Rubens Charles also known as Cobrinha is among the top featherweights, if not considered as one of the greatest BJJ competitors of all-time. Not only did he win the IBJJF Grand Slam winning all the major tournaments, but he also won ADCC that year. His accomplishment being dubbed as Super Grand Slam, Cobrinha is the only black belt to do such feat in history.
Born in Londrina, Brazil on December 24, 1979, his family moved to Sao Carlos when he was a child. Cobrinha first loved football as a child. But shortly after, he fell in love with Capoeira, a Brazilian Martial Art that involves dancing and kicking. Even during his years as a successful BJJ competitor, he would always credit Capoeira for his success.
Cobrinha joined “Grupo dos Jangadeiros” which is a club by Capoeira Master Antonio Zacaria. There, he practiced twice a day and 7 years a week. For almost 14 years, he practiced the art. By age 21, he discovered BJJ. After getting tapped by a purple belt in class, that’s when Cobrinha decided to learn jiujitsu as an art. His first BJJ instructor was black belt Mauro Pacifico.
It was also during his Capoeira years where he will be gaining his monicker “Cobrinha”. He was called “Cobrinha” which means Little Snake mainly for his flexibility.
He’s been training with Mauro Pacifico for a long time and even changed his Capoeira schedule to learn BJJ more. During the early years, Cobrinha trained twice a day for seven days a week. However, things would change for Cobrinha when he lost the finals during a state championship in Sao Paolo. He lost against Fernando Terere’s student. That’s when he joined TT team with the approval of Mauro Pacifico.
During the first four months of training with Terere, he was jobless but training two times a day. He also received daily private classes from Terere himself which made him grow his knowledge and become one of the best competitors of his time. Cobrinha also spent a lot of time training with guys like Lucas Lepri, Andre Galvao, and Eduardo Telles in his years in TT.
Black Belt in Five Years
Cobrinha received his black belt from Terere himself in 2005 only after 5 years. In 2005, he also won the World Championship and did it in stunning fashion finishing 3 out of his 5 opponents that day. After winning the World Championship, he was then invited to Japan at a Pro Jiu Jitsu X tournament which he also won. By 2006, TT was dissolved. However, Terere continued to help him prepare for the 2006 World Championship. He was once again victorious finishing everyone in the division.
Since Fernando Terere had personal problems that kept him from training jiujitsu, he then advised Cobrinha to train under his old instructor Fabio Gurgel. In 2007, Cobrinha went to the US to compete at the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Pan American Championship.
That year, he also gave a seminar in Jacare Romero’s Alliance’s gym in Atlanta. Romero Cavalcanti was impressed by Cobrinha’s ability to teach that he offered him a spot in the academy to teach full time. Training in Alliance Atlanta, Cobrinha continued his dominance in the division by winning three straight World Championships from 2007 to 2009. In addition to this, he also won the Nogi World Championship in 2007 and 2008. The following year, he managed to win second place in ADCC 2009.
In 2017, Cobrinha won all major IBJJF tournaments. In his late 30s, considered to be old for a competitor, he was able to capture titles in IBJJF Brazilian Nationals, Europeans, Pan Ams, and World Championship. In addition to this, later that year, he won the ADCC title a second time in a row. He took on AJ Agazarm in the finals of the 2017 ADCC.
What made the 2017 run special is the fact that he lost to Rafa Mendes in 2014 and 2015 during the World Championship. In addition to this, he also lost during the semis against Marcio Andre in the 2016 World Championship. He lost to Rafa Mendes via points in the 2014 and 2015 World Championship finals.
By the following year, Cobrinha had a cut above his eye entering the semis of the 2016 World Championship. He then lost by points against Marcio Andre that year.
Many thought it was a sign of Cobrinha’s retirement from the competition scene. Instead, he won all 2017 major tournaments for IBJJF and the ADCC becoming the only black belt Super Grandslam champion in history.
Rivalry with Rafa Mendes
The Cobrinha-Rafa Mendes rivalry created history over the years. If you will look who won the Featherweight World Championship over the 15 years, the majority were held by Cobrinha and Rafa Mendes. The two-faced each other a total of 15 times since their first match in 2008.
The rivalry also showcased the progression of both athletes, from Rafa Mendes eventually discarding deep half guard in his arsenal of attacks to Cobrinha bringing his wrestling to the next level. Many of their matches were close matches that could’ve gone either way.
Building the Future
Cobrinha hasn’t competed again since 2017. However, he’s been able to build high-level black belts in the lower weight divisions. He now has a gym in Los Angeles and different affiliates in different parts of the globe including South Korea and The Philippines.
Among top competitor black belts directly taught by Cobrinha included Michael Langhi, Kennedy Maciel, and Isaac Doederlein. Michael Langhi is a multiple-time world champion and is regarded as one of the best lightweight competitors of his time.
Cobrinha is one of the best competitors of his time. He also competed in an era when the featherweight division is stacked. During his active years competing, Cobrinha was only finished twice. The first was by Rodolfo Vieira during the absolute and the other was against Rafa Mendes in their 2012 Pan Ams finals match.
Despite competing even during his late 30s, he’s able to beat a good number of younger competitors. During his 2017 run for the Super Grand Slam title, he was able to beat the likes of Paulo Miyao, Jamil Hill Taylor, Gianni Grippo, and Leonardo Saggioro.