The brackets are out for the Mundials, and since I’m not competing this year I have a little more time to think about watching as just a fan.
Some years, I try to do a pool where people predict the champion in each weight class. Maybe I’ll do that again this year. In the meantime, here are my thoughts on each division: I’m going to take a stab at picking the winner and then say a little something about the reasoning.
Roosterweight: Bruno Malfacine. Bruno is one of the best competitors ever, so he has to be considered the favorite. I’ll be interested to see Joao Miyao after another year of experience, though, and I hope for a rematch of last year’s final.
Light featherweight: Paulo Miyao. It looks like a Samir Chantre-Miyao final here, and although Samir is one of my favorite people in jiujitsu, this looks like Miyao’s year.
Featherweight: Rafael Mendes. Still the best.
Lightweight: Lucas Lepri. I was tempted to pick JT Torres (another of my favorite guys) here, but Lepri has the experience edge. Plus, he’s in North Carolina now. I will say that I’m very excited for this potential final.
Middleweight: Murilo Santana. This is one of the upsets I’m picking. Murilo Santana is probably the most underrated competitor in jiujitsu: Gracie Mag didn’t even list him among their top 5 likely winners of this division. And it’s true has a tougher road to the final than last year’s champ, Otavio Sousa. But I think Santana vs. Victor Estima, which is the potential quarterfinal matchup, is a great match that Murilo can win. I don’t think there’s anyone in the field Santana can’t beat, and I’m looking forward to watching him compete.
Medium Heavy: Leandro Lo. No Keenan Cornelius in this division as a last-minute surprise makes Lo the favorite, I think, with Guto Campos a potential opponent for the final.
Heavyweight: Xande Ribeiro. This was an interesting division even before Keenan entered, with veterans (Ribeiro, Lucas Leite) alongside younger competitors like Jackson Sousa and Tim Spriggs. Xande is timeless. I think he’s the favorite.
Super Heavyweight: Bernardo Faria. Faria’s game is tough for anyone to deal with. Even if some people don’t like watching it, I imagine it’s way worse competing against it.
Ultra Heavyweight: Marcus Buchecha Almeida. An ultra heavyweight that moves like a lightweight and doesn’t get tired? And no Rodolfo?
Absolute: Marcus Buchecha Almeida. See above.
Light featherweight: Gezary Matuda. Matuda is a boss, and has no Leticia Ribeiro or Nyjah Easton in a small division this year.
Featherweight: Michelle Nicolini. Nicolini and Mackenzie Dern have awesome matches, and I expect another in the final. To be the women, you gotta beat the woman. And watch for Dern-Tammi Musumeci in earlier rounds!
Lightweight: Beatriz Mesquita. Last year’s absolute champion is still, in my eyes, the pound for pound queen. It’s tough to see anyone beating her in this division.
Middleweight: Luiza Monteiro. It’s an excruciating pick between Monteiro (one of my current favorite athletes) and Luanna Alzuiguir (one of my all-time favorites). Alzuiguir signed my belt when I met her at the worlds in 2011, a year in which she took double gold. But Monteiro has competed more recently, took silver to Mesquita last year, and I think she breaks through here. Assuming this happens, it’ll be an epic final.
Medium Heavy: Ana Laura Cordeiro. Last year’s champ. Another all-time great. Another small division.
Heavyweight: Dominyka Obelenyte. This is a small but very tough division with Gracie Barra’s Tammy Griego and GF Team’s Vanessa Oliveira as well. But Obelenyte, of Marcelo Garcia’s team, was a monster at brown belt and continues to perform at a high level. Watch out for her in absolute as well.
Super Heavyweight: Venla Luukonen. Without Gabi Garcia, last year’s champ remains the favorite. But watch out for Talita Nogueira, a former world champ and current Bellator fighter.
Absolute: Beatriz Mesquita. The argument against Mesquita repeating as absolute champion is primarily size-based. But remember how she was able to keep matches even against the mighty Gabi close, and don’t bet against her.
Those are my initial impressions: take them as you will. And remember there are always surprises, so I’m looking forward to watching people I’m not as familiar with.