Few experienced observers were surprised that 8 time IBJJF champ and ADCC gold medalist Beatriz Mesquita walked away with the championship belt at the 16th iteration of the Eddie Bravo Invitational. A quick glance at her record; enough black belt division IBJJF medals to sink a small boat, along with her first place at ADCC, should have been enough to let anyone familiar with the world of grappling know that she was the likely winner.
What was surprising, even to those of us who saw her as a clear favorite going into the tournament, was the speed and ease with which she was able to run through the division of female grapplers arrayed against her. Mesquita methodically destroyed opponent after opponent, submitting her first three in regulation, and the fourth in OT, securing an armbar in just four seconds.
However, the impressiveness of her achievement falls apart somewhat if you closely examine the records of her opponents. While this takes nothing away from Mesquita, EBI 16 more closely resembled a high level grappler showing up to clean up an expert division at a regional tournament than the shark tank of up-and-coming talents of prior EBI tournaments.
EBI has always featured matches that seemed to fall into “can-crushing” territory, but the skill disparity on display in this particular tournament seemed to defy good taste. In her first match, Mesquita faced Miri Niedrauer, a purple belt competing out of Impact Zone, a small ATOS affiliate in Indiana run by a brown belt. In contrast, Mesquita had been a black belt for seven years and won championships at the highest level.
The ADCC champ sliced through the young army vet with ease, quickly pulling guard and pendulum sweeping Niedrauer to mount. The younger, more inexperienced grappler clasped her hands around Mesquita’s waist from the bottom position, a rookie move to be pulling on one of the best grapplers in her weight class. It wasn’t long till Mesquita had Niedrauer fighting to survive, in a kimura that morphed into a straight armbar that Neidrauer tapped to, just a little under two minutes into the round.
Amanda Leve, an amateur MMA fighter best known for a viral video of her choking out a boy in a 2012 grappling competition, lasted a few minutes longer against Mesquita. Leve hunkered down in guard, seemingly waiting out the clock as Mesquita patiently positioned herself for a triangle choke. Once the triangle had been slapped on, it was a matter of moments before Leve tapped. A world champion fighting a purple belt, and then a regional competitor best known from a viral video in 2012 is hard to justify as high level competition.
It wasn’t until the semi-finals that Mesquita faced a woman who would be allowed into her division at an IBJJF tournament: Luanna Alzuguir, an ADCC and multiple time IBJJF world champ. Mesquita was able to secure another regulation period victory, submitting the Marco Barbosa black belt by triangle at 7:45.
In the finals, Mesquita took on Bianca Basilio, an ADCC vet who had been on her own parallel tear through her side of the bracket. The two had competed against each other multiple times in the past, with Mesquita always emerging as the victor. Most recently they had met in ADCC where Mesquita had secured victory over Basilio via RNC. In this incarnation of EBI, Basilio was able to hold off Mesquita long enough to take her to overtime, where she lost by triangle.
Mesquita is a prodigious talent, who deserves every bit of the $15,000 she will receive for her winnings. That said, the only women in her division who deserved to be in there with her were Basilio and Alzuguir. At most, this should have been a 4-woman bracket, not a full EBI tournament.
The fault lies in the organizers of the event. Overall skill level has dropped in recent EBI tournaments. High level competitors have learned that the pay structure, where only the tournament winner receives financial compensation and then only for matches won within regulation time means it’s often not worth risking their bodies. A competitor can win every match in overtime and get nothing, or win three matches in regulation but lose in the final and get nothing. The risks for injury are high because of the heel-hook friendly rules and the overtime rules just end up rewarding those who can hold onto back control the longest.
With all this at play, there is no wonder that EBI is struggling to attract higher level talent. The fact that they have helped to raise the level of sub-only grappling shows is undeniable, but so long as they cannot offer better financial incentives, they will not be the biggest show in town. With shows like Kasai, Polaris and Quintet nipping on their heels, their days as the pre-eminent sub only grappling venue are numbered. 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu grandmaster and eponymous EBI founder Eddie Bravo must either reform their compensation system, or watch as the burgeoning super-fight oriented grappling movement passes him by.