Editor’s Note: We run occasional guest posts from members of the jiu-jitsu community, and would love to run more. If you would like to submit one, please e-mail us. This post is the first in a series of four posts where Revolution BJJ black belt Daniel Frank evaluates the best sport jiujitsu competitors of each decade, starting the 1990s — and culminating in a post that crowns the greatest of all time. We will post a new entry every two or three days leading up to the final. This one considers all the information in the past three posts and ranks the best of all the competitors of the modern era. Read the 1990s entry here, the 2000s entry here, and the 2010s entry here.
By Daniel Frank
The greatest of all time is a difficult moniker to bestow upon anyone or anything. Whether we are talking about astronauts, ant hills, or automobiles it is a designation that is earned, but not without severe competition and also not without intense debate.
In Brazilian jiujitsu the greatest of all time is a title that is very hard to define due to all of the factors that determine the result. There is a long list of factors, including: gi competition, no-gi competition, tournaments, super fights, mixed martial arts, belt levels, gender, era, longevity, and talent of the competition.
This article is meant to determine the greatest male, black belt, gi competitors in the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and of all time. Major International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) competition results were analyzed along with results from smaller IBJJF competitions. Larger, competing organizations results were also factored into the final determinations.
Using this method of data collection later articles can (and will) be written determining the best female black belt competitors, the best no-gi competitors (both male and female), and even the best at each belt level. The possibilities are endless.
Deciding who the greatest jiu jitsu competitor, in the gi, of all time is a hard determination to make. The topic is bound to be discussed in passion, argued, and argued again. We have previously picked the top competitors from each decade, but many jiu jitsu competitors were active across multiple decades. Those competitors did not have their overall record considered when the best of the decade lists were made. To determine the greatest of all time many factors must be included in the decision process. Not only are placements at major tournaments considered, but the level of competition must be factored in, the difference between the weight class division and the open class division are also factors considered, also the varying difficulty in winning each tournament is considered.
A point system was used to help with this ranking, but was not the only determining factor in deciding the final rankings. The World Championship was valued higher than the Pan-American Championship. The Brazilian National Championship and the Abu Dhabi World Pro Championship were graded at the same level, while the European Championship was also factored in but worth less points. Winning the absolute division, or medaling in the absolute division, was given more points than medaling at the same tournament in a weight division. Some competitors never compete in the absolute divisions of tournaments, or in certain tournaments. Due to this factor, my own opinion on the skill of the competitor, their competition, and their achievements helped to decide their final ranking.
Honorable Mention: Michael Langhi
A forgotten black belt on a lot of ‘best of’ lists, Michael Langhi has been competing all around the world from 2008 until this day. The ‘King of the Spider Guard’ is a three-time Mundials champ, a three-time Brasileiro champ, and a four-time European champ. On top of these ‘golden’ accomplishments Michael has won a fair share of silver and bronze medals at each of these tournaments. Michael has also won the Pan-American Championship gold medal twice and also the Abu Dhabi World Pro Championship in its inaugural year (2009). Despite being forgotten on some lists, Michael Langhi finds his way onto ours with an honorable mention.
Rafael Mendes has stated that he wants to be the greatest of all time. I believe that this is a goal that he can achieve. At the beginning of the 2010’s Rafael was winning at the World Championship, the European Championship, the Brazilian National Championship, and the Pan-American Championship. However, in the last few years, Rafael can only be found dominating his division at the World Championship. Still, six Mundials titles are impressive. Add to that two gold medals at the Pan-American Championship, two gold medals at the European Championship, and one each from the Brasileiro and the Abu Dhabi World Pro Championship and that is quite a career. I believe that Rafael Mendes is one of the greatest, and most dominant, gi grapplers of all time. I also believe that there are many more championships to be won. But, with the lack of absolute division medals and the recent exclusion of most events (except the Mundials) Rafael Mendes falls to number eight on our list of all-time greats.
As I compose this article Leandro Lo is the new, reigning European absolute champion (2017). He also won his weight division at this event. I have not figured these results into our list, but it does say a little bit about him. Leandro Lo is ready to travel the world in search of jiujitsu gold. Since 2011 Leandro has competed, and won, at all of the major jiu jitsu events worldwide. Leandro is a five-time Mundials champ, a four-time Pan-American champ, a five-time Abu Dhabi World Pro champ, and a two-time Brasileiro champ. What helped to boost Leandro’s standing in our rankings, aside from all of the gold medals, were his placings in the absolute divisions at the World Championship, the Pan-American Championship, and the Abu Dhabi World Pro Championship. Leandro will always jump into the absolute divisions to test himself. Over the years he has risen in weight and it looks like he will attempt to win at a higher weight class in 2017. For all of these accomplishments Leandro Lo earns the number seven spot on our list of all-time greats.
Romulo Barral suffered from his accolades being split up between two decades and did not find his name on either the list of best gi competitors of the 2000s or the best gi competitors of the 2010s. Romulo had significant achievements in both decades. With his achievements in both decades totaled he finds a spot at number six on our all-time list. Romulo is a five-time World Championship gold medalist. He has won silver six times at the Mundials. Three of those times Romulo took silver in the absolute division (losing to Roger Gracie each time). Romulo has won gold at the Pan-American Championship, at weight and absolute, early in his career (2007). He also took home two gold medals from the Brazilian National Championship in 2006 and 2007. Romulo has also competed, and won gold, in Europe. Romulo Barral has competed in the top divisions of jiu jitsu for a long time. He has suffered devastating injuries and battled his way back to get onto the podium. Romulo has recently decided to retire from competition, but don’t expect that retirement to last. I’m sure you will find him competing in the masters division at a major tournament in the near future.
Despite the fact that his career spans the 2000s and the 2010s decades, Bruno Malfacine still found his name high up on the list of the best gi competitors of the 2010s. His accomplishments in the 2000s only add to his legendary résumé. Bruno won gold at the Mundials in 2007 and in 2009. In the 2010s Bruno took home gold every year except in 2013. In total he has a collection of eight Mundials gold medals. Bruno had to settle for a silver (2013) and a bronze (2008) on his ‘off’ years. On top of his magnificence at the World Championship he has four Pan-American gold medals to complement his four Brazilian National Championship gold medals. Bruno has also gone to Europe to pick up hardware, including a gold medal in 2010. If Bruno had decided to try his hand in the absolute division, and done well, he would have risen on this list. I don’t believe he is finished competing, though. Staying on top, for so long, is difficult. Expect to see Bruno on the podium again. He more than earns his spot at number five on our list of all-time great gi competitors.
Marcus ‘Buchecha’ Almeida
As we get higher on our list of all-time great gi competitors the voices of argument are bound to get louder. No doubt there will be intense disagreement as Marcus ‘Buchecha’ Almeida finds his name at number four on our list. The argument is not about his inclusion on our list, but rather his low ranking. Buchecha has won more Mundials absolute titles (four) than any other competitor in history. He also has four weight class titles to go along with his absolute titles. These are great accomplishments, but it must be remembered that he regularly competes in the heaviest weight class making him a consistent favorite to win the absolute division each year. Marcus has also won six gold medals at the Abu Dhabi World Pro Championship, three of those gold medals in the absolute division. The Pan-American Championship has also been a good place for Marcus as he has traveled home with four gold medals, including one absolute title. The points stack up with all of Marcus Almeida’s accomplishments and put him high on our list of champions. In my opinion, his size gives him a great advantage in the absolute division, so to equal out the points from his championships and my personal opinion Marcus ‘Buchecha’ Almeida finds a spot at number four on our list.
André Galvão is a black belt under Fernando ‘Tererê’ Augusto da Silva. He is currently the head of the highly successful ATOS jiu jitsu team. André is another jiujitsu athlete that suffered from the decade split that only factored in half of his total accomplishments in each decade. André also took some time away from his jiujitsu competition career to fight MMA in the DREAM and Strikeforce organizations. Due to this split, André did not find his way onto either the list of best of the 2000s or the best of the 2010s. André has won four Mundials gold medals. He has also taken two silvers and two bronze medals. André really shines at the Pan-American Championship where he has earned nine gold medals. In 2008 and 2014 André won double gold by taking first in his weight division and in the absolute division. He has also taken a silver and a bronze medal, both in the absolute divisions. He is also a double gold medalist in both the European Championship (2015) and the Brazilian National Championship (2005). Further adding to his totals are his three gold medals earned at the Abu Dhabi World Pro Championship. He also tried his hand in the absolute divisions and took a silver medal in 2012 and a bronze medal in 2014. André is a remarkable competitor, who is also well accomplished in no-gi, and has been winning gold at black belt for over ten years. He may not be done competing for a while. His accomplishments earn him a bronze medal as he takes third on our list of best gi competitors of all time.
This is where decisions become difficult and accomplishments, along with personal opinion, have to be leveled in order to pick the best of all-time and the runner up. Roger Gracie has won the gold medal at the World Championship ten times. He won his weight class an amazing seven years in a row. He took gold in the absolute division three times: 2007, 2009, and 2010. He also took silver in the absolute division five times (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2008). Like Marcus Almeida, Roger had the advantage of being one of the largest competitors in the absolute division. Roger also won the absolute gold at both the European Championship (2005) and at the Pan-American Championship (2006). The fact that Roger won at those two championships helps his cause, but it also points out a flaw. Throughout most of his career Roger Gracie participated in only the World Championship. He left the other major championships to the rest of the field. Due to this fact we were not able to see as much competition as we wanted, although he fought his fair share at the Mundials for a great many years. For his accomplishments at the World Championship over the years in his weight class and in the absolute division, for his ability to submit some of the best competitors in the world, but due to his lack of competition diversity Roger Gracie takes the silver medal as runner up best gi competitor of all time.
Alexandre ‘Xande’ Ribeiro
The greatest jiujitsu competitor in gi of all time is Alexandre ‘Xande’ Ribeiro. Xande’s career longevity, numerous accomplishments, and his willingness to compete at all events earn him the top spot on the podium. The man with the impassable guard began his black belt career in 2001 and continues to compete to this day. Xande has won gold at the Mundials seven times. He has won the gold medal in the absolute division twice, beating Roger Gracie, in 2006 and 2008. He first won gold in his weight division in 2004 and last won gold in his weight division, eleven years later, in 2015. Xande also has three silver medals and a bronze medal at weight. He has taken home the bronze medal in the absolute division four times (2002, 2004, 2007, and 2010). Xande has also done well at the Pan-American Championship winning gold three times, including an absolute championship in 2001. He also took silver in the absolute (2005) once and bronze in the absolute (2002, 2006) twice. He won the double gold at the Brazilian National Championship in 2004 and, as recently as 2014, took silver in the absolute division and bronze in his weight class. Xande has won gold in Abu Dhabi in 2012 while taking home silver (2007 absolute) from Europe. Xande has competed everywhere. He has competed as the best and against the best for a long time and he is not finished competing. Xande Ribeiro stands atop the podium, with the gold medal around his neck, as the greatest jiujitsu competitor in the gi of all time.