The Fantasy Jiu Jitsu Draft Pick For 2016-2017
Like any other sport, jiu jitsu has its superstars. Unlike most other sports jiu jitsu has superstars for each area of the sport. The main categories in sport jiu jitsu are: gi and no gi. The top gi guy won’t always be the top no gi guy, though it’s often the case. Therefore, when truly analyzing the upper echelons of sport jiu jitsu, these two categories must be judged independently of each other. There has been a relatively recent craze in some sports: the fantasy draft. People build teams based on their favorite athletes in their sport of choice, and then track how those athletes do throughout the season. Based on my understanding of the sport of BJJ and grappling, I have compiled this list of athletes for each weight class and category within the sport.
For the purposes of making this list somewhat realistic I am going to leave off names that are not currently involved in sport BJJ. For example: Rickson and Roger Gracie are unfortunately not valid candidates for this list as they are not currently building upon their records in the sport of jiu jitsu in adult divisions. Also I will not be looking at the women’s divisions or the area of the sport that we can call the Invitational (submission only, special fights etc) which are both worthy of articles in and of themselves.
Ultra Heavy 221 lbs and over (100 kg+)
Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida is most people’s current pick for any and all absolute and ultra heavy contests. Given his performance over his past several appearances at world’s, barring unexpected injuries Buchecha seems pretty much unstoppable. His constant ascent to the podium at just about every event he attends is always punctuated by his ability to move like a lightweight while dropping that pressure like an ultra heavy.
I think that Buchecha will continue his reign as the top dog at his weight and continue to dominate anyone who steps in front of him in competition.
Pick: Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida
Super Heavy under 221.0 lbs (-100 kg)
This is a tough category to pick right now given the flux in the division. My pick assuming he returns to tournament within the year would be Rodolfo Vieira. Having only been beaten a handful of times, and only submitted once as a black belt, Vieira could make a triumphant return.
On the other side of things a safe bet in this division would be Leonardo Nogueira who is coming off of a big win at world’s this year and has been beating just about everyone the IBJJF puts in front of him. Realistically speaking we can probably expect Nogueira to continue his ascent as he finds his pace.
However, Bernardo Faria’s continuously impressive results will likely continue, so barring him being sidelined by injury he’s the smart pick here.
Pick: Bernardo Faria
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Heavy under 207.5 lbs (-94.3 kg)
The heavyweight division in IBJJF competition is any extremely stacked division, with names like Lucas Rocha, Andre Galvao, Felipe Pena. When Galvao competes, he tends to win, and while in the past he’s dropped down to below 88kg, he has been staying heavy lately and has leveled his competition.
I hate to say that Galvao is an easy pick because anyone can get injured or lose interest in BJJ competition and transition to MMA, but Galvao has already been there and done that, and is currently on a tear in competition jiu jitsu.
Pick: Andre Galvao
Medium Heavy is a division packed with talent and potential. With athletes like Keenan Cornelius and Leandro Lo it’s always a treat to see who the next big name is going to be in the division, though lately the big name has in fact been Leandro Lo.
Ostensibly one of the toughest pound for pound competitors of all time, Lo has proven to be a challenge for any opponent at any weight. He has such a dynamic and aggressive game that he is able to overwhelm most of his opponents in ways that are truly impressive. He of course has other amazing athletes at his heels trying to overtake him, but for now Lo is the man to beat in medium heavy.
Pick: Leandro Lo
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Middle weight under 181.0 lbs (-82.3 kg)
Middle weight is yet another amazingly stacked division, with Otavio Sousa, Vitor Oliveira, Claudio Calasans and many more. Picking one king of the division would be almost impossible. Instead I’m going to defer to the IBJJF rankings and it would appear that insofar as the current rankings, Otavio Sousa is at the top of the pile.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean much when in reality other members of this elite weight class tend to leapfrog each other, but Otavio Sousa is the current reigning world champ. I will however go with my gut instincts and against the rankings, my pick in Middle Weight is Vitor Oliveira who has done impressive things over the past couple of years and just recently won his first world title in the masters division.
Pick: Vitor Oliveira
Light weight under 167.5 lbs (-76 kg)
The lightweight division is extremely tough, with Alliance stars Michael Langhi and Lucas Lepri constantly vying for baddest man in the division, and many other names including JT Torres and Michael Liera Jr. constantly trying to work their way to the top. Between the two Alliance studs it’s hard to pick a favorite, but given Langhi’s penchant for the gi, I’m going to think of him as the smarter pick.
Lepri is of course an absolute monster doing big things is both gi and no gi. He is undeniably one of the GOATs of competition jiu jitsu and he is still active in his career.
Pick: Michael Langhi
Feather weight under 154.0 lbs (-70 kg)
In this division, the two standouts in my mind are Rafa Mendes and Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles. Mendes is younger. Mendes has done better in recent years in IBJJF competition, therefore Mendes is the logical pick.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Mendes is his ability to make his game work against just about anyone. Just check out his match against Rodolfo Vieira in which he was able to shut down the crusher’s game. Mendes has not been submitted as a black belt.
Pick: Rafa Mendes
Light Feather weight under 141.0 lbs (-64 kg)
Is that a cat I hear? The Miyao brothers have for a while been the kings of IBJJF rankings in spite of only one of them having won a world title at black belt, and he really has only won once (not that that’s anything to scoff at.)
You can’t pick the Miyao Brothers as a cohesive unit, unfortunately, and they do sometimes flip flop into featherweight, but the reality is that in the light feather category they do very well. They are definitely beatable but their work ethic and the fact that they show up to literally anything the IBJJF puts on makes either of them a smart pick.
Pick: Miyao. Paulo Miyao
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Rooster weight under 126.5 lbs (-57 kg)
There are two names that come to mind in this amazing division: Caio Terra and Bruno Malfacine. The main difference in my mind is that Terra competes far more often than Malfacine, although at this moment Malfacine outranks him in the IBJJF rankings.
Bearing this in mind the decision is not a trivial one. I’d say that Caio Terra is hungrier, but that when the two meet in competition Malfacine tends to be victorious. Based purely on Terra’s hunger I’d pick him in this draft.
Pick: Caio Terra
No Gi Competition
Ultra Heavy 215 lbs and over (97.5 kg+)
Just looking at the lineup of the ultra-heavies it’s clear that there is as much talent in the no gi pool as in gi. The difference is we don’t have Bernardo Faria and Buchecha very active in no gi, so the landscape changes. But we do have Cyborg…
I do think that if Cyborg Abreu does IBJJF no gi worlds again this year and then goes on to do ADCC he’ll take gold at both. He’s a smart pick.
Pick: Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu
Super Heavy under 215 lbs (-97.5 kg)
The 2014 and 2015 IBJJF No Gi World champs in this weight class was Joao Assis. However, an American from the Rafael Lovato Jr. camp, James Puopolo has been gradually gaining speed this year with his stellar performances in his divisions at the IBJJF Worlds.
I think that if Puopolo consistently competes he will overtake Assis, and will be the superior no gi grappler in this tough weight class.
Pick: James Puopolo
Heavy under 202 lbs (-91.5 kg)
For a while Lucas Leite was the man to beat in the Heavy division, but in 2015 Felipe Pena took the torch for a bit. I think that if Leite decides to return to IBJJF no gi competition he will once again be “the man” so to speak. I also think that if Rodolfo Vieira decides to start doing IBJJF no gi competitions, he could be a force to be reckoned with.
I think that Leite is going to crush it this year and be a smart pick
Pick: Lucas Leite
Medium Heavy under 188.5 lbs (-85.5 kg)
The medium heavy division is fascinating for several reasons. You’ve got your Keenan Cornelius and Andre Galvao both of whom kill it in no gi, and you’ve got Yuri Simoes who is on another level. Simoes is arguably one of the most dominant no gi points grapplers of all time, and with ADCC coming right up, it’ll be interesting to see how he fairs.
I think that Simoes is going to continue to prove to be a force to be reckoned with and will earn his spot on this list. However, if anyone can beat him it will be rising Marcelo Garcia Academy superstar, Matheus Diniz.
Pick: Yuri Simoes
Middle weight under 175.5 lbs (-79.5 kg)
A short rhinoceros of a man, DJ Jackson has won two world titles and seems to be chomping at the bit to win more. Coming from the embattled and controversial Team Lloyd Irvin, Jackson has made a name for himself as a wrestler who has made history with his results in jiu jitsu. He also loves trash talking online which makes him fun to follow.
Pick: DJ Jackson
Light weight under 162.5 lbs (-73.5 kg)
As of late there have been several athletes making waves in the light weight no gi division. I think that this year we’ll see a resurgence of Lucas Lepri. A running theory is that founding and building up his academy in Charlotte may have slowed down his competitive run, but after his display at worlds this year, I think everyone is in big trouble.
Expect to see JT Torres and Edwin Najmi try to slow Lucas down, but my guess is he’s going to make another run…
Pick: Lucas Lepri
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Feather weight under 149.0 lbs (-67.5 kg)
Another American is about to make the list. Maybe I’m biased, maybe we are in fact just awesome at no gi. As has shown prevalent in many IBJJF events, superior wrestlers and wrestling win matches. It is what it is. No, not all high level competitors can or do wrestle, but those who do succeed as a result, and one such person is Justin Rader, another product of the Rafael Lovato Jr. camp.
Rader has won two world titles, once in 2010 and once in 2013. Lately he’s been participating in invitationals and has been making his mark there, and I think that he stands a good chance at winning ADCC when that happens. Keep your eyes on this kid because he’s going places.
Pick: Justin Rader
Light Feather weight under 136.0 lbs (-61.5 kg)
Another cat you say? Don’t bet against the Miyaos, it won’t go your way. They literally just eat, sleep, train and compete. This year will be another good one for them because of their tireless work ethic both in and outside of the gi. Expect big things from these crazy tots as they demolish the competition wherever they go. They might not even win another world title between them this year, but they’ll do so many international opens that it won’t even matter.
Pick: Miyao. Joao Miyao.
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Rooster weight under 122.5 lbs (-55.5 kg)
Caio Terra. Unless Bruno Malfacine wants to follow Caio Terra to no gi worlds, chances are no one is going to stop him. Caio Terra was an awesome man-child-looking competitor before it was cool. The guy is an 8 time world champ at this point, having won every no gi world championship since 2012. That’s dominance.
I will say this: If one of the Miyaos comes after him he may get berimbolo’d to a loss. They’d berimbolo him so hard. But seriously Caio Terra is the man. He’s going to continue his reign as the king of no gi for a while, get used to it.
Pick: Caio Terra.
As time progresses these picks may seem obvious or they may not seem great at all. These sorts of “drafts” are done for fun, but they are often a good indicator of where the sport is at the present time. Which of these names would you keep? Which would you sub for someone else? How would one weigh the different championships? I tended to look at the IBJJF as a sort of gold standard to judge competitors but there are plenty of other tournaments and circuits available.
Another factor to consider is the invitational. Many invitational matches are put together for entertainment purposes which can result in lesser competitors being pitted against decent competitors making the decent competitors look amazing. Does that increase or decrease a win at an invitational? These are not easy questions to answer!
Put together your own draft pick, maybe get with your friends and see what they think. Jiu jitsu competition can be a fantastic spectator sport and the best part is many of us get to train with our favorite athletes. There are many different options as far as a good metric for these sorts of games. Weight each individual championship according to the number of competitors and the perceived prestige and base your numbers on that. Maybe look at different categories differently or look at each athlete as a cohesive part of the greater scheme. Whatever you do, have fun with it!