Both matchmakers and fans alike often romanticize the idea of no time-limit submission-only BJJ matches, often without taking full consideration of what they actually look like in practice. The reason behind their support is pretty obvious, as they leave as little ambiguity in the end result as possible and are often seen as the purest form of the sport. That sounds fantastic in theory, but a lot of the time what you end up with is a gruelling and often-unexciting match that can last hours longer than anyone wants it to.
In one sense, no time-limit submission-only BJJ matches are the best idea for the sport. They leave us with a clear indication of who the superior grappler actually is, and they guarantee that every single fight will end with a submission finish. Because there is no time-limit in place, it removes the viability of certain gameplans that fans often complain about when watching fixed-time matches. Under IBJJF rules, a huge number of matches effectively end when one athlete gets ahead on points. Being ahead on points allows them the ability to stall for the rest of the match and avoid taking any risks, knowing that all they have to do is run down the time remaining and they will be declared the winner.
In fact, even rulesets that were created to address this problem only change it’s source instead. EBI rules were put in place in order to guarantee that the vast majority of matches end with a submission finish and to no longer allow athletes to get ahead on points and stall. Instead, athletes now have the ability to train for the EBI overtime period extensively and as long as they feel confident in their ability to win in the overtime period then all they need to do is get there. The stalling hasn’t been removed, it’s just incentivised for a different style of grappling instead.
That’s where No Time-Limit Submission-Only rulesets come into play, because the if the only method of victory is by submission then surely everyone will be working towards a submission at all times. That’s not what we actually see on the mats though because again the stalling isn’t removed, it’s just incentivised in a different way. Kyle Chambers v Izaak Michell was a prime example of this, a match that lasted over two hours because it was clear from very early on that Chambers was being outgrappled. Because there was no time-pressure involved, Chambers’ best path to victory was now to stay safe and attempt to force Michell to burn himself out hunting for the finish, before eventually attacking when the time was right. As a result of this, Michell’s best path to victory was to control positionally and be patient in attacking, never committing too much to any one submission.
Those two approaches then resulted in an incredibly long and exhausting match, even for the viewer. You can’t really blame either athlete for this, although many fans have decided to. In truth, they were both making sensible decisions as a result of the ruleset in place. Even if nobody is stalling, the match can still go on forever. When Gordon Ryan took on Felipe Pena under the same ruleset, he made it clear that his tactic was to drag Pena into incredibly deep waters and wear him down into submission. If Ryan got his way then this match was always going to be at least forty-five minutes long and if Pena wanted to win, he’s certainly good enough to hold his attacks at bay for some time and that only increases the length of the match.
While No Time-Limit Submission-Only matches are great for the athlete’s ability to prove who is superior and are certainly the purest ruleset in BJJ, they’re not the best choice for the viewer. If you thought watching ten minute rounds where an athlete stalls for half of it was painful, increasing that time doesn’t solve that problem. All it does is create a different condition for stalling, and then massively increase the length of time that you might be seeing it for.
For anyone who wants to watch the No Time-Limit Submission-Only matches discussed above, both are available to watch on FloGrappling, click here to subscribe and watch.