I have been to many events over the years, but I think what the promoters of Fight to Win bring to the table is unique and exciting. The idea is create a huge card, over 20 matches in all largely showcasing local talent with a couple of super fights, give everyone the rock star treatment, and have live production value that was well over the norm what we have come to expect from grappling shows.
My first thought when I walked into the venue and saw the raised mat area, the lighting and walk out ramps was “Wow”, these guys are trying to take it to another level. That energy translated to each of the competitors, fighting in front of teammates and family who further injected the arena with enthusiasm and made them that much more determined to put on a great performance.
I think the rule set made for exciting matches as well, essentially most things (including slams) were legal, but I think they left the competitors intentionally vague on what would constitute a judge’s decision if no submission was reached. This meant that competitors essentially had to go for it, and those who understood that were essentially rewarded*.
I hope that Fight to Win Pro does extremely well and they are able to create many more shows in the future. The certainly have an ambitious schedule, with 14 shows over the next 8 months and from what I understand plans for more, so on the good chance they come to your town you absolutely have to go see this for yourself, and if you are a competitor you really need to submit an application to compete for them.
Some personal thoughts on last nights show:
Aside from being a fan, I was there to corner my student Jeremy Jackson in the brown belt main event against Pedro Silva. Jeremy won with a pretty spectacular armbar in my opinion. Jeremy has definitely been making a name for himself on the competition circuit; he’s among the hardest working people I have seen in training and somehow manages to balance his dedication with his career and personal life. You are going to be hearing a lot more about Jeremy in the future, I’m certain of that.
I also wound up cornering Dean Lister for his match as well. Dean actually travelled to the event by himself, and being that I have known him for nearly 20 years and have cornered him at events in the past it was fun to be there for him again. I was more there for moral support, As Bill Cooper also was there in the corner yelling words of encouragement. Honestly Bill gave some great advice but also had me cracking up a lot of the time. The match did not go Dean’s way, so congrats to Yuri for his performance. If there was any bad blood on the match I can say with certainty there was none from Dean’s end. He explained afterwards in a match with no score he figured he would pull guard quickly and try to get Yuri to engage. He mentioned that while he didn’t mean to let Yuri get to the Spider Web (arm bar) position, his strategy was to try to look for submissions from traditionally weak positions, which are high percentage for him because no one expects them. Yuri did a great job of keeping his legs away from Dean however and definitely deserved the win.
So happy to see Bill Cooper competing again and more importantly to see him back to his happy go lucky self. I can say that it broke my heart to see him over the last several years. (Interview Bill Cooper by Chuck Rylant) but seeing him making his comeback absolutely makes me feel great. I want to see the continued resurrection of Bill the Grill not only as a friend, but because it is great for Jiu Jitsu to have him back.
I also hosted a seminar with co main event Garry Tonon at my studio Heroes Martial Arts. Aside from being one of the most exciting competitors on the circuit currently, he has knowledge and a maturity about him that seems far in excess of his 24 years on this earth. As an instructor he is articulate, knowledgeable and funny. Gordon Ryan was also there and shared technique at the seminar as well and he is well on the way to making a huge name for himself as well. The buzz around the seminar and the subsequent rolling session was about Nicky Ryan, Gordon’s younger brother who at 15 and only a year and a half of serious training comes across as much more seasoned. This kid has all the potential to be a superstar in the future.
*I had a few conversations with Garry over the last few day of what I’m certain is one of his best weekends ever, if nothing else than the picture of his from the weigh ins that has gone viral. Watching the matches at Fight to Win most of them were really exciting but there were some slow parts. While we thought the rules definitely helped out, both of us feel that there really is no rule set that will ever guarantee an exciting fight, no matter what the circumstances it’s always going to be up to the fighters to bring it. And the best fighters will bring it regardless of the circumstances (and Garry certainly is someone who lives for the challenge himself.
If we want Jiu Jitsu / Grappling to grow as sport, we need competitors who have a mindset that the event needs to be entertaining as well, and we need to work in a way to grow our audience. Garry is actually planning on moving to MMA at some point, but is being encouraged (by one of his coaches Danaher) to stay in submission grappling for right now in order to see where it takes him and how much it can grow. As Dean Lister pointed out in conversation we shared after the event, the idea of being able to make a living off of submission grappling wasn’t even an option for his generation, he had to fight MMA. Right now there are a number of events showcasing professional Jiu Jitsu and Submission Grappling. Although I know it’s probably not possible, I hope that each and every one of these events succeeds and I will do what I can to support ALL of them because I love giving the competitors options and I love seeing the art grow.