One of the biggest signs of the growth in popularity of jiu-jitsu is the skill level of lower belt competitors. For the last few years, we’ve seen an explosion in full-time competitors at the blue, purple, and brown belts developing their games and reaching high levels of technique at very young ages. Super fight shows like Fight to Win, EUG Promotions, Who’s Number One, and Third Coast Grappling give exposure to these athletes and increase their popularity, so they are often well known before reaching the black belt level. This series of articles will cover some of the top blue, purple, and brown belts of 2021. The following are some of the breakout purple belt stars of 2021.
Representing Wisconsin 360 Jiu-Jitsu in Milwaukee, WI, Mahmoud Jabr initially began his grappling training with high school wrestling at age 16. Despite starting jiu-jitsu just four and a half years ago, he’s already started collecting important medals on the competition circuit. He recently won the 2021 No-Gi Pans in Dallas, Texas. “Winning No-Gi Pans was a weird feeling. I worked very hard and knew I put enough work in. It was a goal that I had been working to achieve for almost five years. I had worked hard many times before to win a major title, but this time I knew that being mentally tough would be the difference. I came close before, but it was never enough. I needed to believe in myself, which I never really did until that day.” You can catch Mahmoud competing next at the 2021 IBJJF Pan Ams in Florida.
Andrew Tackett has been tearing up the professional jiu-jitsu competition scene since well before receiving his purple belt. He’s competed on Fight to Win, Third Coast Grappling, and Who’s #1 super-fight shows, among many others. “I’ve had my purple belt for a little over a year now under my professor Rodrigo Cabral. During this year, I was able to accomplish some pretty big wins and titles!
My first title at purple belt was the men’s middleweight purple title at F2W. I won the match via rear-naked choke. Next, I was able to win the men’s medium-heavy brown belt title at F2W via backward triangle. Shortly after, I competed in the first-ever Third Coast Grappling no time limit match, and I was able to win this exhausting 52-minute match via Suplex over time. A few months after this, I won my first WNO match at middleweight against a brown belt. I was able to beat my opponent via unanimous decision.” Andrew has been very active in 2021, and he isn’t slowing down. You can watch him compete at IBJJF No-Gi Worlds in October, and he’ll likely be defending his Fight to Win belts before the year is over as well.
Since receiving her purple belt on Christmas Eve of 2020, Checkmat’s Erin Quillen has been on a tear in competition. “I have brought home two super-fight submission wins, double gold at IBJJF No-Gi Pans, and gold in my division in both gi and no-gi at IBJJF American Nationals. Next, I will be competing at IBJJF Pans, No-Gi Worlds, and Worlds before the end of the year, and I am excited to announce I have signed up for ADCC trials in November. I look forward to the opportunity to test my skills in a completely different ruleset and environment with some of the top American heavyweights in jiu-jitsu.” The female heavyweight division has garnered much, attention lately with amazing athletes such as Gabi Garcia, Rafaela Guedes, Erin Harpe, and Elizabeth Clay leading the charge. Look for Erin to continue making waves in this division and eventually challenge the top competitor.
John Danaher’s purple belt Damien Anderson is currently the 7th ranked 145 lb no-gi grappler in the world. Training with the likes of Gordon Ryan, Garry Tonon, and Oliver Taza daily has helped Damien develop a game based around leg locks and aggressively attacking submissions from a variety of positions. Damien recently competed at the 145 lb Emerald City Open, where he submitted two high-level black belts before losing to eventual champion Gianni Grippo. You’ll likely see Damien on a Who’s #1 event before the end of the year, where he’ll look to improve upon his #7 ranking.
The Pedigo Submission Fighting team has been churning out top competitors from the Midwest for a long time. Andrew Wiltse, Alejandro Wajner, Jakob Brooks, and Jorge Valladares have made names for themselves, competing on the IBJJF circuit and super fight shows. Another name from team PSF to take note of is Dakota Zimmerman. She received her purple belt in December 2020 after winning American National gi, no-gi, and no-gi open weight divisions. “In a matter of 8 months, I won No-Gi Pan Ams at purple, as well as the Indianapolis Open gi, no-gi, and open weight no-gi, Atlanta Open no-gi, American Nationals gi and no-gi, the Chicago Open no-gi, and the Kansas City Open gi division. I am gearing up and ready for the Pan Ams as well as the No-Gi World Championships. I plan to not only win but dominate my divisions at these tournaments. I will also likely be doing the Gi World Championships, depending on the restrictions of COVID during the time of the tournament. I plan on winning and being the best purple belt in the world.”
The ZR team, led by Professor Ze Radiola, has produced some of the top up and coming competitors in today’s scene, including Gabriel Sousa and Estevan Martinez. Their focus on developing talent has been apparent with the rise of their lower belt competitors. Middleweight Vinicius Coimbra first arrived in the U.S. in November 2020. Since then, he has won IBJJF American Nationals, a Fight 2 Win super fight, and multiple IBJJF open tournaments. “Right now, I’m focused on improving in every aspect, as an athlete and a professional. I want to win IBJJF Pan Ams and also the World Championships. Those are the main goals.” Vinicius has a solid de la riva game that he uses to set up berimbolos. Combined with his dynamic passing game, he will be a handful for anyone in the middleweight division.
Stay tuned for the next edition of the breakout stars of 2021, this time featuring the brown belts. DM me on Instagram at @dannyod_bjj if you have suggestions for the brown belt edition!
Danny O’Donnell is a Jiu Jitsu enthusiast, co-host of the Open GuardCast, and an assistant instructor at Marcio Andre Jiu Jitsu Academy in Phoenix, Arizona.