Combat sports as a whole are in a very intriguing place. Mixed martial arts has reached a place of growing pains, boxing has grown stagnant for decades, and other niche combat sports are struggling to grow in any form. However, there seems to be a space for competitive grappling as the industry has continued down the slow and steady path to growth. More promotions continue to spring up with the intention of creating a platform for the sport’s best athletes to face off. In less than a year, KASAI has become one of the prominent promotions in the industry and under the leadership of Rich Byrne and co that status doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.
“Jiu Jitsu as a sport overall is the fastest growing sport in the world right now, certainly in the United States. The growth is breathtaking,” Byrne said. “I think that BJJ competitors are some of the best athletes in the world. One of the primary geneses of KASAI was to give a stage to these guys. I think if you can do submission grappling right, with more exciting rules, formats, etc I think you can create a fan experience that is way better.”
And build a stage for competitive grappling is exactly what KASAI has been able to do. On August 18 the promotion is set to put forth their third offering and as with their previous two cards, KASAI continues to outperform themselves time and time again.
KASAI Pro 3 features an eight-man, round-robin tournament that features Renato Canuto, Vagner Rocha, Marcin Held, PJ Barch, Matheus Lutes, Masahiro Iwasaki, Michael Perez and Jason Rau. As if that wasn’t enough, fans will get to see a main card that includes bouts with the likes of Craig Jones, Rousimar Palhares, AJ Agazarm, Gianni Grippo, and Jon Calestine. Plus, there’s an undercard with some top competitors that you may not have heard of. This is the type of fan friendly event that caters to not only the hardcore grappling fan, but has the potential to bring in mainstream sports fans as well.
“Part of the reason why tournaments aren’t very popular as a fan experience is that they aren’t exciting to watch,” Byrne said. “Tournaments are frankly boring if you don’t know or understand the rules. I think it’s a perfect storm for the opportunity to connect if you can do it right and create an experience for the fans that not just BJJ fans will watch. But MMA fans as well. That’s our goal. We’ve been able to achieve that. The crowd gets bigger and the non BJJ fan base grows.”
Which is exactly what competitive grappling as a whole needs at this time to continue to grow. Those that are readily interested in the martial art are going to consume whatever major grappling promotions are available, such as the Eddie Bravo Invitational, Polaris, ACBJJ, Quintet and more. KASAI is working hard to differentiate itself, while borrowing some of the best elements that are found within its competitors.
So far, KASAI has stood out by involving some of the biggest names and matchups within the sport that other promotions have not been able to successfully create. For example, KASAI Pro 2 featured the bout between Nicky Ryan and Geo Martinez – a contest that has been talked about for more than a year, but never realized. The first event featured ADCC Champion Gordon Ryan, Nicky’s older brother, against another ADCC Champion in Yuri Simoes; along with a much anticipated rematch between Murilo Santana and Craig Jones. These are the type of fights that captivate not only the hardcore audience, but those that are looking for a gateway into competitive grappling.
“When he gives you a call and asks you about a fight – any fighter around the world will take that fight when he asks,” Byrne said.
One of the more important conversations going on within competitive grappling today surrounds the idea of fighter pay. Many of these athletes consider themselves professionals, but have a hard time finding opportunities to draw the type of paydays to sustain themselves. As with other brands in the sport, KASAI is looking to improve the marketplace by finding ways to pay competitors a fair share when they step onto their mats to perform.
“We generally pay $20,000 in prize money for the tournament. The rest is for performances around the night. We have to pay guys in the superfight as well,” Byrne said. “There’s only so much that you can pay in grappling until you grow the audience. That’s what we are trying to do – grow the audience. Our objective is to grow the audience so there’s more money in the system and we can afford to pay more.”
With its different take on rules and focusing on the creating the matchups that fans want to see, KASAI has already established itself as one of the prominent promotions within the competitive grappling space. The most important part of the equation is that this brand has the leadership behind it that’s focused on building up the promotion through slow growth and leveraging what is working across the sports industry.
“We watch everything that everybody does and we believe that we stand out,” Byrne said. “All this takes TLC and money. We are willing to make those investments because we are in this for the long haul. As we learn how to do this our shows will get better and better.”
KASAI Pro 3 is scheduled for August 18 from the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. The event will be broadcast on FloGrappling and previous events are there for streaming on demand. For more information visit the organization’s official website.