The -88kg division is absolutely stacked and I'm expecting fireworks. There are quite a few new faces and everyone seems hungry. On top of that there seems to be a good mix of different styles, with passers, guard players, leg lockers, etc. Matheus Diniz is back to defend his title, but he is by no means a lock to win and anyone can run away with it this year. Let's take a look at the participants and then breakdown what we might see in this division.
If you haven't read them already, check out the breakdowns for the other divisions below. Just click on the links below for each division.
Now let's take a look at who is in this division. Keep in mind things might change before the tournament.
Matheus is a Marcelo Garcia black belt and the current champion of this weight. He's coming back to defend his title and become a 2 time champ. This division has gotten even more competitive, but Matheus has all the tools to beat anyone in this division.
Matheus's nick name is King Kong, so you can imagine the type of strength he has. He has good wrestling and amazing top pressure. It isn't just static strength however. He can be very explosive and quick when needed, which makes him very dangerous. He has a 45% submission rate, which is fairly decent and he actually has a fairly wide variety of submission. His strongest submission is his RNC, but he can certainly mix things up too. Matheus is mostly a top player, but he can play from guard and is fairly good at wrestling up from bottom.
Matheus' weakness IMO are his mental issues. He doesn't seem to have much confidence in himself and often times will hesitate to pull the trigger. Craig Jones said he though Matheus could have passed his guard in their match, but didn't try when given the chance. Also in his last match against Hulk he lost on points because he waited until the end of the match to attack. When he actually decided to go after Hulk aggressively he choked him out cold, but because it waited so long time ran out. I believe he talked about going to a sport psychologist in an interview about this, so hopefully the doctor has helped resolve this.
Matheus should be the favorite in this division and his style will give lots of people trouble. The only worry is which Matheus will show up. A well trained, confident Matheus should become a 2 time ADCC champ.
Santeri is a Roger Gracie black belt from Spain. He just won the European trails and is looking to make a name for himself at the ADCC championship. Santeri is starting to make a name for himself and hopefully can show off his skills at ADCC.
Santeri is well rounded and can play from top and bottom. He also has a 52% submission rate, which is very impressive. His most common submission is the estima lock, but he actually has a variety of submissions on his resume. He can also play the upper body well and isn't just a leg locker. Hi style is also a bit different from the common leg lockers you'll see in ADCC, which could give people some problems.
On the other hand although he has a 52% submission rate he also has a 52% submission loss rate. This type of recklessness will most likely cost him at ADCC. Many of the competitors in this division have killer instinct and if you give them an opening they will finish you. On top of that although he is well rounded he doesn't excel in any one area, which might allow other competitors to dominate him in their area of expertise.
This is Santeri's first ADCC and perhaps the biggest event he's been in. He will need a good camp and lots of preparation to make sure he is at the level to compete with some of the other competitors. His well roundedness will serve him well and with a good strategy he can go far in this tournament.
Eoghan is a competitor from the UK that recently won the European trials. He won all 3 matches by quick heel hook and showed that he is a force to be reckoned with. This is his first ADCC and he is looking to have a breakout performance and put UK grappling on the map.
Eoghan has a very submission heavy style and is particularly good with leg locks. He is most a heel hook specialist, but seems very knowledgeable in general. He has a very modern leg lock game and goes after the finish aggressively. He seems to prefer to play from the bottom, which is a bit rare in this division. He is fun to watch and the finish can come at any moment with him.
Eoghan doesn't seem to have much wrestling and that can really hurt you at ADCC. He won't be able to dictate how the fight takes place and might cause him to lose in overtime. On top of that he seems to be somewhat 1 dimensional and if Eoghan can't get the leg lock will he be able to put up any other offense against these competitors.
Eoghan's submission heavy style makes him someone that can never be counted out. He is always dangerous and could upset a lot of people. Being a smaller name could cause people to overlook him and if they do that Eoghan could catch them slipping. Eoghan has improved his game a lot of and I'm sure he's training hard for this tournament. He definitely has a chance to make himself a household name in grappling by winning in an exciting fashion.
Giancarlo Bodoni is a newer black belt under Lucas Lepri who now trains under John Danaher. He recently won the ADCC North American trials and has been making a name for himself on the nogi scene. Previously he seemed to spend most of his time in the gi, but has now switched to doing nogi almost exclusively. He has a top team behind him and he is looking to make a splash at his first ADCC.
Giancarlo is a very well rounded grappler who can play the top or bottom position. He also has a solid wrestling game as well. Previously he had a problem defending leg locks, but recently he seems to have improved this aspect and is now attacking legs himself. His versatility will be a huge asset and allow him to use a variety of tactics and strategies.
Giancarlo is on the smaller side and will most likely won't be able to contend with the power of some of the ither competitors. He has been overpowered and controlled before and against many of the people in this division it could happen again. On top of that, although he has fairly good submission skills, I don't know if it's enough against this level of competition.
This is Giancarlo's first ADCC and he wants to make splash. He has a great team behind him and seems to be improving rapidly. On the other hand others in this division are more experienced and will be larger. However if he can bring his game to the next level he'll definitely bring home some hardware.
Mason is a black belt under Caio Terra who has recently been on a bit of a tear. He first came to known when he won the previous ADCC trials. He did it again this time around, but at -99kg. Later he decided to move back down to -88kg, but the fact that he can win 1 weight class up is very impressive. Since last ADCC he has received his black belt along with gathering tons of experience.
Mason plays well from the bottom and top positions and can use a variety of submissions. He is very strong, but also flexible and often uses rubber guard from the bottom position. He strongest submission is his RNC, but he isn't afraid to mix it up and go for subs from anyplace. His wrestling is also fairly good and he has good double and single leg takedowns. He should be able to hold his own or win a stand up battle against anyone in this division if he chooses.
Mason is very well rounded, but sometimes fails to pull the trigger. He is sometimes too safe and if can cost him. Skill-wise he is amazing, but that doesn't always come out in his matches. He also doesn't seem to have much in the way of leg lock defense or offense. He defense certainly isn't terrible, but I have to wonder if he can avoid being submitted if he is repeatedly put into leg entanglements.
This second time around should be better for Mason. He has more experience and his skills match up well with the other athletes. With his versatility he should be able to beat most others with tactics if he wants, but for his career advancement it might be better to make a statement and try to submit all of his opponents. He could definitely win this whole tournament, but he will need to show up with the right mindset.
Jay is one of the youngest and least experienced people in this division. He recently won the North American trials and is looking to repeat the performance his brother had a few years ago. He has only been training a few years, but is already looking phenomenal. He got his purple belt from Craig Jones a few months ago and has been very active on the competition scene.
Jay has very good wrestling and insane cardio. He can keep a high pace through out the entire match and push his opponents into breaking. His wrestling is very tricky and he can hit you with a slide-by, armdrag or duckunder when you least expect it. On the ground he is also tricky and has managed to finish a number of opponents with buggy chokes. His main submission is the RNC however which mainly comes off of scrambles. His aggressive style might be hard for some people in this division to deal with.
Unfortunately Jay will be one of the smallest people in this division. He has good wrestling, but certainly isn't world class in that area, so many others might be able to match him in that area. He has been taken down before by people smaller and less skilled than many of the competitors here. On his back Jay doesn't have much besides the buggy choke, which surprised people at first, but now that he is known for it I don't know how effective it will be. Lastly his overall skills will be at a lower level than most of the other athletes.
Jay will have to rely on his heart to pull him through this tournament. I think one of his greatest strengths is that he is a better competitor than what he looks like on paper. He knows how to win, but the competition level might be too high for him here. Luckily he is young and this could be a great learning experience for him and next time around he will be ready. Or maybe he will shock the world and win the gold.
Isaque is the leader of the Dream art team and he has finally qualified for ADCC. This will be his first time here and he is looking to make a name for himself in the nogi scene. His is a gi world champion and now wants to win at the highest level in nogi as well. He has been trying to get into ADCC since 2015 and now that he has earned his chance he will be going in there to shake things up.
Isaque can play from the top or bottom although he might be slightly better from top position. He has a very aggressive style on the feet and looks to frustrate people with pushing, clubbing and pressure. He has a very good guillotine and is fairly fast and strong for this division. He will look to pressure people until they make a mistake and then strike like a cobra.
One thing that might hurt Isaque is his finishing skills. He only has a 31% submission rate, which means he will most likely have to grind through most of his matches. He often waits too long and doesn't take advantage of opportunities and prefers to play it safe. In the IBJJF where he knows the rules well this might work, but at ADCC he might find this strategy doesn't work out at well for him. On top of that many others in this weight class have almost the exact same style as he does, but they are more experienced and have better wrestling.
Isaque can certainly do well this year, but he will need to change some things in his game. Usually people have a rough time their first year at ADCC, but Isaque has all the tools to win. His game is well suited to this division and he looks hungry.
Alexandre De Jesus "Robinho"
Alexandre is a black belt under Claudio Calasans and is now coming to ADCC for the first time. He won the Brazilian trials and is now looking to put his skills to the test at ADCC itself. He is a 2 time South American championship winner and got 3rd last year at nogi worlds. He is someone who got has black belt a few years ago, but hasn't been able to compete much since then. Now is his time to shine and he can get his name out there by having memorable matches at this years ADCC.
Alexandre is somewhat of an armbar specialist with many of his wins coming from the juji gatame. He has fairly good passing skills and appears to be very good at taking the back. However it appears that he prefers to play from the bottom. He often plays a sitting guard and then wrestles up or goes for submissions. This is quite different from a lot of the other competitors and this strategy could give people problems.
On the other hand Alexandre only has a 37% sub rate and while that isn't terrible it will most likely not be enough to submit most of the other athletes in this division. On top of that 42% of his losses have come by submission, so people will be gunning for him. There are people in this division such as Tye Ruotolo, Jon Blank, etc who will jump on submissions whenever they see something available. Without proper defense, it might be a short day for him. His lack of wrestling could also be point of weakness for Alexandre.
With the right game plan he can definitely win, but he will need to improve some things and not get caught up playing his opponent's game. In the past he has spent extended periods standing with people, but I don't think that strategy will serve him well at ADCC. His wrestle up skills could surprise people and let him sneak onto the podium if he plays his cards right.
Roberto "Dib" Frias
Roberto "Bob" Frias is one of the top grapplers on the Australian scene. He's been around for a few years now, but this year he has finally qualified for ADCC. He won the Asian trials and is now looking to take his talents to the world stage.
Bob is fairly versatile, but seems to prefer playing top position. He's not afraid to play bottom, but mostly uses it to sweep or wrestle up. From there he can pressure people until he gets the pass. Bob is very good at staying heavy on top and making himself hard to score on or sub.
Bob has decent wrestling, but there are many others with greater skills in that area. He might have trouble if he is put on his back against someone else with crushing top pressure. He has also had some problems with leg locks in the past, so he will need to take extra care to stay out of leg entanglements.
If Bob wants to get on the podium this year he'll need to be smart and strategic. He has the proper skills, but many of his opponents will have a similar skill set. If he plays it smart and strategies well he can do well. This will be a big step up in competition for him and come ADCC we will see how he handles it.
Izaak is a brown belt training out of the B-team with Craig Jones, Nicky Ryan, etc. He recently won the Who's next reality show and is a brown belt nogi world champion. Right before that he won a spot in ADCC with his -99kg win at the ADCC Asian trials. After he won he ended up switching with Craig Jones and moves down to -88kg, which is closer to his natural weight.
Izaak is unusual in the sense that he is someone from Australia, but he is known for his wrestling. He doesn't mind mixing it up on the feet and has some slick, throw-bys and duck unders. His top game is a combination of speed passing and pressure. His best submission is his RNC, but he has trained with Craig Jones, Lachlan Giles and John Danaher, so you know his leg lock game is very solid. He seems comfortable everywhere and as seen on the who's next finale, he has a gas tank for days.
It is unknown how Izaak will do at this level. Izaak has good wrestling, but so do many others in this division. Even though Izaak moved down he still might be at a slight strength disadvantage against some of the other athletes at -88kg. His bottom game isn't terrible, but he might have a very hard time getting something going against some of his opponents. He is still relatively inexperienced and untested at this level.
This is Izaak's first ADCC and he's having an amazing year. If he can pull off a gold here it might be one of the greatest stories in grappling ever. However, even if he doesn't win, as long as he has impressive performances his stock will rise. He is still relatively young and even if he doesn't win this year, there will be many more chances for him to win.
Xande is the most experienced person in this division. He is a 2 time ADCC champion, as well as having 1 silver and 2 bronze medals. He knows this ruleset inside and out and has had tons of success. He is now 41 years old and I believe he said this is his last competition. I'm sure he's trying to go out with a bang and get one last peice of hardware before he rides off into the sunset.
Xande has what most would call old school BJJ. He uses a lot of closed guard from the bottom and pressure from the top. He is a master of this style and although I'm sure all of the other competitors have gone against someone with this style before, they've never felt it at this level. He will likely have the best arm attacks in this division and his guard is very very hard to pass. A slow grinding style will most likely fail against his guard. On top of that he has all the veteran, old man tricks.
Being at the twilight of his career, I can't help but think that his speed and cardio might be suspect. Although he has great technique, so do many others in this division and on top of that they also have explosiveness and a gas tank that can easily go 20 minutes. Xande might also struggle against newer styles of play that he hasn't encountered before. He has decent wrestling, but I believe quite a few people in this division will be able to beat him in that area.
I'm sure Xande is training hard and will be prepared for this ADCC. However at 41 there is a limit to how much you can improve. He should have an experience advantage over everyone and I think his strength is still there. His technical ability matches up well with everyone else, but physical abilities matter too. At ADCC we will see if Xande can pull another one out before retiring.
This is Josh's second time at ADCC and he's looking for gold this time. Josh is the previous bronze medal winner and he is looking to upgrade that medal before he retires. Josh is getting close to the age people start to retire, so he has extra motivation to get it done this year.
Josh has a killer guillotine that can finish anyone. He also has great wrestling and is well conditioned. His wrestling, top heavy style is going to help him at ADCC. Hinger also has a decent bottom game as well as a few tricky submissions such as the gogoplatas and flying armbars. He has a 67% finish rate as well, so he isn't just a points player.
There are a few things that could hurt Josh in the tournament. Josh isn't getting any younger and since his style is build upon his physicality, any decrease or change is likely to hurt his performance. On top of that he hasn't had a ton of matches since last ADCC. He has taken just enough not to get rusty, but will that be enough. Finally, the division has changed and he will most likely have a harder time wrestling to current crop of athletes as compared to last time.
Josh has a good chance to win. He has beaten current champion Matheus Diniz before and that has to give him lots of confidence. It won't be easy though and he will most likely have to face his teammates Tye Ruotolo and/or Lucas "Hulk" Barbosa. Even if he doesn't have to fight them the other people in this division such as Wagner Rocha, Mason Fowler, etc could pose some big problems for him. All that said he should be seen as one of the divisional favorites.
Tye Ruotolo is the youngest person in this division however he is actually an ADCC veteran. This is his 2nd ADCC appearance, but this time he has moved up 2 weight classes. He will most likely be one of the smallest people in this division and you might be wondering why he moved to -88kg. At this point it seems impossible to make -66kg and his twin brother is going to -77kg, so Tye is here at -88kg. He has recently received his black belt and now is looking to keep his upward career momentum. He has been on a tear and looked almost unstoppable in nogi competition so far.
Tye might have the best cardio in this division. He has shown the ability to not only go for a long time, but he can also keep a high pace. He has broken many good opponents using this strategy and on WNO has done this multiple times in a day with 20 min matches. On top of that he might have the best passing in this division, with his combination of speed and pressure. As far as stand up goes, he has shown very good shots and foot sweeps, not to mention his scrambling ability. His darce game should also keep people from wanting to scramble with him.
One area that Tye isn't quite as good at is his bottom game. He has a good guard, but it isn't great and I doubt he will be able to get to the podium off his back. Normally he doesn't need to use his guard often because he's on top, but he will be at a large size disadvantage with most of these matches. As good as his wrestling might be technically, it will be hard to implement against people who have 20lbs of muscle on him. He could have trouble with people who can slow him down and hold him, just like when he fought Craig Jones last year,
Tye's biggest problems might come from his own gym. ADCC requires teammates to fight early in the brackets, so he will most likely have to fight Lucas Barbosa and/or Josh Hinger. Both of them are medal contenders who are larger the Tye and know his game since they train with him regularly. If he can get past these 2 he has a great chance to get on the podium and could possibly win the whole thing. If he can do that, Tye will tie Raf Mendes' record for the youngest ADCC champ.
Vagner is a long time ADCC competitor and won a silver medal at the last ADCC. This will be his 5th appearance at ADCC. His last appearance was at -77kg, but now he has moves up to the -88kg division. In the last 2 or 3 years has has had many matches in this division and seems to have been planning this move for a while. Vagner has gotten silver and bronze previously, but now he wants gold.
Vagner has a very frustrating style and often time causes his opponents to make a mistake. He likes to play from the top and has fairly decent wrestling. He best attacks are his kimura trap, which he uses offensively and defensively. His back attacks are also very good. He is very difficult to take down and score on, much less submit. This makes him a hard match for many of the other competitors on this list.
Vagner isn't the greatest finisher and he might have problems against some of the bigger stronger competitors. There are some competitors that he will be able rattle with his trash talk, but I don't know if that will be enough to take him to gold. He will be at a slight size disadvantage since he is moving up and might be overpowered. He is very good from the top, but from his back he seems to be a bit less capable.
Vagner has beaten many of the other competitors in this division recently, but he has also lost to some of them. He is perhaps the craftiest competitor in ADCC and he knows all the little tricks that can help him get the W. However he isn't a young athlete anymore and will these tricks be enough to get him to the gold.
Jon Blank (Replaced by Pedro Marino)
Lucas "Hulk" Barbosa
Hulk is a multiple time gi world champion and an ADCC bronze medalist. In 2019 he came in third at -99kg, but this year he has decided to drop down to -88kg. He has expressed interest in starting an MMA career and this has most likely influenced his decision to drop down in weight. He is entering a very stacked division, but he has more than enough skills to deal with anyone in this division.
As his name implies, Hulk is a very strong man and he uses his strength in his matches. He has a very pressure heavy bullying style and wears opponents out and grinds them into dust. He likely has the best passing in this division and perhaps the best wrestling. He is going to be hard for anyone to deal with. In the past he has had some problems finishing people, but recently he seems to have improved that aspect of his game a bit. He is also 4-1 over division champion Matheus Diniz.
Hulk relies on his physical attributes quite a bit and is this weight cut has effected that he could be in a lot of trouble. He isn't terrible off of his back, but I don't think he can win a championship from there. If he has to grind through multiple matches I don't know if his cardio will hold up. On top of that his time spent preparing for MMA might also have dulled his skills, but that has yet to be seen.
Hulk has to be one of the favorites and him beating Matheus Diniz wouldn't even be an unset. However he will need to get through a number of other athletes first. He has a great style for ADCC, but so do many other people in this division. We will see how things turn out, but I wouldn't be surprised if Hulk walks away with the gold this year.
Jon Blank is a 10th planet black belt and this will be his 2nd time competing at ADCC. Since the last ADCC he has opened his own academy and has to juggle between running his own school and training. Normally that would be a bad thing, but he won the ADCC trials previously while working a 9 to 5 job, so this must be an improvement. He is now focused on getting on the podium and he is hungry to get back in the mix
Jon is mostly a leg locker and has very dangerous heel hooks. He can enter from the top and bottom and has some tricky entries. He also has some other tricky submissions that he can pull off when people aren't expecting them. He has a 73% submission rate, so anyone he faces needs to be careful, because he is coming to finish. He also has a wrestling background and although he doesn't often use it he can surprise people if they aren't expecting it.
Jon has been in a bit of a slump recently. His style is similar to the DDS from about 5 years ago. Unfortunately for him it seems like more and more people have started figuring out this style. Recently people have been able to shut down his attacks and frustrate him. He often time gets stuck on the bottom try to pull his opponents into leg attacks that never materialize.
Jon can definitely win this, but he will most likely need to alter his strategy. Many people in this division won't mind stalling him out and if he can't stop them he won't make it far in this division. On the other hand if he uses his wrestling strategically he will be able to dictate the pace and pull others into his game. His chances will depend on whether or not he will be able to make the adjustments before ADCC. His finishing ability will be a threat to anyone in here, but the only question mark is if he will be able to get into a position to use his skills.
There are a few things that make this division very interesting. Looking at the trial stats it seems to be very choke heavy, but there are also a surprising number of leg locks. I'm not sure if this will continue into the actual tournament or not. Of the competitors I'd say Jon Blank, Eoghan O’Flanagan and maybe Tye Ruotolo are leg lockers. The others have less experience in that area, but I'm sure they're training hard to avoid them. I feel this division is in a weird middle ground where many of the competitors are too large to easily slip out of leg locks, but there are people small enough to use them as a primary strategy. We will see what happens, but many of the top names have been able to shut down leg entries in the past.
There are a surprising lack of arm attacks and that might continue as the only person I'd call an armlock specialist in this division is Xande. I expect chokes to dominate this division just like they did in the trials. Most of these competitors are known for their strangles and that is where I think most submissions will come from.
This division should also have a lot of wrestling. The favorites such as Hinger, Hulk, Diniz, Fowler, Ruotolo and Rocha all like to stand up. Of those, Ruotolo is the most diverse in his attacks and will use various throws and foot sweeps as well a shots, but he is also the smallest. Jay Rodriguez has very tricky wrestling and might win based on cardio and his ability to hit slick takedowns off of duckuners, armdrags, etc. Something to watch for in this division is how much people are bent down in a wrestling stance vs standing in a Judo stance. The wrestling stance will give them better shot offense and defense, but will fatigue them more as well as let their opponent hang on their head. I'm interested to see which strategy each person will choose.
Another thing that could be a factor is who will be able to set the pace in these matches. Some of these competitors are known for pushing the pace and others are known for slowing it down. These matches could end up being a tug of war and a lower seeded athlete might be able to win on pace alone.
This should be one of the most completive divisions as well as one of the hardest to call. One of the most interesting thing about it is seeing which tactics will win at this weight. Jon Blank and Eoghan O’Flanagan and going to going after leg locks. Tye Ruotolo, Jay Rodriguez and Izaak Mitchell will be looking to wear their opponents out with movement and superior cardio. Hulk and Matheus Diniz are going to be bullying their opponents, while Vagner Rocha, Xande and Josh Hinger are going to beat their opponents with veteran tricks. It may not even be a tactical battle and perhaps one person will just show they are a level above the others. Alot has happened in 3 years and I imagine we will see some different strategies and tactics as compared to 2019. I hope you're looking forward to watching this division as much as I am.