Countdown to the 2016 Worlds: 8 American stars that made big waves at the world championship

Dominyka Obelenyte
Dominyka Obelenyte

In a sea of Brazilians, a little more than a handful of American black belts have written their names in world championship history. The competition was always very hard, but they have strived to be among the best. Here’s a brief reminder of how they got to the top.

BJ Penn

The Prodigy’s story at the Worlds started really in 1998, when a certain Jay Penn finished second in the blue belt featherweight division. As a matter of fact, that year, the spotlight was directed to BJ’s brother, Reagan, who won six matches and conquered the lightweight division of the blue belt. Two years later, already a black belt and now part of Nova União, BJ made history when he became the first American to win an adult male black belt division at the Worlds. in the final, he beat Edson Diniz 5-0 with a sweep and a guard pass. It would take five years for another American to repeat Penn’s accomplishment.

Robert Drysdale

Born in Provo, Utah, in 1981, Drysdale moved to his mother’s home country of Brazil when he was just six years old. It is true that Drysdale did all his training in Brazil since he was 17, but that does not erase the fact that he is a natural born American. In 2005, he became the second man born in the USA to win a gold medal at the adult black belt division of the Worlds. he won the heavyweight division after a final against Fernando Marques. Drysdale went on to have one of the most accomplished careers in history.

Rafael Lovato Jr.

Lovato became the third American man to win a black belt division at the Worlds when he beat Luiz Theodoro in the ultra-heavyweight final in 2007. A black belt under the Ribeiro brothers, Lovato is also a No-Gi world champion, among several other accolades. He is also the only male American to hold a gold medal in the black belt division of the Worlds after the championship moved to California.

Lana Stefanac

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The first non-Brazilian athlete to win a gold medal in the adult black belt open class division of the Worlds was brown belt Lana Stefanac. In 2009, at 33 years old, she won both the heavyweight division and the absolute. On her way to the groundbreaking open class gold, she beat Gabi Garcia in the semifinal and then Kyra Gracie in the final. It would take another six years for a non-Brazilian to repeat Lana’s accomplishment.

Hillary Williams

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Hillary went all in in her Jiu-Jitsu journey. Just to learn the techniques and become one of the best competitors of her generation was not enough. She decided to learn the language most Jiu-Jitsu practitioners speak, so she self taught herself to speak Portuguese. Then, she travelled to Brazil and trained at a bunch of different academies and competed in different events. She learned the rules so well, she became one of the first female referees in the IBJJF roster. In 2010, still a brown belt, she rose to the occasion and won the middleweight division at the Worlds, after a tought battle against Caroline De Lazzer. Soon after she got her black belt and then withdrew from competitions to go after a Medical Degree, which she got in 2015.

Keenan Cornelius

Keenan first made the headlines in 2013, when he won double gold at the Jiu-Jitsu grand slam (European, Pan, Brazilian Nationals and Worlds), conquering his weight division and the open class in all four events as a purple belt. Known for his highly inventive style, Cornelius kept rising to the status of superstar within the Jiu-Jitsu community with solid results all throughout the brown belt division, even after a tumultuous move from Team lloyd Irvin to Atos JJ. As a black belt, Keenan is still looking for his first gold medal at the Worlds, but he already has the title of first non-Brazilian ever to place in the open class podium, with a third place in 2014. Still young, at 24, who can say what he can achieve.

Mackenzie Dern

At first, she was the daughter of the famous Wellignton Megaton, the only black belt to compete in all editions of the Worlds. With time, her results shifted that title and today Megaton is widely know as the father of female superstar, Mackenzie Dern. A world champions in all belts since 2007, as a juvenile blue belt, Mackenzie won her first gold as a black belt in 2015 after choking Michelle Nicolini. It was exactly the year her father celebrated his 20th appearance at the Worlds. She still after the open class gold medal, a really tough mountain to climb as a featherweight, but there’s no doubt she will continue trying.

Dominyka Obelenyte

Ok, she was technically born in Lithuania, but came to America when she was only 6. Dominyka did all her training in the USA, so we’ll consider her an American talent in BJJ. Just like Mackenzie, she made her first podium appearance at the Worlds as a juvenile. As a matter of fact, they were in the same lightweight division in 2008, as blue belts, and mackenzie won that final. Then, in 2010, she won the blue belt lightweight divison and hasn’t stopped since. In 2011, she finished second in the middleweight and won the purple belt open class. Two years later, she was the brown belt medium-heavy champion. In 2014 she won the heavyweight division still as a brown belt and finished second to Monique Elias in the open class. The big moment came in 2015, at 19, Dominyka had an outstanding campaign to win double gold in the heavyweight and have her revenge against Monique in the open class.

Will Americans write another chapter of their story at the 2016 Worlds?

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