American Grappling Challenge’s Dustin Ware Talks Building a Better Regional Competition

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Back in February, the Jiu-Jitsu Times covered the partnership between The Biggest Party in Grappling (Fight2Win) and a regional circuit in Ohio, the American Grappling Challenge. I had an opportunity to sit down with the tournament director, Dustin Ware, to learn a bit more about his circuit’s origin, growth, and proliferation.

For starters, I was interested in learning a bit about Dustin’s personal jiu-jitsu journey.

DW: My interest began like everyone else that heard of jiu-jitsu in the late 90s: I watched UFC 1.  However, growing up in southern West Virginia, there were not a lot of opportunities to learn Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I maintained an interest in MMA, so when I saw the flyer for a “Jiu-jitsu club” in college I thought I would give it a try. I never anticipated it having the lasting effect on my life as it did

Over the years, I’ve been very fortunate to have learned from some of the best teachers, and along the way compete at some pretty respected events (ADCC Trials, Fight 2 Win, IBJJF Pans, & Master Worlds).

However, without question my most proud accomplishments have been:

– Promoting 7 of my students the rank of black belt.  Not only are each of them amazing representatives of jiu-jitsu and SAS Team, but they all have maintained their competitive edge and stepped up in some highly regarded competitions.

– Training/coaching multiple Pans, Master Worlds, No-Gi Worlds, & Fight2Win winners. Like a coach in any other sport, seeing your students success further validates your understanding where you are with your own understanding of jiu-jitsu.

– Hearing from students (past and present) that they had to use what they’ve learned from jiu-jitsu to protect themselves. This has happened multiple times from law enforcement officers, as well as my ‘everyday students’. Knowing that I was able to give them the tools so they could go home safe to their families at the end of the day is something that I can’t place a value on!”

At a certain point in his journey, Dustin picked up event promotion and never looked back.  His event circuit had humble beginnings as the Ohio Grappling Challenge, but has since moved beyond just the Ohio market and has evolved into its current status as the American Grappling Challenge.

DW: In 2001, I was asked to assist with the Relson Gracie US Nationals in Columbus. From there, I promoted my first MMA event in 2002. But it was during the 2003 Arnold Gracie world championships that I had a chance meeting with Kipp Kollar (Owner of NAGA). That led to a full-time referee position with NAGA for several years.  Over the next three years, I refereed, trained, and competed all over the country. I feel this gave me the experience needed to bring a well-run tournament circuit to the competitors here in Ohio and around the region.”

If event promotion were easy, there wouldn’t be as many defunct circuits, and we’d see more of them regionally and internationally. I was interested in the hidden pitfalls of event promotion — the drawbacks that people don’t think of.

DW: There are several key factors as to why certain organizations have more success over another, [like] knowing your market, fiscal intelligence, and building strong community ties — these are some of the factors I feel lend to the overall health and success of a given tournament or organization.

However, if there is one thing that can absolutely destroy an organization’s potential for success, it’s a lack of overall customer service. Any organization that is not providing a genuine level of customer service to the competitors and their staff runs the risk of being a “flash in the pan” and often will have no real long-term success.

I feel [customer service] is what has allowed the AGC to stick around for 13 years. Finding competent staff & referees. Your registration workers, weigh-in, and table staff are literally the “blood” of the event, [and] the referees act like individual “hearts” that keep the event flowing.  I don’t care how many competitors you have, how nice the venue is, how professional your mats or rings may appear, doesn’t matter if your referees or staff all have nice shirts that match with logos. If your staff and your refs can’t do their job well, then the event will likely not work.

I would say what makes many events fail is the genuine lack of experience within not only event promotion, but also within the sport itself.  Especially for regional events, where the jiu-jitsu community is so tight-knit that if you don’t really have a reputable background either as a competitor or coach, it would be hard for many people to take you seriously as someone who’s really trying to develop a tournament series that truly stands by the competitors.

Dustin’s events have hosted some of the top competitors not only in our region, but in the world.

“I think the “biggest” individual matchup the AGC has ever had also happened to be one of the best matches we hosted: Pablo Castro vs Garry Tonon.

That said, one of the things that separates the AGC from many of the other regional tournaments in this part of the country is the number of high-level competitors that have chosen to compete in our events.

A short list:

JT Torres… Vitor Oliveira, Garry Tonon, Mahamed Aly, Gutemberg Pereira, Dante Leon, Mark Vives, Shawn Hammonds, Daniel Tavares, Guybson Sa, Kroyler Gracie, Nikki Sullivan, Laurah Hallock, AJ Agazarm, Andris Brunovskis”

I was interested in learning about Dustin’s long term plans for his promotion.

“Besides running 7 to 8 tournaments a year with the AGC, as well as working with Fight2Win on their local events, I am also the owner of the Ohio Combat Sports Academy.  We recently moved into a new facility about six months ago, and since that time, we have had nearly a 30% increase in our membership. When you add that in to the growth of my affiliates schools are experiencing, & my commitment to my family, I don’t see the AGC expanding beyond our current format anytime soon.

Going forward, I will probably host 5 to 6 tournaments a year. I’m always willing to entertain the idea of hosting an event in a new state, but my focus will always be to elevate the jiu-jitsu scene here in our region.  My hope is that I can do that through my academy and my affiliates, and the AGC would just be another avenue for me to try to bring more people into the art/sport that has done so much for me for the last 20 years.”

If you are interested in following the AGC you can find their full event calendar and other information here.  Their next event is next Saturday, a no-gi only event in Columbus Ohio.

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Emil Fischer is an active brown belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training at Strong Style Mixed Martial Arts and Training Center near Cleveland Ohio (www.strongstyle.com) and teaching at Ground Up BJJ (http://mpcle.com/class/ground-up-bjj/.) For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at www.facebook.com/emilfischerbjj www.twitter.com/Emil_Fischer and https://instagram.com/emilfischerbjj/. Emil is sponsored by Meerkatsu (www.Meerkatsu.com, discount code EmilKatsu), Eddy's On Coventry, Cleveland Cryo (www.clevelandcryo.net discount code EmilCryo,) NottaRookie, The Terphouse (www.TheTerphouse.com, used discount code COOKIES), Trap And Roll Soap Company (www.trapandrollsoap.com discount code COOKIES) Impact Mouthguards (www.impactmouthguards.com discount code EMILIMPACT), North South Jiu Jitsu Underwear, as well as a brand ambassador for Ludwig Van (www.ludwigvantheman.com discount code FAMILY) and Vanguard Kimono.
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