Black Belt Adult Male Roosterweight
Who can stop Pinheiro…
While Eduardo da Silva has been on the podium before, and Koji Shibamoto has a wealth of experience competing against the division's elite like Malfacine and Terra, it is hard to bet against Lucas Pinheiro to take the division. Without a Miyao to stop him, it is almost a sure thing that Lucas Pinheiro is your 2018 Pan champion with only two fights to the top of the podium.
Black Belt Adult Male Light Featherweight
Quite a few heavy hitters are missing from Light Feather this year...
with Ary Farias not present, Paulo Miyao still under USADA suspension and 2017 World Champion Mikey Musumeci absent. Isaac Doederlein is fighting in the featherweight division (perhaps taking Cobrinha's spot for Alliance). It will be tough to bet against Joao Miyao claiming a gold medal. Pablo Mantovani will put up a strong fight, and likely look great on his way to second place. Rene Lopez's favorable bracket position could see him on the podium for the first time in a major Black Belt tournament as well in this shallow otherwise division.
Black Belt Adult Male Featherweight
Featherweight is where things begin to get interesting...
There are a number of strong contenders for the podium, and refreshingly, it is mostly a new guard of black belts vying for the top spot. Marcio Andre is a clear favorite, coming back to featherweight after recent super fight losses to bigger men Lucas Lepri and Michael Langhi. Seeing Gianni Grippo or Shane Jamil Hil-Taylor earn gold would not be a huge surprise either. On a tier only slightly below the favorites, the Maheca Brothers can likely make waves, especially if Brian defeats Quexinho in the quarter final. Grippo will have his hands full with Macedo, who is always a tough challenge. The best match up of this bracket might very well be a likely quarter final fight between Isaac Doederlein and Shane Jamil Hil-Taylor, with a slight advantage going to Doerderlein due to experience and expertise in the meta guard game. Jeffery Cummings is another strong contender to watch, with a possibility of upsetting Gianni Grippo early on (though not likely given how Grippo rises to the occasion).
Black Belt Adult Male Lightweight
Although historically it is one of the deepest divisions at Black Belt, Lightweight is missing some key players that really open up the podium for others this year.
Multiple time world champion and pound for pound great Lucas Lepri is not competing, nor is former Pan American champion Edwin Najmi, or 2017's World No Gi champion and terror on the mats Renato Canuto. In fact, the only competitor from last year's podium that is returning to competition in 2018 is Michael Liera Jr. Even challenging spoilers such as Gabriel 'Palito' Rolles did not enter this year. But with Vitor Oliveira down a weight class, exciting additions such as Johnny Tama and Hugo Marques, as well as old favorites Langhi and JT Torres, it is still one of the toughest divisions. Most intriguing about lightweight will be seeing if Mashahiro Iwasaki can repeat his performance at Europeans, where he defeated Edwin Najmi and Renato Canuto both, before narrowly losing to Michael Langhi in the final. I have his scrappiness, excellent base and grips as evidence for him being my dark horse pick to the finals. Michael Liera Jr versus Johnny Tama will be an interesting rematch. I think Liera Jr's experience and awareness of the Estima lock will play a key role in his advancing to the quarter final, where I believe Sinistro will prove to be too physical. Equally as interesting will be to see if Hugo Marquez's dynamic passing will get him past Iwasaki. I think JT Torres will gracefully enter the finals, looking untouchable on his side of the bracket until he meets the winner of Langhi v Brunovskis. Andris is a sleeper pick to do well, and seeing him add another big name scalp to his belt wouldn't be surprising, but for consistency's sake, I have to pick Langhi. It will be interesting to see if JT has solved Michael's guard, considering his incredible performance against him two years ago at the World Championships.
Black Belt Adult Male Middleweight
While Middleweight is the last of the deeper divisions (extending the brackets between two pages) the favorites on either page are such strong contenders that it makes the picks fairly easy.
However, we could see some of the best matches of the tournaments here, where Tommy Langaker meets Dante Leon. Tommy had an incredible run at Europeans, most notably submitting Erberth Santos, and Renato Canuto. It will be interesting to see if Leon's composure can win it. They key will be maintaining consistent pressure and not falling victim to the quick submissions that Tommy is able to snap his opponents into. The winner will face Tinoco, which is intriguing no matter who advances. Given Tinoco's recent success and how good he has looked in the last year, I think a final between him and Arges (and a repeat of the finals from the 2017 Worlds) is a no brainer. I just can't see Arges slowing down any time soon and expect him to finish in first once again..
Black Belt Adult Male Middle Heavy
This is the most aggressive division of the tournament and the most likely to elicit fireworks.
Although Diniz and Hulk on the left side of the bracket is practically a sure thing for the semi final, Samir Abdolkader is one to watch. He made it to the open weight podium at No Gi Pans, flying under the radar. I expect to see Hulk best Diniz with his advantage in wrestling and explosiveness. On the other side of the bracket, Horlando Monteiro is likely to meet up with Renato Cardoso. Although Cardoso is the more physical of the fighters, it is Monteiro's composure that will lead him to victory if he can stay sharp and is wary of Cardoso's quick submissions from guard. This is a dangerous match up for him, but I think he will advance to the final, where he will fall to Hulk.
Black Belt Adult Male Heavyweight
As a huge fan of Taner Rice, I am hoping 2018 will be his breakout year...
and Pan Ams would be a great place to start. Super heavyweight is a tough but small bracket this year. With Keenan at Super Heavyweight, but Leandro Lo back down to Heavy, there is still a head and shoulders favorite for the division, but the rest of the podium is up for grabs. Lo looked a little sluggish at his larger size last year at Worlds, often dragging out the standup and playing the boundaries, but I expect him to be back and better than ever at his more appropriate weight, and especially after rebounding from his unexpected loss at ADCC. Rice's first major test will be against Arnaldo Maidana de Oliveira of Checkmat in the semi final, where if victorious, he will meet Lo for the ultimate test.
Black Belt Adult Super Heavyweight
A month ago I would have been more excited about the prospect of...
Keenan and Spriggs in the semi final, but with the match taking place late last year at the NY Pro, it seems Spriggs has a ways to go before he figures out the worm guard and lapel variations that Keenan employs. The size disparity makes a potential match up in the final with Dopp or Aly interesting, but I would expect Keenan to avoid much wrestling or judo (where he is outgunned by both) with the stakes so high. Keenan has been on a warpath as of late, and could very well add to his already abnormally high submission rate here.
Black Belt Adult Male Ultra Heavyweight
There isn't much to say about the Ultra Heavyweight division this year....
Joao Gabriel Rocha is a clear favorite, and with at least two wins over Ricardo Evangelista in the past, it is hard to imagine him being stopped.