As 2023 has come to an end, we at JitsMagazine are here to announce the winners of our third annual BJJ awards. There’s been tons of fantastic matches, electrifying submission finishes, and top quality events right the way through from January to December. As the sport continues to grow, the opportunities to compete at a high level are coming pretty much every weekend all around the world. There have never been more elite grapplers than there are today but even among the best on the planet, a select few stand out and are owed some special recognition in the Jitsmagazine 2023 BJJ awards.
2023 marks the first time that we have decided to make the nominees for each award public. There were five nominees for each award and we revealed them all throughout December in a series of posts on Instagram. As always, the condition we place on any nominees is that those in line for individual grappler of the year awards must have competed in at least five professional Jiu-Jitsu matches in that discipline (gi or no gi) in the calendar year. We have also better outlined the conditions for ‘Breakout Grappler of the Year’ awards, as this will only take into account results in the highest level of competition available and athletes will only be eligible when competing in their first full calendar year as a black belt or earlier.
Collective BJJ Awards 2023
Promotion of the Year
This year was greater than the sum of it’s parts for Polaris, as they managed to produce four fantastic events one after the other. Polaris 23 was an incredible start to the year for the promotion, as the 8 women competing in that grand prix collectively held both ADCC titles and 4 IBJJF No Gi World Championship titles at the time. Polaris 25 was the icing on the cake for 2023 though, as the promotion arranged a stacked absolute grand prix that delivered plenty of action and one of the best storylines of the year when the lightest competitor made it all the way to the final. This was sandwiched by 2 regular fight cards that featured some of the best grapplers around, Polaris 24 and 26, before the promotion became the first to publicly unveil a policy on athletes failing PEDs tests.
Fight Card of the Year
Although there was stiff competition from the likes of Quintet 4 and the Polaris Absolute Grand Prix, in the end it was Who’s Number One 20: Night of Champions that proved to be Fight Card of the Year for 2023. Not only was this the only time that fans could get to see Gordon Ryan in action throughout the entire year, but there was also three more fantastic title-fights featured on the card. What really pushed this event over the edge was the two four-man tournaments to crown featherweight and welterweight champions, both of which produced three excellent matches on the night.
Match of the Year
There are always a ton of exciting matches to choose from for this particular aspect of the JitsMagazine BJJ Awards and 2023 was no exception. This match had everything that you could ask for though and the storyline surrounding it only added to the tension and entertainment. Fabricio Andrey was the lightest man in the Polaris Absolute Grand Prix and he had just beaten Owen Livesey in a huge upset in the opening round, whereas Giancarlo Bodoni put on a flawless performance in his first match. Andrey escaped an incredibly deep armbar attempt early in the match to launch into a comeback and score the only point of the match, defeating the reigning ADCC world champion from two weight classes above his own.
Brand of the Year
Shoyoroll have long been the most exclusive brand in BJJ and they’ve maintained that reputation this year, keeping up their pattern of limited releases. They also announced one of the smartest business decisions of the year by launching a collaboration with the IBJJF for a new line of gis. The gi itself was very slick and only released in two colors, white and blue, due to the fact that it is intended to be one of the lightest competition gis around that meets all IBJJF specifications. Not only did they release the gi in person at Jiu-Jitsu Con 2023, but they also ensured that the blue version was only available from that stall and will forever be a sign that anyone wearing it attended the event.
Gym of the Year
The Mendes brothers have had a long-term strategy for growing their academy and it’s really started to pay off over the last few years. Their army of elite young competitors have entered the highest levels of the sport and are getting good results all around the world in multiple different rulesets. They’ve attracted some incredible grapplers like Mayssa Bastos and Diego ‘Pato’ Oliveira to join the team this year and several of their competitors were nominated for different JitsMagazine BJJ Awards in 2023. Coupled with the announcement of a second location, Art of Jiu-Jitsu have gone from strength to strength this year and are deserving winners.
Individual BJJ Awards 2023
Submission of the Year
B-Team Jiu-Jitsu and Team 10th Planet had both made it into the final of Quintet 4 after winning their opening round matches, with fans eagerly awaiting the crowning of the first team grappling champion in over two years. The first two matches both ended in draws and team captain Craig Jones took to the mats to face off with Richie Martinez. Jones was the favorite to win but nobody could have predicted how he would end up finding the finish, as he hit a crazy toehold variation that involved him reaching underneath his own legs to lock it up.
MMA Submission of the Year
Louis Glismann defeats Melvin Van Suijdam via Inverted Omoplata at Oktagon 43
It’s not every day that you see someone lock up a unique submission in Jiu-Jitsu, and it’s even less common to see one in a professional MMA fight. Louis Glismann managed to do just that in his rematch with Melvin Van Suijdam at Oktagon 43 though, shocking fans all around the world. He was in control towards the end of the first round and was striking from top turtle when he decided to trap an arm and roll forward, cranking on an inverted omoplata and forcing Van Suijdam to tap with just 3 seconds left in the round.
Male Breakout Grappler of the Year
Dorian Olivarez has managed to win more in one year as a 17 year-old blue belt than the vast majority of seasoned black belts ever will. He’s got incredible wrestling for Jiu-Jitsu and puts on a pace that very few grapplers are capable of actually keeping up with. He started out the year on a high by winning the Combat Jiu-Jitsu bantamweight world title, becoming the youngest champion in the ruleset’s history. He then got some practice under the ADCC ruleset by competing at ADCC Opens, before winning the under 66kg division at ADCC North American East Coast Trials.
Female Breakout Grappler of the Year
Adele Fornarino was promoted to black belt just before 2023 began and she went on to register a fantastic debut year worthy of recognition in the JitsMagazine BJJ Awards. She started out the year by traveling to the UK to win the Grapplefest under 60kg title before winning gold at both the IBJJF no gi Pans and Euros. Shortly after that she enjoyed the same success under a different ruleset, winning the under 55kg division at the ADCC Asia and Oceania Trials. The final competition of the year for Fornarino was the IBJJF No Gi World Championship and although she had to settle for a silver medal in the featherweight division, it capped off an excellent first year competing as a black belt.
BJJ Personality of the Year
Craig Jones has always been known as one of the funniest men in the sport, but he really seems to have kicked his comedy routine into high gear this year. He started El Segundo podcast at the beginning of the year, giving fans an extra insight behind the scenes of the sport and an opportunity to hear even more of his jokes. It’s proven to be a great move, as he’s produced some of the more memorable moments of the year and had some great guests involved. He also entered Quintet 4 as the captain for B-Team where they built an entire theme in order to poke fun at a rival team, a real high point in a great year for the biggest comedian in the sport.
Male Grappler of the Year (No Gi)
Dante Leon has had a brilliant year on the mats, going 23-2 in no gi competition over the course of the year with his only losses coming in the absolute division. Leon won the super-heavyweight division of the IBJJF No Gi Pan Championship this year and one of his two losses came against an opponent he beat in his own weight class at the same event. He also submitted Ethan Crelinsten to become the WNO lightweight champion and took part in one of the biggest team grappling events of the year. He was one of many elite competitors who joined Team Modolfo to guide them to victory at the AIGA Champions League this year, winning all four of his matches there by submission.
Male Grappler of the Year (Gi)
Although Nicholas Meregali didn’t compete all that often in 2023, he’s still a solid choice for gi Grappler of the year in this year’s JitsMagazine BJJ Awards. He had a total of 11 gi matches and remained unbeaten, finishing an impressive 9 of them by submission. The only 2 men he didn’t submit were actually his biggest potential challengers, Victor Hugo and Erich Munis. Although Meregali didn’t compete in the IBJJF World Championship this year, both of those men won their respective weight classes and shared the top two spots on the absolute podium. By beating them and winning the IBJJF Absolute Grand Prix, Meregali earned his place at the top of the list.
Female Grappler of the Year (No Gi)
This was probably the toughest winner to pick at the JitsMagazine BJJ Awards 2023, as there was several amazing years from top female no gi competitors. Alex Enriquez was able to win across multiple different rulesets though, racking up a 25-1 record with her sole loss coming by decision. She won the UWW no gi grappling world championship first, before adding an ADCC Trials title to her collection. She won the IBJJF No Gi World Championship in her final appearance of the year, submitting 2 out of her 3 opponents in order to claim the title. It’s been the best year of Enriquez’s time competing at black belt and she’s reached new heights, establishing herself as the top featherweight this year.
Female Grappler of the Year (Gi)
It’s getting a little crazy now, but Gabrieli Pessanha has won this award for the third consecutive year now, and there isn’t much argument to be made. She had an incredible 43 matches over the course of 2023 and she won every single one of them, taking two gold medals home from every single major IBJJF event in the calendar. She also won the Abu Dhabi World Pro for the third year in a row and won a stacked grand prix at BJJ Stars 11. It was another flawless year for Pessanha and she capped it off with yet another major title, as she also emerged victorious in the super-heavyweight division of The Crown.