I’ve been lying on my couch for two days, fighting off Influenza A, and I’m miserable. But most of all, I’m bored. There is a limit to how much “Declassified: Untold Stories Of American Spies” you can watch in a weekend before you lose your lust for life and pray for the Reaper to guide you across the River Styx into infinite darkness. I know the ferryman is Charon, too, nerds, but only nerds would get the reference, so back off my artistic license, man.
So, here I am writing this article to avoid my deathbed, possibly leading me to be the victim of a future homicide at the hands of a random 10th planet purple belt. But hear me now. Submissions only Jiu-Jitsu will never be a spectator sport. Never.
I can hear the outcries of fans and promotors across the genre, ready to prove me wrong with data-driven facts to prove their points. And it’s true. More people are training Jiu-Jitsu than ever, and viewership numbers are astronomical for events. But I don’t care. It means nothing.
When I watch crowds at a WNO event playing with their phones or conversing with each other in the audience while the best grapplers in the world compete in front of them, all I can picture is a behavioral science experiment on herd compliance. These people are all there because they think they should be, so they comply in suspended disbelief, applauding accordingly in unison.
I’m not a points Nazi either, nor do I think that sub-only grappling is ruining our sport’s “Real Fighting” component. I don’t even want to debate that topic, to be honest. Even a guard pulling Nancy would murder 99% of the public in a street fight if they were a high-level competitor.
Sub-only matches are just tedious and complicated to follow, even for seasoned practitioners. But it is not important to enterain that audience. They will watch anyway because they are in love with Jiu-Jitsu. The only way our sport goes mainstream, and our competitors have a chance to make enough money that becoming a pro is worth the effort, is if people who don’t train tune in. And they don’t know why the guy on his back is winning or what the hell happened in the EBI overtime.
But I tell you what they do understand: a scoreboard. There is drama in knowing that a grappler is down 2-0 with 30 seconds left and desperately needs a guard pass or takedown to win. Those things are at the core of what makes all athletics exciting. The quantifiable ebb and flow of action between two opposing forces until one overcomes the other at the closing moments. It’s why real sports fans can watch any sport and get excited even if they have no idea what’s going on. Because, there is a clearly defined outcome.
Maybe the problem is modern Jiu-Jitsu has a pervasive counter-culture element that seems to pull the levers behind the scenes. Jiu-Jitsu, until recently, never attracted top-tier athletes in America because those guys are smart enough to play sports that pay, like Football, Basketball, Baseball, Hockey, Golf, Soccer, or pretty much any other sport on the planet.
So, what are we left with in Jits? We get guys that already got their competitive loins furrowed or nerds that were never good enough to play team sports and probably got picked on a lot in high school. Be honest. We are all adults and should have moved on by now.
Those guys despise points matches. They hate that a better athlete can take them down and hold them there, and none of their fancy nerd shit works because the other guy is just bigger, better, and faster. It’s why Brazilians on Acia and Prayers, aka La Bomba, dominated everything until the last five years.
But then Eddie Bravo decided to change the game. He took the rules away and created an event that let opponents fight to the death, or a tap anyway, as God intended. Including a unique overtime format meant we could always have a winner at the end after the final regulation buzzer. Thus, the Eddie Bravo Invitational (EBI) started, and from the darkness, we all came.
Eddie’s unique format was going to show the world that his new grappling systems were far superior to the old styles of the past. And he probably would have done it, too, if John Danaher had decided to become an evil genius hell-bent on world domination instead of the world’s greatest grappling coach.
Submission-only grappling led the way for the new breed of submission-hunting gunslingers and brought us out of the dark ages when professional huggers could wrestle fuck their way to championships. A new dynamic version of competition grappling was created, too. But the time has come to put it to rest. It served its purpose.
At the ADCC finals last year in Vegas, I witnessed something I’d never seen before at a grappling match. Excitement!! An arena full of spectators was screaming at the top of their lungs, and a buzz was in the air. The UFC was even jumping on board to promote Gordon Ryan’s upcoming match on FightPass and capitalize on the energy the ADCC created for millions of fans to tune in. And what format did they use to get them what they wanted? Sub only with EBI overtime. We were almost there.
I know many respected members of the BJJ community will disagree and potentially disown me. I am deeply sorry. But I cannot sit idly watching this madness anymore. Based on nearly a decade of competition in and journalistic coverage of our sport, I have a right to my opinion. And it matters.
I own a gym now, and I want nothing more than to sell my students on the glories of professional grappling, helping them make a better life for themselves. But that’s a lie. The juice isn’t worth the squeeze to get to the top of our game because no one outside of our gyms cares, and I firmly believe that the stubborn insistence on sub-only formats for our most significant events has us all living in that false reality.
And for the love of God, can we please quit playing cheesy house music in the background during matches? That is the corniest LA shit I’ve ever seen, and it wasn’t even that cool back when it was cool.