The Return of the Sapateiro Invitational

Photo By: Ally Larae

If you’ve followed competitive grappling over the past ten years, you’ve seen organizations come and go, the rise of a rule set that changed the landscape of the sport, and cash prize tournaments becoming increasingly accessible to competitors. One event has time and again has shown to be a true proving ground test of undiscovered talent: the Sapateiro Invitational. 

A traveling show that has hosted the elite of the sport, the Sapateiro Invitational functions as a true bootstrap-style endeavor. Last April saw the most recent Sapateiro match, which took place between ADCC vet Joe Baize and the writer of this article. It was live streamed from a cell phone, and then later, a multi-angle version of the match was uploaded in HD, but we haven’t heard much about Sapateiro since then.

That’s about to change. This weekend will mark the return of the Sapateiro Invitational with an epic event featuring an eight-man absolute tournament, a match for the heavyweight title between Joe Baize and Chad “Kodiak” Fields, and as a qualifier tournament for the upcoming 155 lb tournament.  The upcoming 155 lb tournament will feature Jon Calestine (the very last Eddie Bravo Invitational champion), Corey Brown, ADCC vet Keith Krikorian, Jordan Holy, Robert Diggle, Werther Marciales, Mauricio Gomez, and, of course, the winner of the qualifier.

Sapateiro owner and promoter Josh Leduc told the Jiu-Jitsu Times why he’d decided to bring the event back now in the midst of all the turmoil in the world.

“Because I have things set up in my other businesses to support this, and it makes sense at this time to come back in the format that I’m choosing. There is no EBI, only CJJ. So when you look at my brackets, you’ll see by the level of talent that the winner can rightly be called a World Champion under [the] EBI rule set. Plus I have the fire. I’m tired of seeing shi**y promotions try to do what I can do, in a worse way.”

Leduc intends on bringing catch wrestling matches and titles to future Sapateiro events.  The format will be a 10-minute round, best two out of three falls, pins, or subs, followed by EBI-style overtime. As a fellow catch wrestler, I was interested to learn about Leduc’s thoughts on the importance of the Catch rule set within his events.

“Catch as Catch Can is important to me, not so much Sapateiro. I have a lineage in it, and I think with the modifications I’m making, it can make for an entertaining rule set for fans. If not, it’ll be a fun freak show. However, submission is king, and ever since we were kids, we’ve known about pins. So combining those two and adding EBI rules will make for a lot of action. You can’t be complacent.”

The fact that Leduc’s big return is happening in the 155 lb weight class is no accident. 

“155 has always been stacked. Our first ever event was held at 160, with Gordon Ryan winning. Our next event we had at 160, PJ Barch won. Each time, the brackets were stacked. So I’ve always felt that 145 and 155/60 have been the marquee divisions for us. This division specifically is stacked because we have a lot of champs from other promotions who have put on muscle that want to try their hands at winning the 155 lb title of one of the OG promotions in sub-only. Honestly, I think if you win our qualifiers, you can kind of be deemed the next big thing. The names I have interested in the qualifier are insane.”

Of course with the return of Sapateiro, it’s natural that Leduc will have more plans in the works.

“Short term plans will be to run some divisions during this COVID crisis in a safe and manageable way. Long term, I would like to hold six championships a year with six qualifiers. If things go well and continue to make sense, the goals would be to raise prize money and maybe a larger venue. However, my main goal is to get this in front of as many people as possible and make some more stars. So we’re doing all of these free on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch. So not only will our champ get money and a title, but seen by tens of thousands of people.”

In the past, the 16-man tournament has been the way to go for many events. However, there has recently been a shift to the eight-man format. Leduc’s reasoning for the change is well thought out:

“Eight-man allows me to really stack the bracket. Sixteen, when you get pull-outs, you throw people in who don’t deserve to be in the event in because you need bodies. For an eight-man I have a list of high level replacements. Plus I can run more exhibition matches and smaller tournaments on the same event.”

One common concern with high-stakes competitive grappling is the sustainability of high-dollar cash prizes.  Many events in recent and even not-so-recent history folded under this pressure. Leduc’s promotion has a sterling reputation for always paying what’s promised and often promising generous prizes. 

“Sustainability is interesting. I think it really comes down to promoters. I hear a lot and I see a lot. I know who’s making money and who isn’t. I know who’s in this to look cool, who’s in it to line their pockets, and who’s in it for the athletes. So as far as sustainability, I’m going to keep quiet and let these idiots go out of business. If you want to know, just pay attention.”

Like many, I am personally hopeful that the original EBI will make a return. Leduc shares the enthusiasm.

“If EBI comes back it’s king. That’s like Pride to me. It’s my first love and will always remain that way to me. If EBI comes back, I’ll gladly keep putting events on but work more as a feeder and trying to get my competitors on that event. If not I think it comes down to the Finishers and Sapateiro. I love Zach [Maslany] and JM [Holland] so I’m happy to share that spot with them. Hopefully one day we can work together.

“I’m just excited and glad to be back. Tune in — I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the production value. During all this time off, I’ve been working on a lot of live streaming solutions and growing other businesses, and I think that will carry over and show well for Sapateiro.”

For anyone interesting in watching or attending this first event back, live event tickets can be bought here.

The will be live streamed for FREE and can be viewed here:

Or here.


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