The world of professional jiu-jitsu has grown exponentially in recent years, giving athletes various opportunities to compete in large scale events offering levels of production value only dreamed about previously. These advancements provide the potential for top-level competitors to make a livable wage by competing and marketing off the notoriety they offer. But the struggle for a BJJ combat format that is both exciting to watch and representative of whose jiu-jitsu is better has always hindered this advancement.
In the early days of professional jiu-jitsu, participants claimed dominance in a style and then proclaimed any other variation inferior, causing divisions in our ranks as practitioners and fans. Which form of the art showcased the best grappler?
The answer to that question lies in the barometer we have always used to gauge the consensus best grapplers on the planet, the ADCC.
This past weekend, JitzKing showed us why the answer to which format is the best was right in our faces the entire time.
Saturday’s event was the third installment of the promotion and offered arguably the most staked bracket of young talent in recent years. Names like John Combs, Roberto Jimenez, William Tackett, Pedro Marinho, Johnny Tama, Alan Sanchez, Jason Rau, and Oliver Taza showed why the 185ib division could be the deepest in the sport.
The action didn’t fail to live up to the expectations, either, as every match showcased a high-tempo display combining the best of points grappling and submission attempts due to the unique structure of the rules. Matches were six minutes, offering no points for the first three minutes, then ADCC points scoring for the final three minutes of action. Under these rules, a failed submission attempt does not result in points scored. This addition allows competitors more freedom to hunt submissions without the fear of losing a match if the attempt fails and a loss of position results.
Points are also at a premium under ADCC rules and no advantages are tallied, so it is notoriously difficult to score under this format. Points are only awarded when a grappler firmly maintains a scoring position for a hard three count, causing entertaining scrambles while competitors fight through exchanges. These resulting high-intensity transitions are also where submissions generally materialize at the highest levels.
A few of the more memorable matches showcased eventual winner and Gracie Barra standout Pedro Marinho. In a technical chess game against leg lock specialist and “DDD” member Jason Rau, Marinho’s pressure passing proved to be more than Jason could handle. Fellow participant John Combs feverishly watched the contest mat side and labeled the melee “The Dragon vs. The Gorilla”. But it was Marinho’s heel hook submission finish of Roberto Jimenez that best showcased the versatility of this young grappler’s game. Maybe the most impressive scramble of the tournament.
The match of the evening, however, goes to John Combs vs. Valdir “BB Monster” Araujo, two of the fiercest competitors in the game. Combs, a former All-American wrestler, and Valdir, a judo black belt, spent the entire opening three minutes aggressively hand fighting while standing. Then when points began, Valdir countered a single-leg attempt from John, scoring the first two points. John quickly returned to his feet and evened the affair with a hard-fought takedown of his own against the notoriously difficult-to-score-on Araujo. Tied with time running out, both competitors returned to their feet, intent on winning. Vlad shot and John countered with his well-known guillotine and almost finished a sweep until Vlad pulled his head free and scored the final two points of the match.
The only stain on the otherwise pristine event was poor officiating that often stole the action away. The referees were a well accomplished IBJJF crew headed by one of the best in the business, Professor Fabio Novaes. Unfortunately, as the lead referee, he was on the sidelines and didn’t call any of the bouts directly.
The rules for IBJJF matches and ADDC scoring are different. Points are given more freely in IBJJF, and many of the contestants — alumni of the illustrious ADCC —mistakenly used their knowledge of the rules to strategize. Unfortunately, the refereeing was more consistent with the IBJJF format, which led to several mistakes. Most notably in the finals match, which drastically altered the course of that contest.
Jiu-jitsu promotor and BJJ bad boy Josh “Starlord” Leduc said on the Old Man Grappling Hour Podcast, “They need to stop calling it ADCC rules. It’s first three minutes no points, second three minutes points like ADCC, but they are using modified IBJJF rules.”
The refs also seemed to be influenced by the high-profile coaches on the sidelines. There were many instances of questionable calls when screaming coaches became a deciding factor in the outcomes. Refereeing is a difficult job, and mistakes will happen, but it appeared as though the officiators lost control of the action on several occasions.
As professional jiu-jitsu continues to grow, competitors need more events to showcase their skills, and these events need to offer the most exciting rules sets to entertain fans as well as decide whose game reigns supreme. JitzKing definingly fills that void successfully. ADCC rules provide excitement and allow both points grapplers and submission specialists the opportunity to excel. But, judging from the young talent on display Saturday night in central Florida at Gracie Largo, the game is changing. Much like MMA, the idea of being a specialist in an individual component is in the past. Modern grapplers are embracing both approaches, and the result is a hybrid of submission hunting grapplers that are aware of the importance of positional scoring.
JitzKing was a fantastic event stacked with enormous talent, and baring a few fixable missteps, has the potential to be the new template that our sport desperately needs. Hopefully, they can work the bugs out and continue to put on amazing events in the future.