The IBJJF has never been short on controversy. It has a confusing, often inconsistent scoring structure, and there are rules banning many popular submissions. As a result, heated debates about the validity of this almost antiquated format flood social media feeds daily. Many young grapplers have even resorted to not just boycotting their events, but actually publicly admonishing the IBJJF. It has even been viewed recently as a money-grabbing racket damaging jiu-jitsu’s progress. And it is difficult to deny this claim.
After watching hours and hours of often boring matches over the three-day tournament this last weekend, it was common to see matches that resulted in playing for advantages, then stalling until the buzzer to get your hand raised.
And yes, learning to play the rules is an undeniable skill unto its own. But it has always made IBJJF matches less about jiu-jitsu and often just displays of gamesmanship. This flaw has turned away many new grapplers to instead focus on more exciting submission-only formats.
But what happens when the self-ordained “king” of sub-only grappling decides he wants to come conquer the most prestigious mats in jiu-jitsu?
The 2018 IBJJF No-Gi World Championship became the Gordon Ryan Show from the moment Ryan posted his registration info to his Instagram account. He announced his arrival in the usual, unrepentantly savage way that has become his trademark. Then, without skipping a beat, he backed up his swagger by dismantling this field of jiu-jitsu’s best points grapplers with the precision and dominance reminiscent of Roger Gracie or Marcello Garcia.
He won both his Ultra-Heavyweight division and the absolute division and compiled a very impressive four submissions out of eight matches along the way. All this in a tournament where submissions come at a premium. An 11-0 win over former champion Yuri Simoes in the Ultra-Heavy Semi-finals proved to be his most eye-opening victory. But Ryan insists he doesn’t count wins unless he gets the submission at this point.
One tough match came from a very aggressive Patrick Gaudio, perhaps proving to be the best match of the tournament. This contest saw Ryan trailing by an advantage in the final minute to come from behind and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat: a wonderful display of his championship-caliber heart.
Finally, in a highly anticipated match between multiple-time world champion Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu, Ryan again refused to be stopped. His dangerous guard play led Cyborg to disengage the entire match. Multiple symbolic smacks to the brazen young superstar’s face ultimately resulted in Cyborg losing the match to Ryan via disqualification.
Gordon came and Gordon conquered. But the weekend also had plenty of other excellent matches in the black belt adult division.
Josh Hinger became only the second American in history to win the No-Gi Worlds three consecutive times. In tough matches against Kit Dale and Marcello Garcia black belts Matheus Diniz and Marcos Tinco, he displayed the strength of his wrestling dominance and front headlock submission system while grinding his way through the field.
Gianni Grippo capped off a hallmark year with a gold medal in the lightweight division. He came from behind to win by submission as time ran out in his finals match, catching the RNC. The medal will be a nice addition to his 2018 list of accomplishments that includes powering through a star-studded bracket to win Kasai Pro 4.
On the women’s side, Beatriz Mesquita captured double gold on her way to completing our sport’s version of the Grand Slam. She now simultaneously holds an ADCC championship title, an EBI title, and an IBJJF world championship title: an accomplishment only duplicated by, you guessed it, Gordon Ryan.
Unfortunately, not all of the drama occurred on the mat this year. A confrontation turned disgraceful after legendary bad boy Ralph Gracie attacked Flavio Almeida — a Gracie Barra black belt and younger brother to Ricardo Almeida. The attack was fueled by a gym proximity dispute in Ralph’s hometown of San Francisco. Flavio was knocked unconscious and sustained several injuries, including losing a few teeth after the attack. Even a week later, details continue to develop about the very unfortunate incident.
This year’s No-Gi Worlds proved to be the most entertaining in recent memory. Some attention was positive, some negative. But once again, the quality of jiu-jitsu did not fail. Today’s heroes worked one step closer to becoming tomorrow’s legends. And thanks to Gordon Ryan, many more grapplers than ever before watched the action. Love him or hate him, Ryan’s antics get people to tune in. This helps the sport grow and allows other world champion competitors to get the mass exposure they deserve. The IBJJF should embrace him with open arms while he is taking our sports to levels previously unimaginable.