Leo Nogueira, in my mind, is the best jiu jitsu competitor in the world right now. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to say he is “unknown”, but relative to the other big-name contenders, it does seem to be the case, at least just based on the conversations I’ve had with other jiu jitsu folks. Most people know the other top players from young guns like Buchecha and Rodolfo to veterans like Xande and Roger. In fact, I don’t even have to say their full name and you already know who I’m talking about. On the other hand, do you know who Leo is?
I first saw him at the 2012 Worlds, warming up, pacing with the probably the most confident look of determination I’ve ever seen. I turned my head and when I looked back he was already mounted on top his opponent getting the tap. “Who the hell is that guy?” was my thought, and it wasn’t until I got back and started looking on YouTube that he has been a quiet but dominant force on the competition scene.
He has a very basic game akin to Roger Gracie, but what impressed me most is how little threatened he is by the best closed guards in the world. His closed guard split and pass is the most relentless that I’ve ever seen. Here’s a video of him showing one variation of it. It looks incredibly simply and you might wonder: “Yeah, but can he do that in the final of the black belt Worlds?” Yes, yes he can.
Keenan Cornelius is facing him next Sunday (Jan 13, 2013) in the Copa Podio. It’s a heavy weight tournament with 10 competitors who are the best of the black belt heavies, except Keenan who is a brown belt who until recently has been competing at Middleweight. I think this will be the toughest opponent Keenan has ever faced. If Keenan wins that would make a powerful statement about the growth of jiu jitsu in America, but he is up against steep odds. Leo is probably going to be on top playing a very conservative passing game. In some ways, this will be a chance to see the best of “old school” jiu jitsu against the best of “modern jiu jitsu”. Here’s an interview with Leo about the match.