Ending Referee's Decisions: It's Time for the IBJJF Rules to Change

Worlds 2018 has come and gone, and like every major tournament, it has brought its fair share of controversy. For what many consider the premiere tournament of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, its rulebook seems to be a constant topic of debate.

One of the biggest issues this year were referee’s decisions. Since the IBJJF rulebook does not include overtime, tied matches are decided by the referee, or referees in finals and black belt matches. The problem with this system is that it leaves it in the hands of the referees, who often disagree on which competitor won since there is no written criteria. While one referee may look for aggressiveness, another may look for who had more control, or who came closer to finishing a submission, or even score on close matches. 

I would love to borrow a page from one of my favorite rule sets, Combat Wrestling. They have the following scoring criteria:

4. In case of equal score, the winner will be determined by the following criteria: A) Wrestler with less cautions wins. B) If neither wrestler has any cautions, or if both wrestlers have equal cautions, the wrestler with the highest scoring takedown will win. C) If neither player has a higher scoring takedown, the player with the most recent takedown score in the match will win. D) In the event the score is still equal, two extensions of 3 minutes are permitted. The wrestler who scores 2 or more points first wins. E) If the match finishes without a clear winner, the three match judges (center referee, table judge and mat side judge) will vote to declare a winner based on his performance (criteria being activity and attempts to finish the match).

In BJJ, all takedowns score two points. But what about rewarding someone for reaching mount and back mount? So if a player scores a sweep and back take (6 points) and is tied vs someone scoring two guard passes (6 points), the player that scored the back take should win. Another part of this criteria I love is that last score wins. This creates exciting matches, as scoring a takedown or sweep first does not let you stall because if you are swept back you will lose the match. This forces you to keep working, and gives a sense of urgency that is sorely lacking in sport BJJ.

Another BJJ specific criteria that could be added is that if a player pulls guard, thereby negating any takedown attempts from his opponent, and the match ends in a tie, the player that pulls guard would lose. The sentiment of penalizing guard pulling has been around for awhile. From giving up a point or an advantage, this would accomplish something similar, and it will only come into play in tied matches. It could be the last scoring criteria.

My final point is about overtime, which could be an article in itself. How should overtime in BJJ be implemented? Should it be saved only for black belt matches, or only for finals? Should it be a 5 minute extension and first score wins, a “golden score” if you will? Or should players start by taking turns starting in guard so they each get a turn to score? If you get your guard passed, you lose automatically, similar to what college football does. Or should we go full EBI and look for the submission? All these options have their advantages and drawbacks. Golden score may benefit a player with better takedowns, while the second gives the nod to players with a better guard, and finally the EBI over time gives a chance to players with better defense and control in those key positions. They will get the nod, even if they were not able to achieve them during a match, which some detractors find unfair.

I have not stepped on an IBJJF mat for four years, though I still love watching BJJ competitions, and I think it has been instrumental on the growth of the sport. But I think everyone agrees the rule book could use some changes. Why not start by finally listening to the common sentiment of “don’t leave it up to the judges”? A scoring criteria and overtime would put the outcome of close matches back in the hands of the competitors, where it should be.



Nelson Puentes

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