‘We can possibly elevate it:’ Zoltan Bathory hopes PGF and $100,000 prize pave way to new jiu-jitsu world

    The jiu-jitsu world is ready to take some big evolutionary steps forward.

    Professional Grappling Federation (PGF) is set to hold one of the most exciting grappling competitions in recent memory with its sixth season in Las Vegas on April 21, 2024. Alongside the new partnership of Carlos Gracie’s granddaughter, Heather Gracie, and Five Finger Death Punch Founder and guitarist, Zoltan Bathory, PGF’s Brandon McCaghren and Keelan Lawyer will reward the tournament winner a whopping $100,000 prize.

    At a glance, the inclusion of Bathory in this mix may be an odd one if you’re strictly a metalhead or casual “5FDP” fan. The Hungarian shredder has been a combat sports competitor since age 9, however, starting with Judo before he entered competitions two years later. He eventually converted to jiu-jitsu and now has a black belt in both disciplines.

    Bathory, 46, met 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu black belt McCaghren when he first stumbled upon the Epic Roll brand, which popped up in several jiu-jitsu circles over time. Ultimately, Epic Roll had more of a tribe-like feel to it … if you know, you know. Slowly but surely, Bathory knew he wanted to be involved.

    “It’s tricky because here’s the thing,” Bathory started when speaking with MMA Mania. “It’s already strategic, it’s already chess. We’re all bidding for the guy we think is probably the best guy of the 20. We all kind of know who the best is. Now, if you end up spending most of your money on that guy, you’re not gonna have much to bid for the other four. So, you might get the best guy of the whole 20, but sometimes it’s better to have the second, third, maybe fourth best one.

    “As we were bidding at each other and running each other out of money for someone that I knew this other team wanted to get, I kept bidding and had to intention to get [them],” he concluded, recapping the trial run. “I wanted to run them out of money. It was hilarious.”

    PGF’s team-based tournament will consist of 20 qualified high-level grapplers split into four teams of five. The team captains include Roger Gracie, Eddie Bravo, Andre Galvao, and Rigan Machado, who will all pick their rosters through an auction. Each team gets the same amount of “PGF coins” that allows them to build the best team possible.

    The format creates the ability to separate the actual gym teammates and place them on opposing competition teams. In a traditional sense, there could be worry of some stale match ups as a result. Not in PGF, though. If you aren’t a finisher, you might as well sit this one out.

    The tournament will be submission only, meaning no points will be earned unless a submission is successful in a team’s match. If one competitor carries everyone by winning all of their matches, that team can still be a tournament-winning team. The highest score leads to the finals and there will be no time to waste as matches are six minutes long.

    “I was like, this is high-level drama. This is television all the way,” Bathory said. “This has to be more than just what it is. It has to be a TV show, it has to be brought to the world scale. So, I was there for four days. It’s a four-five days marathon that teams are fighting for four days then there’s a finals, which means a team won but sometimes the winning team might not have the guy who had the highest score.”

    Aside from the entertainment-friendly elements of PGF, the financial aspect is one Bathory and company hope to help revolutionize jiu-jitsu in a way. Or at the very least, push it further to becoming a sustainable career professionally.

    As a lifelong grappler, Bathory knows the dedication that goes into it and other than his own experiences has seen 100s and 100s of talented grapplers go through similar trials and tribulations.

    Ideally, an aspiring talent won’t have to be a Gordon Ryan-type all-time great to make jiu-jitsu a career if the landscape continues to advance.

    “Everyone’s dream was that at some point jiu-jitsu would become an Olympic sport,” Bathory said. “It has a tough time to accomplish that because there’s grappling and there’s judo. So, the Olympic committee has an issue with it to have something too similar. That’s why if you do no-gi it’s too similar to grappling, if you do gi it’s too close to judo. That’s kind of the issue why jiu-jitsu has a hard time to get traction as an Olympic sport.

    “On that same hand, it never really went pro,” he continued. “There are some competitions series that do pay some of their fighters, but generally, we train, we risk injuries, we put blood and sweat and years and years of dedication into this. You go to a competition — I’m talking all positive, I don’t want anybody to take it the wrong way because I’ve been doing this for decades, right? But if I’m going to the competition and if I win it’s good for me, it’s good for my … I feel good about it because I measured myself. I didn’t just get my black belt, I fought against the best of the best and I’m getting medals and podiums, I deserve to be here.

    “The reality is, how do you go pro?” Bathory asked. “There’s not really an avenue yet for that. So, I thought, you know what, let’s put a serious prize in this. Hopefully, the next seasons we can possibly elevate it and just keep pushing it because that means jiu-jitsu fighters can go pro. There could be a world when you will make a living out of this so all you have to do is train hard. Basically what the UFC did for MMA fighters or other promotions.”

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