not afraid to be the underdog. Whatever happens, these two will certainly give fans something to talk about.

A stacked main card is ahead of us this Saturday, February 2, 2019.

Rachel Dows

Rachel is a 20-something year old writer and martial arts enthusiast. She works at a desk job all day to afford to be able to spend the majority of her free time at the gym, where she is a blue belt in BJJ. She also sometimes goes outside to run, hike, and enjoy living in small town USA.

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