These Violent Delights (Should) Have Violent Ends: 3 Ways Submission Only Tournaments Make BJJ Tournaments Not Suck

A match ending as it should: with a submission. Andre Galvao strangles Chael Sonnen at Metamoris

The Jiu-Jitsu times, they are a changing.  The sport is going through a transition, and in my opinion it is the best thing that could

A match ending as it should: with a submission. Andre Galvao strangles Chael Sonnen at Metamoris
A match ending as it should: with a submission. Andre Galvao strangles Chael Sonnen at Metamoris

happen for athletes and fans.  Points systems that favor position over submission (IBJJF, I’m looking at you) have become frustrating to fans and Jiu-Jitsu purists alike. Spearheaded by events like Ralek Gracie’s Metamoris, a new way of deciding matches that promotes both superior finishing technique and action has emerged. Submission only events are popping up all over, and their emphasis on exciting finishes is quickly making them fan favorites.  As the name implies, matches are decided by submission only, and matches that don’t find a finish within the relatively lengthy time limit end in a draw.  That system works fine for super-fights and events like Metamoris, but it doesn’t work well for tournaments, where in early rounds a victor must be decided for the bracket to continue along a logical path.  Several solutions to this problem have been proffered by different event promoters, each with unique advantages and disadvantages. I’ll take a look at 3 of my favorites here.

Rose Gracie has no sympathy for non-finishers

“There are no points or advantages calculated for any positions/moves.”

“In the case of a draw, neither athlete will advance in the bracket.”

The Gracie Nationals and Gracie Worlds are organized by UFC/WEC veteran and high-level black belt Javi Vasquez and his wife Rose, daughter of UFC founder Rorion Gracie. The quotes above are taken directly from the rules page of the events site, and reflect the strong feelings that the promoters have that BJJ matches are supposed to be decided by one man submitting another. If a match ends in a draw, both fighters are eliminated; no judges, no sudden death, no nothing. If you can’t find a submission within the time limit, go home. This draconian elimination of both fighters involved in a draw forces athletes to compete aggressively and pursue a finish, and leads to some absolutely awesome tournaments. But when you eliminate both fighters involved in a tournament, the bracket becomes a mess that can be confusing and upsetting for fans. It might be the purest iteration of submission only in a tournament setting, but if you can’t  draw in fans your ability to grow is limited, and the ability of the sport to grow is limited as well. Eddie Bravo says has a solution for this…

Geo "Freakazoid" Martinez on Jeff Glover's back in overtime of the finals for EBI 1.
Geo “Freakazoid” Martinez on Jeff Glover’s back in overtime of the finals for EBI 1.

A creative solution from a creative mind

“EBI has submission based overtime rounds…EBI has overtime rounds that have nothing to do with wrestling!!”- Eddie Bravo

That’s right. The man who brought us positions such as “crack-head control” and transitions such as “stoner control to vaporizer” has a unique approach to fixing this bracket-busting conundrum. Eddie has started a new Jiu-Jitsu event called the Eddie Bravo Invitational that features 16 man tournaments with the expressed goal of getting BJJ on television to reach bigger audiences and help the sport grow. With this goal in mind Eddie decided that brackets must flow uninterrupted, so every match must have a winner. To accomplish this he created a system resembling a shootout in hockey or extra innings in baseball. If time expires before a submission, the fighters each get a turn at a dominant position, either back mount with both hooks and over under control, or a position similar to a classic armbar called “spider web.” If athlete a gets a submission and escapes his opponents turn, he is victorious; if not, they go another round. If after three “innings” no winner has emerged, the victor is decided by fastest escapes, that is by who took less time to escape his opponents dominant positions. This system is not without detractors, however. The aforementioned Rose Gracie says that by bringing in a timekeeper for overtime rounds, the event is no longer truly sub-only. Jiu-Jitsu demigod Rickson Gracie says that dominant positions must be earned, and if you place a fighter in one then you are diverging from pure Jiu-Jitsu.

A different approach eschews brackets entirely

An interesting system for handling the issue of sister-kissers in a tournament setting has been used by a local event in my area involves a different way of organizing tournaments. Rather than a linear bracket, the WVBJJF Spring Submission Challenge, hosted by Ground Zero Fighting Systems in Morgantown West Virginia, used a round-robin set up where in each division every grappler rolled with everyone in his division. A submission win netted 1 point, a loss -1, and a draw 0. At the conclusion of the last match points were tallied and winners decided. This system had the cool added benefit of eliminating the excuse of “he had an easier bracket than me” that we hear all the time from athletes. It does lead to a lot of matches for each competitor however, especially if a ton of people show up for that division. I think it would be cool to see in an invitational scenario with 4 or so of the best in the world. It also works well for getting beginners tons of mat time and getting to roll with different styles.

In conclusion, there are many ways to handle submission-only tournaments. Some cater to purists, some to fans, and some to tournaments with fewer athletes. Each has a place in the Jiu-Jitsu landscape, and I encourage fans of the sport to support these events, because who among us doesn’t want a future with more submissions and less stalling from 50/50 guard?

More information on Gracie Nationals can be found here at their official website.

You can check out part 1 of the first Eddie Bravo Invitational here, via Eddie’s official youtube channel.

And for some regional BJJ fun, check out this link for video of the event, via “The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Hour Podcast.” Bonus; you can skip to about the 2:07:00 mark to see me (blue shirt, black shorts) get tapped with a keylock in a fun match.

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