There's a phrase that's being tossed around about ADCC: "the greatest grappling event in history."
It's a contentious phrase. Folks on Reddit, who watched the live stream point to misfires like a schedule that ran an hour late at times or the drawn out hall of fame presentations. But there seems to be one thing in common with everyone who is claiming that ADCC was the greatest event in grappling history: they were there.
Watching the ADCC live stream and being there in person were two fundamentally different experiences.
Much has been written about the matches: the passing of a torch, the youngest champion, second place finishes – and you could see all of that from the stream at home. What made ADCC the greatest grappling event in history wasn't just what happened on the mats, but everything that happened off of them too.
Here's a few observations of what it felt like to be there – IRL – in the Thomas and Mack Arena over the two days of ADCC 2022.
12,000 jiu jitsu people
ADCC 2022 was the largest gathering of jiu jitsu people in history.
My friend Noah once described the sport of submission grappling as, "You know in the UFC when the fighters go to the ground and the crowd starts booing? It's just that part."
Grappling's not like MMA where, even if you've never taken a karate class, you can still appreciate someone getting kicked in the face. It's not like the NFL where 99.9% of people tuning in to Monday Night Football have never played the sport. There may come a day when jiu jitsu goes mainstream and non-participants show up en masse to watch (and if it does go mainstream, this ADCC will be pointed to as when the tide started to turn), but in 2022, no one flies to Las Vegas for a two day grappling event unless they also train.
This means that nearly every one of the 12,000 people who were in attendance at ADCC train jiu jitsu!
Being in a room with 12,000 other jiu jitsu people created some amazing shared experiences. Take the Super Fight. Eleven minutes in, Gordon passes Andre's half-guard, immediately takes his back, and secures a fully locked body triangle. Two minutes of hand fighting later, Gordon traps Andre's arm in his body triangle.
If you were in the room, you heard the crowd erupt in that moment.
Think about how subtle that move is to the untrained eye. How many people who have never been on the mat would notice the significance of an arm trapped under the leg? But everyone in Thomas and Mack that day has struggled protect their neck from an opponent trying to sink in the rear-naked choke, everyone knew how constricting a fully locked body triangle can be, and everyone knew the inevitability of what happens when the hand fighting goes to two-on-one.
Can you imagine what it's like to be in a room with 12,000 people cheering because ... of a trapped arm?
Another moment from earlier in the tournament: Nick Rodriguez vs. Felipe Pena (you'll have to click through to watch the video – can't embed YouTube shorts here). You probably know that Nick went on a darkhorse run to take the +99 silver medal in 2019 with less than a year of jiu jitsu under his belt. So now he's back in 2022 with 4x more training, and he's going against Pena, who's the odds-on favorite to meet Gordon in the finals. Nick's the underdog here.
If you follow Nick on IG, you also know that he sells an instructional called Rody Lock: The Nick Rodriguez Body Lock System.
Again, think about how subtle a body lock pass is to the untrained observer: you're hugging your opponent parallel to their body, legs sort of tangled up, then you move perpendicular to their body. No one's getting excited about that progression unless they've trained. But at ADCC, in front of twelve thousand jiu jitsu people, Nick Rodriguez executed his signature move to score three points against a living-legend and the crowd went fucking wild.
This happened all weekend – a whole bunch of people getting excited about stuff that only jiu jitsu people get excited about. Practicing jiu jitsu typically means trying to explain this weird hobby to friends and family who just don't get it because it's impossible to get it unless you train. For two days in Las Vegas, we were in a room with 12,000 people who were all in on the joke. For two days, we were swimming in a sea of jiu jitsu people.
Like most arenas, Thomas and Mack has a concourse running its perimeter where you'll find the restaurants and bathrooms. I stepped out onto the concourse to grab some food on Saturday afternoon and saw Chewie standing there.
Now, of course, Chewie is a real person. But I've spent so much time watching his YouTube and Instagram videos that it took my brain a second to register seeing him in 3D. I walk up, introduce myself, and we're chatting about how cool it is to see so many jiu jitsu people in one place when I look over his shoulder and see Jon Thomas approaching. I point him out, Chewie turns around and says, "Hey, it's another Internet person!" I snapped this photo.
I posted this photo to /r/bjj shortly afterwards, and it ended up being the highest upvoted post during ADCC weekend. This comment was an interesting take:
Indeed, some of the most popular folks at ADCC weren't the competitors themselves, but the Internet People. People like Rob from McDojo Life, who has nearly 500k followers on Instagram. Talking with Rob about the similarities between martial arts cults and religious cults is one of my favorite memories of ADCC.
It was fun watching Rob film a collab with Chewie at the Future Kimonos booth under the premise of "Rob shows Chewie a bullshido move, Chewie shows Rob a move that actually works," – a great play on their respective schticks.
And just as another example of 1.) this being a weird hobby 2) the joys of being around jiu jitsu people – it takes two minutes for these two to go from, "We get to meet in person finally," to Rob mounting Chewie and Chewie digging his thumbs into Rob's calves while Rob says "Gallbladder me, baby!"
Rob also filmed a very funny video with Jocko Willink , whose company Jocko Fuel was a main sponsor of the event. Jocko was hanging out all weekend, as was his podcasting partner Echo Charles, who has the dopest arm tattoos I've ever seen. (Many years ago, Jocko's writing convinced me to get up at 4:30 for a prolonged period of time.)
Obviously, it was a huge honor for me to meet Bernardo and Michael from BJJ Fanatics, the men most responsible for the top athletes being able to make a living doing this sport.
While you won't recognize his face, you probably know the work of Connor Jaschen who leads the FloGrappling social media team and was responsible for the very fast and high quality updates from Flo's social channels that weekend.
None of these people are what you'd call real-world famous. But in Thomas and Mack that day, seemingly everyone knew who they were or had benefitted from their work. They're jiu jitsu famous. And they were all willing to stop for a selfie and a chat with anyone who asked.
In addition to the Internet People, ADCC was packed with living legends of the sport. It'd take too much time to tell the stories of these folks, but here's some of the faces walking around ADCC 2022.
Again, I can't overstate how kind and approachable everyone was.
There may come a day when jiu jitsu goes mainstream – but until then fans of this sport benefit from athletes who are incredibly accessible and kind.
I'm pressing publish on this post two weeks after ADCC, and I still struggle to find the words to express how special this event was. It felt like being present for history in the making. It's an event we'll look back on in a decade and say, "That's when it all started to change."
Mo Jassim and Seth Daniels will have a place in grappling history as two of the men who willed ADCC 2022 into existence. This photo was taken just after the medals ceremony concluded, around midnight on Sunday. Neither of these guys had a full night's sleep in a week.
Mo and Seth worked alongside dozens of others over the last three years to make this event a reality. ADCC 2022 wasn't perfect, but it was great – the greatest this sport has had – and it was an honor to be there in person. If Mo gets the nod as head organizer again in 2024, I can't recommend highly enough that you make the pilgrimage to see it in person.