Americans at Pans: New promotions, teams and situations

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Pan Americans Irvine Venue / Photo by John Cooper

How will the Americans fair at the Pan American Championship this year? How about those who have undergone natural to serious changes within the past year or even the past months, weeks or days? From newly promoted black belts to half-promotions to switching of teams to a loss of training partners, we can only gather that this year will prove a lot.

Mackenzie Dern with her gold medal at the European Championship

Mackenzie Dern fights first year of Pans at black belt

December of 2012 marked the promotion to black belt for daughter of Wellington “Megaton” Dias. Mackenzie Dern has been a favorite in the competition scene for years as her level of dedication and talent has brought her to the top of the podium many times. As a nine-time world champion she has made her mark from juvenile to adult. Having won Pan Ams at both brown belt and purple belt, she is no stranger to this tournament. Her run at black belt so far includes wins over Luiza Monteiro at the Copa Podio and Nyjah Easton at the Europeans who will also be in her division at Pans.

Here is what Mackenzie has to say about her expectations for next week:

“What I think will be different now fighting as a black belt this year is the strategy of the fights. I know my adversaries now at black belt capitalize on mistakes. At the other belts, even though we try to make the least amount of mistakes as possible, when we did make mistakes sometimes you could still win the fight. Black is different. Any mistake, my opponents will take the best of it and it is a bad situation! I also think the pressure is a lot different now as a black belt. We will fight each other so many times throughout the years so I don’t feel the pressure I felt at the other belts! I just have to try my best to not make mistakes and stay one step ahead during the fight. What will be the same is my training and preparation. Of course, to fight against the best in the world you have to train extra hard, but every year I always try to prepare myself the best I can, not thinking about the adversary but about what I need to do to fight my best. Since blue belt and still at black belt I just keep the same preparation and get my self ready for whoever I could fight.

“This title is important to me because it will help me see how my trainings are going for the Worlds. Depending on how I do, I can change and fix the things I need to, to be able and do even better the next tournament. Just to win the Pan Ams at my first year at black belt would be a great feeling and I just hope that I can continue doing well this year!”

Gianni Grippo with new professor, Marcelo Garcia / Photo via Instagram

Gianni Grippo changes teams to Alliance

The first kid to ever train at the Renzo Gracie NYC academy, Gianni Grippo has officially left the team after ten years. The now-twenty-year-old started training Jiu-Jitsu when he was ten years old at the Manhattan academy, taking private lessons under blue belt Magno Gama four days a week. Since there was no kids program at the time, he spent his first three years this way, eventually working his way up the rankings and into the adult classes. By the age of sixteen he had developed into a serious threat, a far cry from his early mascot role he played. On Monday, March 11 Gianni announced his switch to team Alliance as he will now be training at the Marcelo Garcia Academy. He will now be present at the 2013 Pan American Championship fighting under the Alliance banner.

His statement regarding the move:

“I’ve been training at Renzo’s for ten years and since I was ten years old, so the decision to leave was definitely one of the hardest decisions I ever made in my life. But now I’m looking forward to the great opportunities I have at Marcelo’s and in the Alliance family, and I can’t wait to compete with my team at the upcoming Pans.”


Keenan Cornelius training at the Art of Jiu-Jitsu academy with Mendes bros and Miyao brothers before heading to Atos San Diego / Photo via Instagram

Keenan Cornelius gets accustomed to training at Atos

In the beginning of March, Keenan Cornelius made the decision along with other teammates to leave the team at Lloyd Irvin’s and move on. Due to situations that arose within the past months at the camp in Maryland, Keenan decided that the training environment was no longer suitable. On March 1, we broke the news about the switch to Atos along with Keenan’s statement. You can read it here.

At the 2013 IBJJF Boston Winter Open on March 3, only days after announcing he would be moving to Atos under Andre Galvao, Keenan accomplished another double gold. The difference this time was that he had no backing from a team, his Keiko gi had no Lloyd Irvin patches on it, he didn’t throw up the hand gesture that formed the letters “LI” after every win and for once in his Jiu-Jitsu stardom he looked more like a nobody. His matches were mostly quick as usual and despite the present turmoil, his stature remained composed. A day after the tournament he flew to L.A. where he made his way to the San Diego academy before stopping at the Art of Jiu-Jitsu academy in Costa Mesa where the Miyao brothers are currently training.

Will Keenan’s game change with a new set of training partners, new atmosphere and completely different routine? We will see.


Sean Roberts shortly after his brown belt promotion in September of 2010 / Photo via facebook

Sean Roberts set to compete as black belt but still a brown belt

This week Sean Roberts announced that he will be competing at the 2013 Pan Ams as a black belt — the only stipulation is that he still wear his brown belt because he has not been fully promoted. As his first tournament as a black belt, he will no longer be able to compete as a brown belt again thereafter. Knowing this, Ralph Gracie decided to allow him to compete as a black belt, giving him the option over the phone.

The story as told by Sean to

“About three weeks before the Pan Americans I received a call from Ralph Gracie. We talked for a little bit and he asked me if I would like to fight the Pan Americans as a brown belt or a black belt. I immediately said black belt because the black belt division has the best fighters and I want to fight the best. After I told him that I would like to fight black belt he told me that I was to still wear my brown belt in the academy which I agreed to. I also told him, ‘if I fight the Pan Americans as a black belt then I can never fight as a brown belt again,’ and he replied, ‘I know.’ He had Eduardo Fraga, the head instructor from his school in Berkeley, sign the documents to declare me a black belt. So I’m a IBJJF black belt but a Ralph Gracie brown belt.

I’m still not quite sure why he is letting me fight as a black belt without promoting me to black belt first. It would have been very disappointing for him to promote me over the phone. I think he is waiting for an upcoming belt ceremony, but really I have no idea.”

Sean will be competing as a black belt but also as a middle weight instead of his usual lightweight.

UPDATE: Sean Roberts received his black belt today, March 12, from his professor Ralph Gracie. Congratulations!

Sean receives his black belt from Ralph Gracie / Photo via facebook


DJ Jackson defeated Gregor Gracie in Boston

DJ Jackson defeated Gregor Gracie in Boston

DJ Jackson stays on team while others leave

Amidst the situations at Team Lloyd Irvin and the fleeing of team members, DJ Jackson remains with his original team in Camp Springs, Md. The black belt middleweight has kept his loyalty along with black belt Nyjah Easton and newly promoted brown belt Sijara Eubanks. The team has many members who are lesser known but still provide training for the leftover medal chasers. DJ will still be attending the 2013 Pan Ams as a representative of Team Lloyd Irvin as he did in Boston where he won double gold after beating Abmar Barbosa, Gregor Gracie, Rafael Formiga and others.

DJ tells what his training is like since most of his partners left:

“I train mostly with a purple belt named Greg Howell, Nyjah, Sarj and the teenagers who are coming up. I still train the same routine, the only difference is there are some different people and less JT and Keenan.”

DJ is set for the black belt middleweight division at this year’s Pan Ams where he will have potential matches against names like Clark Gracie, Jake Mackenzie, Otavio Souza, Magid Hage and more.

Beyond the changes in these Americans present at the Pans, you can make sure that you join in on the success. The changes these athletes have gone through may determine who wins some of the brown and black belt divisions but your division is important for your own legacy. Build it now by signing up TODAY. The deadline is fast approaching, tonight at 11:59 p.m. PT.

Don’t miss registration! Go here to sign up now.

The 2013 Pan American Championship will be held at UC Irvine Brenn Event Center from March 20 to 24.

The location address is: 100 Bren event center Irvine, California 92617 USA

We hope to see you there!

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There are 11 comments for this article
  1. Piers Roberts at 4:45 am

    fairly interesting the tone put on Keenan Cornelius and DJ Jackson. The author won't directly refer to Lloyd Irving's various infractions and basically calls Keenan a 'Nobody' and talks about DJ's 'loyalty' and how everyone who left a rapist as 'fleeing'. Interesting….

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