Marcelo Mafra, the 2014 IBJJF Adult Black Belt World Champion, was a last-minute scratch from the third edition of the Eddie Bravo Invitational. Mafra was replaced by UFC veteran Javier Vasquez who put on a strong performance in a losing effort again Darragh O’Connell in the first round. The loss of Mafra took place sometime between the release of the bracket this past Wednesday and the event today.
When I asked a high-level representative from EBI why Mafra was replaced in the tournament, I was told the following points
- Ralek Gracie and Metamoris signed Mafra to an exclusive deal resulting in the last minute withdrawal from EBI 3.
- Garry Tonon was offered an exclusive deal with Metamoris from Ralek Gracie that also included dropping out of EBI 3. Garry declined to accept the deal.
- The source speculated that Ralek Gracie and Metamoris were purposely trying to hurt the EBI 3 event by poaching talent away just prior to the event.
The signing of Mafra by Gracie and Metamoris isn’t shocking since Marcelo Garcia Brown Belt Dillon Danis announced on February 17th that he would be withdrawing from EBI 3 after signing an exclusive deal with Metamoris. What is surprising though is the timing of the Mafra signing. Why did the signing have to take place this close to EBI 3 and what incentive to Mafra receive to drop out of EBI 3?
While both are very talented, world class BJJ athletes, neither Danis nor Mafra are major A-list names like Keenan Cornelius, Dean Lister, or Chael Sonnen that can really headline an event or strong names like Garry Tonon, Jeff Glover, or Kit Dale that can elevate and sell the undercard of a major event. So why are these competitors getting signed to exclusive deals? In order to lock up competitors to exclusive deals that prevents them from participating in other promoters’ event, there must be enough compensation that makes up for the loss of income by not competing for other promotions. Keep in mind that Metamoris currently only runs 2 to 4 events per year with roughly 5 to 6 matches per card. Even if Metamoris were to expand, what are the chances Danis and Mafra would be included on all of the events?
Based on the timing of the signing of Danis and Mafra, I wouldn’t doubt Ralek’s motivation to sign Mafra was to create trouble for EBI. This is very common in combat sports with Mirko Cro Crop recently receiving and accepting an offer to rejoin the UFC only after being courted by Bellator. However, the money in BJJ is not great and the profit margins for promoters from major BJJ super shows like Metamoris and EBI can’t be overwhelming enough where they can throw money at names only hardcore fans of a niche sport would recognize.
While Metamoris is the major super show event, there isn’t an oversaturation of events where BJJ athletes are spread too thin. In the case of Garry Tonon, he has been able to compete in Metamoris, Polaris, and EBI with very few conflicts expect for the time he dropped out of Copa Podio in favor of Metamoris 5 when both took place on the same weekend this past November. Even then, both events were loaded with talented BJJ athletes and it benefitted the fans and helped grow the sport. EBI 3 has evolved from a curiosity to a popular event by using athletes that grew their names at multiple events run by multiple promotions. Tonon for instance made his name by appearing in the BJJ Kumite and the 2011 ADCC. He has since competed in super fights for multiple promoters while still competing and winning at two Metamoris events. Both he and the multipler promoters he worked with benefitted from each other.
Ralek is playing hardball and spending money on exclusivity deals on athletes that aren’t going to draw more viewers to Metamoris. Instead of focusing on trying to shut down and hurt competition, he should be focused on growing BJJ into the mainstream and improving his current Metamoris product through better production and pay-per-view experience for the customers. By cutting the legs out from EBI by encouraging talent to withdraw at the last minute is petty. While I am far from an Eddie Bravo loyalist, I will say that EBI keeps getting better. The improvements have come from better production, venues, and putting up prize money that attracts hungry competitors and gives them an incentive to play an exciting brand of BJJ.
All I am saying is there is enough room for IBJJF, Metamoris, EBI, and Polaris without the need to sign competitors to exclusive deals that hurt the overall growth of the sport and hinders the athletes’ long term abilities to promote themselves and limit their earning potential through competiting for multiple promoters.