The IBJJF European Championships are the start of the road to Mundials, the totemic beginning of the gi season in competitive Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Every year, we see upsets, battles, and the starts of rivalries that lead us all the way through the world championships. This year's brackets have some of the deepest talent pools we have ever seen, so expect fireworks coming from Lisbon, Portugal when it's finally time to shake hands and fight. Here is a list of 15 black belts to keep an eye out for on the tatami.
Lucas Lepri, Lightweight, Alliance
The king of lightweight is entered into the Europeans, a rare Euros appearance for the five-time world champion. Lepri hasn't won European gold since 2011, but since then he has reeled off five straight world titles and cemented himself as one of the greatest lightweights (and guard passers) of all time. Lepri has usually reserved his competitive time to Pans and Worlds, but the Alliance representative is opening up the schedule to start 2019. When Lepri hits the mat, black belts tend to stop and watch, because of his technical and fluid passing style that has unlocked so many of the toughest guards in the world. With fighters like Grippo, Leary, and 15 other black belts in the bracket, there should be plenty of mat time for one of the pound-for-pound greats of this generation.
Lucas Lepri’s Guard Passing Science Will Teach You How To Diagnose & Dismantle Any Guard In Your Gym Or In Local Competition
Lucas Barbosa, Medium-Heavyweight, Atos Jiu-Jitsu
The #1 ranked IBJJF fighter in the world is starting his defense of his 2018 world gold with 2019 Euros. After not making it out of the Abu Dhabi King of Mats pool play (losing a referee decision to Rudson Matheus and by an advantage to Espen Mathiesen), he corrected course with a win in the UAEJJF Grand Slam the next day in the 85kg division. Hulk also withdrew after 2 rounds in the no-gi worlds, raising some eyebrows and questions as to why. Barbosa won this event's absolute bracket last year, with wins over Eliott Kelly, Patrick Gaudio, and Tommy Langaker before winning by walk-over in the finals. The Atos representative started his world championship run here last year, and is very eager to repeat that success.
Gianni Grippo, Lightweight, Alliance
After his first black belt world championship came at the 2018 No-Gi Worlds, Gianni Grippo's momentum has never been higher. Grippo has lost in the finals here three times at featherweight (twice to Marcio Andre, once to Cobrinha), and is making his lightweight debut in the gi. It remains to be seen if Grippo will be staying at lightweight for the full 2019 season (and beyond), but he will have plenty of live competition to gauge his place in the division. With a pan-am championship, a no-gi world championship, a Kasai championship, and more, Grippo had one of the most outstanding years of any black belt last year, and wants to break out at a new weight in 2019.
Paulo Miyao, Featherweight, Cicero Costha Internacional
Paulo Miyao is finally back in the IBJJF. After a 2-year suspension for a positive PED test at the 2016 World Championships, he is finally cleared to return to the competitions where he first gained prominence. The Miyao brothers' legendary resume speaks for itself, with Paulo adding a world championship, three pan american championships, and an ADCC bronze to the credentials. Paulo has never won a European championship, but will enter the weekend as one of the favorites to top the podium. While the Miyaos are known for their berimbolos and back takes, the twins have developed a solid pressure-based passing style to their arsenal at Unity.
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Kaynan Duarte, Heavyweight, Atos Jiu-Jitsu
The Atos heavyweight has officially moved from prospect to heavy-hitter with a gold medal at No-Gi Worlds, following his incredible brown belt campaign. Now, we see Kaynan enter 2019 with the goal of breaking out as the king of this weight while still in his debut year. A championship performance here, against established veterans, would go a long way to making that reality.
Isaque Bahiense, Middleweight, Alliance
Bahiense is te defending champion at this event, winning it in 2018 by beating Felipe Cesar and Jaime Canuto to take gold and spark a season that ended with a world championship. Bahiense has a very fast-paced style, especially when he is passing from space, and tends to start very fast. With a crowd-pleasing style, and the results to back it up, Isaque is quickly becoming a fan favorite. Unfortunately, he's coming off a loss in the King of Mats finals where he dropped a tough match to Gabriel Arges.
Kennedy Maciel, Light-Featherweight, Alliance
Conbrinha, Jr. kicks off the gi season of his freshman year with his eyes set on the gold. After No-Gi Worlds gold, Kennedy Maciel has entered 2019 Euros, a tournament his father won as recently as 2017. Kennedy is also an ACBJJ world champion, and has shown some precise wrestling and guard work in all of his black belt fights. This freshman season in the gi will be a huge test for Kennedy, and it begins here.
Joao Miyao, Light-Featherweight, Cicero Costha Internacional
While his brother may just be coming back to IBJJF competition, Joao never left and he has been racking up the results to prove it. With multiple world golds in no-gi in his resume, Joao is now looking to turn away the next generation of tough youngsters (just like how he once was the upstart). Still, Joao Miyao has never won a world championship in the gi, despite five times on the podium. Can 2019 be the change? While the Miyaos are known for their berimbolos and back takes, the twins have developed a solid pressure-based passing style to their arsenal at Unity.
One of the greatest guard passers of this generation is back to teach you exactly how he has made a career out of taking apart the best guards in the world, piece by piece.
Tommy Langaker, Middleweight, KMR BJJ Kimura
Tommy Langaker may be the most aggressive submission fighter on the planet today. No matter where the fight is taking place, Langaker is hunting for the tap, and his pace and machine-gun style often wilts opponents trying to slow him down. Last year, the Norwegian product made the semifinals of the absolute (beating Renato Canuto AND Erbeth Santos by submission), but failed to medal in his weight class after getting north-south choked by Marcos Tinoco. Langaker's Euros kicked off a great 2018, with a bronze in the Pan absolute bracket, and a silver at Worlds, where he beat Gabriel Arges and Tinoco before losing to Isaque Bahiense.
Leo Saggioro, Featherweight, Brazilian Top Team
Cascao has finished the last two years as a silver medalist at the IBJJF World Championships, and 2019 could be his year. Since losing a back-and-forth match against Jamil Hill-Taylor in the world finals, Cascao hasn't competed, so he may walk in well rested and sharp, or he may need time to get back into his groove. Either way, Saggioro is here to test himself against the best in a hard bracket.
As a multiple time world champion, and one of the most respected grapplers on the planet, Lepri understands and looks at passing in a very unique way, and now this 4-volume passing masterclass can be your key to unlocking a whole new level of top game.
Claudio Calasans, Medium-Heavyweight, Atos Jiu-Jitsu
The IBJJF and ADCC champion enters this tournament as one of the favorites, especially considering he has won this event 3 times (the last coming in 2014). Calasans has seen his schedule lighten up in the last year, so many will be watching to see how he performs this year at a marquee tournament. He brings a very physical style that would make a potential matchup with Lucas Barbosa full of fireworks
Adam Wardzinski, Heavyweight, Checkmat
The Polish standout is back to defend his title as one of the greatest European black belts in the world and begin a gold medal run for 2019. Wardzinski is a very active competitor, especially for the heavyweight division, which will likely be in his favor as he enters a really stacked bracket. Wardzinski just won the UAEJJF Grand Slam, with a win over Renato Cardoso in the finals. If Wardzinski can get to his butterfly guard, he can sweep anyone in the world.
Jackson Sousa, Heavyweight, Checkmat
The two-time European champion is back to try to win his third, after a decidedly disappointing 2018 campaign. He made the podium at Euros, no-gi Pans and Worlds, but didn't win his brackets and didn't medal at gi worlds. Will Jackson be able to right the ship and make the adjustments needed to find himself back on top? Some tough tests in Wardzinski and Duarte stand in the way.
Manuel Ribamar, Middleweight, Rodrigo Pinheiro BJ
Manuel Ribamar had a breakout 2018, especially his darkhorse victory at World Series of Grappling where he beat Gabriel Arges, Jaime Canuto, and Victor Silverio to take home the cash prize. Add in NY Pro, Grand Slam, and American Nationals, Ribamar had a lot of gold to bring home in 2018. Can he continue to make those strides and win big in 2019? If he can, it can all start at Euros.
Levi Jones-Leary, Lightweight, Unity Jiu-Jitsu
The Unity black belt was a 2018 brown belt world champion who is now in his black belt debut year and still looking to make his IBJJF impact felt. Levi has a very good guard game, and one of the most effective berimbolos around right now (sorry Keenan), and is usually best when drawing people into double guard pull battles. Levi is also coming off a strong performance at the UAEJJF Grand Slam, where he made the finals, so he is taking plenty of momentum with him into this weekend.
As the pros begin their gi season, it's a perfect time to catch up on some of the newest and most effective ways to pass the guard. See the 4-volume set that Lucas Lepri filmed with BJJ Fanatics, where he showed his unstoppable knee slide series that has brought him success at the highest levels.