Pan 2012: the day Rafael Mendes was waiting for and other stories

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Rafael Mendes finaliza Cobrinha no armlock

Rafael Mendes submits Cobrinha with an armbar. Photo: Ivan Trindade.

Though it was the day known around the world as “Fools Day,” what happened this Sunday, the last day of the 2012 Pan, was very much serious business, however hard to believe it seemed.

Ever since 2009, when they first faced each other, every time Rafael Mendes and Rubens Cobrinha have stepped into the competition area together all eyes turn their way and they put on truly riveting displays.

The score between the two was already amply in favor of Mendes. Still there was something missing, and Rafael knew it.

At ADCC 2009, what was missing almost ended up coming true, but Cobrinha, as valiant and relentless as ever, gritted it out.

Then came a series of evenly balanced affairs, the outcomes of which were determined by advantages or a slim margin of points.

So, in the featherweight final of the 2012 Pan, they again found themselves face to face.

What he was planning to do with Cobrinha Rafael had already done with his three prior opponents in the weight class, including two-time world champion Mário Reis.

Rafael wanted the finish!

The action began with both pulling guard, fooling their regular viewers into thinking another incessant sweep swap would transpire.

But no.

While spinning in hopes of taking his opponent’s back, Rafael latched on to an arm.

The armbar surfaced already fully in place; but you don’t finish a four-time world and Pan-American champion that easy.

Cobrinha used all the technique and strength he could muster to hold out, flipping over in an attempt to alleviate the pressure on his elbow.

The expression he bore on his face, however, indicated the situation had gotten critical.

At a given moment Cobra nearly escaped, but it was just false hope during the calm before the ultimate storm.

With a twist to Cobrinha’s wrist, Rafael created the torsion that left his prey no recourse.

The finish was fact!

As he left the match area, Rafael muttered to André Galvão, who often served as his coach,” I told you I’d catch him, didn’t I?”

He would explain his certainty later on: “I feel this was my best championship performance. I let my game flow and went for different finishes. I did modern Jiu-Jitsu, which a lot of folks are already being influenced by.”

Caio Terra, another of the day’s winners, chimed in, asserting, “Rafael, to me, is the best at Jiu-Jitsu in the world right now. I trained with him, and it was depressing; I couldn’t do a thing. I even think he’d win the absolute if he were in it.”


The Pan also marked the consolidation of two names in ascension: Marcus Vinícius “Bochecha” and Antônio “Cara de Sapato” Barbosa, a pair of Rodrigo Cavaca students who closed out the absolute and sent a message advising that they’re ready to hold their own against the big medal winners.

Kron Gracie left Irvine with two bronzes, one from the open class and the other from the middleweight class, but he returned to dazzling one and all with his forward-going Jiu-Jitsu, unfearing of getting finished and untempted to stall. A game that even punishes him with defeat because of the points scored against him during his incessant hunt for the finish. If Rickson’s son can manage to temper his impulsiveness in pursuing the tapout and immense talent with a bit more strategy, the results would certainly do his value as a fighter justice.

Kayron Gracie returned after a year sidelined from big-tourney action due to injury, and he calmly navigated the turbulent medium heavyweight waters. With his well-known, nearly insurmountable guard and pinpoint attacks, the Gracie promised to soar to even greater heights: “Competing in the absolute is one of my objectives! Perhaps I’ll enter at the Worlds.”

Bruno Malfacine decided not to pick a fight with the scale, and it served him well. The Rio de Janeiro native entered the light featherweight contest to test himself, and left with a gold medal dangling from his neck for his efforts. In the final he outdid Guilherme Mendes in a highly strategic affair. Still he promises to return to his roosterweight roost: “I played according to his game, which is really tight. I wanted to let loose, I just couldn’t. In the end it all worked out, though.”

Caio Terra defined the roosterweight final as being an activity between friends. Humorously, he said, “If I lose to him I’ll be happy. But if I win I’ll be even happier!” With his thoughts on the greater joy, Terra stalked Rafael Barata until he had him helpless in a leglock. Was competing at rooster easy with Malfacine out of the picture? “Malfacine is a cut above the rest, that’s why our fights are so evenly matched, but there’s no smooth sailing at black belt anyways,” he said in analysis, this time seriously.

Bernardo Faria was wounded on Sunday. Not physically, it was his pride that was bruised. The world champion from team Alliance lost the absolute semifinal to Cara de Sapato on Saturday but refused to accept defeat: “I feel I was the victim of a grave refereeing mistake; but I recognize how good Cara de Sapato is. He’s beaten me before.” So, when they faced off again in the super heavyweight final, Faria knew the match had to go differently. “I had the same match today as I did yesterday. We’re always evenly matched!” If he used the same strategy as he did on Saturday, Bernardo was more efficient about it on Sunday. Trailing by 5-0, he got back control on two occasions and scored a sweep, rallying back to win by 10 to 5.

The lightweight final was their first encounter ever! Leandro Lo had never faced Lucas Lepri before. And the São Paulo native from Cicero Costha’s stable took the title by a sweep. The meager score is indicative of the strategic and studied affair it was: “I got the sweep early on and managed to avoid letting him sweep me back. Against an athlete like Lepri you can’t make mistakes, and it’s a good thing I didn’t.”

The ultraheavyweight final was an awkward situation for Rodrigo Cavaca. As Alexander Trans and Bochecha are from the same team but don’t train together, the CheckMat headmaster ended up being a sort of double coach. He was silent for most of the time, but every now and again he’d chime in with the time remaining on the clock, first in Portuguese, then in English. Some moments he could contain himself no more, barking instructions at Bochecha. After all, the Brazilian is his student. When Bochecha scored a sweep towards the end for the win, Cavaca just cracked a smile, acknowledging his student’s effectiveness.

At middleweight, 50/50 guard and not much action to speak of. Except the occasional attempt at a footlock. Claudio Calasans swept one more time than Victor Estima did and took his second Pan title. “I won because I managed to impose the pace and stay ahead on the scorecards the whole time. Victor is really tough,” was Calasans’s synopsis.

Check out the exclusive photo gallery from the Pan 2012 black belt semifinals and finals:

[flickr set=72157629361075946]

Photos: Ivan Trindade

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There are 11 comments for this article
  1. Jake at 4:47 pm

    Wow… I can’t believe Cavaca would instruct one team member against another, shouldn’t he be neutral? Must be embarrassing for Checkmat tbh

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