I still can’t quite believe that wrestling has been taken out of the Olympics. It seems to me that the “dream” of Olympic gold in the minds young wrestlers today has been silenced. But perhaps as one door closes another one opens…
The growing popularity of MMA throughout the world means that even the youngest wrestlers are becoming aware of wrestling’s next door neighbor: submission grappling. Guillotines, rear naked chokes, triangles, armbars, kneebars, toe holds, etc. are all lurking in the shadows. The counter-intuitive notion that you can dominate an opponent off your back is no longer so counter-intuitive.
Maybe taking wrestling out of the Olympics is the first step in the sport’s evolution. The second step would be to add submission grappling. The more I thought about it in the last couple days, the more the ADCC version of the event seemed like a very real possibility:
Jiu jitsu is a little too boring for spectators. MMA is a little too violent. No-gi is (in some ways) the perfect compromise.
The only concern I have is the very fact that any of these changes are happening. For 70 years (since 1936) no sport was removed from the Olympics. Why are these changes happening now. If it’s because of “money”, why does money all of a sudden gain the power to change something that was unchanged for decades? The Olympics needs to be a slow-moving organization. It takes 15-20 years for an Olympic athlete to achieve world-class level from an early age. Changing rules (or worse, changing sports) throws a wrench into that very delicate process.
There is an illusion that since UFC is “fastest growing sport” that its stars would be paid on the level of other professional. That illusion was shattered for me when I found out that the prize money for Chael Sonnen from this weekend was just $50,000 (source). Of course, he perhaps earned over a million dollars through sponsorship deals, but still.
The following are the top earners (based on approximate yearly earnings from their fights alone) from each of the sports in a recent year.
Boxing: Floyd Mayweather at $85,000,000
MMA: Rashad Evans at $710,000
Freestyle/Greco-Roman Wrestling: $0 (unless they medal, then some countries give bonuses. Russia is highest with $100,000 bonus for gold)
Judo: Teddy Riner was paid $100K without sponsors and then sponsors bring that up to a about $1,000,000.
Jiu Jitsu: ADCC pays $40,000 to the superfight winner. World Pro pays $30,000 to the winner of the absolute and $8,000 to the winner of the division. Ultimate Absolute pays $10,000 to first place. So someone like Andre Galvao who won almost all of these prizes, could earn $88,000 a year.
It’s clear that superstars in any sport get paid well. An example of that is judo’s Teddy Riner. But still, it surprised me that the top 10 earners in boxing still make more than the top paid UFC fighters.
For many Olympic sports, money is not the main motivator, which is why the Olympics often feel like the purest form of athletic competition. There’s something beautiful about a human being sacrificing the prime of his or her life for the singular (and nearly impossible) goal of a gold medal…
I’ve made a habit of watching competition footage over breakfast, and the last couple weeks I’ve been catching up on the ADCC 2011 videos (which by the way are available on BudoVideos Online for I think $10).
One observation about the superfight between Renzo Gracie and Mario Sperry… I know these guys are in excellent shape, but they were pouring bucket loads of sweat. In stark contrast, in the fight that followed with Xande Ribeiro vs Murilo Santana for third place in the absolute neither man was sweating at all. The contrast was clear.
Alright so what the hell does sweating mean anyway. It made me think back to the fact that someone like Andre Galvao fought in 8 matches, that added up to about two hours of grappling. This is two hours against some of the best competitors in world. It made me realize that jiu jitsu is ultimately an art of knowing when and how to relax and rest, while still constantly scrambling, working to improve position, or aggressively going after or defending against submissions.
Of course, in reality, Sperry and Renzo sweating a ton is probably a sign of the fact that they didn’t have to cut weight at all for this match, but it’s also symbolic of the fact that a single match is tough but a tournament of several matches in a row is another beast altogether, and requires a very different kind of approach during the matches and months leading up to the matches.
Cutting weight is a big part of grappling and fighting sports. I like any system that forces an athlete to fight at the lowest weight they can be at while still being 100% in terms of energy, strength, and mental state without doing things like cutting water weight before a weigh-in and rehydrating right after.
Too often the weigh-ins become a fight in themselves. There is a mindset out there that if you’re in peak shape at 180 lbs, then obviously you need to cut down to 165 lbs. That’s only “obvious” because everyone does it. I think that a system can be put in place that strongly disincentivizes athletes from making such a cut. The ADCC this year has made me believe that such a system is possible and feasible, if not at the amateur level, then certainly for the pros.
Here’s what they did:
First weigh-in is on Friday (the day before competition)
Second weigh-in is right before the first match on Saturday
If you make it that far, third weigh-in is right before the first match on Sunday
And the icing on the cake is that a referee can call for another weigh-in at any time. That means you can’t play games with water weight. Basically, you have to do your damn best to make a real 2-3 month cut by dieting, and step on the scale hydrated and ready to fight.
I know that some ADCC participants really liked this rule and some didn’t. I think the ones that didn’t have simply become weight-cutting experts and thus this new system takes away one of their strengths. But in the long term, I think it’s for the best. After all, we not only want to see the healthiest fighters out there, but also ones that have 100% fuel in the tank, ready to battle.
Budo Jake put up a bunch of great short interviews with the competitors of the 2011 ADCC submission grappling tournament (that’s happening tomorrow and Sunday). The following are my favorites of these interviews, with some comments.
This one stood out because Ryan looks skinny, even skinnier than usual (though not as skinny as Jeff Glover), and he mentions that he takes the weight cutting very seriously, and that he stayed on weight for two weeks out, which is probably the right way to do it, but is just damn hard to do.
Braulio won the ADCC last time (in 2009) both in his weight (88 kg or 194 lbs) and the absolute at the age of 29 which makes him one of the older competitors now at 31. He talked about how 35 is really the peak for a BJJ athlete because it’s when the mind and body come together.
What I especially liked is the idea of a “jiu jitsu compass” he talked about, which is the process of constantly improving, and structuring training such that improvement is maximized. This is in contrast to the way that (as he says) many people approach BJJ which is roll, day after day, just to butt heads.
First, let me clarify a natural confusion that probably arises with the mention of “Abu Dhabi”. Abu Dhabi is a city in United Arab Emirates. In the grappling community it has become famous in the last 10 years when UAE president Sheikh Zayed helped organize and fund the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship. This was and is a great thing for the grappling community as it awards substantial monetary prizes to professional grapplers that excel in the sport.
The Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu Jitsu Championship is a completely separate competition, funded by a different Sheikh, and with a much greater focus on the gi. It’s providing prizes that total to $1,000,000. This will certainly help ensure its growth by attracting the best jiu jitsu players in the world. Its future looks bright! I strongly encourage that you hop on and compete at the trials in New Jersey next weekend to help make it a great tournament this year and in the years to come. I’ll be competing in the Blue Belt division and hope to go against some of the best BJJ players in the area.
You can listen to Fernando Paradeda talk about the idea behind this event, and some of the details on this Fightworks Podcast.