2021 is finally over and we here at Jitsmagazine are ready to present our annual BJJ awards. Unfortunately the pandemic is not entirely in the rear-view mirror just yet, but we are a long way away from the constant threat of gym closures across the country due to long-term income loss. Regardless, it’s still been a difficult year with restrictions in place in many countries hindering the staging of events and occasionally stopping athletes from travelling to compete. In spite of the continued disruption to Jiu-Jitsu in general, several athletes and organizations have rose above and beyond this year so this is our chance to pay special attention to them.
The only condition we place on any nominees is that those competing for individual grappler of the year awards must have competed in at least five professional Jiu-Jitsu match in the calendar year.
Collective BJJ Awards 2021
Promotion of the Year
It might seem strange to give the award to a promotion that hasn’t even staged it’s biggest event this year, as the ADCC world championships were recently postponed to 2022, but ADCC has made a fantastic start already. The first two of eight trials events took place in 2021 and both delivered non-stop action from hundreds of the best competitors around the world. Not just that, but ADCC have decided to make this the year that they put together the inaugural class of their Hall of Fame, recognizing some of the most impressive grappling legends of years gone by.
Fight Card of the Year
There was a fair amount of hype surrounding this event as it marked the first time that Gordon Ryan would be seen on the mats in quite some time after he took a lengthy break from competition that took up the entire middle-section of the year. It wasn’t just this however, as there was also three of WNO’s brand new titles on the line in matches between six of the best grapplers on the planet.
Match of the Year
This is now the second time in a row that Dante Leon has been part of the most exciting BJJ match of the year, although unfortunately for him he’s ended up on the losing end of both of them. Regardless, he was just as responsible as Ruotolo for delivering fourteen and a half minutes of non-stop action in their semi-final matchup of the WNO Championships. The match was incredibly close right up until the dying seconds when Ruotolo attempted to cartwheel past Leon’s guard and instead of attacking the back as he turned to turtle, Ruotolo locked up a tight guillotine choke to submit Leon with less than ten seconds left on the clock.
Brand of the Year
For the second year in a row, Scramble have come out on top of the battle of the brands, thanks in no small part to their continued commitment to excellence. Not just that, but they’ve also released a new line of t-shirts over the course of the year, highlighting and celebrating legends of the Japanese BJJ and MMA community like Genki Sudo, Kazushi Sakuraba, Enson Inoue and Yuki Nakai. Scramble faced some stiff competition this year, but now the brand has two awards to their name for BJJ Brand of the year in both 2020 and 2021.
Individual BJJ Awards 2021
Submission of the Year
It was very early on in the ADCC North American East Coast trials, but Kade Ruotolo was looking like one of the favorites to win already after winning his first match by D’arce Choke. Then he stepped up to face Joshua Dawson in the second round and the pair quickly got to work in delivering one of the fastest-paced and most exciting matches of the weekend. Ruotolo attempted a berimbolo and Dawson scrambled to escape back to his feet but as soon as Ruotolo stood to meet him he leapt into the air to lock up a D’arce Choke on his standing opponent for the win.
MMA Submission of the Year
If someone said at the beginning of 2021 that Rodolfo Vieira would be involved in the MMA submission of the year then almost everyone would’ve assumed he’d be the one winning it. Instead, Vieira showed up to compete against BJJ purple belt Anthony Hernandez at UFC 258 and used every ounce of energy he had in the first round. When he answered the bell for the second round he was visibly exhausted and he had a momentary lapse in judgement when shooting for a takedown that Hernandez took full advantage of to secure the guillotine choke and force the tap.
Male Breakout Grappler of the Year
It’s truly remarkable that one of these awards is going out to someone who has only just been promoted to purple belt at the end of 2021, but nobody else in the BJJ world has blown up as much as Abate this year. Abate started off strong by beating 10th Planet veteran Geo Martinez before blowing through the North American East Coast trials to book his place at the ADCC world championships, defeating Estevan Martinez, Deandre Corbe, and Keith Krikorian along the way. That feat was made even more impressive by the fact that he only turned seventeen just a few days before Christmas.
Female Breakout Grappler of the Year
Medusa 1 broke new ground as the first all-female BJJ promotion this year and Brianna Ste-Marie stole a lot of that spotlight when she submitted all three of her opponents to win the Combat Jiu-Jitsu Bantamweight tournament. She quickly followed that up with a win over Bri Roberston before finishing off her year with an excellent display at the ADCC trials where she emerged as the winner of the 60kg division. Ste-Marie received personal recognition of her achievements this year when she was promoted to black belt in December, but now she receives public recognition as the female breakout grappler of the year.
BJJ Personality of the Year
YouTube will always be the best place for aspiring BJJ competitors to turn to for free information and as the years have gone on, the number of channels on the site has grown exponentially. Jedi does Jiu-Jitsu is a relatively new channel that has put in a phenomenal amount of work to surge towards the front of the pack. He posts excellent videos narrating his own rolls or deconstructing other people’s footage that provides great insight, along with technical instruction that he’s clearly spent a lot of time editing to ensure that it’s as easy to understand as possible.
Male Grappler of the Year (No Gi)
Ruotolo started out the year strong with submission victories over Ethan Crelinsten and Cole Fransen and although he did stumble against Roberto Jimenez at the Road to ADCC, he quickly righted the ship to remain undefeated for the rest of the year. The rest of his year was not an easy challenge either as he not only won the inaugural WNO Lightweight title with three straight submission wins, but he also earned a place at ADCC 2022 by defeating seven tough grapplers to win the North American East Coast trials. He capped off the year then by winning one final match against 10th Planet’s Keith Krikorian by a referee decision.
Male Grappler of the Year (Gi)
Tainan Dalpra might have had his debut year at black belt this year but he’s been on the radar of those in the competitive community for quite some time as one of the stars of the Art of Jiu-Jitsu youth program. After a heavy schedule of thirty seven matches, Dalpra managed to win all but one and register twenty-five submission finishes along the way. He won several minor IBJJF opens before dropping a single decision loss to Mica Galvao at EUG 2, only to come back even stronger by winning the IBJJF Pan-Ams. He was then invited to the IBJJF Grand Prix where he won the Middleweight division by outclassing Jonnatas Gracie and Renato Canuto, before quickly following it up with an IBJJF World Championship gold medal.
Female Grappler of the Year (Gi & No Gi)
Pessanha has had an incredibly busy year with 36 competitive matches and the Brazilian has won all but five of them. She has won several tournaments this year including two editions of the AJP Tour before coming home with two gold medals at the IBJJF world championships. She did stumble against Tayane Porfirio at BJJ Bet 2 but managed to avenge that loss by defeating her twice shortly afterward, but all four of her other losses came at the hands of Yara Soares. Either woman could have won this award prior to worlds but Pessanha managed to defeat Soares twice at the event to secure the aforementioned double gold and finish the year 5-4 in their fantastic rivalry.