In a sport where the world championship doesn’t automatically come with a cash prize, prizes, specifically generous ones, are noteworthy. The Jiu-Jitsu Times recently learned of an upcoming event that will be offering a groundbreaking $750,000.00 award. This is a tournament that is breaking boundaries, and giving athletes a chance to win big.
I had a chance to chat with the man behind this ambitious tournament to learn more about what he’s trying to build.
The following interview has been edited slightly for clarity.
My name is Michael Ciprianni and I’m a brown belt under Joao (Johnny) Faria. I originally trained recreationally under Wald Bloise, a 3rd degree black belt who is under Minotauro Nogueira and fell in love with the sport.
I trained at Team Nogueira from white belt to purple belt before I moved on to my current professor Joao Faria at Alliance. As far as accomplishments in the sport, at 48 years old I live through my son Frankie who is 13 years old and a 4 time World Champion under Mike Phelps at Del Mar Jiu-Jitsu. Phelps is also a Faria Black Belt and a great kids coach. I guess I can say that not letting my son quit jiu-jitsu was my biggest accomplishment because kids lose focus and move onto other sports.
I got extremely lucky in life. As a kid I was in and out of trouble but I was fortunate to be able to turn my life around. Because of what I went through as a kid when I created real wealth I felt a need to want to give back to try and keep kids out of trouble. I started a kids baseball team and named it The Gamblers because if I didn’t take a chance to change my life I would probably be in jail or dead.
I don’t want any kids to have to go through what I went through so at one time I had 12 Gambler Teams. I sponsored all the teams and I tried to keep all my kids together during tournaments. I felt and still feel that if we could keep kids interested in some kind of sports then they have less time on their hands to get in trouble. Peer pressure is tough on these kids.
I then opened my own academy which is now called Gamblers Jiu-jitsu & Kickboxing. I try to get all my baseball kids to train so they can build that self-confidence they will need going forward in life. Team sports are great but no one will have their team around everywhere they go. Self-defense is also important. This is why I will always be grateful to the Gracie Family for bringing Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to the states.
Ciprianni is bringing something truly special to the jiu-jitsu world with his tournament. Before learning the details of his tournament, I was curious about his motivation to get things going.The road block I see is trying to get fighters to believe in a new fight league.
“Everyone is chasing World Championships, and that’s great because those titles are extremely important, but there are tons of World Champions out there that are broke today. I would just love to see all these great fighters get rewarded for their hard work.”
I have always loved the UFC and my wife and I used to follow it all over the country back in the early 90s because the sport was outlawed in most states. I came to realize that the only way for jiu-jitsu guys to make money is that they would have to fight MMA and most jiu-jitsu guys don’t like being punched, kicked in head or face, so I went to a friend of mine Shawn Fowler who runs 5 Grappling and told him that I would like to put a tournament together that would give jiu-jitsu fighters a chance to make real money and that’s how THE WORLD SERIES OF GRAPPLING was born. Shawn and I were kicking this idea around for 6 years and finally he agreed that the time was right.
The only struggle was timing. We had to wait for the sport to evolve into what it actually is today.
But now that we are here we are ready to try and make this life change to the hard training and dedicated grapplers. To me that’s rewarding.
Very often tournaments sell themselves by the caliber of the names that compete on their mats. I was interested to learn what big names Ciprianni intends on bringing to his tournament to showcase their skills.
In all honesty, all competitors are desirable for us. We all know the big names — Buchecha, Leandro Lo, Cyborg, my dear friend Joao Assis and my apologies for not mentioning more — but this tournament is about all the fighters from 2 weight classes not just the big names. We want everyone to bring it, and with all the top guys tied up under contracts, that just means anyone who is talented enough can win. Sometimes big names discourage others from competing, so to some extent these first few shows give everyone a chance to win because of the ACB contracts. However, we welcome all fighters and we appreciate what the ACB and ADCC have done because they too are looking to help grapplers earn a living. It’s great how those organizations stepped up to the plate for these fighters.
Not to be crude, but the big factor that makes this event so special is the sheer amount of money involved in it. Most cash prize tournaments offer $1,000 to $10,000, sometimes big events like EBI will offer a 20k purse, but Ciprianni is doing something unheard of with The World Series of Grappling.
We are putting up some real cash prizes so jiu-jitsu fighters don’t have to go get their head beat in for a $3,000 undercard fight in MMA.
We are giving 20k to the winner of each weight class, 2nd place prize for each weight class is 5k, 3rd is 2k, 4th is 1k, 5th place though 10th place get $750 and 11th Place through 20th place get a free entry into the next tournament.
The top 10 finalists of each of the 5 tournaments automatically go to Vegas to fight in the main event for 100k. Second place in the main event gets 25k, 3rd place 12.5k, 4th place 7.5k, 5th place through 10th place gets 2.5k and 11th place through 20th place gets 1.5k. What’s great is that there’s 25k going to the team with the most finalists in the top 20 of both weight classes and 25k to the academy with the most finalists in the top 20 of both weight classes.
The money came from me and a few investors that loved the idea.
My model is very sustainable because if you really think about it, why would people want to continue to spend $150-$160 for a tournament to go win a $2 medal? If you think more about it the great IBJJF forces you to fight for points. I know many fighters that are stuck traveling from one IBJJF tournament to another so they can qualify to fight in the Worlds, Pans, and Nationals. Basically they are incurring traveling expenses and paying for 3 or 4 tournaments just to qualify. That amounts to thousands of dollars. With that being factual, why not pay $500 entry fee and come compete in a tournament that can reward you even if you have a bad day?
My long term plan is to increase the prize money every year and hope to get the top prize anywhere between $500,000-$1,000,000 in 5 years.
We plan to introduce no-gi in 6 months, and we plan to do the same for women as well. We apologize that we couldn’t do it right out of the box due to how quickly this came together. Our plan is to have the women involved real soon and possibly young kids competing for scholarships as well.
After consulting with some high-level jiu-jitsu masters — including Salo Ribeiro, Cyborg, Nelson Monteiro and Joao Faria — they all had the same thoughts and opinion on creating a separate division just for blue and purple belts. They all thought that giving the lower belts a better chance at winning a good amount money would be better for the sport. It’s a complete honor that they want to see the tournament succeed and that they took the time to sit and talk to me.
What we decided to do in each of the 5 legs was to give 5k for first place, 2k for 2nd, 1k for 3rd 500 to 4th and 5th – 10th get a free entry to the next tournament. In the Finals we decided to 20k for 1st, 5k for 2nd, 3k for 3rd and 4th-10th $500.
Michael Ciprianni is taking steps to move into a position as a major influencer in the sport of competitive grappling, so I was interested to learn about his thoughts on the game as it exists today.
I think that competitive grappling is here and here to stay. Grappling is fun to watch and it’s time to get grapplers paid.
The road block I see is trying to get fighters to believe in a new fight league. Everyone is chasing World Championships, and that’s great because those titles are extremely important, but there are tons of World Champions out there that are broke today. I would just love to see all these great fighters get rewarded for their hard work. We all get old. Look at Michael Jordan. While he can’t play basketball for a living anymore, he’s still living a good life from all the money he made playing, and that’s what I would like to see for today’s Grapplers.
The sport is heading in the right direction but there’s too much political nonsense that needs to change. It seems that there’s not enough money spread around to the fighters other than the other 2 organizations that I mentioned earlier (ACB and ADCC), so I would like to help them make jiu-jitsu the sport it deserves to be.
Jiu-jitsu, in my opinion, is the Rolls Royce of all martial arts, so I would love for the ACB and ADCC to look at THE WORLD SERIES OF GRAPPLING in the same way I look at them, not as a competitor of theirs, but as another organization trying to help fighters, but more importantly trying to help the fighters that don’t want to do MMA or can’t do MMA to put food on their tables for their family.
In closing, Michael Ciprianni had the following shout outs and thank yous:
I want to thank the entire Gracie Family for bringing the great discipline of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to America. I want to thank my good friend Royler Gracie for always being around to help my kid and I. I want to thank my professor, Johnny Faria for supporting me, believing in me and helping me put this WORLD SERIES OF GRAPPLING together. I want to thank my partner Shawn Fowler (a Saulo Ribeiro black belt) at 5 Grappling for coming on board and believing that it was time to get grapplers paid. Shawn was an absolute must for me to move forward with this. I want to thank Leo Santos, Michael Phelps, Talita Alencar, Joao Assis, and Johnny Faria for flying in to help teach my students on a monthly basis. I also want to thank a great entrepreneur and friend Matheus Costa at Vulkan Gi’s for coming on board to handle marketing and international relations.
And a special thanks to Master Carlos Valente for being one of the pioneers of American jiu-jitsu. For those of you that do not know him, he is my dear friend and it wouldn’t be far fetched to say that he brought Brazilian jiu-jitsu to the states.
Last but not least I want to thank the Jiu-jitsu Times for this interview.
For more information about The World Series of Grappling go to http://worldseriesofgrappling.com/