TUFF Invitational (6/12/14)

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This past Saturday I was lucky enough to attend the first ever TUFF Invitational tournament, courtesy of two free tickets I won via Jiu Jitsu Style (the BJJ magazine for the Gentlemanly Connoisseur of the Gentle Art).

I’m not particularly blessed with the graceful touch of Lady Luck, as the shamefully high amount of ripped up lottery tickets I’ve thrown away over the years can attest to, but the Jiu Jitsu Gods were smiling upon me when my name was drawn, and on Thursday I received an e-mail from BJJ Style informing me that I had won the opportunity to witness the first of what could be many.

For those unfamiliar, here’s the lazy comparison point: the TUFF Invitational is the UK’s attempt at the USA’s Metamoris.

20 minute rounds, no points, submission only, super fights, all taking place on an impossibly perfect white mat canvas. The only thing missing was the continuous drumming that has become a staple that accompanies all Metamoris fights – though I honestly haven’t decided whether that’s actually a pro or con just yet.

The level of jiu jitsu displayed this night, on average, was phenomenal. It was amazing to see these competitors perform live, putting their all into the fight, in an effort to come out on top. A plethora of fighters from all different gyms, camps and backgrounds came together in order to battle it out, and one of the best, and most accessible, elements that Metamoris and TUFF get so right is its more traditional WWE/MMA style card.

By having a defined fight card, you are able to really focus in on the action, rather than turning your head and switching your gaze and attention every few seconds like an ADHD inflected Sauron, desperately trying to take in all the action across multiple mats in a more traditional BJJ competition format in the same way he was looking for those hobbits.

12 fights, given placement on the card in an order that makes sense, leading up to two amazing main events (Co Main: Vanessa English vs ex-UFC fighter Rosi Sexton, and Main Event: Luiz Finocchio vs Michael Russell) is the perfect way to run the event, and I look forward to how they stack their cards in the future, especially as Jiu Jitsu talent continue to so openly travel the world; just look at the upcoming Cardiff event Polaris Pro. Who knows, maybe it won’t be long until we see even more super fights emanating out of, of all places, Gillingham, Kent.

As a blue belt practitioner, it was amazing to witness in person the kinds of tactics, patience, and technique that was on display by pretty much everyone who fought. It was my first opportunity to witness live black belt competitors fight and it was such a sight to watch them play human chess in the way they did; each move had a counter move; technique, technique, technique until…finally…a winner! Hell, even if the bouts went the full 20 they were so full of action the 20 minutes breezed by.

The event itself was sponsored by a number of brands, including TUFF (natch), Prime, and Valor. I was a little disappointed by the lack of overall presence by these brands, as I had come ready and willing to throw money for a new Gi that night, after having recently bought an awesome little black number (the Bravura 2.0) from Valor Fightwear, and had assumed there would be goods for sale, as at the Southend Competition. Alas, no, and so my money stayed with me. Until I saw the Acaiteria stand.

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Delicious Acai, courtesy of Acaiteria (acaiteria.co.uk)

I took this opportunity to try Acai for the first time, knowing full well the hardcore popularity of this fruit within the BJJ community. Just watch any Gracie video on YouTube, and you’ll know what I mean.

£5 seemed a little steep, considering how much was actually in the container, but there were plenty of delicious toppings to go along with it, and it was an undeniably tasty snack that left me  feeling healthy and energised; an undeniably better alternative to the kofte kebab I was initially contemplating getting on the way home, and a treat that I look forward to indulging in again in the future.

Honestly, I think the super fight tactics of TUFF, Metamoris, UFC, WWE, et al is the right way to go about promoting BJJ.

I know that the competition format has existed for a long while, but with so much going on at one time, it becomes very easy to lose track of what you’re actually trying to focus on: Jiu Jitsu. Rather than darting your attention from one fight to another, taking in only moments, rather than detailed high lights, by creating a competition bracket that leads up to a promoted final, stacked card, allows competitors a chance to fight at their maximum potential, hype the event for potential stream PPV sales and, importantly, make it easier to develop BJJ personalities to develop, allowing fans a chance to get to know you and for you, as the fighter, to develop a furthered fan base.

Metamoris records some amazing promos that hype each one of their super fights, from both fighters perspectives, and I’d love to see TUFF replicate this for future events. Allowing the fighters a chance to hype the fight, and get people to care about those potential 20 minutes on the mat, as well as who comes out the victor, could make all the difference between people paying the £25/£35/£50 to get in or stream the event, or not bother due to a lack of personal investment.

Getting into watching BJJ has been tough; with so many difficult names, so many matches and so many, overwhelming techniques, it’s tough for a new fan to find their feet within BJJ as a spectator sport. Magazines, such as Jiu Jitsu Style, definitely help, but you are probably already pretty committed if you’ve taken out a subscription; so to find something like TUFF in the UK is a great first step towards something that could become huge, and I look forward to seeing what they’ve got lined up in the future, from streaming the event, to perhaps hiring some awesome (annoying?) performance drummers.

A fun night of fights, surrounded by respectful fans and gyms – my girlfriend and I had the honour of choosing seats directly between Nova Forca and Michael Russell (no relation), both seemingly having come out in full force to support their teammates – lead to a definite win for the UK BJJ and fight scene, and is something you’ll want to make the journey for, next time they hold an event.

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