We’ve previously written about “Olympic Jiu-Jitsu” and it’s pros and cons. Personally, I competed in the Team USA tryouts for the sport last month. Josh Barnett was there and also competed for a spot on the team.
The competition was well-run with one incredibly major exception: the officiating of the final heavyweight match involving Josh Barnett. While I would like to offer my own commentary on the match, I have been waiting to see if Barnett would make a statement. He has done so, and explains the situation in better detail than I would have been capable of. Read his statement below:
“A few weeks ago I competed at the USA Wrestling grappling world team trials in Wilmington NC. The fact that likely 99% of you didn’t hear about it or that you even knew that there was a USA Wrestling, grappling style at all isn’t surprising to me either. As troublesome that the style and events are so overlooked or unknown is the more serious issue that, even when the events are held, the judges, referees, and competitors don’t understand the rules of the competition. This lack of understanding by the people put in charge to officiate the event played the major role in determining a gold medal match.
“There’s a lot of details in this which makes it a long read, but I think it’s important to understand the process of this issue.
“In the match that was to determine the overall winner of my division, neither one of us had scored a point and the match was then set to go into an overtime period. First though, let me explain how overtime works:
“Overtime in the grappling style is a 1 minute round “golden point” and “must score” stipulation meaning the 1st point wins the match and that the wrestler who gets the choice of starting position must score. There is a coin toss and the wrestler who wins the toss chooses a starting position of Top, Bottom, or Neutral (standing). The wrestler who wins the toss must then score or lose the match even if the other wrestler is unable to score themselves. If you start on the feet you can score with a takedown (2 or 3pts); if you start on top you can score side (3pts), mount (4pts), or backmount (4pts); and if you start on bottom you can score from an escape (1pt) or a reversal (2pts). A Submission will also end the match as well.
“My opponent wins the toss and chooses top with what is called the “Open Guard Re-start position”. The whistle blows and we commence to wrestle. I turn to my side, giving my back and attack the arm he has locked around me in a tight waist as he rides off to the side. At some point then my opponent and his coach start announcing “That’s points. That’s points right?” and in confusion, the referee stops the match. A huddle then forms as the referee then enters into a conference with the other judges and after a short while a competitor on the day, who also happened to be a United World Wrestling referee/judge for the grappling style, is also called over to join in(UWW is the major sanctioning body for all the major wrestling styles. Think Olympics). On my own and without a coach, I wanted to understand their confusions and decision making process as I see a print out of the UWW rules PDF being rifled through with a lot of head scratching, but I was told, ‘We will handle this.’
“The huddle breaks, they bring us to the center and right away I know that I am getting screwed, but I can also see the by the looks on the judges faces that aren’t even confident that they even understand the call they are about to make.
“My opponent’s hand is raised and for reasons that I have not been given, I have lost.
“I went to get a drink of water and try to understand what had happened. I filmed the match and watched the end of it and saw no reason for their decision. Being entirely in the dark as to why I lost considering that none of the scoring positions outlined in the rules by the UWW were achieved I went right back to the ref of the match and asked him why he made that decision, what his criteria was, and to explain it to me. He gave me a vacant look and simply passed the buck along saying ‘The guy in red is a UWW judge and he said so’. Well, to be able to ask ‘The guy in red’ the same questions I posed to my match’s referee, I had to wait for him to get done wrestling on the mat and none of the other referees had any other answer besides ‘Talk to THAT guy’, further exposing their lack of understanding of the rules and competition.
“Once the UWW judge/competitor was done with his match, I sat down with him and after some deliberation and consulting of the rules PDF he then questioned his decision. He took photos of the position they said scored and then started actively asking the opinion of a head UWW judge in Italy (Gotta love technology!). The judge in Italy responded quickly and completely substantiated exactly what I had been saying: There was no scoring circumstance and that they had wrongly judged the match. With the UWW judge (Guy in red) we went to speak to other judges and they too agreed after the evidence that they made a mistake. The larger issue here is that they didn’t understand the call then and likely didn’t fully understand the call when explained to them afterwards. Because the guy they pinned all the responsibility on for the call, a man who was there to compete, not officiate, said that the call was wrong, they likely just deferred out of ignorance.
“With the ruling being completely wrong and confirmed incorrect, I asked the judges to have us do the 1 minute over again. They said that they couldn’t force the match to be re-done because of the time that has elapsed since the match, but if I could get the athlete to agree to it, then they could re-run the match.
“However neither my opponent nor his coach (who is the coach for Team USA) were interested in re-doing that one minute overtime from the same starting point. My opponent and I had wrestled our last match in the no-gi division and he then competed 2 more times in the gi division. He said he had spent his energy wrestling since our match and he wasn’t going get out there for another 1min. They both cited Olympic wrestling and Judo protocols for protest, which while legitimate, I said couldn’t reasonably apply to this competition since it was being run so threadbare, disorganized, and indifferently that there was no way for me to get an answer in any kind of expedient manner. They felt they had their win and it didn’t matter if the call was wrong or not. These things happen. And begrudgingly, they’re right.
“Even if it’s not right, bad calls happen in sports and it’s not the first and it won’t be the last.
“Personally, I take upon myself that it ever went to overtime and that a judge was given the authority to make a decision in the first place. I should have done my job and finished him or scored the points needed to define a clear victory. It was up to me to decide that match and I failed. But that’s my attitude when it comes to winning by a judge’s decision as well. Don’t let someone else decide how your story will be told.
“The main point I take away from this is that USA Wrestling doesn’t seem to care in the least about the grappling style and does so as merely an afterthought at best. To have potentially protested the call I would have had to have refused to have left the mat and essentially thrown a fit. There are supposed to be foam blocks a coach can throw in to challenge a call in wrestling and they are supposed to be there for grappling under the UWW as well, yet they were none at the event and without a coach who would have thrown it in for me? Making the process even more difficult is the fact that an active competitor, not official, was given authority to make a call on my match and the time it took to be able to get to a legitimate answer meant I would have had to stood out on a mat for 20+ minutes. All of that is absolutely inexcusable.
“What the people working the event and almost everyone there that day didn’t know, was that I was involved with USA Wrestling’s grappling style since the beginning. I was at the initial events in Southern California and used to confer often with people involved in its creation and management. I brought athletes to the first world team trials in 2007 and have had athletes compete in events since. In fact my athletes have won 2 golds and a silver at the world championships. I would argue that I was more familiar than any of the people there that day on what the rules were, and how they should be applied. The only reason I came out to compete was to see how things were being run and to potentially get more involved.
“Whether USA Wrestling knows it or not, I am a wrestler. I wrestled at the Junior Nationals, won many state and regional medals, trained and trained with some of the nation’s top wrestling talents, and have always made it known that my roots come from being a wrestler. And as a wrestler and someone who supports wrestling, being able to support an organization such as USA Wrestling and help bring submission style wrestling back into the culture of wrestling is something I would love to do. But I can’t see any reason to when it seems clear to me that USA Wrestling doesn’t seem very interested or supportive of the grappling style or concerned in making sure these events are properly run.”
Thanks for your commentary and even more for your participation at the USAW World Team trials. There is a small group of highly dedicated wrestlers/ grapplers that have made a significant push to build the sport of grappling within USA Wrestling and the UWW international community. As you are aware the grappling and NoGi community as a whole is a small niche within a niche. Our efforts are to create an environment that gets as many athletes out there on the mat.
I look forward to connecting with you and hearing about your personal experience with the officiating at this event, as well as those at non-USAW events. Please shoot me and email and we can begin a dialogue. All the best and see you on the mat.