IBJJF: Just Business or All Greed?
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is in many ways a unique sport. Most sports, including combat sports, have some form of governing body. Generally speaking, the governing bodies of professional sports are non-profit organizations or trade associations that sanction events, enforce rules, determine guidelines for skill level, competition categories, and the overall legitimacy of their respective sporting events.
These organizations have names such as “National Football League” or “World Boxing Association.” While they can generate revenue, they are typically structured as non-profits whose goal is ensuring that professional competitors and teams are paid properly and maintaining the integrity of the sport.
In BJJ, you might think the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) is the governing body. After all, elite competitors, particularly in Gi competition, are typically “IBJJF world champions.”
Additionally, for many of the previous decades, IBJJF rulesets set the standard for most BJJ competitions at both the elite and amateur level, which in of itself is an arbitrary distinction.
The Truth About the IBJJF
Despite its prominence in BJJ competition, the IBJJF is not, in fact, a governing body. It is a for-profit corporation founded by Carlos Gracie Sr. that has done an excellent job of branding itself as the premier organization for BJJ competition.
While there is certainly something to be said for having a degree of unification in rulesets and recognized world championship titles, the IBJJF has a negative reputation among some elite competitors due to their structure, the running of their events, and the fact that payouts to victorious athletes are mostly in the form of T-shirts and gold-colored medals.
The IBJJF Barely Pays It’s Champions
The IBJJF offers a paltry sum of between $4,000 and $7,000 USD to the winner of black belt divisions, with the specific amount depending on the number of competitors signed up for the bracket. The winner of the absolute division gets paid $10,000. There are no cash prizes for second, third, or fourth place.
This prize money is also new, up to 2019, there was no cash prize for winning IBJJF worlds. But hey, now at least if you win you might cover part of your travel expenses!
The registration fees for all levels of IBJJF tournaments are generally between $100-$200 USD per division. Additionally, to be a recognized ‘IBJJF school’ or ‘IBJJF black belt’ requires a separate membership fee to have the IBJJF stamp of approval next to your name.
IBJJF Payouts vs ADCC and Other Tournaments
Compare the IBJJF payout to another prominent organization, the ADCC, which offers $10,000 for first place, $5,000 for second, and 3,000 for third place, and 1,000 for fourth place in each bracket. The ADCC absolute division pays a nice $40,000 to the winner, and $10,000, $5,000 and $1,000 for second, third, and fourth place, respectively.
ADCC also offers bonus pay for individual performances such as fastest submission, best takedowns, and best overall fighter, with each award receiving a $1,400 bonus.
While ADCC is one of the highest paying professional grappling organizations, other alternatives to IBJFF such as the EBI series also offer substantially better payouts. Heck, even the “High Rollerz” BJJ tournament offers a pound of premium cannabis to the division winner at every level, which comes in at a few thousand, depending on where you are (so we hear, anyways).
Why Money Matters In The Black Belt Division
While most BJJ practitioners are not “in it for the money,” the fact that even the elite competitors in IBJJF are hardly compensated, and no additional pay is given for runners up, is insulting to the hard work, grit, and determination required to reach the podium.
The highest paid athletes in other sports can rake in millions of dollars. As such, a few thousand is chump change given the dedication elite BJJ athletes need to achieve victory.
When it comes to treating Jiu Jitsu players like actual athletes instead of amateurs signing up for a local tournament, the IBJJF has a long way to go.
Is IBJJF Now Playing Catch Up?
When IBJJF had a monopoly on both major Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitions and prestige for victory, they had a lot of room to not pay competitors, charge too much to sign up, and run their tournaments poorly.
While the for-profit model of the IBJJF allowed them to get away with this, its certainly a double-edged sword given that any individual is free to set-up a BJJ tournament organization outside of the IBJJF oversight and completely crush it when it comes to offering an amazing experience for both athletes and fans. One example of this is Jiu Jitsu World League, who arguably hosts the best all around events in the game.
In fact, the IBJJF is now playing catch up with the rest of the BJJ competitive organizations. With the previously mentioned payout only being implemented in 2019, and the recent 2021 rule change to add heel hooks for brown and black belt No Gi competitors, the IBJJF may soon be entirely eclipsed as the premier facilitator and host of BJJ tournaments.
While the IBJJF still has a good hold on prestige in the BJJ gi competition world, there are several organizations threatening the future of the IBJJF for prominence in the world of competitive Jiu Jitsu. The next few years with be pivotal in determining which organizations dominate the world of competitive BJJ in the future.