2020 has finally tapped out. Though our troubles are far from over, this past year threw us perhaps the biggest challenge the global jiu-jitsu community has faced. Still, we came out of it having seen some great jiu-jitsu and MMA events.
Throughout 2020, the Jiu-Jitsu Times editors worked our hardest to bring you the stories that matter in the jiu-jitsu and MMA world, from events to news to interviews to techniques and beyond. We’ve spent an inordinate amount of time following everything going on in BJJ, and now, we’re sharing the moments that we loved most.
Take a look back at some of the stories that captured our attention and our hearts this year with the 2020 JJT Editors’ Picks, brought to you by JJT founder Kitt Canaria, JJT managing editor Averi Clements, and JJT assistant editor Kevin Bradley.
Kitt: AJ Agazarm vs. Adel Altamimi at Bellator 238. That fight was good. Both AJ and Adel had some good moments and both almost did finish the fight. The final round, Adel shot for a single leg and AJ defended it and transition to the Kimura grip to armbar, finishing it with a triangle
Averi: Elisabeth Clay’s gogoplata at Who’s Number One. This almost feels like a lazy choice because it was so dang cool. I enjoy watching Elisabeth compete in general — even when her opponents know what she’s trying to get, they often have trouble stopping her. We don’t often see gogoplatas finish matches against athletes as experienced as Maggie Grindatti, and I don’t think I was the only one who was pleasantly shocked by this submission.
Kevin: Come on, it’s all Dinu Bucalet baby! Polaris Squads was a monstrously stacked card featuring some of Europe’s best talent, but Dinu managed to steal the spotlight with a brutal Ezekiel choke from, wait for it…
INSIDE CLOSED GUARD.
It was a move so ridiculous people couldn’t help but gawk. Personally, the EZ is my favorite submission of all time so I love seeing it pop up. But seeing it implemented from a position widely considered ineffective for the choke was miraculous. Sometimes you think this sport can’t surprise you, then BAM, you believe in Santa Claus again. Does it have anything to do with all the coaches that have told me never to do this? You’ll never know.
Best Jiu-Jitsu Match
Kitt: Ffion Davies vs. Tayane Porfirio at Grapplefest 9. Tayane defeated Ffion via judges’ decision, but wow, it was a great match. It was open weight and Tayane is a world champion. Ffion really held her own in that match and gave everything she had to try and beat Tayane.
Averi: Kade Ruotolo vs. PJ Barch (Combat Jiu-Jitsu Worlds: The Lightweights). This match was so. freaking. cool. There was so much back-and-forth, with both competitors calmly showing off their leg lock expertise through a combination of aggressive offense and composed defense. The fact that Kade capped it off with a buggy choke (which you know was taught in BJJ academies all over the place the following week) made it even better.
Kevin: I really enjoyed watching Cyborg take on Rafael Lovato Jr. at SubStars this year. Cyborg had strung up some wins post-Nicky Rod, but it looked like Lovato would continue his winning streak against him. We saw incredible aggression on the feet from Cyborg as well as relentless attacks from the bottom by Lovato. It was the BJJ equivalent of two old battleships going to war on the open sea. Definitely worth a watch if you missed it!
Best MMA Fight
Kitt: Ferguson vs. Gaethje. This was an epic battle for the lightweight interim belt and it didn’t disappoint. It was all brawl from start to finish. We all wanted Ferguson to win so we could finally see the Ferguson vs Khabib fight, but Gaethje put a stop to it.
Averi: Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jędrzejczyk at UFC 248. This fight was, in a word, bananas. The ferocity. The heart. The cardio. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor multiple times while watching this one, but somehow, neither fighter sustained any serious injuries during the chaos.
Kevin: The best had to also be the most heartbreaking. Tony Ferguson/ Justin Gaethje was an absolute battle from two legends, determining who would face the possible GOAT in Khabib Nurmagomedov in what was possibly his last fight. Ferguson/Nurmagomedov had been hyped to the moon and back for months, and even cancelled numerous times for numerous shenanigans. Sucks that we never got to see it, but that war between Tony and Justin was so good I’m almost fine with that.
Best BJJ Event
Kitt: WNO: Gordon Ryan vs Matheus Diniz. This event had some really good matches from the main event to the very first match, William Tackett vs. Jason Rau. It featured Nicky Ryan vs Tony Ramos, Nathalie Ribeiro vs. Luiza Monteiro, Geovanny Martinez vs. Paulo Miyao, Dante Leon vs. Kody Steele, and Gabi Garcia vs. Elisabeth Clay.
Averi: Subversiv IV. It was honestly very hard to pick just one event, which is a good problem to have. A lot of promotions put on great shows, with Fight 2 Win and 3rd Coast Grappling being standouts in a very difficult year for jiu-jitsu. For me, though, Subversiv 4 was the most enjoyable to watch, creating an event that put big-name BJJ athletes, rising stars, and underdogs against each other in a team-based format. I often find that team events are hit or miss, but the athletes on this card combined with the ruleset and F2W production made this one a winner for me.
3CG: Kumite III, however, is a very close runner-up. The Kumite series was highly enjoyable to follow as a whole, and it gave some very deserving local rising stars their place in the sun. Their third installment finished with a close match between Roberto Jimenez and Vagner Rocha that further cemented Jimenez’s place as one of the top grapplers in the game.
Kevin: Gotta go with Submission Underground XII. Back in the beginning of the lockdown, SUG was one of the only sports entities making early strides to reopen. Before SUG 12, no one really knew if they’d actually pull it off and not get shut down.
But lo and behold, Chael and Heather actually pulled it off. Jones/Casey proved to be a barn-burner show with a stacked card, and proved that events can happen even amidst the pandemic. Athletes got paid, and new stars made a name for themselves in competition. Without SUG leading the charge, we might not have had many, if any, big grappling tournaments to soften the blow of 2020
Kitt: 72-Year-Old Jiu-Jitsu Grandma Talks Competition and Staying Deadly on the Mats: JJT Podcast #82. I’m one of the biggest fans of the self-named “Jiu-Jitsu Grandma” (a.k.a. Elaine Beiersdoerfer), and for her age, you would think she would have slowed down on competition with the pandemic. Nope! She probably did more competition this year than most people.
Averi: Sifu Kisu: Martial Arts Consultant for Avatar: The Last Airbender & The Legend of Korra. I love jiu-jitsu and I love interviewing jiu-jitsu athletes, but I also love it when martial arts collide with the “outside world.” This interview was a fascinating and lovely conversation with a fascinating and lovely person, and being able to put this article out into the world was one of the highlights of my year. I hope that people read it and come out of it with a newfound appreciation for a beloved TV series, but also a refreshed perspective on martial arts as a whole and how they can be incorporated into fantasy-based stories.
Kevin: Gonna cheat a bit here.
We started the JJT Podcast in late 2019, so it feels like this year we really got to stretch our wings a bit. During this challenging time, one of the positive highlights has been getting to talk with my co-host, Kevin Gallagher. We’ve joked and jabbed for over 80 episodes now, and through it all he’s been an increasingly fascinating guy to learn more about. You won’t find a better conversation in this community than with Kev G.
Love ya, Big Kev.
Favorite Feel-Good Story
Kitt: Fight 2 Win Sees Upcoming Events As Opportunity To Create New BJJ Students Post-Pandemic. 2020 was one of the worst years we’ve ever had, but F2W was one of the first promotions that were back on the road while the whole world was on lockdown. We all needed something to do or watch, and I’m very thankful for all the promoters who made things happen.
Averi: Journey to Kenya. The story of the group of Sudanese BJJ athletes who traveled all the way to Kenya to compete, literally risking their lives to pursue their dreams, was one of the coolest stories I’ve ever followed in the jiu-jitsu world. I hope that their efforts will help build the jiu-jitsu community in Sudan and throughout Africa as a whole so that such arduous trips become unnecessary for jiu-jitsu students who want to test their skills.
Kevin: Nicollas Araujo brought to justice. Plenty of bad crap happened this year, with no real punishment. But in one instance, we got lucky. A former Cobrinha affiliate was sentenced to prison and deportation for abusing a teenage student for multiple years. Stevie Knapp, the student in question, gave the JJT a heartfelt statement on being resilient and moving forward after her terrible ordeal. Being able to confront the toxic elements of our community meant a lot for me as a journalist, and Knapp’s story inspires me to this day.
Best Online Instructor
Kitt: Gordon Ryan. His “Systematically Attacking” series isn’t free, but it’s worth every penny. The details in each series are just amazing, and it could be a game-changer for your jiu-jitsu.
Averi: Lachlan Giles. This was another hard one, as so many amazing athletes and coaches stepped up to provide accessible jiu-jitsu education this year as the world got hit with COVID and the related lockdowns. Lachlan, however, is like the Charizard of jiu-jitsu nerds, and his instructionals (both for sale on BJJ Fanatics and shared for free on YouTube) prove it. The details he provides in his videos are invaluable for people who want to know why certain movements work while others don’t.
Kevin: There’s a ton of great coaches online helping people train from home. But for my money, Kurt Osiander’s “Move of the Week” Series is still a gold standard for breaking down moves in an easy to understand way. There’s something for folks of every skill level and style. Available for free on YouTube, Kurt put out some real gold before taking a hiatus. Can’t recommend it enough!