Professional Grappling Federation: Taking Lessons Learned from Other Sports to Bring BJJ to the Casuals

By Egghead Warrior

In the third season of his Professional Grappling Federation (PGF), Brandon “BMAC” Mccaghren has continued to add elements and lessons learned from other sports to craft a product exciting for bjj practitioners and the masses.  In previous seasons, we saw BMAC institute short matches with a rule set to force competitors to hunt for the submission. In the first season, we had a live broadcast on YouTube where fans could interact with the live commentators and each other via chat. In the second season, we saw an increase in the level of competition as BMAC instituted a “The Ultimate Fighter” approach where the entire regular season was filmed over one week which allowed higher caliber competitors from all over the country to join.  In the current iteration of the PGF, BMAC has combined all those features as well as a pre-season through holding six qualifier tournaments where interested parties can vie for a spot in the regular season.  All these efforts should bring submission grappling their own “Shark Week” for one week in November.

BMAC, a 10th Planet Black Belt under Eddie Bravo and owner of 10th Planet Decatur in Alabama, started the PGF as the coronavirus pandemic began.  His first goal was to highlight local grapplers in the Southeast and give them a chance to get experience competing. BMAC has often said competing is a skill all to its own.  Wrestlers get used to competing as they have tournaments every weekend, but many jiu jitsu practitioners get less experience grappling due to the nature of their tournaments happening normally on a less frequent basis. The original format for the PGF had competitors traveling to Decatur, AL every week on Friday to compete in 1-3 matches a night for 12 weeks. BMAC’s first innovation was a scoring system providing great incentives for submissions and chokes over joint locks.  In PGF matches, the competitors only have six minutes to score a submission. A competitor originally received 7 points for a “kill” (choke) or three points for a “break” (any joint lock). This scheme meant a tie was really a loss for both opponents as neither received any points going towards their total which could help secure a spot in the post-season tournament.  Moreover, the bias for kills led to competitors fighting to pass guards and secure chokes rather than just sitting back on leg locks.

The PGF first season was live broadcast on BMAC’s YouTube channel and featured two commentators, Matt Skaff and Lindsay Mccaghren who are both black belts under BMAC.  The YouTube broadcast included a live chat where fans of the PGF and family members of the competitors could interact with the commentators live during the broadcast. This interaction gave fans serious ownership of the PGF, making it feel like a community watching a competition together. As another innovation to grappling, BMAC instituted a fantasy league for the PGF from the outset. This league, just as it has done in the NFL, made almost every match mean something to the fans. With a salary cap format, fans now had skin in the game for so many matches, and the fans would research the competitors to get an advantage.  BMAC leveraged relationships with podcasters to get a weekly pre-show where the podcasters made their fantasy picks live and a blog started a fantasy analysis of its own (truth in advertising – I am that blogger). While this format was wildly entertaining for fans and allowed for live commentary and an awesome fantasy league, it was a grueling trek for the competitors and limited the scope of competitors (kept to those living less than eight hours away for likelihood of showing) – as it was, the first season saw multiple competitors fall out due to the schedule (and some think to how some of the lower belts were showing up some higher belts).

The first iteration of the PGF culminated in a post-season tournament where it was unlimited time matches, submission only. One match lasted more than 74 minutes with no stalling, just complete action.  The post-season tournament gave the fans an uncontroverted champion for the season – Elijah “the Bad Guy” Carlton, who had won the regular season and the post-season tournament.

BMAC took his own lessons learned from the first season and also incorporated ideas from other sports when he crafted the second season.  To gain grapplers from all over the country, BMAC adjusted the weekly grind of season 1 to a “The Ultimate Fighter” styled event where the competitors traveled to Decatur, AL for one week.  This shortened timeframe allowed renowned and remote competitors the likes of Kemoy Anderson (F2W, SUG, etc.), Sam Barbosa (Sapateiro, etc.), Zack “Squidbilly” Edwards (F2W, Subversiv, etc.), and Hunter Colvin (CJJ Worlds, SUG, Polaris, etc.) to join the second season. While this three-match-a-night schedule presented a different gauntlet for competitors, it allowed more competitors to make the commitment to the entire season. Having the competitors there the entire week also provided great opportunities for B roll footage including leadership/life lessons for the competitors from Lonnie Jones, and capturing COLLUSION by teams.  The collusion reference comes from a twist in the second season where the competitors were split into two teams and each team could win an additional point in each block for every member of the team if they received the most points in the block.  This wrinkle allegedly led to a couple of submissions which may have been draws without this incentive.  Also, in season two, the Commish (BMAC) adjusted the scoring, reducing chokes to 6 points which represents only twice the points as a break, but he also instituted “the Elbow Genie Rule” which gave competitors an additional point if they forced a submission in the first minute.  This rule is named for Jonathan “Elbow Genie” Roberts who ruthlessly armbar’d and leglocked competitors with unforeseen efficiency in almost all his matches, but almost missed the playoff tournament due to the overweighting of chokes.  The additional time between the filming and release also allowed the production team to build in tales of the tape and other high production value items, stepping up the viewing experience.  While this season was eminently entertaining, it had to be pre-taped and released in chunks (two matches per opponent, or two blocks) every week which eliminated the live commentary and the interaction amongst the fans and the commentators in real time.

In the current season, BMAC has built upon the first two seasons by including a “pre-season” built around six qualifier tournaments around the country.  As BMAC says, Alabama football fans are not fans fi they just watch the regular season games; Bama fans talk about the team non-stop throughout the year from figuring out which high school prospects may join the team to which team members will shine in the next season.  The qualifiers allow any interested grappler, in this season anyone 170lbs and under, to pay $100 and get a shot at a spot in PGF season 3.  PGF season 3 has 16 regular season spots up for grabs.  Elijah “the Bad Guy” Carlton had an automatic invite to season 3, reducing that number to 15.  And with the six qualifier winners each earning a spot, we have eight spots for “At-Large” bids – or competitors who show up to a qualifier and stand out, regardless of winning, as someone who would make the PGF more exciting.

But beyond building on the PGF with the preseason, BMAC has combined the best of both worlds from the first two seasons.  Much like season 2, season 3’s regular season will be during one week this November; however, like season 1, this season will be live broadcast with live commentary and live fan interaction via the chat on BMAC’s YouTube channel. As one fan put it, it will be the “Shark Week” of submission grappling.  BMAC has said he expects it to be somewhat of a College Gameday affair where the show starts before the matches and the has multiple desks where people breakdown the action before the matches, comment during the matches, and interview the contestants after matches.  It should be an immersive experience for all the fans.

As it stands, the PGF has already held four qualifiers for season 3. Jeovany Ortiz, a black belt out of Jiu Jitsu Nation, won the first qualifier at 10th Planet Decatur, earning the first roster spot. David “Quadzilla” Evers, a purple belt out of 10th Planet Huntsville who also trained under a Renzo Gracie blackbelt previously, earned the first and only At-Large bid to date at that qualifier. Mario Gaor, brown belt out of 10th Planet O’Fallon, won the Lousiville qualifier. Tyler Woolsey, blue belt out of 10th Planet West Palm Beach, won the Fort Myers qualifier. Kevin Sherrill, blue belt out of 10th Planet Atlanta, won the Atlanta qualifier.  These results leave two spots for qualifier winners – the winners of the Jacksonville, FL qualifier which will be held 11 September at 10th Planet Jacksonville and the Austin, TX qualifier which will be held at 10th Planet Austin. More information about these qualifiers and the PGF can be found at pgfhome.com.

Perhaps most importantly for those who are interested in greater exposure in the bjj community, BMAC still has eight at-large bids to award.  He has said at every qualifier, it’s not about who dominates position but who is exciting to watch.  From the beginning, BMAC has said fans like dunks (to borrow from the NBA) and the PGF has been an open-belt format giving lower belts a chance to shine through upsets but also a chance to be posterized for the benefit of the fans and top competitors.  Either way, every lower belted competitor in seasons one and two of the PGF have said it caused their jiu jitsu to expand immensely and it’s provided great opportunities for previously unknown competitors to get super matches and even CJJ title shots in regional competitions.

As a testament to continual process improvement, BMAC has evolved the PGF every step of the way. He has taken an initial outstanding idea and adjusted it incrementally, taking from his own lessons learned and inspirations from other sports. In the end, the PGF stands to present the most exciting submission grappling viewing experience for both practitioners and casual fans alike.

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