The art of BJJ has as many championships it does competitors. But, the only title that matters is making it to the ADCC. You can win a world championship in the IBJJF or at EBI or any other belt from the alphabet soup. But any grappler that’s ever stepped on a mat will tell you that just qualifying for the ADCC puts you in a unique class.
I’ve spent the better part of a decade trying to make it there. I won 3rd in 2015 in Miami, made it to the quarter-finals in Anaheim in 2017, again in New Jersey in 2019, and had a few less than stellar performances sprinkled throughout. Altogether, I’ve competed in 5 trials and had 18 matches under their rigid rules set.
During that time, the sport grew to heights unimaginable. I was a contributing writer at several online sites and a host to a few podcasts while also staying active on the competition circuit. To say I was living the Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle would be an understatement. My days were spent teaching private lessons, writing articles or preparing for a super fight between bartending shifts at the dive bar downtown.
I watched Metamoris shows on shady copy and paste links staring Eddie Bravo, Renzo Gracie, Josh Barnet, and Jeff Glover. I also competed on Sapaterios in Sarasota with acne-faced teens named Gary Tonon, Gordon Ryan, and Craig Jones back when the DDS was still a yet-to-be-developed acronym in John Danaher’s frontal cortex.
Then came EBI, Kasai, 3rd Coast Grappling, Polaris, Fight 2 Win, and many others. A host of fractured professional organizations emerged, attempting to harness BJJ’s newfound momentum differently. Grappling was destined to become a spectator sport, and everyone wanted to lead the charge.
But none of them truly hit the mark. A mixture of conflicting rulesets, unsatisfying matches and stagnant presentations killed the interest of even die-hard fans. There was no way civilians were tuning in to watch, a point Mo Jassim, Head Organizer of the ADDC, made in a recent interview.
When asked about professional grappling’s future, Mo’s answer paid homage to its pioneers but referenced the ADCC’s longtime desire to legitimize grappling as a spectator sport.
“The sport needs to be accessible to everyday people and not just people that do Jiu-Jitsu,” Jassim said. “I believe the ADCC has the best ruleset to provide that attraction. But exciting matches are only part of the problem. The production value needs to be on point too.”
Jassim’s story matches his actions too. He recruited two allstar professional grappling promotors; Seth Daniels, owner and operator of Fight 2 Win, and Shawn Fowler, the man behind 5 Grappling, to help make the 2022’s West Coast Trials the most exciting event the grappling world has yet seen.
Mo maintains that the ADCC was designed to bring grappling recognition from its inception, though.
The first ADCC Submission Fighting World Championship was held in 1998 in Abu Dhabi at the venue created for the event and later became its namesake. “Most people don’t even realize that the ADCC is named after the building the first event was held in, The Abu Dhabi Combat Club,” Mo explained.
But the star power of those early shows alone was not enough to garner them more than the odd paragraph under an ad for ninja stars in Black Belt Magazine. It wasn’t until the 2019 ADCC World Championships in California that Sheikh Tahnoun’s vision came to fruition with the inclusion of Daniels.
“Seth has been amazing. His work ethic and loyalty are unmatched. He helped take the ADCC to the next level in 2019.” Mo offered when asked about including the often-brass Daniels. “Seth is the best.”
The “Trials” are the qualifiers for the ADCC World Championship. They occur every two years in different geographic regions like Asia, Europe, Brazil, and two in North America. Until recently, they were very utilitarian events. The grappling was next level, but small venues or high school auditoriums generally housed them.
This year over a thousand competitors showed up to battle for their ticket back to Vegas for the finals. The culmination of the 25-year struggle professional grappling has endured gaining credibility as a legitimate sporting event.
The 2022 West Coast Trials, held at the historic Westgate Resort, were electrifying from start to finish. Walking around the hotel was an opportunity to stand next to Craig Jones in the buffet line or see Gordan Ryan mat-side in his finest Austin cowboy attire, complete with a belt buckle and five-gallon hat.
Day two of the tournament was among the most refined combat athletic competition I’ve ever seen. Drama was hovering over every ring as favorites fell, and guys I’ve watched grind on the circuit for years made deep runs on their way to the finals.
PJ Barch took a controversial loss in the semifinals finishing 3rd, and William Tackett and Keith Kirkorian closed out their respective divisions to seal the emotional highlights of the event. But everyone was upstaged by Jayrod stealing the show with a buggy choke submission over longtime veteran Hunter Colvin to follow in his brother’s footsteps by winning the trails as a blue belt.
The production value of the semifinals and finals was everything you would expect from a collaboration between the finest minds in professional grappling. However, Mo says the best is still yet to come.
“This year’s West Coast Trials is just a warmup. Our new venue is a massive arena with 13,000 seats. For example, in 2019, we sold 4,000 seats total. We sold 7,000 on the first day of ticket sales for 2022.” Jassim Said.
Competing in the trails this year didn’t go my way. At 45, I think I finally realize this sport has moved past me. But there is no shame to that awakening. The level of grappling I witnessed makes me proud that I was somehow a small part of helping it get there, even if it was just as a bystander.
For years, I fought the ridiculous feeling I often felt covering events and writing articles about silly grappling shows or competing on regional cards I was embarrassed to be seen at for gas money. And I know there are many people out there that share the same sentiment.
But I’m here to tell you that it was all worth it. The dream is upon us, and Mo Jassim has shown us to the promised land. This year’s West Coast Trials provided us instant validation because it was that spectacular.
So, speaking for all the BJJ lovers out there toiling in the trenches trying to make the most of professional grappling’s often frustrating character arch, thank you, Mo. You made us all believe it was worth it this year in Las Vegas, and we look forward to what the future holds with you behind the wheel.