A couple days before Gordon Ryan and Keenan Cornelius were set to clash in a no time limit, submission only match in New York, I received a text asking if I thought the stage presented by Grappling Industries might be too small to watch these two giants compete.
After all, we're not just talking about two ordinary competitors, we're talking about two certifiable superstars. Two perfect narratives (a budding young superstar who's racked up an impressive array of wins in a relatively short amount of time taking on another prodigy who seems like he's just hitting the stride of his already-incredible BJJ career) that seemed ripe for spectator interest.
Two athletes who are so revered by the community that they could pull and Oprah and just go by their first names (though, gents, if you read this and actually do that, I expect residuals).
The concern here, of course, being: would two of the sport's most recognizable athletes be too super for a super match that was likely going to be streamed via Facebook live?
My answer is the same now (having seen the match) as it was when I texted back to my friend.
"No," I responded, "it's the perfect stage. No show with production and time constraints is going to give us the finality of a no time limit, submission only match." Not only does it give grappling enthusiasts the type of match that has a definitive finish, but it's also a gesture that's gift wrapped to them. A free, guerrilla-style production of a match everyone wants to see.
And yet, yesterday afternoon, Keenan and Gordon gave us a show that was every bit as captivating as it was fun to watch (yes, I hear you haters, and will address you individually in just a moment).
The match has stayed with me so much, I felt the need to put several of my initial thoughts and reactions in written form.
Here are a few of the takeaways I had from yesterday's epic encounter:
1. Submission Only, No Time Limit Has An Audience
Often when jiu-jitsu enthusiasts go online, they spend hours debating the perfect format for a sport that's yet to find a way to properly translate to television. While there are many who argue that TV audiences have zero patience for watching a submission only match all the way until finish, yesterday proved that not only is there an audience, but that when you put the right two individuals in the match, people will at least be curious to see how it ends.
A curiosity that translates to the tune of some 100k fans (at least, that's the number one of three videos used to bring the 90 minute grappling marathon to life has at the moment, which is less than 12 hours after the conclusion of said match).
That number is significant as it not only highlights the number of individuals who expressed some interest in finding out how it ended, but also inches us ever-so-closer to the numbers that look appealing to sports networks. As someone who religiously keeps an eye on Nielsen ratings for both sports and primetime series, I can tell you that this number is one that bodes well for the future of our growing sport.
Granted, that number was also one of three streams that was used to capture the entirety of the 90 minute match (the stream cut out twice, making three separate streams that currently are the neighborhood of 11k and 41k as of the writing of this post). And also, we'll concede that Facebook's analytics for videos are still in their infancy, but those are definitely not numbers Metamoris, Polaris, and Fight 2 Win would scoff at.
For those of us who are all on the front lines of trying to get this sport on television, these numbers give us some indisputable evidence that there is an untapped engaged audience just begging to play along at home and on their phones when there's an event on hand.
However, just because people are tuning in doesn't mean they don't have their complaints...
2. You Can't Please Everyone
This should be a given in today's internet culture, but let's not pretend it's not somewhat of a nuisance that people still had issues with a free live stream. If we're looking at the numbers, this event likely cost a pretty penny to attract Keenan and Gordon (individuals who have become accustomed to walking out of tournaments with oversized five-figure checks). So I'm sure that didn't exactly leave the law offices of one James. J. Sexton a ton of money in the budget to string together the kind of cash needed to stream this show on a large scale.
You're right, internet complainer, the show was not in 4K. I also didn't have to break the bank to pony up for what could easily qualify as a PPV draw for any major jiu-jitsu show elsewhere.
Of course, there were a number of folks online who still needed to voice their opinion on the matter — so many, in fact, that Grappling Industries owner David Aguzzi actually felt the need to respond on the organization's official Facebook page.
Kinda a shame given the fact that Aguzzi actually was able to give us a match that other organizations may not have been able to put together (especially in the given sub only, no time limit format). Having presented a couple of live stream jiu-jitsu telecasts myself, I can tell you that experience can be an additional headache unto itself. It helps when you have a super great team (which I've had the good fortune of having on the shows I've worked on), but even the big kids who stream many of the sport's biggest events (we're talking Worlds, Invitationals, and other independent jiu-jitsu shows) have faced a number of struggles that haven't quite yet justified the costs associated with giving you the streams and presentations you're used to seeing in other sports.
So yeah, it sucks that in a day and age where AJ Agazarm can Robin Hood streams on his social media that we might not be able to see Keenan's moneymaker of a face — BUT WHO CARES, you've seen what his face looks like before! The majority of us can care less about the pixelation and are just there to steal the transitions and submission set ups anyway. I'll take what I can get for free — provided it's not illegally stealing the content (we're trying to get this shit on TV, remember?).
3. You Can't Please Everyone, Part 2
After any major jiu-jitsu event, I love to check the collective pulse of the haternation. And sometimes there's no better place to see what's ailing folks than the comment section of a live stream or BJJ Reddit. Of course, the event had a number of supporters, it's just that the haternation can be much louder and more vocal about their gripes.
Among some of this event's greatest hits of complaints:
- Ugh, other formats are SO MUCH BETTER!
- Where's the URGENCY!
- Does nobody care about wrestling?
- Well, it's official, nobody gives a shit about passing these days.
- Gordon is such a dick, I hate him.
There are more, but let's take a moment to talk about the five presented above.
- Ugh, other formats are SO MUCH BETTER! - The most fascinating thing about watching an event is that everyone is quick to voice how a given format they enjoy more is so much better at the expense of the event in front of them — as if said preferred format is going to magically vanish if they don't immediately voice some kind of opinion about how they feel. Like clockwork, there's always someone who will take the bait. Here's the great news, EBI isn't going anywhere. Same with Fight 2 Win. And you better believe hell will freeze over before the IBJJF relinquishes it's stronghold over the community. The beauty of these organizations' existence is that they present a choice for people to support what they want. If you love points, by all means, love points. A great strategy game is something to behold. I am the type that prefers definitive submission finishes, but you won't ever see me yelling at someone on the podium, "great job pointing your way to a victory, dick!" They all have their merit, it just might not be your jam. You can deal with it.
- Where's the URGENCY - Um, if I'm grappling for an undetermined amount of time with Keenan or Gordon, you better believe I'm tip-toeing my way around the boobytrap methodical games of those two savages. Also, talk to Keenan and Gordon about how they felt about the match's urgency before making any glaring oversimplifications.
- Does nobody care about wrestling? - Have you not heard? Leg locks are king now. Again, credit to Keenan for going straight into the Danaher Death Squad leg lock game. But if we're addressing the real issue of not having an explosive wrestling match, I'm not sure we really lost anything in translation here. We've seen Keenan and Gordon go high intensity to beat the clock plenty of times before. This was an interesting departure from what we're accustomed to seeing and added a different layer. Also, if we're being honest, I don't feel this is the only time we'll see Keenan vs. Gordon. Perhaps we'll get to see more wrestling on display the next go-round (especially with them foot sweeps that Gordon showed in his arsenal).
- Well, it's official, nobody gives a shit about passing these days - Did you not see Keenan doing his damnedest to pass? Both Keenan and Gordon have games that are tricky as shit. Not to mention, there are some who can appreciate the live-time chess match being played out right in front of our eyes.
- Gordon is such a dick, I hate him - Well, first off, you're not alone. His instructor Garry Tonon hates him. But it seems everyone has an opinion on the kid: he's not respectful enough, he talks too much shit, he calls out too many people to challenge matches, and who does he think he is? All that sort of stuff. The most obtuse claim being that Gordon would get smashed by Keenan. If anything, we had a clash of two super talented young guys who represent the best of the future of American grappling and (SURPRISE) Gordon did good. Of course, people who do well and freely invite others to jump aboard the hate train against them are often unfazed by trolling comments. So love him or hate him, he'll at least give you a show that's worthy of your time. And it seems he's just getting started.
4. This Was Event-Viewing At Its Best
I'll let you guys in on a secret: I don't consider you a real jiu-jitsu fan until you stay up all hours of the morning watching some foreign stream in an language you mostly don't understand.
I'm just kidding.
The real reason for that mentality is this: we love a sport where the athletes are criminally underappreciated. They pour their hearts into a sport that's often not lucrative, nor gives them the credit their training and performances properly deserve. So when the community rallies together, it really feels like we're coming together for an event. Which is why special occasions like ADCC, super fights like this, and tournaments being hosted out of God-knows where at whatever-the-fuck-o'clock may be far and few, but they remind us of the strange club of grappling enthusiasts we all belong to.
For example, this was the scene at my gym earlier today when the clock struck 1:15 PM.
Keenan vs Gordon's And what it looks like at #breakdownacademy.Posted by Verbal Tap Podcast on Saturday, August 13, 2016
Yep, we stopped class entirely just to sit around the computer and watch other people grapple.
And it's because of crazy people like you who are watching live alongside us, we can make idiotic videos like this. Ones that perfectly capture the way we get excited about the event as a whole.
Our reaction to the finish of @gordonlovesjiujitsu vs. @keenancornelius. Thank you @grapplingindustries for putting this together.Posted by Verbal Tap Podcast on Saturday, August 13, 2016
When we know we are amongst our own nerd cult, we can do stuff like that. And it's fun.
So yeah, if mainstream sports aren't about to include us in the inner circle just yet, then we might as well enjoy our run as the outcasts, taking full advantage of events like this before we get what we really want... and then cry as we watch as national TV exposure and regulations ruin the whole goddamn thing.
So today, I'm sure there's a lot that can be said about Gordon vs. Keenan 1 (at least that's how we'll billing it before the inevitable cash-grab sequel), but we'd rather take the moment to celebrate everything we enjoyed about it. Keenan and Gordon came through and exchanged a number of set ups and submission attempts that we'll all likely be trying to bastardize in some way, so we tip our hat to both of them. We know both of the guys fairly well and we're fans of their respective contributions to the game — and we'll likely continue being some of their biggest supporters for years to come.
That is, barring any legal ramifications we may need to take up with them should they try to stiff us on any residuals if either of them elects to go by just one name.
We'd also like to give props to Aguzzi and the folks at Grappling Industries for actually pulling this one off. We know it was not easy and we appreciate their clear effort to give the fans something fun to enjoy.
We encourage you to watch the streams below and share them with the folks who have yet to see this epic encounter unfolded, as I am truly interested to see how big these numbers go for this incredible match.
I think all parties involved deserve that much for their hard work.
Until the next major event, grappling nerds.