In the past I have been fairly vocal about my preference for attacking and non-points based grappling. Thankfully this is a stance that appears to be at the forefront of discussion in modern BJJ. We are beginning to see considerably more tournaments go down the ‘submission only’ route and as a result it is giving rise to showcase grappling events. Without a doubt if I ever reinvigorate my own grappling tournament brand (GoToTheGround) it’ll be in a submission only format.
Globally, there have been plenty of one off shows like this in the past and in France it’s not been uncommon to see mixed Pancrase rules and grappling fight cards. Personally I was disappointed there weren’t more Rickson Gracie Budo Challenge events. Even though they did involve a modified points system it was a good push towards valuing submissions above all else…and of course who doesn’t like to see Shinya Aoki flying arm bar people.
At this time there’s only one brand in the UK that’s making a run at putting on combat sports cards based entirely around grappling and that is ‘SubF15teen’. Fifteen minutes, no points, submission only: simple. Based in Middlesbrough, Martin Ashton, Shaun Matthews and their team have now run four events to date, the last of which I was able to attend. I was asked to corner/drive/be a general lackey by a friend competing on the show so I thought it was a good opportunity to see what the event was all about.
The venue itself (Marton Country Club) serves its purpose well. Nothing special but a well proportioned space with raked seating filled with rows of tables. Grappling shows have the possibility of being very long events so comfortable viewer surroundings along with food and a bar are a necessity.
Weigh-ins were held at around 3pm a couple of hours before the show was due to start. Plenty of time for people to get squared away, eat and relax afterwards. Prior to the first match there was a competitor parade in which each bout was announced in turn. A really nice touch we haven’t really seen since the heyday of Japanese MMA.
I spent the majority of the evening in the warm-up room (Competitors were well provided for: water, bananas, mars bars and mat space) but I did get to catch around eight of the matches. As expected when bouts are specifically matched they were mostly very even and enjoyable. The lack of concern for maintaining and stalling position was evident in almost every contest.
There were a few good blue belt fights earlier on the card. It’s a fact proven by domestic MMA shows that you need to sell tickets and that often relies on locals who, whilst they may or may not be of good caliber, will put spectators in seats. As much as we would like every match to be between the best top tier combatants in the country there’s a reality to operating a promotion like this that at least a reasonable percentage of the competitors will need to be local guys. Grappling isn’t typically a spectator friendly sport, hell I know an awful lot of people who train but still won’t, or have never, watched grappling matches. But the lower card bouts that I saw were thoroughly enjoyable. It’s a credit to the standard of belts and to the promotion that they were willing to match locals with out-of-towners to give a nice narrative for spectators to cheer for.
The rules set is standard IBJJF with some considerable relaxation on the penalties for things like ‘reaping the knee’…don’t get me started on that topic again! One thing that struck me was the prevalence of foot locks in many of the contests. One bout in particular where a student from Chris Rees Academy in Swansea was stuck in a straight foot lock, the same straight foot lock, for fourteen minutes of a fifteen minute bout. If they hadn’t been very lightweight fighters I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t have walked away. But even though the match was stuck in that one position for a hugely extended period of time it as still very enjoyable and the crowd were glued to every adjustment the competitors made.
I was there to corner Jack Lister in a purple belt Gi match against a local favourite in Chris Short. Though Jack and I don’t represent the same teams in competition anymore that’s no reason not to support your friends. He drove and cornered me for a sub only match last October so I was happy to return the favour…though three and a half hours driving each way may have been pushing it! Minor mix-up with his entrance music and instead of walking out to a tongue-in-cheek ‘Fight to Survive’ from Bloodsport it was ‘Ready to Go’. I found that far funnier. Jack won his match fairly comprehensively by foot lock thus ensuring the long drive home was not a grumpy one.
That match kicked off what really was an excellent last five or so matches, all of which I got to see with the exception of Peter Youds bout against Jake Corrigan (as it directly followed Jacks match).
Joy Breslin was in a very loose and scramble filled match with Sean McDonough. I’d trained with Joey at SBG in Dublin for a week at the tail end of last year so it was good to catch up with him, though unfortunately he was on the wrong end of this bout.
Chris Jones, someone I’ve met in competition before was in a good match with Mike Hawkins.
Ross Nichols showed he was a cut above in grabbing a great arm bar win over David Hulland
Heavyweight title match was a lot of fun to watch! Ed Ingamells sporting an epic war beard beat Paul Whyman by arm bar.
I can’t fault the running of the event. Runners kept the changing rooms well briefed and the bouts moved along at a good pace with minimal downtime. I’m never a fan of taking intermissions during events. An empty mat is time for the crowd to get restless but the single intermission at this show wasn’t a big issue.
There was only one thing I could see being a little different as standard. Perhaps having a more official rules/competitor briefing meeting directly adjacent the weigh-ins where all competitors are present at the same time. In my opinion some possible luxuries for moving the event forward would be monitors with video feeds in the warm-up areas (it can get quiet in there!) and commentators for the matches themselves…though obviously I would say that!!
Overall it was a great event and a good day out, though it’s a shame the events aren’t more accessible. Being held up in Middlesborough they’re a tad isolated from those of us further down the country. The only thing that would make me think twice about attending an event again is that it’s a very, very long drive for me. If there were an event (either by SubF15teen or another brand) a little closer to home I’d be there every time.
Catching up with Joey BReslin and Lee Hammond from SBG in Ireland:
Jack and his shiny trophy: