Two announcements were made recently that are definitely intertwined, but after some thought I decided on two separate articles. To start with, on January 17 was the announcement that FloSports announced a multi fight, seven figure deal with top ranked submission grappling superstar Gordon Ryan.
Firstly, congrats to Gordan Ryan. I will acknowledge Gordon as the best of the current generation of Jiu Jitsu athletes and additionally the most bankable one. He’s earned a big payday and he’s rightfully excited to be the first (and hopefully not last) athlete to be able to score that kind of deal. It’s a big moment in Jiu Jitsu and Submission Grappling.
However, I also have a healthy dose of skepticism that comes with the announcement, and none of it is directed at Gordon Ryan. Firstly, the announcement is vague in the sense it doesn’t make mention of what the exact deal is. We don’t know what the actual figure is and for how may fights the contract is for. For all we know it could be 1000 matches at $1000 each or some other ridiculous figure.
This is coming from someone who has been around for a minute and I’ve seen some of the big paydays come and vanish as they ultimately were not sustainable. I’m all for the athletes making as much money as possible, but if the promoter is losing money the paychecks cannot last. There are a number of events in the space of Jiu Jitsu such as Metamoris that have proved this and a number of other leagues that have had the same issue.
Not even a year ago, Andre Galvao was called out for demanding a million dollar paycheck in order to fight Gordon Ryan in a superfight at ADCC, which was a number labeled highly unrealistic by the promoters as it was more than the entire revenue for a sell out ADCC. (To be fair the response was from Mo Jassim and not Flo who had the broadcast rights). Still if the biggest grappling show on the planet couldn’t sustain that type of payday a year ago, what changed with Flo.
FloGrappling definitely has an issue on it’s hands as five days after the Gordon Ryan announcement UFC Fight Pass announced it secured the rights to ADCC, which is surely the biggest show in Submission Grappling and what launched Gordon into superstardom. Despite how they spin things, this will surely affect their revenue and the timing of the announcements could not have been coincidental.
Despite losing ADCC (and Fight2Win which I love, but in comparison is a negligible impact to Flo), Flo still has the IBJJF for now, but you could make the strong argument that the fate of the company rests largely in the hands of Gordon Ryan. Can he carry the network and earn that paycheck?
Make no mistake about this: Gordon Ryan sells tickets and Gordon Ryan gets views. Whatever you think of his persona off of the mat he delivers the goods on the mat. Want proof?
Check out the YouTube channel of World’s Strongest Man 2019 Martins Licis, which has a respectable 205K subscribers with videos which tend to get 30-70K views. Gordon Ryan’s appearance delivered 472K views and counting at the time of this article, which is more than double the subscriber base. (Side note, Martins Licis is talking about doing Jiu Jitsu and as a huge fan of his I’d love to see it).
Still free views on YouTube doesn’t necessarily translate to PPV buys, or in Flo’s case, a paid subscription base that would support that contract that Gordon signed. In order to sell fights, one person’s superstardom is never enough, you need a compelling rivalry to draw sales.
Here in lies Gordon Ryan’s issue and maybe the only potential threat to his legacy: he has conquered his potential rivals so thoroughly it’s hard to find his matches compelling anymore. His performance at ADCC was unprecedented and epic in that he won both his division and the super fight, however as Andre Galvao is past his prime competition years it was considered by many a foregone conclusion. His upcoming super fight (and presumably the first match on his new contact with Flo) might be the fourth match in a rare rivalry that Gordon is losing, but their careers are going in such opposite directions that I don’t think many pundits (including myself) give Pena much of a chance on the match. It takes two to promote a fight, that is a universal rule in combat sports and while Gordon absolutely promotes, he also buries his competition rather thoroughly without much of a response. His handing off predictions of how he will finish its certainly novel and entertaining, but again, is it enough to continue to sell tickets.
Gordon Ryan’s closest and most compelling match up against Nicky Rodriguez occurred on another network (UFC Fightpass), the same place where the most epic match ups in Submission Grappling will occur in ADCC. There is a some off the mat drama and intrigue that will likely sell the match for awhile if it has an appearance of being competitive. Supposedly Mason Fowler winning the UFC Fight Pass tournament sets him up for a match against Gordon Ryan, but again, different network, and at least that is a different match up. Kaynan Duarte looked like a potential contender after his ADCC performance, but Gordon has flat out said he refused to fight him based on a past beef.
Still, now with a large contract to fulfill Gordon might not be able to make those calls on his opponent. Flo now has to build up or sign other stars that are worthy of a match up against Gordon Ryan to sell subscriptions and similar to Andre Galvao’s demand they would certainly be within their rights to demand a large payday as well. This isn’t necessarily Gordon Ryan’s issue as long as Flo generates the revenue to cover his paycheck. Still Gordon is in the driver’s seat as his deal is reportedly non-exclusive.
Gordon Ryan certainly deserves his payday and he is certainly kicking down the doors for all competitive grappling and the athletes.
The hope is that Gordan’s payday is a pioneering moment in our sport, and not a unicorn one. Time will tell.