Predictions for Jiu Jitsu Trends 2017
I watched, competed in, or did the live broadcast for just about every major Brazilian Jiu Jitsu event in 2016. It may have been one of the most progressive years in jiu jitsu history, and looking back, there were a lot of unprecedented things that happened that will likely shape the future of our martial art for years to come. Ultimately, it paints a very vivid picture for jiu jitsu trends I believe we will see in 2017.
Below, I’ll highlight the 2 major events in 2016 that I believe have paved the way for some of the biggest things to look out for in 2017. I’ll also provide you with the top 3 jiu jitsu trends that I believe we will see in 2017.
As an industry insider, I’ll discuss why the growth of jiu jitsu (which I have commented on before) is not necessarily the reason for this renaissance. I believe that instead, it is actually the expansion and emergence of media and technology partners in the sport that are providing the millions of practitioners worldwide access to complete information and a collective voice regarding the direction of the martial art as a sport.
The Most Important Jiu Jitsu Events In 2016
There were a lot of individual jiu jitsu events in 2016 that were worthy of being on this list, but I’m going to aim at the broad occurrences that I think will have the biggest impact on jiu jitsu trends in 2017.
First and foremost, I think it’s worth pointing out that I am going to approach this with a very wide lens; however, you’ll see that the majority of what I will emphasize is on “sport” jiu jitsu. To me, all jiu jitsu is the same, but it’s worth pointing out that the majority of what I will focus on is related to the evolution of the martial art and the competition elements of the sport.
So what was significant in 2016?
1.) The rise of sub-only tournaments and pro shows
Love it or hate it, sub-only showed up in a big way in 2016. The emergence of pro shows like the Eddie Bravo Invitational, Polaris, Five Grappling, and Fight To Win all have included variations of non-point based jiu jitsu rulesets; which is a strong deviation from the sports tradition.
This has spurred the creation of smaller pro events that have followed suit, as well as, open tournaments with their own version of sub-only rules.
Regardless of your opinion on this type of ruleset (and how it should be applied), the trend itself shows that the sport’s spectators and competitors are sending a clear message to the traditional rulemakers of jiu jitsu. Many have become disenfranchised by the complexity and subjectiveness of the sport’s traditional rules and are hungry for change.
While even Eddie Bravo will admit that the sub-only format is not perfect yet, the emergence of this type of platform delivers a sobering message about the future of the sport itself. The question is, where is that fair compromise between sub-only and traditional formats?
We collectively as a group still cannot decide on the best form of rules for different levels of competition. The variety of different events and rules certainly provides a nice ala carte menu for competitors, but will make the sport harder and harder to follow, and will likely prevent true superstars from emerging in the future (as they will be divided among events). More on this later…
2.) Better coverage and exponentially more news in 2016
I’m going to start this with a huge caveat. Since I do many of the live broadcasts for FloGrappling, I’m sure I’ll be accused of being a shill for their brand and service. Anyone that wants to believe that can feel obliged; however, if you listen to the podcast (which we are bringing back again soon), you know that I’m a shill for no one. It’s also fair to mention that I was a Flo subscriber the moment they offered FloGrappling memberships and I continue thatrelationship to this day to pay my very own subscription (as it is a service I use and am more than happy to pay for myself).
The growth of FloGrappling has provided sport jiu jitsu more coverage than it ever has before. While previously, you could only stream some of jiu jitsu’s very biggest events (and maybe PPV a couple others), now you can access pro jiu jitsu just about every weekend from one singular media provider thanks to Flo. The structure of their platform has provided young shows and other start-up grappling events the capital and platform they need to get started (providing more opporutnites for competitors and media alike).
Let’s face it, regardless of how you view Flo’s role in the growth and coverage of jiu jitsu, there would not have been the explosion of events and opportunities for competitors that there was this year without their platform. They provide shows the exposure, money, and marketing needed to provide more pro opportunities to competitors.
However, it’s not just about Flo. There is better media coverage of jiu jitsu online than ever before. From expert breakdowns on YouTube to the rumor mill that is BJJEE.com. There are now hundreds of legitimate BJJ news, info, and media publishers available online. This has led the to the growth and expansion of excellent communities like /r/bjj.
With more events than ever before, there is a greater demand for news, commentary, and info. This means more money in the space and more future opportunities for writers and media providers.
I expect this to continue and materialize even further in 2017.
Top 3 Jiu Jitsu Trends In 2017
I think those two movements listed above lay the groundwork for the jiu jitsu trends that I believe will play out in 2017. The first two are very positive and the last one is a bit cautionary on my part. Regardless of your outlook on these predictions, I believe they are worth paying attention to as 2017 starts to play itself out.
1.) More Big Pro Events & “Dream” Match-Ups
I’m sorry to say I can’t share everything I know about this subject publically just yet; however, I will tell you that it is a near certainty that you will see a lot more one-off dream match-ups (ala Pena vs Ryan) and even more BIG pro shows this year (big meaning… good cards, not crappy match-ups and boring amateur undercards).
While in 2016 we saw a lot more pro shows, a lot of these events had lackluster cards. We have enough data now to see the popularity difference between some the weaker cards and the sizzling match-ups that we saw in the back half of 2016. I think we can all agree that we’d like to see more Tonon vs. Palhares , Pena vs. Ryan, or things like the Five Super League Tournament.
Demand drives opportunity and I think the right people have seen that the demand is high for compelling jiu jitsu match-ups in 2017.
2.) More “Personality” In The Sport Than Ever Before
I’m not a dummy (nor, should you be either). Jiu jitsu doesn’t have some magical, merry past filled with total respect and honor for all other practitioners. Jiu jitsu was largely birthed and grown out of conflict and rivalry, so it shouldn’t shock veterans of the sport that there seemed to be a lot more name calling and jocking for position in social media this past year.
There has been a clear backlash against some the controversial antics of high-profile athletes like Gordan Ryan, AJ Agazarm, and Dillon Danis (to name just a few). However, these actions have increased the profile of these athletes and provided the attention to potential match-ups that has generated greater revenue for growing shows and events.
I’m not sure that these antics need to be replicated or continued; however, I do think that increased attention for athletes is good. BJJ athletes need to be doing more to promote themselves. I personally believe in being authentic, and I do not think a lot of what we saw in 2016 was authentic. But, spectators want more compelling stories. Agree or disagree, as a marketing professional, I will tell you that stories drive interest, and this is badly needed to generate demand in potential dream match-ups.
I think the increased attention that events and shows will provide will give other athletes the opportunity to show that people are interested in more than just an abrasive personality. I think 2017 will provide the good guys a chance to tell their story.
3.) We will argue about who the best in our sport is…
This relates to my very first point above. Since we can’t agree on the right rules – and I don’t expect that to change this year – I believe that more and more competitors will silo themselves into particular rulesets with only a select few competitors crossing boundaries into other formats.
We saw a rare crossover in the Pena/Ryan match at the end of 2016. It was extremely popular because of the clash of two different worlds taking place. Pena was from the traditional BJJ circuit and Ryan was a specialist in a custom ruleset.
While this was entertaining, not many competitors really want to crossover. Few traditional BJJ circuit competitors want to fight a high-stakes sub-only, no time limit match and visa versa.
I think there will be more shows in 2017 than there was in 2016, but the rules will continue to be non-uniform; leading to the sport having a bigger mix of superstars, but no true champions (except Buchecha, nobody is going to beat Buchecha). However, not even the IBJJF’s World Champions will not be viewed as the world’s elite by spectators who subscribe to shows like The Eddie Bravo Invitational (EBI), and the same goes in reverse. Fans of the IBJJF will never recognize EBI champions as the elite of the elite, until there is a uniform crossover.
The unfortunate part about this is that these two worlds are actually growing further apart rather than closer together. I think this will get worse in 2017.
Wrapping it up
I’m obviously very bullish on 2017 for sport BJJ. I think industry partners like Flo will continue to provide quality shows a platform to showcase high-level jiu jitsu. This will lead to more mega-match-ups in 2017 than we had in 2016.
We will see more and more personality in social media as all the athletes attempt to find their places in all these new shows. Ultimately, I think that the big problem with all of this is the lack of uniformity in the rules. Every show thinks their rules are the best, and competitors are split on which they prefer.
What do you think we’ll see in 2017?