Complete Guide to the BJJ Tournament Circuit

Competing in Jiu Jitsu tournaments can be confusing. There are so many different tournament organizers these days that it can be hard to figure out which tournaments are a good fit for your skill level and interests.

I get asked a lot about how to prepare for a BJJ tournament, so I decided I’d put together this post that covers how to find tournaments near you and the pros and cons of all of the major organizations like the IBJJF, NAGA, and more.

Things to Know Before Competing

If you’ve decide that you want to compete in a Jiu Jitsu tournaments, there are two main things you should be thinking about when you’re selecting a tournament. You will want to decide whether you’re going to:

  • Compete in Gi or No Gi
  • Compete for a big organization (like the IBJJF) or a small organization (like a one-off local event).

Gi and No Gi

There is a huge difference between Gi and No-Gi Jiu Jitsu. Gi Jiu Jitsu is a more diverse style of grappling due to the wide variety techniques involving the gi. Grappling in the gi is quickly evolving, for example Keenan Cornelius’ American Jiu Jitsu style of lapel guard is a technique that you would almost never see 5 years ago, but now is very common at all tournaments. No-Gi on the other hand is a faster style of grappling, where athleticism can be a big advantage.

Competing in Gi or No-Gi really depends on the style of grappling you normally train. If you don’t train in one style, obviously don’t enter into that division unless you’re looking for a serious challenge. I personally recommend training both styles, and signing up for both the Gi and No-Gi bracket in a tournaments allows you to get a ton of rolls in. Some tournaments also give you a discount on the second bracket if you compete in both.

If you’re entering the Gi division, make sure your uniform meets the standards of the tournament organizer. For example the IBJJF only allows white, blue, and black gis. If you’re entering the No-Gi division, you’ll need a pair of fight shorts and a rashguard. Again, check the organizer’s rules to make sure your gear meets their requirements (for example, in most No-Gi events they won’t let you compete in shorts that have pockets).

Big Organizations vs Small Organizations

With Jiu Jitsu tournaments, there’s a huge difference between big organizations like the IBJJF and a smaller local tournament.

Competing in a bigger tournament that is run by a federation like the IBJJF is more of a commitment than signing up for a locally run tournament. With bigger tournaments run by federations, on top of paying to compete you’ll usually also have to buy a federation membership. In smaller tournaments, you just pay and compete.

The competition at tournaments organized by big organizations is also usually tougher. This is because the people that compete at them are trying to advance in something like competing at Worlds (we’ll talk about how qualifying for events like Worlds later in this post). Not to say competition at local tourneys aren’t tough, but they’re really more of an avenue for fighters to gain experience. There will be a lot more variance in a local tournament, you might have a super tough opponent or you might have a shallow division with only a few competitiors.

Money and Prizes in BJJ Tournaments

If your goal is to win money at BJJ competitions, then I’ve got some bad news for you. There really isn’t much money in this sport, at least if you aren’t competing at a high level. Unless you’re super talented, it is going to take years for you to make money off of doing Jiu Jitsu and even then it will be a hard road if you’re trying to rely on it as your sole source of income

Take the IBJJF for example. They are touted as “the top federation in Jiu Jitsu,” but they are known for being really stingy with pay.

At the last World Championship, the IBJJF paid winners between $2k-$7k depending on how many were in each division. To get $7k, there would need to be at least 33 people in that division. That means you could be competing in over 12 matches to try and get $7k.

Absolute division world champ gets $10k. In my opinion, with how much money the IBJJF makes in federation fees and tournament registration fees, that level of fighter pay is insultingly low.

But at the end of the day, the IBJJF is a for-profit organization and the world’s top Jiu Jitsu circuit. So until another organization comes around that pays more, Jiu Jitsu athletes don’t have much of an option.

There are a few other tournaments out there that pay prize money, including the World Series of Jiu Jitsu.

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The bottom line though is you aren’t going to get rich competing in Jiu Jitsu tournaments, even if you’re one of the top athletes in the sport. Most of the BJJ competitors that are making any sort of living are earning money from sponsors, making instructional videos, or from the occasional superfight.

The International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF)

We might as well start off with the biggest Jiu Jitsu organization in the world. The International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) was founded by Carlson Gracie Jr in 2002. It was made as a for-profit company and now hosts the biggest Jiu Jitsu tournaments in the world.

Before the IBJJF, there was the Confederação Brasileira de Jiu-Jitsu (CBJJ), whose rule set the IBJJF adopted. The CBJJ only runs events in Brazil and the IBJJF wanted to take Jiu Jitsu and put it on a world stage.

Since being founded in 2002, the IBJJF is now the biggest Jiu Jitsu federation in the world. They run the most tournaments every year, on nearly every continent. 

On top of being the biggest organization, they also host various championship tournaments. If you want to compete in the biggest tournaments in the world, you will have to go through the IBJJF.

IBJJF’s Biggest Tournaments

  • The World Jiu Jitsu Championship (commonly called “Worlds”): The IBJJF hosts the World Jiu Jitsu Championship, which is the biggest Gi championship in the world. To compete in this tournament you must qualify by winning one of the various open tournaments they have throughout the year. After you do this you are eligible to register to compete at worlds held in Long Beach, California.
  • World No Gi Championship (commonly called “No-Gi Worlds”): They also run a separate event for the No Gi World Championship. Much like the Gi championship, you must qualify to compete in this event that is also held in Long Beach.
  • Masters World Championship (commonly called “Masters Worlds”): The Masters World Championship is the world championship for masters level competitors ages 30 and up. IBJJF holds this competition annually in Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • Pan Jiu Jitsu Championship (commonly called “Pans”) The Pan Jiu Jitsu Championship is the national US tournament held annually in Irvine, California. Right under Worlds it is the biggest tournament in the US.
  • European Championship: Every year in Lisbon, Portugal, the IBJJF holds the European Championship. It is the equivalent to Pans for Europe.

How to compete in IBJJF tournaments?

To compete in IBJJF tournaments, you must register to be part of the organization. They make you pay for an annual membership to compete for the organization on top of tournament fees.

It can get expensive fast if you want to compete in IBJJF tournaments. But if you want to compete at a high level and qualify for tournaments like Worlds, you just have to bite the bullet and pay the costs.

IBJJF Regulations

On top of being the biggest BJJ organization, they are also known for being the most fickle. They are one of the strictest organizations to compete for and you have to follow their rules to a T.

The IBJJF has strict regulations for everything from competition uniforms, weighing in, and techniques allowed. If you aren’t wearing a regulation gi or it isn’t up to their specs that is an automatic DQ. Even at weigh-ins if you are off weight by .1 of a pound, they’ll DQ you.

For leg lockers, trying to compete in an IBJJF tournament can be a nightmare. They are very strict about the techniques they allow and officials have made numerous ridiculous rulings. 

One common cheap trick at IBJJF tournaments is competitors forcing opponents to reap their knee. The referee will automatically disqualify a competitor for this infraction. This notably happened to Keenan Corelius in 2018 at an IBJJF competition. 

The IBJJF will immediately DQ you for any of these infractions, so be cautious and go over their rules carefully.

UAE Jiu Jitsu Federation

Behind the IBJJF, the United Arab Emirates Jiu Jitsu Federation (UAEJJF) is another organization that you’ll see top athletes competing at. They don’t run as many tournaments as the IBJJF, but the world’s most elite grapplers also compete for the UAEJJF. If you qualify for their World Cup, you have the chance to win big money at that tournament.

While it isn’t the biggest organization, they are supported by one of the richest people in the world. The UAEJJF is overseen by Sheik Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. So they certainly have some deep pockets and can afford to dish our large prizes for competitors.

Just last year, they ran a number of pro series 8 person tournaments giving each winner over $10k. These tournaments are fantastically run. If you ever have the chance to compete with the UAEJJF, definitely take it.

World Professional Jiu Jitsu Cup

The UAEJJF’s biggest event of the year is the World Professional Jiu Jitsu Cup. To compete at this tournament you must win at a series of their qualifying tournaments to be eligible to compete here. If you do qualify, you will earn a flight to Abu Dhabi to compete for their world title.

UAEJJF Regulations

Like the IBJJF, you have to register with the federation in order to compete in their tournaments. This is also not counting the fee to register for each tournament. Again it can get expensive, but it’s just something you have to deal with if you want to compete.

The good thing is, they aren’t as strict as IBJJF with weigh-ins. IBJJF makes you weigh-in right before your match in your gi, while UAEJJF does their weigh-ins an hour before. You also don’t have to wear a gi, when you weigh in.

ADCC

Without a doubt, the premiere No Gi grappling championship in the world is the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC). Every two years, this event is held at a different location and draws the best grapplers in the world.

Each division winner gets $10k and absolute division winners get $40k. Every grappler wants to have the title ADCC champion next to their name. Winning an ADCC medal cements an athlete’s name as one of the best of their generation.

ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship

The ADCC’s flagship event is their Submission Wrestling World Championship. To earn entry, black belt grapplers need to qualify at different qualifier events.

Unless you’re on the level of someone like Gordon Ryan, then you probably aren’t going to make it to ADCC since there are so few spots and they are hotly contested. That said, you can still compete at the 2-3 qualifying tournaments in the US that ADCC runs before each event. These tournaments also have lower level grappling divisions for those that want to compete but don’t have your eyes set on ADCC gold.

NAGA

The North American Grappling Association (NAGA) probably runs the most Jiu Jitsu tournaments in North America. They host a huge amount of events, going to nearly every major city at least once or twice per year.

NAGA runs really fun tournaments no matter your age or skill level. Higher level division winners are awarded actual championship belts for winning. Higher level kids get samurai swords for winning (sorry adults, no samurai swords for you).

Just for registering for the event, NAGA gives you a complimentary tournament shirt. At these tournaments, you’re going to have fun and get a lot of experience.

NAGA World Championship

If you compete and win enough smaller tournaments, you can compete at the NAGA World Championship. At the end of the year if you qualify, you can go compete for your chance to be NAGA world champion.

NAGA Regulations

The structure for NAGA matches are a little weird and differ greatly between Gi and No-Gi. Rules of each type of match are completely different from one another.

In No-Gi matches, you can earn 1 or 2 points from different moves. They award 2 points for takedowns, sweeps, and dominant positions, but just 1 point for submission attempts. Gi matches are similar to IBJJF rules, and use different rulesets for techniques depending on belt rank (mostly to prevent white belts from hurting each other with cranks and leg locks).

If you want to compete in a No-Gi division at NAGA and are above a year experience, tread lightly. All submissions are legal and people that do foot locks love going to NAGA events.

Fight 2 Win

Fight 2 Win is one of the most popular promotions these days. They are taking more of a UFC style approach to Jiu Jitsu events. Their shows feature high-level athletes and excellent production value, with professional level lights and sound.

Everyone from elite competitors to up and coming kids can compete on the show (you have to apply ahead of time of course). Fight 2 Win goes to all the major cities, and I highly recommend checking out one of their shows when they come to your area. Their team does a nice job keeping the action fast paced and does live up to their nickname of “the biggest party in grappling.”

Fight 2 Win Titles and Belts

There really isn’t one F2W event that is bigger than the others. Each card typically has a main event that is for one of the Fight 2 Win belts. Names like Rafael Lovato Jr and Caio Terra hold titles for this promotion.

Fight 2 Win’s ruleset varies but usually heavily rewards submission attempts. This can be confusing for competitors who are used to IBJJF rules and think that they should win a match for passing the guard or holding top position. I’ve definitely seen some Fight 2 Win matches awarded to the athlete in bottom side control who kept going for hail mary submissions. If you ever compete for this organization, make sure you heavily study the rules in advance.

One of the nice parts about Fight 2 Win is their transparency. They publish how much fighters were paid after each event, and the head of the organization is a black belt who occasionally competes on his own cards (Seth Daniels).

Tap Cancer Out 

If you want to roll at a tournament where half of the proceeds go to a good cause, this is it. Tap Cancer Out is another BJJ promotion that has tournaments across the country. They donate half of the entry fees from each event to Alex’s Lemonade Stand, an organization that helps treat and cure children with cancer.

Since Tap Cancer Out started, they have paid out over $2 million dollars to various foundations. If you want to be part of a great cause and compete, then definitely check out Tap Cancer Out. Their events are super laid back, everyone is having a good time, and it’s the perfect first tournament if you are new to competing.

Marianas Open

If you want to organize a vacation around a BJJ tournament, then you should check out the Marianas Open. This popular tournament series is held in Guam and consists of two events. The Marianas Open is a Gi tournament, and the Copa de Marianas has Gi and No-Gi divisions.

The Marianas Open publishes a super detailed rulebook that I would recommend reviewing even if you don’t make it to Guam to compete in their event.

Grappling Industries

Grappling Industries holds both Gi and No-Gi tournaments almost every month somewhere in the country. They’ve been around for a while, and run quality events.

A great thing about Grappling Industries tournaments is that they are relatively cheap to enter, and they give you a ton of opportunities to get on the mats thanks to their round-robin style. You’re going to get lots of rolls in when you compete at one of their tournaments. Definitely a tournament you should check out if you want to get some experience and compete in a bunch of matches.

How do I Find Jiu Jitsu Tournaments Near Me?

There are always new BJJ tournament promotions popping up, and my post here isn’t a fully comprehensive list. One of the best ways to find upcoming events is to check out Smoothcomp.

Smoothcomp keeps a full list of all of the upcoming BJJ tournaments from around the world. You can create an account either as an event organizer, coach, or competitor. 

Their website will give you a heads up on any tournament coming near you and provide links to register for them. If you create an account or just frequently check their site, you’ll never miss out on another tournament in your area again.

Hopefully this article helped you learn more about the Jiu Jitsu tournament circuit, and now you can go find a BJJ tournament near you to compete in!

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