Seth Daniels may be known for being the CEO of Fight 2 Win, but long before he became the head of the brightest, most slam-tastic event in the competitive grappling world (getting his own black belt in jiu-jitsu in the process), he was a judo guy. He started the sport at just three years old, eventually going on to become a ten-time national champion and moving to the Olympic Training Center when he was nineteen. His Olympic dreams, however, never made it to reality.
“I lost my spot to Manny Gamburyan because I used a move that was deemed illegal, even though it wasn’t illegal at the time. I got mad, freaked out, cussed everyone out, and they kicked me out,” says Daniels. He eventually found that he saw no future for himself in the sport, saying that he was “chasing a dream that wasn’t going to be there.”
A judo black belt, Daniels also says that what truly took him away from the sport was the “rules and politics” behind it. “I think that’s what took away a lot of the high-level people from my generation, at least,” he says. “What bothers me about the International Judo Federation (IJF), they’ve taken away techniques from judo and not allowed the sport to progress. That’s one of the main things that hurts judo. It makes more sense for a wrestler to transition to judo than BJJ because of the pins and takedowns, but then they go in there and they can’t touch the legs. They made these stupid changes. They wanted to differentiate from wrestling. There’s nothing wrong with judo. it’s f*cking awesome. The rules are so f*cked up that it makes it impractical.”
Daniels’ frustration with how the sport has developed is largely what prompted him to introduce judo matches to the Fight 2 Win stage — a new development for his promotion that he’s been teasing on social media. “The thing people enjoy most about Fight 2 Win are the big takedowns, slams, and submissions. Judo has a lot more dynamic subs than jiu-jitsu does. It’s a fast submission game — it can take seconds rather than minutes. My thought was to strip it down, make everything legal, no penalties, no stopping, no illegal techniques.”
Fans won’t have to wait long to see judo on the infamous F2W stage — the first event will take place on February 8 at F2W 101 in Daniels’ native Denver, CO. 2008 Olympian and nine-time World Cup medalist Ryan Reser will be going up against judo and BJJ black belt Javier Torres, who’s a UFC veteran and currently fights for Bellator. Both competitors have extensive records that Daniels believes make them ideal opponents for each other.
“My whole life, I was chasing Ryan Reser,” says Daniels. “I spent all my time in the weight room and gym, I trained harder than he did, but he had flawless technique. We fought 31 times. I beat him once at the Junior Olympics when I was seventeen and he was nineteen, but even that was a fluke. You know when you hate someone because they’re better than you, but you respect the f*ck out of them? That’s how I always felt about him.”
Daniels and Reser reconnected a few years ago and did a seminar together. When the idea for implementing judo into Fight 2 Win started sprouting in Daniels’ brain, Reser was an obvious fit. “I wanted someone I know could put on a show. He hadn’t trained for ten years and he beat my a*s like he’d never taken a day off the mats when we trained last year. It’s like working with a professional dancer and you’re just stumbling over your two feet.”
The goal of all this is to inject the same energy and action that F2W has brought to jiu-jitsu for the past few years. “What’s great about jiu-jitsu is that it’s constantly evolving,” he says. “Look at Danaher — in a year, he completely changed jiu-jitsu. That would never happen in judo because of the limits. I want to make it back more to how it was for me growing up. Brian Olson, Travis Stevens — my generation was about going out there and trying to kill each other.”
Beyond the excitement, though, Daniels ultimately has the same goals for judo that he had for jiu-jitsu when he started F2W: get the uninitiated excited about the sport, and get the experienced athletes the pay they deserve. “My hope with doing it is to get more jiu-jitsu people into judo and more judo people into jiu-jitsu. Judo is a cheap sport. You pay $50 to join a gym. You get stuck with bullshit fees. Judo destroys your body. It’s twenty times harder than BJJ on the body. Then they get no accolades, no promotion, no money. If they make the Olympic team, they pay their own way. I’m gonna create something that gets people excited about judo.”
Daniels is going to spark that excitement with a rule set that shrugs off the “official” rules of judo prohibiting slams and grabbing the legs. Each match will last seven minutes (or five minutes for teens), with the first person to two ippons (which include both throws and slamming from the guard) or one submission winning. The match won’t restart under any circumstances barring the competitors going out of bounds. Should the match go to the ground, thirty seconds of ground-fighting will be permitted before the competitors are forced to stand up. Pins don’t count as scores and sitting or pulling guard isn’t permitted, but arm locks, chokes, flying submissions, leg grabs, and grips are all allowed.
With a new ruleset in a fun, explosive environment, Daniels hopes to push judo toward the style that made him fall in love with it in the first place. “I would love to see it go back to how it used to be, but I don’t give a f*ck about the IJF or US Judo. They don’t own the sport. They can’t tell me what to do, and I can’t tell them what to do. I’m hoping they change their ways, but I don’t care. We’re gonna make the athletes more money.”
In conclusion? “Let the motherf*ckers fight, dude.”