The 2014 International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championship black belt divisions begin Saturday morning and every division will be closely contested.
The Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championship is seen as the second-most important tournament of the calendar year right behind the IBJJF World Jiu-Jitsu Championship in May.
This year, the PJJC is devoid of many of the big names in jiu-jitsu. Athletes such as Rubens "Cobrinha" Charles, Rafael Mendes, Guilherme Mendes, Marcus "Buchecha" Almeida and Rodolfo Vieira have decided not to compete this year. However, the tournament is filled with many up-and-comers that may be dominating the sport in years to come.
With some of the top athletes not competing this year, most divisions are void of a major front-runner. With that being said, the divisions seem to be as competitive as ever.
There will be many must-see moments Saturday and Sunday as the black belts battle it out. Here are some of the most important ones.
The Emergence of the Miyao Brothers
They have not lost in their weight class at the Pans or Worlds at the lower belt, leaving them to close out their division every year.
Paulo completed the amazing feat of winning both his division and absolute (category without weight classes) at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship at brown belt while competing at only 141 pounds, besting American star Keenan Cornelius (more on him later).
The Miyaos have continued their success at black belt. Each of them only has one loss in their weight category since they promoted to black belt. Paulo's lone loss was at a higher weight class and to one of the greatest featherweights of all time, Rafael Mendes.
Joao and Paulo only have to win two matches each to be able to close out the division, which seems likely since their division is lacking the top athletes that have competed in years past.
The Miyaos will be sure to dazzle with their amazing guards and tricky back takes. The interesting aspect will be if either of the brothers decides to try their luck in the absolute division.
The Continued Success of Keenan Cornelius
Keenan Cornelius rose to fame in 2012, when he was the first person ever to win the double Grand Slam, which amounts to winning the weight and absolute of each of the four major IBJJF tournaments.
Keenan continued his destruction at brown belt by losing only once—the absolute final of the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship to Paulo Miyao—at his belt level. At black belt, Cornelius has shown no signs of slowing down. He is undefeated in Gi competition since becoming a black belt.
Cornelius will not have an easy route to gold in his weight class (195 lbs and below). He has great competitors like Murilo Santana and Felipe Pena, whom Cornelius called out when he got his brown belt.
Cornelius has yet to face top competition like this on a consistent level in Gi competition since receiving his black belt. His tricky guard game and ever-improving guard leave him as the favorite to take the gold for his category.
An interesting storyline will be how Cornelius does in the absolute. He has had great success in the absolute at major competitions at lower belts. Will his success continue?
The Middleweight Bracket
This middleweight bracket (181.5 lbs and below) is stacked from top to bottom. World champions such as Otavio Sousa and Leandro Lo and returning Pan champion Clark Gracie make this category the must-see bracket of the tournament.
The brackets are set up for a rematch in the semifinals between Lo and Oliveira from last year's PJJC. Oliveira got the huge upset win over perennial favorite Lo. This year, it will be an interesting to see if Oliveira will upset the world champion Lo.
On the other side of the bracket, the favorites to make it to the semifinals look to be 2013 PJJC champion Clark Gracie and 2013 world champion Otavio Sousa.
The Absolute Bracket
The absolute final is always the biggest must-see event of the tournament. However, the brackets will not be released until Saturday.
Last year's final pitted former world champion and mixed martial arts fighter Andre Galvao—who moved up to Ultra Heavy, which pits him against opponents over 30 pounds heavier than him—against No. 1-ranked IBJJF competitor Marcus "Buchecha" Almeida, with Almeida coming out the winner.
This year, it will be interesting to see who signs up and how the brackets are laid out.
Will young American Keenan Cornelius continue his rise or will an older athlete like Andre Galvao or Bernardo Faria claim their spot atop the podium?