Every year in the third week of August, Las Vegas plays host to the IBJJF World Masters Championship. This year over 5,000 competitors above the age of thirty showed up for a chance to compete for a world title against fellow opponents in the same weight, rank, and age group. An extra day was even added to the event to accommodate the ever-expanding number of grapplers lining up.
After months of anticipation leading up to the event, the quality of jiu-jitsu displayed this year lived up to the expectation, especially in the black belt divisions that featured legendary competitors like Cyborg, Comprido, Renato Tavares, Megaton Diaz, and Mario Sperry.
With tons of merchandise booths and free seminars by legendary stars like Xande and Saulo Ribero, Romulo Barral, and Leandro Lo, there are also plenty of things to do while killing time waiting for your teammates to step on the mat, and there is never a shortage of stars of the sport walking around. Guys like Andre Galvao, Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida, and even Carlos Gracie Jr. can always be seen coaching students or sitting in the stands talking to fans. Imagine standing next to Cyborg and Xande Ribero coaching against each other engulfed in a crowd of screaming spectators while two mats over, Josh Hinger or Rafael Formiga is battling in their final match.
The event also plays host to a few pleasing ceremonies displayed through several intermissions. In a memorable moment this weekend, the IBJJF honored the past adult black belt absolute world champions from 1996-2018 with a commemorative ring presentation by Carlos Gracie.
The atmosphere of the World Masters Championship is second to none. But what’s even more impressive are the competitors. These Masters division athletes train hard to get that gold medal and stand on top of their respective podiums. Only their age sets them apart from the younger adult division grapplers. The same heart and dedication are poured into every match, and no silly social media wars are ever needed for attention. It’s all about your matches and being able to call yourself a masters world champion.
The matches for older competitors are shorter, and there isn’t the same prestige as winning in the adult division. But since a lot of these competitors didn’t start training until after 30, many will never get the chance to truly be competitive at the adult level. That makes camaraderie between these men and women so beautiful. They all know there are plenty of younger competitors who are dominating the scene and taking their place in the spotlight, and that mutual respect makes for much more subtle drama.
There may not be any gi endorsement deals or seminars waiting for the Masters 4 purple belt world champion, but they won that gold medal. And it is not easy to win there, either. The same difficult and inconsistent IBJJF rules apply, so when you do win five or six matches in your division, you earned it. You had to out-work someone with the same dream you had over and over again, and there was usually a bit of luck to swing an advantage your way, too.
The Masters is by far my favorite event to compete at. Training in the gi is tough. And all those old-school black belts are extremely skilled in the nuances of that style. Most of those guys have been competing at that level longer than I have been training. And, at 41, I just can’t hang with the youngsters anymore. But I want black belt gold even though it’s difficult.
I know there will still be those that say it’s not “really” a world title. But it is to me, just like it is to the 5,000-plus men and women that keep coming back every year to try and win there too. Keep it up, you guys. I’ll be licking my wounds and training to do it again next year with you.