If you were lucky enough to catch Flo Grappling on July 14th, then you might have seen the two and half hour bout between Kyle Chambers and Izaak Michell. Izaak and Chambers match went on for so long that it pushed the main event back, and ultimately the organizers had to reset the two at a mat backstage.
While the main event started, FloGrappling played the Chambers and Izaak match in the bottom corner of the screen. Their match continued on, even after Gordon had submitted Marinho. However, this is hardly the first time this has happened in Jiu Jitsu, and surprisingly this isn’t even the longest professional match!
So this raises the question, what’s the best rule set for Jiu Jitsu competitions? How do we showcase competitors’ skills without boring the audience? Let’s find out:
Historical Problems with Professional Jiu Jitsu Matches
According to Flo Grappling, the longest professional Jiu Jitsu match lasted a whopping two hours and fifty-four minutes. If you are a UFC fan, you might remember Royce Gracie’s famous rematch with Ken Shamrock, where for over thirty minutes Ken Shamrock struggled in Royce Gracie’s closed guard. The match was finally declared a draw, and neither fighter won.
As entertaining as submission-only matches can be, they have proven to have some serious logistical issues. It’s very hard to create a bracket of fighters in a submission-only tournament. Very often two high-level BJJ competitors are good at defending submissions and will use up all their energy in their first match before they move to the more challenging second match.
Submission-only matches also pose a logistical issue as they enable some competitors to exhaust someone. Some competitors plan for a long match and don’t try and win right away, resulting in slow openings with little happening. While playing strategically is a smart thing to do, it can be very difficult for an audience to watch.
(This is one of the reasons Gordon Ryan is so extraordinary, considering he not only wins every match with submission but also picks the submission ahead of time.)
Problems with Traditional Competition Rules
Traditional tournament rules, such as short time limits and a point scoring system, have come under fire for multiple reasons too. Old school Jiu Jitsu practitioners say that it has moved BJJ away from teaching people legitimate self-defense or takedowns. There are many gyms that don’t train any self-defense at all and emphasize the value of guard pulls.
There are also problems with allowing people to build a strategy based on the point system. Many gyms teach strategies like moving to knee on belly simply to rack up points and run the clock out. It’s very possible someone who would have eventually secured a submission (under no-time limit rules) loses a match based on points.
In the most egregious cases, a competitor will find themselves up by a single advantage and then ride the clock out – getting the win by the slimmest of margins.
Combat Jiu Jitsu and EBI
Eddie Bravo has sought to solve many of these problems with an incredibly unique ruleset. If you don’t know, EBI stands for Eddie Bravo Invitational. Eddie Bravo himself is the person behind combat Jiu Jitsu, which is a competition where open-handed slaps are allowed and can be streamed via UFC fight pass.
The basic EBI rules are a submission-only match with a 10-minute time limit. If a submission isn’t secured in that time then the match moves into a unique version of overtime. In overtime, competitors flip a coin to see who gets to start in a dominant position: either back control or the spider web armbar position.
Both competitors get a chance to attack and defend. If one competitor submits, but the other does not, they win. If they both submit or escape; then whoever had the fastest submission or escape wins.
While these rules might seem a little silly at first glance, they do make sense at the very high levels of Jiu Jitsu. They give both competitors a chance to show off their defense and offense. They also have a set time limit to make sure the matches don’t continue for hours.
Combat Jiu Jitsu modifies the EBI rules by allowing open-handed slaps during the initial 10 minutes, but ends with the same overtime rules as EBI. Under combat Jiu Jitsu rules its more difficult to rely on positions like deep half guard. While this position works very well for sweeping, it exposes the guard player to strikes and is less feasible in a real fight.
Abu Dhabi Combat Club Rules (ADCC)
The ADCC also has a unique solution to solving the problems of point, and submission-only matches. The ADCC has varying time limits, but will always split the match into two portions. No points can be scored in the first half of the match, and neither competitor can be penalized. However, in the second half of the match, (the 10-minute mark for pros) points are counted.
If you are wondering if some fighters might try to abuse this system by stalling in the first half of the match, you’d be right. Many BJJ players try to play passively at the beginning of the ADCC matches just to be aggressive in the second half. Thankfully the ADCC is curbing this issue by allowing refs to issue warnings at the beginning of the match.
Much like the IBJJF rules, the ADCC rule set strongly encourages engaging your opponent and being aggressive. They also punish opponents who disengage and play passively. ADCC is also known for being the only ruleset to punish pulling guard with a negative point.
So Which is the Best Ruleset?
While many would say that a submission-only match with no time limit is the only fair way to determine who is better, having no time limit is unfair to the audience. The audience, especially people who don’t train, won’t sit for two hours to watch two people who are deadlocked. Having a time limit is motivation for competitors to engage.
Partnerships with organizations like the UFC is important if Jiu Jitsu is going to move more mainstream and attract more viewers. Currently, the EBI/ Combat Jiu Jitsu ruleset is the only one that has secured a partnership with the UFC. Combat Jiu Jitsu matches also have more action as they allow open-handed striking, encouraging dynamic engagements.
While flipping a coin and measuring who can more quickly escape or get a submission might seem silly to some, it is a more interesting solution than allowing draws or referee’s decisions.
A comprehensive understanding of all core rulesets in BJJ is important to have, especially if you want to compete. You should check out our in-depth articles on the IBJJF rules, Combat Jiu Jitsu, and ADCC rules if you are preparing for your next competition.
The rulesets of these competitions are important because many people in the community would like to see Jiu Jitsu become more mainstream. However, a majority of the people who watch the sport are practitioners. If Jiu Jitsu is going to become more mainstream, then it needs a ruleset that both highlights the skills of the competitors and is interesting for a wider audience.
Jack is a BJJ purple belt who holds a bachelors degree in English Literature. He enjoys traveling, reading, and the Bow and Arrow choke. One day he hopes to teach English overseas and become a published author.