Abu Dhabi Diaries, Day 2: Jiu-Jitsu CAN Be A Spectator Sport

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The Jiu-Jitsu Times is covering the 2018 UAEJJF Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship live and in-person in an effort to bring our readers a bit closer to this incredible international event.

Ever since I started jiu-jitsu, I’ve been told the same thing over and over and over again: it’s way more fun to do than it is to watch. And for just about every jiu-jitsu event out there, it’s true. Even for events like EBI, which has incredible production and high-level (and highly entertaining) competitors, or the IBJJF World Championship, the people who fill the audience are either jiu-jitsu practitioners themselves or their friends and family.

Jiu-jitsu can be tough to watch. I mean, I’ve been training for about six years, it’s literally my job to report on jiu-jitsu events, and even I often struggle to stay interested when I’m watching matches that I’m not personally invested in. If you don’t train, I imagine it’s even harder. Or at least, that was what I thought before I saw all the fans at the Abu Dhabi World Pro yesterday.

I had (perhaps naively) assumed that just about everyone in the audience was either a competitor, a coach, or a teammate. But as I chatted with a few spectators, I realized that my perception wasn’t completely accurate. One young man sitting near me asked me about the scoring system, and then when I asked him who he knew that was competing, he told me that he didn’t know anyone on the mats — he was just a jiu-jitsu fan. He’d never trained and had no real desire to, but he enjoyed watching it. He then pointed to another group of men to our right and told me that they were also “just fans.”

Granted, all of the “just fans” in attendance were from the UAE, meaning that the event was not only free (as it is to everyone, regardless of where they’re from), but also local, so it was easy for them to come and hang out for the day. But it was still fascinating to me to see the same kind of enthusiasm I normally see at, say, local football or baseball games at a jiu-jitsu event. The fans were cheering, chanting, and smacking together UAE-themed inflatable sticks to make noise for their local competitors. Oh, and this was just for the blue and purple belt matches.

These weren’t your average blue and purple belts, of course. The competitors had qualified from all over the world against tough athletes from their own countries and continents to be where they are, and it showed. There were multiple promotions that took place on the podium (including what the announcer claimed was a World Pro first in which two competitors received their purple belts on the podium), and there’s no question that they were well-deserved.

As the day began to wind down and only the bronze and finals matches were left to go, there was a special presentation for the people who “had helped make the Abu Dhabi World Pro what it is today” over the past ten years. Supporters from all over the world were given trophies to recognize their hard work, and then after a few photos, the action resumed on the mats until the blue belts concluded their finals.

Photo Source: Averi Clements for Jiu-Jitsu Times

Like I saw on my first day here, the World Pro is on a different level when it comes to how jiu-jitsu tournaments are promoted and executed, so it makes sense that people don’t just see it as a random “karate” tournament. But the way people have reacted to it here has made me wonder what it might be like if the US celebrated it like they do here in Abu Dhabi. It may never attract the same attention as the NFL or the MLB, but I think that events like Fight to Win Pro and Kasai are helping to push it in the right direction. Hopefully one day, jiu-jitsu will develop a reputation as a sport that’s just as fun to watch as it is to practice.

 

Check out what happened on the first day of the World Pro here. Tomorrow we’ll tell you all about the brown and black belt qualifier matches!

 

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