It was yet another a big year for the growth and development of BJJ in 2023 and we’ve put together a collection of the 10 biggest stories that emerged throughout the year. There’s always a ton of variation in what people will find the most interesting, and this sport is clearly no exception. The biggest moments of the year have ranged from updates on the best competitors in the sport to shocking moments that nobody could have seen coming. There were also a fair amount of developments in the world of celebrity BJJ practitioners, some of which naturally broke through to the mainstream consciousness.
Biggest BJJ Stories Of 2023
From 10 to 5
Nicholas Meregali removes himself from IBJJF competition
Nicholas Meregali has been one of the best gi competitors on the planet for quite some time and the IBJJF is undoubtedly the biggest place for gi competition. Meregali made his ADCC debut a year earlier and clearly had developed a taste for no gi competition, but he was still training in both regardless. He returned to the gi with an incredible performance at the IBJJF Pan Championship at the beginning of the year to win double gold, but that’s when he dropped the big news. Right in the middle of 2023, Meregali announced that his BJJ career was taking a big turn and he would no longer be competing in IBJJF events at all.
Roberto ‘Cyborg’ Abreu gives his side of IBJJF suspension
This next story actually started all the way back in 2022, when multiple athletes either failed drug tests or simply refused to take them at the IBJJF No Gi World Championship. The fact that 5 competitors were handed suspensions was news in itself, and many of them were big names in the sport. Roberto ‘Cyborg’ Abreu stood out as the most popular of them and he addressed his suspension publicly shortly after it emerged. He admitting using HRT under the guidance of a doctor and listed his achievements in the sport, chosing to criticize the IBJJF’s testing practices instead of admitting any fault himself.
Gordon Ryan plans a return to competition after surgery
It’s surprising that one of the biggest names in BJJ, Gordon Ryan, only managed to compete once in 2023. After not being able to compete for the first three-quarters of the year, he still gave us one of the most popular stories of the year when he announced his return. It makes sense too, as fans would obviously want to see the most successful no gi competitor around in action once again. He beat Patrick Gaudio at WNO 20 and had big plans laid out for last few months of the year, but sadly these didn’t come to fruition. He had to withdraw from the rest of his matches for BJJ 2023 after suffering a rib injury in training, and now fans are back to waiting to see him again.
ADCC Trials bring elite BJJ to North America in 2023
ADCC is the most prestigious no gi grappling event in the world, but it’s still surprising that it would feature in the biggest BJJ stories of 2023. That’s because it didn’t actually take place this year, and instead this is the year where the promotion builds up to their major event by staging ADCC Trials events only. It was still big news when they revealed the schedule for the North American Trials this year, a clear signal that the tournament was going to attract tons of elite competitors. This is exactly what happened too, and brackets at the North American East Coast Trials were among the best of the entire year.
Craig Jones hints at the dark side of the BJJ world
While Craig Jones is known for his sense of humor, he does also take things seriously from time to time as well. While a number of different moments from El Segundo podcast have been popular this year, this specific instance actually came from his social media presence instead. He made a few offhand remarks in the middle of year that made reference to NBC’s ‘To Catch a Predator’ and an unnamed Jiu Jitsu black belt that naturally raised a few eyebrows. Although he never revealed exactly who he was talking about, it’s no surprise that people paid attention to this in the hopes that they could get to the bottom of exactly who it was.
The top 5 BJJ stories of 2023
Wellington ‘Megaton’ Dias makes history at the IBJJF World Championship
Wellington ‘Megaton’ Dias competes at the IBJJF World Championship every year but he made headlines for doing so in 2023 thanks to setting an impressive record. There are a handful of masters competitors that choose to compete among the adults at the event and some of them have even won it in the past, but Dias is significantly older than any of them at 55. He was promoted to coral belt in 2022 after spending 31 years training in the sport and that’s why 2023 was such a special appearance for him. By stepping on the mats to challenge himself against younger athletes once again, he became the first coral belt to ever compete at an IBJJF World Championship.
Demi Lovato gets promoted to purple belt
The world of celebrity BJJ is always going to be popular of course, because it’s one of the few ways that the sport can gain mainstream attention. 2023 was no exception, and one of the biggest BJJ stories of the year came right at the start when Demi Lovato received her purple belt in the sport. This story reached a wider audience than most celebrity belt promotions for a few reasons though. Firstly because Lovato is one of the most popular singers and songwriters of the 21st century, and secondly because the last big update on her progress came in 2021 when she reported having quit the sport at blue belt. Now that she’s returned to training, she’ll likely continue to develop her skills and might even be reaching the next rank at some point in the years to come.
A student won $46 million after being paralyzed in a BJJ class
This story was perhaps the most divisive of 2023, as a BJJ student suffered a traumatic life-changing injury in class and received a huge settlement as a result. When it was first reported, the general public was pretty split between anger at a club being sued and anger that a student was injured by an instructor. Then footage was leaked that showed the exact incident and the details of Rener Gracie’s involvement surfaced. That’s when public opinion seemed to sway against the injured student, and a number of major figures in the sport weighed in on the incident. To his credit Rener did a great job of explaining his testimony and although the topic remains divisive, the community is far more well-informed on the exact details of the situation.
Mark Zuckerberg enters his first BJJ competition
This was the second major piece of celebrity BJJ news that broke through to the mainstream, but for a much different reason than Demi Lovato did. The world already new that Mark Zuckerberg had fallen in love with BJJ and MMA in the last few years, but nobody could have predicted exactly how much he was enjoying his time on the mats. Not only was he training, but he was actually preparing for competition as well. He took to the mats and experienced both the highs and lows of the sport all in one outing, making headlines as a result. He clearly enjoyed his time as a competitor too, as he revealed at the end of the year that he was planning on making an MMA debut before suffering an ACL injury that required surgery.
Karate black belt Jesse Enkamp enters a BJJ tournament to prove it doesn’t work
This was the most popular BJJ story of 2023 and although it’s surprising, it makes sense too. Grapplers all around the world were furious with the notion that a Karate black belt might turn up to a BJJ tournament with the goal of proving it doesn’t work. That’s exactly what Jesse Enkamp did, although it was far more tongue-in-cheek than it might have seemed at first. Enkamp did the video primarily as a joke, but it did point out some harsh truths about the competitive BJJ scene at white belt. Enkamp essentially just avoided his opponent’s guard-pulls for long enough to tire him out, before finally engaging and winning by submission. It was a good point made, that new starters should spend more time on learning to take the match to the ground as opposed to relying on the rules to force the opponent to come to them.