This year’s East Coast ADCC Trails were billed as the most stacked qualifier for the prestigious ADCC World Championships since the tournament’s inception. All five divisions were packed with some of the toughest competitors the US has to offer, and the action proved to support the advertised claims.
With Tom DeBlass stepping back from competing this year and deciding rather to focus on the operational aspects of the event, he took on the difficult task of running a timely and orderly tournament with over 60 competitors per division. Running with only three mats, the matches were all finished by 6:30 pm, which pleasantly resulted in an efficient and well-organized day of grappling.
The number of registered competitors grows every year, and so does the difficulty of winning there. In order to stand on top of the podium and earn your plane ticket to the greatest no-gi tournament in the world, most of these grapplers needed to win six matches in a single afternoon. That’s six times a competitor must grapple for six minutes (nine minutes in the case of overtime), with hours sometimes between matches to tighten up. Big brackets meant you had to stay fresh for your next opponent, too — a challenge that is further complicated by the talent pool of world-class competitors waiting for you. A selection of just five weight classes pushes athletes to either heavy cuts or entering undersized for a division, so only a true champion gets through this long day starting at 10 am and running into the evening.
The rules are difficult, too. It is hard to score, so many grueling overtime matches are common. Takedowns, sweeps, mounts, back-takes, passes, and knee-on-belly require a hard three seconds in a clearly controlling position to be counted, and the well-trained officiating crew score very tightly. Adding negative points for a guard pull forces lots of wrestling, and aggressive stalling warnings further pushes the pace of the action. Finally, no sweep points for a reversal resulting from a submission attempt allows grapplers to open up their strategy to attack more without the fear of losing a match if the attempt fails.
Many grapplers believe that the ADCC rule set is the closest to simulating a real fighting situation, so winning there has traditionally determined who the best grappler in the world is every two years. A gold medal in the gi at the IBJJF Worlds may be the highest title in the historically bureaucratic jiu-jitsu halls, but winning the ADCC is the one the fighters want to win. Just qualifying for the event immediately places a grappler in an extremely elite club of ADCC veterans: a label that carries with it even more weight now with the ever-growing popularity of jiu-jitsu creating higher-caliber champion grapplers. But no matter how many fighters show up, the number of plane tickets they fight for never changes — five on the east coast, and five on the west coast.
This year’s first set of qualifiers is comprised of a who’s who of the constantly developing and ever-growing jiu-jitsu competition circuit in the North American region. Any one of them can be seen most weekends competing and winning at any event from EBI, Kasai Pro, Fight 2 Win, or the IBJJF championships. That also goes for a large percentage of the bracketed opponents from each of the five incredibly stacked divisions. Across the board, the number of highly skilled and well-seasoned competitors keeps growing at an almost exponential rate. This displays firsthand the growth and development of the sport over the last ten years. Grappling is a force in the US now and will continue to grow more as these young new faces of the game start to mature on the world stage. It’s an exciting time to be involved in the sport, and it’s only going to get better.
Congratulations to this year’s winners — they all fought hard and won when it mattered on the big stage under extreme conditions to earn the opportunity to become the next legend in jiu-jitsu. Go represent North American grappling as fiercely in the finals as you did to get there.
Editor’s note: The author of this article competed in and had a strong showing at this year’s ADCC East Coast Trials.