If you’re a fan or a participant (or both) in the sport of competitive grappling, you know that last weekend was the biggest no-gi grappling event in the sport: the ADCC. This year’s edition of ADCC was different from earlier iterations because it got the Fight 2 Win treatment. That is to say, the team that puts on huge, bombastic events in different cities just about every weekend ran the high-budget show, giving it the glossy look that the “biggest party in grappling” is known for.
After the event was over, there was some criticism online of the big budget used for presentation. Indeed, assuming that there was, in fact, a one-million dollar budget just for production, each athlete could have theoretically been given a couple of thousand dollars for their efforts, and because the athletes who participated in the event were all professional athletes, they certainly deserve to be paid for their time.
I thought that this argument was an interesting one, and rather than looking at it from an emotional standpoint, I thought it would be good to look at it from a pragmatic one: what are the benefits and potential drawbacks of such a high-budget show? Would the ADCC have been better off holding the event in a high-school gym on nondescript wrestling mats, recording the event on a cellphone camera? In all honesty, the whole thing could, in theory, have been done on a shoestring budget.
But here’s a counterargument: the earning potential of ADCC athletes isn’t determined by the money they make at the ADCC — it’s determined by what they do with the fact that they participated in the event. A while back we did a poll comparing the value of an EBI title to the value of a Mundials gold medal, and many people felt the IBJJF World Championship gold medal was worth more than the EBI title even though the EBI title came with cash. A Mundials gold medal translates to seminars, sponsorships, and other opportunities. ADCC is kind of like that, only more exclusive (there are, after all, only 16 people per bracket at ADCC).
The reason people care about ADCC is because people watch ADCC. The more watchable and visually pleasing the event, the more value will be bestowed upon success on the ADCC mat or even just participating in ADCC. I see this same effect happen with Fight 2 Win shows: people use the fact that they competed on the fanciest stage in grappling as a resume builder, regardless of who their opponents were or what their results were.
ADCC is on a whole different level. People use their status as ADCC veterans to build their careers. Eddie Bravo built his empire on his performance at ADCC. Imagine how much bigger that empire might be today if Bravo had competed in the sort of environment that the 2019 competitors got to step out into.
Making an event like this look like what it is boosts the long-term value of having participated in the event. What that means is that while the athletes may not have gotten paid as much as they could’ve if the promoters had chosen to go with a shoestring budget, going with the high-end option increased the long-term earning potential of the participating athletes and the long-term earning potential of all athletes in the sport. I think we all owe them a thank you.
So what about the other side of the argument? Would the event have gotten as much buzz if it were done on a minimalist budget?
I think that there’s a possibility that it would. There are plenty of videos out there of jiu-jitsu competitions that took place in dusty high-school gyms that have gotten plenty of press. But the treatment that the Fight 2 Win crew gave ADCC will be one for the history books.
With any luck, events like F2W and this extremely snazzy edition of ADCC will elevate the sport. Hopefully, it’ll mean that jiu-jitsu will become increasingly mainstream as a spectator sport, and hopefully that will translate to better paychecks long-term. If for nothing else, I think that it was an incredible spectacle and look forward to what they do with it next time.