BJJ Poll: Should Jiu-Jitsu Teammates Be Allowed to Verbally Agree on 1rst & 2nd Place If They Close Out the Brackets?

by Caleb on April 25, 2009


In Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitions, it sometimes happens that competitors who come from the same training team will find themselves facing each other at the end of the day when all the other opponents in their division have been beaten. Sometimes the two competitors in this situation agree between each other which of the two will take home the first place medal (and thus, who gets second place) instead of competing against each other on the mats to see who the best competitor is that day. This is known as the gentleman’s agreement.

There are multiple reasons why this happens. The risk of injury is probably the biggest reason to not have the match. While BJJ tournaments are generally a very safe environment, as in any contact sport there is always the risk of injury. Further, coaches of competitors in this situation feel they’ve already proven that their team is the best and they have nothing else to prove. For an in depth discussion of why this sometimes happens, you can listen to or read our conversation with Flavio Almeida where he discusses the rationale for not competing against fellow Gracie Barra teammate Roberto “Tussa” Camargo at the 2009 Jiu-Jitsu Pan-Ams.

There are however reasons to definitely go through with the match no matter what flag the two jiu-jitsu competitors train under. As our sport becomes bigger and draws more spectators at the large events, they come with the expectation of watching the best jiu-jitsu competitors go at it. The purpose of competition is to find out who is the best, is it not? Consider again the 2009 Pan-Ams: the matches to determine the winner of 3 of 10 divisions were not held because the two competitors verbally agreed who would walk away with first place! Spectators (including fellow competitors) could only be disappointed as a primary reason they traveled far and paid to enter was to see these matches go down. After the recent IBJJF New York Open Luca Atalla, editor in chief of GracieMag, laments the possibility that one day the final match of the Absolute division of the BJJ World Championship (considered by many to be the climax of the jiu-jitsu competition on the global level) is not held because two opponents from the same team verbally agree who wins. He goes on to suggest that to avoid the possibility, opponents from the same team be pitted against one another on the same side of the brackets to avoid them facing off at the end of the division.

What do you think? Let us know by voting in the poll above and don’t be shy! Leave us a comment below this post as well!

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

rowdy April 25, 2009 at 8:08 am

even seeing them do an ‘exhibition’ match would be better than just deciding amongst themselves.

personally, i would never do this.

maybe the rule needs to change and could be as simple as how people are seeded to changing the rule to only allow one person from each school in each class. or as severe as if you don’t ‘fight’ you don’t place.

i really think it all comes back to where we want bjj to go. if you are the type who wants it in schools, the olympics and such then things like this don’t help.

i also don’t believe the injury excuse. if you have fought your way through a division you already opened yourself up to injury and really statistically one more match is not raising the chances to an unacceptable level.

Franck LOUIS-MARIE April 25, 2009 at 9:43 am

I think they need to fight for the first place, that’s a sport event nothing else.

bjjcailin April 25, 2009 at 9:47 am

I believe that teammates should be allowed to choose amongst themselves. However, if they come from the same “team” but different academies it may make more sense for them to fight. However, it should be left up to the individuals or to their coaches.

Mike Wilson April 25, 2009 at 11:47 am

I don’t know the details, but I believe Sumo has rules that prevent two fighters from the same stable from fighting each other.

radamez85 April 25, 2009 at 3:54 pm

I like the idea of them being in the same bracket!
let them decide n 3rd and 4th place!
and let the fans have a FINAL!
i love Michael Langhi and Lucas, but i really wanted to see
the end of that division which is one of the most exciting…
so i felt a bit robbed at the pan-ams =/
just my opinion.

Brad Thomas April 25, 2009 at 5:13 pm

That this topic is even open for debate is ridiculous.

Last I checked, BJJ was an individual competition–not a team sport (regardless of the fact that two competitors in a division may come from the same school or organization). There are only 2 competitors on the mat at a time for a given match.

I agree with rowdy–if you refuse to fight, you don’t place.

Even in team sports, it’s not like the New York Giants get two entries in the NFL and might end up playing each other in the Super Bowl. However, on this point some good suggestions that preserve matches for the fans have already been proposed.

That said, those other ideas (placing competitors from the same team on the same side of the bracket or only allowing one person from a school) should eliminate the loss of fights.

Black Dog April 26, 2009 at 10:50 am

I understand the concept behind the “Gentleman’s Agreement,” but as has been expressed above by Brad, these tournaments are individual vs. individual, not a team affair.

I like Rowdy’s idea of having the two fight an exhibition; that way, the fans will see for themselves who the better fighter is, and honor is satisfied.

But personally, I would like to see the two best fight in the end.

Justin April 26, 2009 at 11:02 am

I think that there could be a stipulation for entry into the bigger tournaments, professional tournaments, annual championships, that there is an agreement to compete against whomever you are placed against. But for smaller competitions, amatuer competitions and stuff, it is better for a team to remain unified and not face one another. It can create a bad situation in training where students feel the need to compete and out do their fellow teammates. I feel that the environment in training with teammates should be non-competative and about learning together and hoping for the best training partners possible. Not trying to keep your teammates below you so you can win a tournament.

Brad Thomas April 26, 2009 at 5:29 pm

Justin,

I’m not sure why I’m so fired up about this topic, and this is not directed at you personally, but I do disagree with your viewpoint.

Quite simply, if someone doesn’t want to compete against a teammate, then one should not enter … a competition. Stick with rolling and in-school tournaments, if your school offers them. It all comes down to the fact that every tournament is an individual event.

kaitlin April 27, 2009 at 4:38 am

i do not think the teammates should choose who wins, if they are not going to fight each other, it should be the decision of the coach and the coach alone. it happened to me at my second tournament, and although i wanted to fight, i can understand why my coach refused to let us fight each other. There doesn’t need to be that extra hostility, and if the coach chooses he knows the background of his two students and can make a more accurate decision.

At mundials last year Two Alliance? teammates refused to fight each other in the finals.

Jadon Ortlepp April 27, 2009 at 4:38 am

Ive fought my team mate in the final twice (1-1) and we really enjoy it. Alot less pressure and is a fun roll. The club has got gold and silver regardless so we just go out to try do something cool for the crowd and enjoy ourselves. I would be very disheartened if I was told by my coach that we couldnt fight.

Lucas Lowry April 27, 2009 at 12:12 pm

All personal feelings aside, two facts are in place here that will always leave the potential for this problem.
-More than one fighter from the same team in the brackets
-It’s impossible to someone fight if they don’t want to

Without one of those changing, and you can only change the first one, this problem is never going away. All the suggested rules can at best shift the problem around a bit.

When two fighters meet, they or their coach can always decide who wins. If they have to ‘fight’ they can decide how that will go. It’s impossible to prove if the fight is real or planned, and a rule saying you could DQ people for planning a fight just opens up a huge possibility for controversy when one day someone decides to DQ people who didn’t plan anything.

If you put them on the same side of the bracket, this same situation just happens in the semis instead of the finals. Then you have two competitors who possibly met in the semis only because of a rule to avoid close-outs and protect the finals, but those could have been the best two fighters out there. This is always a possibility with any bracket, but a specific rule requiring the same team on the same side guarantees it in the case of teammates and would leave audiences wondering if the ‘final’ they saw was really the best two fighting. After all the close-outs recently, a change to this rule would ensure the finals always happen, but make them mean less when teammates met in the semis. It makes sure there’s a fight at the end, but it makes it less likely the two who make it to the end are the ones that should be there.

Regardless of people’s own feelings about other’s motivations, you’ll never be able to make all competitors agree on how much the team matters over the individual or the audience matters over the competitors.

Without restricting entry to one competitor per team, this problem will always be there. It’s just a logical symptom of being one of the few sports where related competitors can be in the same bracket.

It seems to me that if the goal is to make sure the black belt absolute always happens, without degrading what it means to win it because you got to skip the semi finals, then entry has to be restricted. Restricting entry to all divisions this way would cut down too severely on the number of fighters, but at the top level the pool is already small enough for this to work. Either that needs to happen, or close-outs need to just become an accepted part of jiu-jitsu.

chris April 29, 2009 at 12:58 pm

If BJJ was a pro sport, where the athletes are paid to compete than i say make them fight. If money that spectators paid was used to pay the athletes than i say make them fight.
However, bjj players pay to compete. if they don’t want to compete against their team mates i am fine with that.
If the runner ups don’t want to compete against eachother, what happens? you make the 3 place person, the winner?

Thomas June 17, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Personally, I am hugely in favor of gentlemen’s agreements. To my perspective, it allows for better, stronger competitors in the tournaments. Why is this?

When you train, you train with your teammates. You all work to make eachother better. However, if I was training with a team mate I know I would have to compete against, I would intentionally withhold aspects of my game, I would refuse to show methods to counter different things I am doing and, overall, I would work to make myself better but keep my teammates who pose a threat to me ‘just good enough’ to be threatening, but not good enough to beat me.

The gentleman’s agreement removes that. If two people from the same school face eachother, they should be given the right to choose whether or not they wish to compete. This preserves the family and mutual benefit we offer eachother as teammates. Perhaps, as Chris suggested, if the income potential of a professional BJJ competitor was enough to make a living off of, this would be a different issue. As it is now, however, it is the rightful place of th ecompetitor to choose where and how he competes.

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