Two-Time No-Gi World Champion & Atos Black Belt Josh Hinger recently gave an interview where the topic of Gordon Ryan and other modern black belts using trash talk to try to sell fights and build interest was brought up. Instead of embracing this promotional tactic, Josh pushes back and instead advocates for a more respectful path. In the interview with Jiu Jitsu Times, Hinger says,
“I have a very unique perspective on this because I know for a fact that these guys are just trying to play it up and get paid. They’re not really assholes that they come off to be. Everyone knows Gordon is a nice guy. I follow Tom DeBlass a lot and Tom is always defending Gordon as a really nice guy, and I think he’s telling the truth. And Gordon’s said it publicly too — that if we’re going to draw people to the sport, we have to make it entertaining. That’s what he’s trying to do, he’s trying to be entertaining.“
There’s a few points made here that deserve some thought. Pretty much everyone who works with him privately agrees that Gordon is professional and polite. In public, when it comes time to sell a fight, he is making call outs, giving himself nicknames, and walking around tournaments wearing a crown and cape. Still, grapplers (and many athletes in other sports) often have very different public and private personas.
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This is usually done for one of two reasons, either entertainment or advantage. All sports that make money act as spectator sports, where people who don’t actively do the sport watch it and keep up with it. Right now, BJJ doesn’t have that, it’s watched and followed by other practitioners. We as a sport compete with other passtimes for people’s attention and money, and if people think there’s a grudge or negative feeling, they may work harder to tune in.
Beyond just bringing buzz and energy to a fight, some athletes need this alter-ego to compete, a version of themself that emphasizes the good parts and forgets the weaknesses. For some, trash talk is a part of this too, and it’s every bit as important to their mindset as any other mental activity leading up to a big bout. Hinger continues;
“I’m not willing to sell my character for a paycheck. I’m not willing to be a dickhead in public to be paid. I can be a nice guy, and I believe that. I teach kids, and I love my kids. I love them like they’re my own kids. I would never want them to see me act like that. Little girls, seven-year-old girls, sweetest girls ever. They look up to me. And the parents tell me that. And I would never ever ever want them to see me acting like that. There’s too many sh*theads in the world — the last thing we need are nice people acting like sh*theads. I get paid just fine. I’ve been making a living off jiu-jitsu for four years. I’ve made more money every consecutive year. I don’t need to be an as*hole to sell matches. My jiu-jitsu is good. I have 100 wins, 70 of them are submissions. I don’t need to be a dickhead. I would rather be a motivational person than be a dickhead just to get paid, to get a $10,000-match. I understand why they do it, I just don’t agree with it. It’s not my style.”
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Hinger’s main argument is here, where he says that people shouldn’t try to be something they aren’t, and that the sport is growing just fine without this added, unnecessary antagonism. He’s got a point. BJJ is growing all the time, more people join our sport every day, and the events and tournaments keep growing. Still, we remain an insular community without much crossover appeal. Josh, and all our BJJ athletes, deserve to be paid for their skill and committment to this martial art, and not just with teaching jobs, but for their fighting.
Right now, for most, teaching is the way to make money in BJJ, showing everyone else the same gentle art you are studying. When you are a teacher, you’re a rolemodel and you should act like it, by setting a proper example of respectful behavior. But, one day, BJJ will break through to the masses as a sport. Not just as a part of MMA, not just as that weird Royce Gracie thing, but as a viable entertainment option like football or baseball. While those numbers are certainly way off in the future, we need athletes pushing that envelope and bringing new eyes to grappling. The most proven ways? Exciting fights (which both Josh and Gordon put on regularly) and fights that people care to see, which is where the trash talk comes in.
Regardless of all of this, no one should go out and look to pick fights with people in the name of “making a name”. Fighters like Gordon were winning major events before they ever started a more gimmicked approach, and the last thing BJJ needs is a slew of lower belts trying to emulate him with meaningless callouts of their peers. For everyone in the gym right now, keep training, be entertained, and support our pros as they work hard to expand the landscape for all of us.
In the span of about 18 months: Gordon Ryan Went From 163 Lbs To 232 Lbs & Back To 194 LBS & Transformed Himself From a Relatively Unknown Grappler To The Best No Gi Grappler On Earth