One of the first things you're taught in jiu-jitsu is respect. You are taught to respect your coach, your opponents, the art and yourself. This is one reason why the sport has such a good reputation and so many different types of people partake in it.
However, with any competition, tempers can rise and people will make mistakes, evidenced by what happened at Fight To Win Pro 14 this past weekend.
AJ Agazarm and Vagner Rocha were on stage competing in a black belt superfight, when Rocha first threw a punch at Agazarm, then kicked him off the stage into the crowd during the opening seconds of the match. Leading up to the event, both competitors engaged in trash talking each other. After the physical altercation, the match, which was headlining the event, was resumed at the discretion of the promoter, Seth Daniels, who issued a warning for both competitors to behave. The match lasted a total of 10 minutes, and Rocha was declared the winner via unanimous decision. Daniels announced later that the decision had been overturned and the match was ruled a no contest.
What people don't see in this video is that Agazarm had been lobbying verbal jabs at Rocha leading up to the bout; this moment had been building and respect is a two way street. Moments like these are not exclusive to any one promotion. In fact, Agazarm was also involved in shoving incidents with Jake Shields and Daniel Strauss during Polaris events.
Critics across the board have differing opinions about what Daniels did. Some say he should have stopped the match entirely, some say the results should stand, others are calling for Vagner to be stripped of his black belt.
"I would have grabbed the mic and called them both out for being so disrespectful," said Marco Cruzatt, a black belt with years of experience both as a jiu-jitsu competitor and as a referee. "I understand that hype sells tickets, but let's not forget about respect. In addition, let's not forget about the future generation of competitors. What kind of example are we giving all the kids with that trash talking and antics?"
The answer isn't easy, and when it comes to morality, nothing is black and white.
"Given the circumstances, I stand by my decision to calm down the fighters and allow the match to continue," said Daniels on his Facebook page. "This was an unprecedented situation. Moving forward any intentional striking or shoving out of bounds will result in automatic disqualification."
Unsportsmanlike conduct isn't something new for sports like MMA and boxing, where strikes are emphasized, and the beef is all a part of the show.
In fact, just this weekend Alex Oliveira was criticized for his post-fight celebration after defeating Will Brooks. Technically, there was nothing "wrong" with what he did, but after missing weight by 5.5 pounds, then flaunting the win by using multiple vulgar gestures to his downed opponent, he wasn't viewed favorably by the MMA community.
This kind of display is highly frowned upon in jiu-jitsu, a discipline that many call "the gentle art." There is no precedent for moments like this, as they are a rarity in the grappling community.
"Our sport still growing, and we need more exposure in order to make it mainstream, if that's something we want, of course," said Cruzatt. "As long as we keep it fun and safe, I think it's all good. Just don't cross the line."
Was Daniels right for allowing the match to continue? Was the delayed punishment fitting? These are all things we can debate, but the the most important question is, was the purity of the sport in jeopardy? I don't think so.