By: Gabriel Wahhab
The 2011 Arnold BJJ Classic is now in the books and has unfortunately taken a step backwards. In just two short years the competition has managed to transform from one the largest and most prestigious BJJ tournaments in the US into a sub-par local level event.
The tournament, which was held on March 5 and 6 at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio was ghastly missing many needed essentials such as qualified referees, scoreboards and proper mat space.
After watching numerous matches it was apparent that the referees were not capable of officiating a BJJ competition as even the most basic positions and transitions were not scored correctly. A number of unsafe techniques such as neck cranks were even observed in a children’s match.
This year’s tournament, run by Dave Sklar executive director of the ISGA, indicated in an interview with USCS that "all of our referees are BJJ black and brown belts". During the interview Sklar asked USCS to turn off the cameras as he explained how he was contracted to run the tournament on only a week’s notice and that a majority of referees were volunteers. Sklar said that he did not wish to continue the interview as he did not want to disrespect the referees, many of whom were very high-ranking individuals in other traditional martial arts.
Sklar’s statement however contradicts an earlier interview USCS did with one of the referees that declared he has "never practiced a day of BJJ in my life". Furthermore USCS overheard a conversation between referees where one said "I don’t know the rules really I am just guessing".
The defectively run event deals another blow to the credibility of the tournament. In 2010 On The Mat was initially contracted to run the competition but pulled out allegedly due to not being given the proper resources to successfully run the tournament. Randy Bloom along with Team Tokey Hill Karate took over the task on short notice with the result being a disorganized tournament that went way over the scheduled completion time. Competitors who pre-registered with On The Mat were not honored and were forced to double pay.
This combined with the poorly run tournament left many vowing not to return in the future. This was apparent as the 2011 tournament turnout was low and USCS only spotted 1 black belt and 2 brown belts as opposed to the normal plethora of top- level competition, which has included ADCC champions.
Nicholas Mitria who was in Ohio helping coach teammates stated, "I remember when Arnolds was the biggest and best (BJJ) event around. I found it unsafe and unprofessional when the referees don’t even know the rules or scoring system for a grappling event. It’s sad to see what the Arnold Classic has become."
The tournament was started by Relson Gracie in 1997 as the Relson Gracie National Jiu-Jitsu Championships. Then in 2000 Arnold Schwarzenegger approached Relson to combine the tournament with the Arnold Sports Festival as the Arnold-Gracie World Submission Championships. It attracted the top competitors from around the globe and offered cash prizes for top divisions. But if the current conditions remain, the once proud event may never regain its former prestige.
Stay tuned to USCS for photographs from the event and video interviews with Dave Sklar and some highly respected coaches and celebrities about the event.