A lot of people have strong feelings about trash-talk and showmanship in jiu-jitsu. I’ve heard people complain that it’s disrespectful and that it diminishes the art. This completely disregards the fact that the founding family of jiu-jitsu (The Gracies) has always been known to trash talk. Helio Gracie, for instance, brought a coffin to his fight against Kimura.
The trash-talkers are paving the way for the rest of us, and making jiu-jitsu a sport that can actually sustain its top athletes.
Trash-talk and showmanship aren’t for everyone. There is a fine line between promoting a match and simply being a jerk. Take a look at the success of Gordon Ryan and Garry Tonon, for instance. Yes, their jiu-jitsu speaks for itself, but the reality is that neither one of them would be making the kind of money they are making if they didn’t build up their own hype.
Closed mouths don’t get fed.
The goal of trash-talk is to generate strong emotions from your potential fan base. Every big talker who can regularly back their talk up has a combination of fans and haters. The haters are probably worth more than the fans because they tend to feel stronger emotions, which lead to a better likelihood of them spending money to watch the match.
Over ten years ago, jiu-jitsu was not as much of a spectator sport. Organizations were under no real pressure to pay competitors, and many of the brightest stars were driven away. Ronaldo Jacare Souza famously left jiu-jitsu for MMA because he felt he could never make a real living with jiu-jitsu. The trash-talking antics of today’s stars may be the answer to that seemingly unsolvable riddle.
The current state of grappling as a stand-alone sport is amazing. We are watching history be made. Today’s athletes, even ones relatively low on the food chain, like high-level purple and brown belts, can make money doing the sport they love. Organizations like Submission Series Pro, EBI, and Fight To Win Pro, among many others are giving competitors venues to showcase their skills. The ones that garner fan interest are the ones that get invited back and have a better chance of actually making money. Like it or not, antics both on and off the mat make that interest far more likely.
So, feel whatever emotions you want to feel about the trash-talkers and showboaters. Get upset, find them endearing and entertaining. Watch them with glee when they lose, or enjoy the impressive display when they are able to ply their craft. But remember, they are doing more for the average jiu-jitsu practitioner and competitor than you may realize. The more money people can theoretically make in this sport, the more time people will be willing to spend training. This will improve the level of technique that we plebs have access to.
The long-term benefits of trash-talk and showmanship are only beginning to be realized. Keep an eye on our sport over the next few years, watch the kind of money the higher level athletes are eligible to make, and enjoy the fruits of their labor.