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The Great Cobrinha

Right before Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles‘s match with Osvaldo Quiexinho at this year’s worlds, I told some friends that the match could be a sleeper.

Quiexinho is a rising star who beat Paulo Miyao last year, and he has a strong competition game. With everyone expecting another final between Cobrinha and Rafael Mendes, I said, Quiexinho could create problems if Cobrinha is just looking ahead to the final.

One of the best ever.

One of the best ever.

This assessment was wrong, and I should have known. Cobrinha isn’t just one of the best ever, he’s one of the most consistent elite jiujitsu players ever. Quiexinho has a bright future, but Cobrinha is still right there with Rafa Mendes as the featherweight top dog.

While I don’t think Cobrinha is underrated among people in the know, I think it’s worth reflecting on exactly how much this legend has accomplished in his tremendous career. We’re getting to watch one of the greatest of all time in the midst of an epic rivalry. Let’s step back and appreciate it.

Let’s start with the world championships. Only three men have won four or more featherweight Mundial gold medals: Cobrinha, the aforementioned Rafael Mendes, and another all-time great, Royler Gracie. Cobrinha has three nogi world championships as well.

He’s also an Abu Dhabi Champion, having beaten (you guessed it) Rafael Mendes in the 2013 final:

Those accolades alone would make him an all-time great. But consider how things might be different had Rafael Mendes never existed.

In winning worlds this year, Mendes became a five-time world champion, the first featherweight athlete to earn five such titles. All of these gold medals came during Cobrinha’s prime years.

Consider that Cobrinha beats everybody other than Rafa — including accomplished competitors like Quiexinho — and beats them, in most cases, without a great deal of trouble. In a world without Rafael Mendes, there are six potential world championships on the table for Cobrinha.

In this alternate world, even if Tanquinho still wins in 2013 and another title slips away from Cobrinha somehow, we’re talking about eight world championships instead of four, and a reign of utter dominance from 2006 until now. (That number could be nine or even 10, but let’s be conservative). Keep in mind, too, that Cobrinha isn’t done by any means, and if there were no Rafa Mendes, he’d have breezed to another world championship last month.

In that world, this period of sustained dominance could have him in the conversation for greatest of all time, right up there with Roger Gracie and Marcelo Garcia . The alternative title for this post was, in fact, “A World Without Rafael Mendes,” but I thought that took the focus away from Cobrinha’s achievements.

Cobrinha also has an awesome dog, and is by all accounts a great guy.

Cobrinha also has an awesome dog, and is by all accounts a great guy.


We can take a pause here to consider what this says about the otherworldly skills of Rafael Mendes, but just for a moment. This post is about Cobrinha. Think about all that Cobrinha has achieved — and then think about how good a guy has to be to do this to him.

You can’t talk about one of these men without talking about the other, though — the rivalry is that significant. Mendes acknowledged this in a Facebook post after his win, saying “because of Cobrinha I became probably ten times better than I would ever be if he was not there.”

Cobrinha will turn 36 in December. He’s still performing at an elite level, but time has a way of passing.

If he retired today, we’d still remember him as one of the greats. But Cobrinha is not retiring today, so let’s be sure to appreciate what we’re watching while we have the chance.


About Jeff

I write, work for social justice, listen to music and grapple. That's about it for now.

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