Understanding Close-outs in BJJ Competitions

Last updated on 14.04.2022 by

The 2022 IBJJF Pan Championship displayed some exciting action from the best BJJ athletes in the world. Unfortunately, there was a side story that has been plaguing BJJ competitions for years which was put on full display: Close-outs.

Close-outs have been a regular conversation topic in BJJ and there are a lot of negative feelings about the practice. But what exactly are close-outs?

For those that don’t know what close-outs are, we’ve made this write to explain what it is and why it’s done. We’ll detail the pros and cons of close-outs and list some notable close-outs in BJJ history. Finally, we’ll look at what the IBJJF has decided to do about this irritating practice.

What are close-outs and why do they happen? 

BJJ Competitions Close-outs

Close-outs are when two competitors from the same team meet in the finals of a tournament. Instead of competing against each other, they mutually decide not to face one another.

This may be a strategic decision, or a political decision, but regardless of the reason the result is that the final match that fans were waiting for never plays out.

How are winners of close-outs determined? 

There are generally three methods that are used to decide the winners of close-outs.

  • Seniority
  • Rock, Paper, Scissors
  • Coin Flip

Seniority is the method most used at the black belt level. The teammate that has been a black belt the longest is usually given the win by their teammate.

Which BJJ organizations allow the practice of close-outs?

The only Jiu Jitsu organization that allows the practice of close-outs is the IBJJF.  As of the 14th of April, 2022 the IBJJF has changed its official policies regarding close-outs!

All of other major Jiu Jitsu organizations from ADCC, UAEJJF, and Abu Dhabi Pro do not permit this practice.

Pros and Cons of close-outs

Instead of making this a straight opinion piece, let’s try to be fair and list the pros and cons of close-outs.

Pros of close-outs 

Being a good teammate: There’s many competitors that believe their team is more important than the individual competitor. They’re okay with bowing out and letting a teammate win, because they’ll win the overall team award.

Avoid Injuries: Anything can happen at a competition, and some competitors would prefer doing close-out than run the risk of getting injured. Two teammates may prefer to just give the win to the other to avoid injury and not miss a big tournament in the future.

Save energy for the absolute division: A lot of these competitors don’t just roll in their division and also participate in the absolute division at tournaments. If they get the opportunity to do a close-out in their division, they can save their energy for the absolute division.

Cons of close-outs 

It tarnishes the integrity of the competition: The point of entering a competition is to compete and deciding to do a close-out is not competing. By not competing, it’s insulting to the event organizers and spectators and tarnishes the integrity of the competition.

Close-outs are a disservice to the fans and event organizers: A good argument against close-outs is that they do a disservice to the fans! Particularly the fans that paid to watch the pay per views or worse the fans that traveled watch the event live. Imagine paying over a thousand dollars to go watch an event live and the final is a close-out with no match!

Not only is this a disservice to the fans, but also the coordinators of the event. They put their time and tens of thousands of dollars into making the event happen to see the best athletes compete, not for two teammates to end the finals with a rock-paper-scissors match.

Teammates already roll together: One thing that is perplexing about close-outs is that those teammates already roll with each other on a daily basis. Why not give the people a show and do a friendly light roll to finish the tourney?

Notable close-outs in BJJ history 

There have been quite a few close-outs in BJJ over the last decade. Here are some of the most notable ones that have happened over the years.

2022 IBJJF Pan Championship

Since this event brought the topic back up, we have to list it first. The number of close-outs at the 2022 IBJJF Pan Championship was ridiculous.

At nearly every rank, a close-out occurred in the finals, leaving many spectators that paid to attend the event or bought the pay per view very unhappy.

2016 World Masters Championship: Xande Ribeiro vs Rafael Lovato Jr

Xande Ribeiro vs Rafael Lovato Jr

In the finals of the 2016 World Masters Championship, teammates Xande Ribeiro and Rafael Lovato Jr closed out their division. Xande bowed out and gave Rafael the win to earn double gold in the championship.

2014 Pan Championship

The Pan Championship in 2014 was another Pans that was plagued with multiple close-outs. Out of the nine final bouts, there were five close-out, which upset many in the BJJ community.

Michael Langhi Vs Lucas Lepri(multiple times)

Michael Langhi Vs Lucas Lepri

Alliance teammates Michael Langhi and Lucas Lepri have met in the finals of numerous championship tournaments. Closing out each one and going back and forth giving wins to one another.

2016 IBJJF Worlds: Otávio Sousa vs Gabriel Arges

Gracie Barra teammates Otávio Sousa and Gabriel Arges reached the finals at the 2016 Worlds event. Arges bowed out and allowed Sousa to win the world title 

2019 IBJJF Worlds: Miyao brothers

At this event, Paulo and João Miyao met in the finals. João bowed out and let Paulo take the world title.

2013 IBJJF Worlds: Bráulio Estima vs Rômulo Barral

Braulio Estima vs Romulo Barral

Another pair of Gracie Barra athletes did a close-out at the 2013 IBJJF Worlds event. Estima bowed out to let his teammate Barral win the title that year.

Atos Jiu Jitsu Team

This isn’t one specific event, but one of the biggest perpetrators of close-outs has been Atos Jiu Jitsu. Since they’ve become one of the top teams in BJJ their competitors frequently meet up in the finals, and unfortunately have become known for closing out divisions. They’ve done this practice at numerous events since the team was first created.

Atos isn’t the only big team that does close-outs. All of the other big BJJ teams from Alliance to Gracie Barra are known for doing close-outs – but Atos may have become a victim of their own success and have gained a reputation for the practice.

Breaking News: The IBJJF takes action

To everyone’s surprise, the IBJJF has decided to take action against the epidemic of close-outs! After the string of close-outs at the 2022 Pan Championship, close-outs are now officially banned from all IBJJF competitions.

IBJJF Official Announcement on April 14th, 2022

Any athletes that perform a close-out will now face harsh penalties. Those penalties include:

  • Double disqualification
  • No cash prize if done during a championship event
  • Athletes will forfeit their rank points from the event

We often criticize the IBJJF for a number of their questionable policies [Editor’s note: and in fact this article was originally written before the change, and did just that in regard to this policy!], but this was the correct move. This is a vast improvement to IBJJF events and better for everyone from the athletes, fans, to the event coordinators. 

We applaud their decision – which is better late than never!