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ADCC 2019: The MMA fighters competing on jiu jitsu’s biggest stage

ADCC 2019: The MMA fighters competing on jiu jitsu’s biggest stage

It’s nearly time for the 2019 ADCC tournament, and grappling fans around the world are rejoicing.

The Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships (ADCC) are widely considered to be Brazilian jiu jitsu’s ultimate proving ground, with grapplers from around the world converging on Abu Dhabi once every two years for a prestigious no-gi tournament.

ADCC, founded in 1998, is open to grapplers from many backgrounds. The tournament has come to be known as grappling’s pinnacle; its Olympics. ADCC features eight weight classes, including an Absolute division with no upper weight limit, of sixteen grapplers (for the male divisions) and eight grapplers (for the female divisions).

The limited bracketed spaces lend to ADCC’s exclusivity, along with the rigorous application process. In order to compete at ADCC, a grappler must win a difficult, regional ADCC Trials tournament, win their weight division at the previous ADCC, or receive an invitation to compete from the ADCC administration.

Half of the grapplers, as a result of their achievements in past ADCC tournaments and/or other competitions, are invited to compete.

This year’s ADCC is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory, with dozens of high-profile names set to descend on the mats. Of those myriad grapplers, many are past, current, and prospective mixed martial arts competitors. For MMA fans looking to watch ADCC or immerse themselves in the world of grappling, these are the names with which they will likely be especially familiar.

-66 kg (145 lbs)

  • Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes (6-3): UFC, ACB

Augusto Mendes (6-3), 36, is a highly-decorated Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt. Known as “Tanquinho”, or “Little Tank”, Mendes is an International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) World champion, as well as a two-time IBJJF No-Gi World champion.

Mendes has also scored gold medals at the UAEJJF Abu Dhabi World Pro twice, the CBJJ Brazilian Team Nationals three times, and several other major tournaments. Mendes recently earned bronze at the 2015 ADCC tournament.

In MMA, Mendes has had a successful career. The Brazilian signed to the UFC on the strength of a 5-0 career, which unsurprisingly saw him rack up four wins by submission.

Once he reached the UFC, Mendes faced a murderer’s row in his three-fight tenure. Mendes was knocked out by eventual UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt, rebounded with a split-decision victory over Frankie Saenz, and was defeated by UFC title hopeful Aljamain Sterling in April of 2017.

A year later, Mendes was set to face Merb Dvalishvili at UFC Atlantic City, but was pulled from the card due to a potential United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) suspension. Mendes tested positive for Ostarine, but in 2019, along with three other athletes including Sean O’Malley, the Brazilian was cleared of any wrongdoing.

In the meantime, Mendes had been granted his release from the UFC, opting to sign with Russian promotion Absolute Championship Berkut (ACB) – now rebranded as Absolute Championship Akhmat (ACA).

Mendes returned to MMA in June of 2019 with a split-decision loss to Russia’s Igor Zhirkov.

  • Bruno “Bruninho” Frazatto (7-2): RFA

Like Mendes, Bruno Frazatto (7-2) has long been considered one of the top Brazilian jiu jitsu players at his weight in his generation.

The 35-year-old is an IBJJF World and IBJJF Pan American champion, and he has also captured gold at the IBJJF European Open and twice at the CBJJ Brazilian Nationals.

In 2006, Frazatto began an MMA career on the Brazilian circuit, compiling a 5-1 record before signing with top U.S. regional promotion Ressurection Fighting Alliance (RFA), which has since merged with Legacy Fighting Championships (LFC) to form the Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA).

Frazatto compiled a 2-1 record with the promotion through 2015 – with both wins coming by way of submission – before opting to pursue jiu jitsu full-time.

  • Richard “Red” Alarcon

Richard Alarcon (2-1) is one of the less experienced MMA fighters competing at ADCC, but the man known as “Red” has been around grappling since an early age.

Alarcon, 28, has only recently burst onto the scene as a black belt. In 2018, he took home gold at the IBJJF No-Gi World Championships and the IBJJF No-Gi American Nationals at brown belt and has continued finding success into 2019.

The former NCAA DI wrestler (The Citadel – South Carolina) picked up a silver medal at the IBJJF No-Gi American Nationals and won the KASAI Grand Prix trials. Alarcon has faced some of his division’s top names, including Joao Miyao, Jon Calestine, and others.

Alarcon has not competed in MMA since 2016, instead focusing on his jiu jitsu career. However, from 2015 to 2016, the Lakewood, California, native amassed a 2-1 record in BAMMA, Taichi Palace Fights, and RFA. Recently, Alarcon captured the inaugural Combat Jiu Jitsu Worlds bantamweight title.

-77 kg (170 lbs)

  • Mateusz “Gamer” Gamrot (15-0, 1 NC)

Perhaps the best lightweight in Europe, Mateusz “Gamer” Gamrot (15-0, 1 NC) is currently a tw0-weight champion in top Polish promotion Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki (KSW). The Pole holds the promotion’s lightweight and featherweight titles, though his status with KSW is currently less-than-straightforward; Gamrot has stepped away from MMA for an undisclosed amount of time, leading KSW to crown interim champions in both of his divisions.

Gamrot has amassed an undefeated professional record on the strength of his dominant, grinding wrestling style. The dual-KSW champion has long triumphed on the Polish grappling scene, scoring numerous medals on the Polish No-Gi circuit.

Gamrot will look to add even more gold to his resume at ADCC following his victory at the ADCC European trials.

  • Vagner “Ceará” Rocha (14-4)

Vagner “Ceará” Rocha (14-4) is one of the most tenured mixed martial artists at this year’s ADCC.

Rocha, 37, is a veteran of Strikeforce, Bellator, and the UFC. Over the course of his four-fight UFC tenure, Rocha amassed a 1-3 record while facing the likes of Donald Cerrone, Jake Matthews, Cody McKenzie, and Jonathan Brookins.

The Brazilian-born Floridian is also a prolific jiujiteiro is a two-time Eddie Bravo Invitational (EBI) runner-up, an EBI CJJ champion, a multi-time ADCC trials medalist, and an ADCC bronze medalist.
The smothering extraordinaire will look to add even more ADCC accolades to his mantle this year.
  • De’Alonzio “Kimura Kid” Jackson (4-0)

De’Alonzio “Kimura Kid” Jackson (4-0), better known as “DJ,” is one of jiu jitsu’s more explosive athletes.

Jackson, 30, is a two-time IBJJF World champion and a Copa Pódio middleweight Grand Prix winner. The bruising Maryland native is a Team Lloyd Irvin standout and has a wealth of wrestling experience.

From 2014 to 2016, Jackson had a short but stellar MMA career competing in promotions like Shogun Fights and CFFC. Jackson went 4-0 as a professional, notching two submission wins.

  • Garry “The Lion Killer” Tonon (5-0)

One of both MMA’s and jiu jitsu’s biggest and unique personalities, Garry “The Lion Killer” Tonon (5-0) is a superstar in both the worlds of competitive grappling and MMA.

Tonon is a three-time (and three-weight) EBI champion and an IBJJF No-Gi Pan American champion, but the Danaher Death Squad product is best known for his willingness to fight whoever, whenever, wherever – a characteristic exemplified by his legendary Polaris superfight with leg-tearing behemoth Rousimar Palhares in 2016.

Tonon has seemingly effortlessly transitioned to mixed martial arts, competing in ONE Championship’s featherweight division. There, Tonon has rattled off five straight wins – and finishes – to begin his career. In a recent interview with The Body Lock, Tonon stated that his sights are set on a title eliminator, which would put him one step closer to capturing championship gold in MMA.

The New Jerseyan will look to secure ADCC gold, first, on September 27 and 28.

-88 kg (195 lbs)

  • Josh Hinger (4-1)

Josh Hinger (4-1), 37, is one of the most successful no-gi grapplers of the past several years.

The former high school wrestler has medaled at countless competitions, notably winning the IBJJF No-Gi World Championships three times, ACBJJ 7 middleweight No-Gi Grand Prix, the IBJJF American No-Gi Nationals four times, Gracie Worlds, and the 2019 ADCC West Coast trials.

Over his short-lived MMA career from 2003 to 2005, Hinger amassed a 4-1 record on the strengths of his wrestling and newly-acquired jiu jitsu skills. Of his four MMA victories, all four came by way of submission.

Hinger will look to continue his success at ADCC.

  • Mason “The Mangler” Fowler (2-0)

Mason “The Mangler” Fowler (2-0), like many grapplers competing at this year’s ADCC, left the MMA world in pursuit of jiu jitsu’s highest honors.

Fowler turned pro in 2014 after a four-fight amateur career that saw him score three submission victories. The American competed twice as a professional, even once in the Bellator cage. In jiu jitsu, Fowler will experience the toughest tests of his career at ADCC as one of the division’s greener competitors.

  • Rustam Chsiev (2-2)

Rustam Chsiev, who may be understandably confused for a bear, is one of the most fearsome grapplers in this year’s ADCC.

The immense Russian is a gritty, grinding wrestler with freakish strength and power. Chsiev has some of the best takedown defense in modern grappling, with a style that negates nearly all of his opponents. A veteran of EBI, Grapplers’ Quest, and more, Chsiev brings a wealth of grappling knowledge and experience to ADCC.

Chsiev is 2-2 as an MMA fighter with fights in ACA, Fight Nights Global (FNG), and BRAVE CF. Chsiev is currently scheduled to compete against Syria’s Tarek Suleiman (8-5) at BRAVE CF 27 on October 4, just days after the ADCC.

-99 kg (218 lbs)

  • Aaron “Tex” Johnson (14-11)

Aaron “Tex” Johnson (14-11) is one of the most experienced MMA fighters to compete at ADCC 2019, though his last professional fight took place in 2015.

Johnson, 33, began fighting professionally in 2008. “Tex” would go on to face a variety of notable fighters, picking up victories over ex-Bellator standout Brennan Ward, UFC veteran Misha Cirkunov, and CES heavyweight champion Greg Rebello. Johnson also fought UFC vet Eric Spicely, who he fell to by unanimous decision in his last bout.

As a jiu jitsu player, Johnson is known for his aggressive, submission-oriented attacking game. The three-time IBJJF Pan American No-Gi champion has an intricate, layered leglock game – one that he is sure to look to implement on his opponents at the ADCC.

  • Vinny “Pezão” Magalhães (19-11)

If there’s one person who isn’t fearing Johnson’s leglock game, it’s Vinny “Pezão” Magalhães (19-11). The Brazilian light heavyweight has taken to the saying, “Leglocks don’t work,” daring anyone who wishes to try. Many, including widely-considered tournament favorite Gordon Ryan, have failed to submit the 2011 ADCC champion and 2007 IBJJF World No-Gi champion.

Magalhães, 35, is a veteran of the UFC, M-1 Global, ACB, Titan FC, WSOF, and now the PFL. Magalhães was a runner-up on the Ultimate Fighter Season 8, losing only to Ryan Bader in the finale.

The Brazilian is currently a playoff contender in PFL’s light heavyweight tournament, where he was the runner-up to newly-retired champion Sean O’Connell.

Magalhães will look to repeat his 2011 achievement at ADCC 2019.

+99 kg (+218 lbs)

  • Antônio Braga Neto (9-3)

Antônio Braga Neto (9-3), 31, is a UFC middleweight veteran. The Brazilian is one of the most credentialed competitors to have crossed over to MMA, with three IBJJF World No-Gi titles, two IBJJF World titles, three IBJJF Pan American championships, and a Brazilian National championship to his name.

Neto signed to the UFC in 2014 on the strength of a 7-1, 1 NC record compiled on the Brazilian regional circuit. Having last competed in a 2017 loss to Trevin Giles, Neto has scored a win over eventual UFC light heavyweight title challenger Anthony Smith and a loss to Clint Hester in his 1-2 UFC run.

Neto has abstained from competing often in high-level BJJ competition for several years, so it will be interesting to see how he returns to ADCC after winning the South American trials.

Women’s +60 kg (+132 lbs)

  • Gabriella “Gabi” Garcia (6-0, 1 NC)

One of the most fearsome female competitors in both jiu jitsu and mixed martial arts, Brazil’s Gabriella “Gabi” Garcia (6-0, 1 NC) has earned a reputation as one of the best and most accomplished female jiu jitsu players in the sport.

Garcia has won two ADCC tournaments, eight* IBJJF World championships, eight* IBJJF Pan American championships, and a litany of other medals. The asterisks – and the numbers reflected in front of them – indicate Garcia’s medal count prior to being stripped of her titles in 2013 after a doping violation, which IBJJF and USADA announced was found to be a ‘not at fault’ failure.

Garcia is an undefeated fighter in Japan’s RIZIN Fighting Federation, where she has won all of her bouts by finish. Many have decried Garcia’s opponents, however, over size, age, and experience discrepancies.

Superfight

  • André Galvão (5-2)

André Galvão (5-2) is a true legend of jiu jitsu. His accolades might be too lengthy to list, but writing about jiu jitsu and MMA is fun, so here goes:

Galvão is a three-time ADCC Superfight champion, a two-time ADCC champion, a five-time* IBJJF World champion, a nine-time IBJJF Pan American champion, a three-time UAEJJ World Pro champion, and many others. The asterisk includes Galvão’s 2014 World title, which was awarded to him by the IBJJF after Felipa Peña failed a drug test.

The Brazilian will get to face Peña for a fourth time (the series is currently 2-1, Galvão) in his fourth straight Superfight at ADCC 2019.

In MMA, Galvão competed in both DREAM and Strikeforce. From 2008 to 2010, Galvão faced several prominent names, including Jason High and former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.

Now fully recommitted to jiu jitsu as a coach and competitor, Galvão will look to add yet another prestigious ADCC Superfight title to his resume.

The 2019 ADCC tournament is set to take place over the weekend of Friday, September 26, with final matches taking place on Sunday, the 28th. The event is set to stream exclusively on FloGrappling, available here.

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