Why hit the ground running, when you can hit the mat rolling?
At least, that was the thought process of four-year-old Pedro Henrique Rocha, when the toddler insisted his parents enroll him in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. In 1997, he entered the academy of Coach Marcos Carvalho, alongside his brother, João Gabriel. Pedro would remain with Carvalho through his late teens.
Pedro was always the type to seek out new challenges. In addition to BJJ, he participated in a variety of competitive sports throughout middle and high school, including water polo and wrestling. Unsurprisingly, his BJJ background helped him shine in the latter: he won nine Brazilian National Titles and a Junior Pan American silver medal.
At age 23, Pedro enlisted in the Brazilian Navy. He quickly found welcome in the organization’s Freestyle Wrestling Olympic Program, competing even as he climbed the ranks to 3rd Sergeant.
Today, Pedro’s focus is on building his career and reputation as a top-tier Brazilian jiu-jitsu athlete. His brother João, another force to be reckoned with in the world of BJJ, had already opened a gym in the United States by the time Pedro was ready to branch out beyond Brazil. João invited Pedro to join him in the new business, an opportunity he readily accepted. In July 2019, in a grading ceremony lead by his older brother, Pedro was presented with his black belt. He continues to train and compete, now as a member of the Gameness team!
“Queixinho” meaning “little chin” in Portuguese, is a consecutive 3-time World No Gi champion, winning titles in 2014, 2015 and 2016. In addition to this, he is also the current World Masters champion and has beaten some of the best names in the sport.
Queixinho started at the age of 8 with judo in Rio de Janeiro and tried various other martial arts. But it was only at the age of 16 that he was introduced to jiu-jitsu and decided to pursue it as his main martial art. He joined the team, Brazil 021, (‘021’ being the area code for Rio de Janeiro) under Andre Terencio who took Queixinho all the way up to brown belt. After Terencio’s move to Chicago, Queixinho continued with the Soul Fighters team, still in Rio. Queixinho eventually got his black belt from the Soul Fighters founders in 2011 and went to compete in the United States where he was invited by Caio Terra and Samir Chantre to join their team. Queixinho accepted and got on the first airplane. During these years he competed aggressively and won his best titles. But in 2015 he respectfully left the Caio Terra Association and became the head jiu-jitsu instructor at the Gracie Fighter Gym. In 2016, Queixinho and Samir Chantre started their own team with Milton Bastos called Ares Jiu-Jitsu.
“Over the past several years, there have been many names that stood out in the heavier jiu-jitsu divisions, however, one name that really stands out with a touching and motivating story is Joao Gabriel Rocha.
For those of you that may not know his achievements, Joao had dominated the competition scene at every belt below black belt. In 2013 he was awarded his black belt from Rafael Barbosa and Leandro Escobar. In the same year he went on to win the Brazilian national championship, adding one of the ‘grand slams’ of jiu-jitsu on his record. In the same year he also earned the silver medal in his category and later won silver at the Worlds. Although the gold eluded him, he was always on the podium. Currently at only 25 years of age, Joao still has plenty of time to achieve his goals, especially since he has been training his entire life - literally. Joao started training from an extremely young age. He began his training before the age of 3 and was first introduced to jiu-jitsu through a munchkin summer camp in Rio de Janeiro. Luckily for him, the main instructor there was none other than Alvaro Mansur who is currently a red belt and an influential figure in jiu-jitsu history - not a bad start for a jiu-jitsu career! After seeing Joao’s enthusiasm for the sport, his parents decided to continue to fuel his training. The next period of Joao’s earlier training took place with Marcos Carvalho and later went on to train with the instructors that eventually gave him his black belt, Rafael Barbosa and Leandro Escobar of the Soul Fighters team. Joao’s parents did the right thing sending him to such talented teachers because already by blue belt, in 2008, Joao was junior world champion. His success continued throughout his time at brown belt as well and it perhaps lead him to the most pivotal point of his competitive career. In early 2013, Copa Podio had invited Joao to compete in their Grand Prix as a brown belt amongst several of the top heavyweight black belts. For those of you who don’t know, Copa Podio is one of the top, and hardest, jiu-jitsu tournaments in the world. Despite the odds and difficulty, Joao managed to win 2 of his 5 fights in the Grand Prix. His performance there drove his instructors to realizing that he was ready to be promoted to black belt. But in 2014, Joao had to face his greatest challenge. He was diagnosed with cancer and had to step away from competing in order to recover. However, he returned to training in November that same year and continued to compete since then proving his valor and determination. If we are to look at Joao’s record, he has some notable wins over athletes such as Rafael Lovato, Ricardo Evangelista, Erberth Santos, Yuri Simoes, Bernardo Faria, Rodolfo Vieira, Alexander Trans, Felipe Pena and many more. He has beaten almost every single top heavyweight competitor save for Leandro Lo and Buchecha – two of the greatest competitors of all time. All in all, Joao Gabriel Rocha is seen as one of the top competitors in jiu-jitsu today.
Lucas Pinheiro is a young rooster division jiu-jitsu athlete from Manaus. Like many other Amazonian athletes, Lucas is known for his aggressive style and impressive strength. The Amazon state in Brazil is famous for producing other known athletes such as Ronaldo Jacare and Wallid Ismail.
Also known as “bad boy” because of his aggressive behavior as a child, Lucas has been very successful at brown belt in the last year and is ready to take on the world as a black belt. Until now, his achievements at brown belt include a Brazilian National title and a Brazilian National Pro title. At black belt, Lucas already has titles in American IBJJF tournaments like Austin, San Antonio and Dallas. He was also a silver medalist at the Pan American Championships. At only 22 years of age, Lucas has a long and promising career ahead of him. Lucas’ jiu-jitsu journey started at a very young age, the same as many top athletes in our sport. He was nine years old when he was taken to his first BJJ class. The motivation behind this introduction was to direct his high-energy in the right direction. He came from a lower income family and because both of his parents worked a lot, he spent much of his time being mischievous and getting into fights. So for the same reason that many parents take their kids to martial arts classes, Lucas was introduced to jiu-jitsu, and as a result, he became addicted to it at this very young age at the Mestre Pina academy where he stayed until purple belt. At purple belt, Lucas had made a name for himself as a talented and rising athlete. So, at the age of 17, world famous trainer, Cicero Costha, invited him to come train at one of his affiliates in Sao Paulo. Once Lucas became Cicero Costha’s pupil, he was able to reach the next level of potential as a professional competitor and also earned his brown belt from the world-renowned instructor. That same year he competed at the Worlds and earned the silver medal, no easy feat, especially as a first-year brown belt. Once again, Lucas’ performance impressed onlookers and during that period, while he was in California, he received an offer to teach at a Checkmat affiliate gym. He accepted the offer and switched from the Cicero Costa camp and became a Checkmat member. Soon after he earned his black belt from Carlos “Esquisito” Holanda, a 2-time Pan American champion. But today, Lucas is with Alex Martins BJJ since May 2016. On his journey, Lucas has fought the best names in the world in his weight category including Samir Chantre, Joao Miyao and Mikey Musumeci. But this is only the tip of the iceberg of what Lucas will face in the upcoming part of his career. So keep an eye out for him.
Rafael “Formiga” Barbosa is one of the more important jiu-jitsu figures to have popped up in the last decade, not just because of his competitive skill but also his ability to gather top athletes and be a leader for his influential team. The ability to lead and organize has been crucial to jiu-jitsu’s growth in the last few decades. While competitors and athletes do a great job of spreading the sport internally, it is the organization leaders, like Formiga, that arrange gyms and organizations to discover and raise new athletes and jiu-jitsu fans.
When it comes to competition, Formiga, meaning “ant” in Portuguese, is the 2011 New York Open champion and the 2002 Brazilian national champion amongst many other high-level competition silver medals. However, one of Formiga’s greatest achievements was co-creating the Soul Fighters jiu-jitsu team that brought together some of the best athletes in the sport. Formiga is a Rio de Janeiro native who started jiu-jitsu at the young age of 11 after he saw Royce Gracie in the UFC. He then began his training with Andre ‘Dedeco’ and after some years of hard mat time, Formiga received his black belt from him at the age of 19 - a great age to really continue to train and develop his black belt skills. It is indeed very fortunate for someone to earn their black belt so early. They are able to gain experience competing in the adult division at black belt, which becomes physically harder for those who earn their black belts after the age of 30. This fortune gave Formiga plenty of time to hone his skills as with many other early black belts. Six years later, Formiga and some of his friends, including world champion Augusto ‘Tanquinho” Mendes, joined forces to create the Soul Fighters team which would be a collaboration of several teams coming together to give everyone involved a better training atmosphere. Very often when a team is small and everyone trains together often, teammates begin to know each others’ games so well that they do not have a chance to practice against different body types and styles. When several teams unite, they are able to test their skills in a non-competitive environment. Going to competition is nice but the preparation for serious competition is heavy and can also cause serious injury. This way, people can train without any of these problems. The school that Formiga and his friends opened was a great success and still runs out of Tijuca in Rio de Janeiro – a nice family area of town near the core of the city. The team also spread across the world with several affiliates and attracted top athletes like Osvaldo Queixinho, Samir Chantre, Joao Gabirel Rocha and many others. Eventually Formiga’s instructor made the move to the United States in 2005 and extended a similar invitation to him. It took some time for Formiga to think about it because of his commitments and love for his country, but ultimately he took the opportunity to move and teach in the gym in Connecticut.