Jiu-jitsu’s appeal to the mass market is growing every day. New schools are popping up in towns at astonishing rates, causing a new demand for exciting, pure jiu-jitsu competition for both athletes and spectators alike. Large-scale events with big production value and even bigger pocketbooks have attracted the eye of distributors like UFC Fight Pass. With that much attention being spread around about the sport, new promoters are constantly flooding the market to catch a ride on the train while it’s still rolling. And that train made a very important stop when it came to Houston, Texas.
Ryan McGuire — founder, president, and matchmaker for Third Coast Grappling, is an Army veteran that started to train to lose weight after retiring from active duty. He also works with fellow soldiers suffering from PTSD, so he has seen first hand the proven healing power training has. “Jiu-jitsu is like therapy for me. I can go just be another as*hole in a gi and try to strangle people and escape for an hour or two a night,” he says.
Right away, it’s apparent that his intentions are more evolved than just making a quick buck. “Me and my team all have good jobs in addition to running this show. We’re not in this for the money. Everything we made on the first the show we just put back into the event.”
Formerly, Ryan worked in concert production — a background that has opened many doors to understanding the ins and outs of setting up high-level shows. A lot goes into these events, from finding venues to attracting sponsors, and Ryan seems to have a good understanding of how to get these nuanced things done through the connections he’s made in the music world. “I plan on keeping the events in the Houston area. This city is, in my opinion, the second-best scene in the country behind California. I have connections for multiple venues here and around Houston. So why leave? I’ve also got plenty of sponsors in the area willing to lend a helping hand. Blue Chips, like Pure Spectrum CBD, Twin Peaks, Texas Splish Splash Carwash, IrullDesigns, Saloon Door Brewing, and more.”
Being able to cut costs and bring in sponsor revenue is essential to having the capital to book big-name grapplers. “We’ve got $20,000 of talent booked for our next event,” he says. Matches between Josh Hinger and Craig Jones, Romulo Barral and Gilbert Burns, and Marvin Castelle and Jordan Holy are already booked and ready to go.
His background in music events has also taught him the value of showmanship: a quality that is often the subject of critique of professional jiu-jitsu events that have boring matches that can be difficult to enjoy for fans not as educated in the art. So, under the advice of BJJ World Champion Brandon Mullins, Ryan developed a scoring system that is like the old Gracie Nationals events of the ’90s, which many old-school jiu-jitsu players have said was the truest way to prove the best grappler and still have an entertaining match. Under this system, a grappler can win either by submission or by reaching eleven points in a seven-minute match. If neither athlete reaches eleven points or no submission occurs, an innovative overtime structure calls for a coin flip where the winner can choose a position or top or bottom. The other opponent then chooses the remaining option. For example, if opponent A chooses half guard, opponent B can decide if they will start from the top position or bottom position.
Ryan also made the competition mat small with a padded back wall that is still in bounds. “A smaller mat space acts the same way a smaller cage does,” he says. “Less room to run around and strategize. You have to get right to the action. If we are ever going to get jiu-jitsu to cross over to a more and more mainstream audience, we are going to have to create an event that non-practitioners can watch and enjoy that won’t make them want to fall asleep.”
A few other gimmicks (like using yellow cards similarly to the way Pride functioned by removing half a competitor’s points for stalling) and a fun, action-packed atmosphere has put 3CG on the right track to success. There are a few bugs for them to work out based on their first show, but they’re already using them to learn and improve. FloGrappling has them signed on through the end of the year, so we can expect to see the results of these improvements in the foreseeable future.
Importantly though, they have found a way to appeal to both sides of the grappling community. Both submission-only and point-based grapplers can be competitive under these rules, which means the hierarchy of positional grappling can still be effective. If a grappler has eleven points scored on them, they have clearly lost, but the option to simply score a takedown and lie on your opponent until the clock runs out isn’t an option, either — you have to attack to keep scoring, which allows submission grapplers more attacking opportunities.
Today’s professional grappling circuit is ripe for a breakthrough. Third Coast Grappling is an exciting event with smart, savvy people running it. As they join the ranks of other promotions looking to truly make grappling a spectator sport, their work may be crucial in helping jiu-jitsu expand and ultimately reach an even bigger population.