We at SB Nation believe that the upcoming ADCCs offer great entertainment for combat sports fans and that covering the competitive battles of grappling and MMA stars is notable enough to bring you excellent and comprehensive coverage.
What are the ADCCs and what is a Superfight?
Every two years, the Abu Dhabi Combat Club throws an event something akin to the World Cup of submission grappling. Brilliant performances in this tournament we call the ADCCs can make male and female grapplers living legends to the passionate legions of combat sports fans. Fame, fortune, seminar appearances and career defining YouTube highlights are built upon highly entertaining matches and slick moves from this tournament.
Sambo masters, Olympic wrestlers, judokas, Shooto fighters and Brazilian jiu-jitsu players have all competed in the ADCCs since 1998 with varying levels of success. In recent years, a considerable majority of the competitors have Brazilian jiu-jitsu backgrounds - although wrestlers still do very well in the tournaments. There is a strong degree of crossover between ADCC competitors and the MMA world. Georges St-Pierre, Tito Ortiz, Matt Hughes, Josh Barnett, Vitor Belfort and a host of other MMA champions and stars have grappled in past ADCCs. Almost every champion from the ADCC has multiple MMA fights and successful ADCC campaigns can open lucrative doors in the MMA world.
Although all of the competitors battling to win their individual weight classes are at least world class in terms of skill and experience, it generally is the very best of those already elite grapplers who compete in the open-weight division. In submission grappling tradition, the open-weight division is called the Absolute and the winner of the ADCC Absolute very well could be the best grappler on the planet for that year.
The ADCCs has instituted a general tradition of having a Superfight in which the winner of the men's Absolute from the last edition two years ago grapples in a single match against a high-profile and evenly matched competitor - like a previous Absolute winner. Unfortunately in recent years, injuries, illness, shifting schedules and match-making have prevented the Absolute King vs. Absolute King from happening every tournament, but the Superfight competitors are all super-elite submission grapplers.
Who is Superfightin' This Year?
There are two Superfights this year. Top billing goes to the battle between Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and Braulio "Carcara" Estima. In a "Legends" Superfight, Jose "Ze" Mario Sperry will grapple with Renzo Gracie. In this Part One, we will cover the match between Jacare and Braulio. Part Two will deal with Ze Mario and Renzo.
In a fitting ending to a sublime 2009 season, Braulio Estima won the ADCC 88 kg divisional title and the Absolute bracket. Despite recently losing his Strikeforce middleweight championship to Luke Rockhold, Jacare stands ready to defend his Superfight title against Braulio in the very last fight of the ADCCs on September 25th.
The two have faced each other four times before with Jacare winning all four by dominant decision or submission. However, all four fights occurred six or more years ago and with both competitors wearing traditional jiu-jitsu kimonos. This is 2011. This is no-gi. Braulio has improved considerably since 2005 and become a titan in submission grappling. Jacare basically retired from competitive grappling in 2005 and shifted his focus to his successful MMA career.
The Linear Chain of Superfight Winners
In 1999 and 2000, when the ADCCs were held yearly , Ze Mario Sperry, the 1998 Absolute champion, successfully battled Enson Inoue, a Japanese-Hawaiian black belt grappler and MMA fighter, and Roberto Traven, the 1999 Absolute champion and former UFC fighter. In 2001, Sperry lost his twice-defended Superfight title to Mark Kerr. From 1999 to 2003, Mark Kerr was considered one of the world's most dominant MMA fighters and embodied the insanely tough to defeat giant wrestler concept so thoroughly that the ADCCs tweaked the rules to make it harder for similar competitors to win "boring" points-based decisions.
Kerr won two ADCC Absolute titles in 1999 and 2000 by stifling and pressuring everyone he faced. The 2003 Superfight with Kerr and Ricardo Arona, the 2001 Absolute champion, was a very close affair and Arona managed a takedown to win 2-0. Arona came down with dengue fever before the 2005 ADCCs and due to his non-participation in subsequent ADCCs, he has the longest undefeated record in ADCC history at 10-0.
In 2005, Dean Lister, the 2003 Absolute champion and MMA fighter, stepped in for Arona in a Superfight against a very game Jean Jacques Machado, the 1999 winner of the 77 kg division. Machado was severely undersized and Lister beat him decisively on points. Lister was intent upon defending his Superfight title against the 2005 Absolute king, Roger Gracie, but a torn biceps suffered shortly before the 2007 tournament put an end to that match-up. Jon Olave Einemo, recently seen battling Dave Herman in a thriller at UFC 131, stepped in and was pasted by Roger, who passed his guard and mounted him to win 5-0 on points. In a fit of bad luck, Roger was set back by the mumps in 2009 and suffered a knee injury upon his return to training before the tournament. Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, 2005 Absolute silver medalist and two time Mundials Absolute champion, stepped in against Robert Drysdale, the 2007 ADCC Absolute winner. Jacare scored a takedown after numerous attempts and won 2-0 to become the current custodian of the Superfight title.
The Superfightin' Styles
Jacare Souza might be the single best athlete in submission grappling. His combination of explosive and diverse takedowns, honed through years and years of judo and submission grappling, fierce pressure, considerable physical gifts and extraordinary motor make Souza a unique and truly intimidating presence on the mats. He brings almost everyone down to the mats, while retaining top position and only a handful of people keep him at bay or in their guard for the entire match. Jacare will take you down again and again, he will smash through your defenses and he will submit you if time permits. Roger Gracie, perhaps the best grappler anywhere in recent years, broke Jacare's arm in the finals of the 2004 Mundials Absolute, but since Jacare was already up on points, he stalled until time ran out and "won" the title. In the 2005 Mundials Absolute finals, Jacare took revenge upon Roger by getting a takedown and 2 points for the win.
Braulio Estima had a magnificent year in 2009. He collected numerous grappling titles like a billionaire collects luxury cars and beat a who's who roster of submission grappling all-stars with his lanky frame and exquisite game. Several of the finest moments in the 2009 ADCC occurred when Braulio took advantage of a mistake by his opponent and performed a beautiful sweep or unusual submission. Both of his 2009 ADCC titles were decided by a rare submission called an inverted triangle, which was applied from an unusual set-up. If a trick happens once, perhaps it was luck. If it happens again and again against superb competition, thousands of hours of practice and innovation are revealed. Braulio has put in those hours to improve and apply his skills. Injuries have prevented him from being a perennial contender in some years and he did miss the Mundials this year. However, Braulio seems fully healthy and hungry to dethrone Jacare as Superfight champion.
The first grappling match between Jacare and Carcara happened as purple belts at the 2001 Mundials in Brazil. Jacare defeated Braulio and went on to win the 76 kg purple belt division. Braulio secured third place. Jacare would receive his black belt in 2003 and Braulio received his in 2004.
They met again at the 2004 Pan Ams 85 kg final. Jacare submitted Braulio with an armbar from a locked-on triangle slapped on after Braulio reversed an attempted back take by Jacare. This was Braulio's first high-profile event as a black belt.
Souza won the 2004 Mundials Absolute bracket in dramatic fashion. This was the year with the famous final in which Roger Gracie visibly broke Jacare's arm and still lost. Braulio and Jacare were supposed to meet in the 2004 Mundials 85 kg final, but that was held after the Absolute finals were decided. With Jacare being injured from the Absolute match, Braulio took the default win.
In their last match in the 2005 Mundials Absolute bracket, Jacare encountered and beat Braulio during his run to the title. In a movie-like "revenge" storyline, Souza won the title by getting a takedown and 2 points on Roger. The two fought again in the 85 kg division, which Jacare controlled the match and decisioned Braulio 6 points to none.
Key Points and My Predictions
Despite having slightly different builds, both compete at relatively the same weight and have done so for years. Size is not anticipated to be a significant factor in this match-up. The successful MMA career of Jacare and talk of Braulio taking an MMA fight is largely irrelevenat as well, as there is no striking in the ADCCs.
The first factor that will likely determine this fight is whether Jacare has trained enough submission grappling during his MMA title bout to retain his dominance and perfect record against Braulio. The second is whether Braulio's game has improved enough over the last six years to submit or sweep Jacare.
Souza's recent training camps involved the members of Black House. Several high-profile grappling coaches like Ramon Lemos are affiliated with the Brazilian MMA super-team and their students have lit the grappling world on fire recently. I believe Jacare has retained most of his grappling skills and has trained no-gi extensively in recent months. His championship belt-losing performance against Rockhold can be credited to a brilliant twenty-five minutes from Rockhold and the round-based strictures of MMA. In the ADCCs, there are no round breaks and no cage to walk back to the feet.
When not coaching his British students, Braulio regularly trains with grappling titans like Roger Gracie and Lucio Rodrigues. In preparation for this ADCC, Pablo Popovitch, the reigning 77 kg champion known for his wrestling and excellent top game, trained extensively with Braulio. I note that the usual kimono gripping-based style of passing Jacare favors is negated by the no-gi nature of the Superfight and Braulio may be able to slide into positions he couldn't in the kimono-based Mundials or Pan Ams. Estima is superb at causing his opponents to overstep or to make a mistake and his title bouts featured the lightning quick seizure of such opportunities. The improvements Braulio has made since 2009 have not been shown on the public stage, but they almost certainly exist. However, I still believe those training partners and refined skills are not enough to take down Jacare, constrict him in the guard, sweep him regularly or force a submission.
I believe that Jacare will likely win a dominant, but low points decision over Braulio. Jacare's stronger takedown game combined with his nearly unsweepable top game means that Braulio is going to have a hard time taking the initiative and scoring points or hunting submissions. Despite Braulio's brilliant bottom game, I do not see him forcing Jacare into a fight-ending mistake. It is possible that Jacare submits Braulio once again, but I believe Estima has improved to the point where only a tiny bit of skill and athleticism separates the two. I expect to see a 4-2 or 2-0 decision going Jacare's way.
I remind you that upsets happen in combat sports and one small mistake or burst of genius can crack open a match and end the fight in spectacular fashion. Could something magical happen in the 2011 Superfight between Jacare Souza and Braulio Estima? Watch the stream or the continuing SB Nation coverage and find out.
Where is the ADCC and How Can I Watch?
Starting in 2003, the ADCCs have moved locations throughout the world. This year's edition will be in Nottingham, England on September 24th and 25th of 2011. Tickets are available for those fortunate to physically attend this pinnacle of submission grappling. For those more distant fans, the ADCCs are now streamed live over the internet at BudoVideos.com for a good price. The stream is generally of excellent quality and features a knowledgeable and entertaining commentating team in Shawn Williams, Caleb and Budo Jake. Previous tournaments are available on DVD and highlight clips are all over the internet.
Rules and Format
Almost every submission humanly possible is legal. Spinal locks and full nelsons are banned due to the drastic injury risks of going too far. Clothing choices are up to the competitors (with a general standard of decency being applied) and most choose to grapple in fight shorts with a rashguard. No shoes or gloves are permitted. Some grapplers are sponsored and some are not. The ADCC format is a fairly standard bracket similar to that of Olympic wrestling with each regular match lasting ten minutes. To encourage risk taking and submissions, no points are awarded for the first half of each match. Points are awarded for positional improvements held for at least three seconds. The finals of each weight division and the open weight division are twenty minutes long. Overtime is done only when matches are tied after regulation and if the score is still tied, a referee's decision is made in favor of one competitor.