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Since 2006, there have only been three featherweight black belt world champions. Of the 10 titles, 9 are held by Rafael Mendes and Rubens ‘Cobrinha’ Charles (the 10th is held by Augusto Mendes)
This battle between Rafael Mendes vs Rubens Cobrinha Charles is arguably the greatest rivalry in Jiu Jitsu competition history.
In total, the two have faced each other 15 times since 2008 and have produced some of incredibly exciting matches.
Their first match was at the Capital challenge in Jordan. Rafa Mendes was only 19 but he was already an accomplished grappler having won the worlds at every belt level. Cobrinha was had just won become world champion for a thrid year in a row.
The fight is particularly interesting as it shows the origins of Mendes game. He is still using De La Riva, Berimbolo, and 50/50 attacks but if you compare this to their most recent meeting in 2015 you can see how far his game has progressed.
Cobrinha shows his awesome guard passing, balance, and pressure to neutralise Mendes game and secure the pass late in the match to win 3×0
The next time they would fight was at the 2009 Pan Am Championships in California. This would be Rafael’s debut as a Black Belt in an IBJJF competition.
Mendes and Charles would face each other in the semi-final, but, unfortunately, Rafa got disqualified for reaping Cobrinha’s knee.
Cobrinha would go on to win the featherweight division and place third in the absolute after an amazing performance.
Their third match would take place a few months later at the Abu Dhabi World Pro.
This match was a back and forth battle and a preview of many of their matches to come. Much of the fight being was in the 50/50 position where both fighters attacked with sweeps and submissions.
Rafa Mendes claimed his first victory over Cobrinha after winning the fight with a score of 4×2.
The next time they would meet would be in the semi-final of the world championships in Long Beach, California.
Again much of this match would take place in the 50/50 position with both fighters trading sweeps but unable to advance from there.
With the scores tied at 4×4 and level on advantages, Cobrinha was awarded the referee’s decision.
The final time the Mendes and Cobrinha would face each other in 2009 was in the final of the ADCC’s in Barcelona, Spain.
Rafa had destroyed his side of the bracket, submitting all his opponents on the way to the final. On the other side of the bracket Cobrinha had comfortably dispatched his opponents with out much difficulty.
An interesting point about the ADCC’s is the inclusion of Heel Hooks. Up to this point, all of Mendes and Cobrinha’s matches had been played out in the 50/50, which is an excellent place to get heel hooked from.
Many people wondered how this would affect the outcome of this fight and if they would still choose to play this style of Jiu Jitsu.
The fight turned out to be a war of attrition and lasted 40 minutes.
Both Mendes and Cobrinha had moderate success throughout the fight, but it wasn’t until a few moment’s from the end of the second overtime period that either fighter secured anything significant.
In the dying minutes of the contest, Rafa Mendes exectued a beautiful transition from 50/50 to take Cobrinha’s back and secure victory 7×4
There was plenty of action in this fight and neither competitor seemed concerned about using the 50/50 position. Both Cobrinha and Mendes were able to defend the leg attacks and showed it could be an effective postition under any rule set.
The first time the Mendes and Charles would meet in 2010 would be at the famed Tijuca Tennis Club in Rio de Janeiro at the Brazilian Nationals (known as the Brasileiro’s).
As with many of their fights, this proved to be a battle from the 50/50 position with both athletes attempting sweeps and foot locks. With a score of 4×2 Mendes was awarded the victory.
The second meeting between Cobrinha and Mendes in 2010 would take place in the final of the World Championships.
Both Cobrinha and Mendes had dominated their previous opponents and the final was set to decide who would be crowned king of the featherweight BJJ world.
After 10 minutes of back and forth action Rafa Mendes would take the victory by 4×4, 5-3 advantages and win his first world title.
In 2011, Cobrinha and Rafa would only fight once. That fight would take place in the finals of the -66kg category at the ADCC in Nottingham, UK.
After a period of feeling each other Cobrinha jumps guard and it hits the ground, almost immediately the inevitable 50/50 battle begins.
Both Cobrinha and Mendes attacked with tight leg locks, but neither fighter was able to secure the submission.
When the 20 minute time period expires the score stands at 0x0, but Mendes is declared the winner due to a negative point Cobrinha scored for jumping guard.
The first meeting between the pair in 2012 was at the Pan Ams in California. This would be the only submission victory in all of their matches.
The match starts with Mendes pulling guard and immediately hunting the Berimbolo, Cobrinha defends with his legendary balance, then at around the four-minute mark something dramatic happens.
Rafa Mendes sweeps and immediately starts to pass Cobrinha’s guard. Cobrinha defends but leaves his arm exposed and Mendes pounces attacking with a tight armlock.
The finish comes shortly after and Rafael Mendes becomes the first person to submit Cobrinha in the featherweight division.
(Cobrinha’s only other submission loss as a black belt was against Rodolfo Vieira in 2011)
Just a few short months later, Cobrinha would face Mendes again in the finals of the Mundials (World Championships) in California.
Cobrinha clearly wanted revenge and had made some adjustments to his game. This was an incredibly close match with neither fighter giving an inch.
When the match ended neither fighter had scored a point and it came down to the referee’s to decide the victor.
Rafael Mendes was again crowned black belt featherweight champion of the world.
The next time the two would meet would be at the Pan Ams in California. Again this was an incredibly close match with neither competitor achieving any real dominance.
After a hard battle, the score stood at 2×2 and Mendes was again awarded the victory via referee’s decision.
So far the only major title to eluded Cobrinha had been the ADCC crown. On the previous two occasions he had been in the tournament he’d lost to Rafa Mendes in the final.
The -66kg division in the 2013 ADCC was incredibly tough and included almost feature every major featherweight competitor in the world.
This fight turned out to be a war of attrition with much of the fight spent wrestling.
After 40 minutes of action, Cobrinha was awarded the victory via referee’s decision and claimed his first ADCC title.
Cobrinha and Mendes would only face each other once in 2014 and that was in the final of the 2014 World Championships.
This was probably the most back and forth battle of all their matches. Both competitors secured numerous sweeps, but ultimately Mendes won the fight by 10×8.
Their final meeting to date took place at the world championships in 2015 in California.
This match is the most one-sided match between the two, after Mendes submission victory at the Pan Ams in 2012,
Mendes pulled guard and quickly inverted almost taking Cobrinha’s back and passing guard. Cobrinha manages to scramble back to 50/50 but only few moments later Mendes inverts again and takes Cobrinha’s back.
Although Cobrinha does manage to escape towards the end of the match, he’s unable to recover the points and Mendes wins by 6×0
The rivalry between Rafael Mendes and Rubens Cobrinha Charles has been one of the greatest in Jiu Jitsu history. Many of their matches are incredibly close and often won by referee’s decision or a single advantage.
Mendes is already considered one of the greatest Jiu Jitsu athletes ever and at only 26 years old and many people believe he is only just coming into his prime.
At 36 years old many people believe Cobrinha is coming to the end of his career. However, he is still an active competitor and still compete’s at the highest level. Most recently he won -66kg division again at the ADCC 2015.
This rivalry can be seen as a changing of the guard between the old and the new but if both athletes were in their prime some of the results may have been very different.
Mendes sums up the rivalry best in his Facebook post after winning the worlds in 2015.
“Royler inspired me to start my journey & Cobrinha brought the fire in me, because of Cobrinha I became probably ten times better than I would ever be if he was not there, I trained harder every single day.”
That is why rivalries like this take great fighters to exceptional and beyond.
Without a doubt both Mendes and Cobrinha will be remembered as two of the greatest Jiu Jitsu competitors of all time.
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