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What is ADCC Submission Fighting World Championship? A Simple Guide


Grappling-based sports have been on a tremendous rise in modern times. Various organizations are promoting different styles of grappling matches, with ADCC being the most popular. But what is ADCC submission grappling, and why is it so popular amongst grapplers?

ADCC submission fighting world championship is a submission grappling competition promoted by the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC), where the absolute elite grapplers around the world come together to compete for the title. The ADCC events have been organized every two years since 1998.

Winning the ADCC Submission Grappling World Championship is regarded as the ultimate achievement for submission grapplers. Let’s take a closer look at ADCC as an organization, the rules, and what makes this event so special.

What is ADCC Submission Fighting World Championship?

The Abu Dhabi Combat Club, or ADCC Submission Fighting World Championship, is the premier submission grappling championship. ADCC is the UFC, NBA, or NFL of submission grappling, where only the world’s greatest grapplers compete for the championship, legacy, and cash prize.


This form of competition emerged way back in 1998, when submission grappling had just started to become popular. The original founder of ADCC was Sheik Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. A passionate BJJ practitioner and the son of the United Arab Emirates president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

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Initially, his main goal was to spread martial arts in the UAE by opening the academy. Then he would create a form of freestyle competition where athletes with different grappling styles could compete. The main goal was to determine which grappling style was the most practical and who was the best grappler.

The ADCC format is more in line with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and its set of competition rules. This is why the competitors mostly come from no-gi BJJ and are the most successful. But the athletes from other grappling arts such as freestyle wrestling, judo, sambo, and shoot wrestling are more than present.

As a form of competition, ADCC is special in many different ways. Winning an ADCC championship belt is considered the pinnacle of athletic achievement for grapplers. It is often equated with winning gold in the Olympics. ADCC events are organized every two years, and not every great grappler can secure a spot in the tournament.

You may secure a spot by receiving an invite, but this only makes up around half of the list. The other half must earn a spot through trial events. ADCC trial events are hosted in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania.

In the end, only the 16 finest submission grappling athletes in each weight class make it to the ADCC, which adds to the importance and quality of the tournament.

Over time, the ADCC format has become popular globally, and many other organizations have adopted the same concept of competition and rules.

ADCC Rules Explained

The ADCC Submission Fighting World Championship is based on an elimination tournament where the winner goes through to the next round, and the last man standing wins the championship. Following is a detailed explanation of all the major rules. The following information about ADCC rules is sourced from the ADCC site.

Time limits

The length of the matches varies between the types of competition. The rules are different in World Championship and Trial matches.

ADCC Trial matches and National Championships include one round of action. Contestants first compete in the “qualifying round,” which lasts 6 minutes. The first 3 minutes are without points, while the second 3 minutes include both positive and negative points. If the match ends in a draw, it will go to 3-minute overtime.

The winners move on to the “Finals,” where the round is 8 minutes long, and in case of a draw, contestants compete in 4-minute overtime. The matches in the finals also differ when it comes to points. Contestants can receive only negative points in the first 4 minutes of the match, while the second 4 minutes count both negative and positive points.

World Championship

Matches at the World Championship level are longer in duration. Each match in the qualifying rounds is 10 minutes long, with 5 minutes of overtime in case of a draw. There are no points in the first 5 minutes of the match, while the second half includes both positive and negative points.

Contestants that move on to the finals compete in 20-minute matches, and the overtime is 10 minutes long. There is one overtime per match. The first 10 minutes of the match do not include points, while contestants can score both positive and negative points in the second half. Super Fight matches last 20 minutes each, with 10 minutes of overtime.


Contestants are allowed to wear a Gi uniform, which consists of a jacket, long pants, and a rank belt around the waist. The rules also enable them to wear wrestling shoes. However, most contestants choose to compete without a gi (no-gi style). It is a strategic choice, as no-gi contestants have a big advantage over opponents who wear a uniform when it comes to grips and many other elements.

So instead of wearing a traditional uniform or wrestling shoes, most contestants compete bare-chested, wearing only shorts. Some might choose to wear a shirt or a rashguard, while others might wear only long pants. It is both a strategic choice and a personal preference.

Legal techniques

According to ADCC rules, contestants are allowed to utilize just about every takedown or submission move.

  • All types of leg-locking techniques, such as kneebars or ankle locks
  • Any arm-locking technique such as kimura or an arm bar
  • Shoulder locks, wrist locks, foot locks
  • Slamming is allowed only if you are caught in a submission

Illegal techniques

ADCC contestants are not allowed to utilize the following moves:

  • Submission attempts such as neck cranks, full nelson, or cross-face guillotine twisting.
  • Spiking the opponent on their head while going for a takedown, for example.
  • No dirty moves such as eye-gouging, hair-pulling, fish hooking, biting, etc.
  • No striking of any kind
  • They are not allowed to pick the opponent up and slam them down to the ground to break the guard.
  • No slippery substances such as Vaseline are allowed on the body or clothing.

How to score points in ADCC (positive and negative)

In the ADCC competition, there are positive and negative points. The following is an explanation of both.

Positive points

  • 4 points — Clean takedown (ends passed the guard, and 75% of the opponent’s back must be on the floor). Clean sweep (ends passed the guard; reversals are also considered sweeps).
  • 3 points — Passing the guard (only when 75% of the opponent’s back touches the mat. And for securing a back mount position with both hooks in.
  • 2 points — are given for the knee on the stomach position (the knee has to be placed in the middle of the opponent’s stomach). Takedowns and sweeps (the opponent’s butt or back must be on the ground for 3 seconds or more). Mount position (both knees must be touching the floor).

Negative points (penalties)

Contestants receive a one-point deduction for:

  • When a contestant pulls the guard or intentionally goes from a standing position to the ground and remains down for 3 seconds or longer.
  • When a contestant disengages from contact and starts avoiding the engagement and stalling the action.
  • A passive fighter will first receive two verbal warnings before being punished by losing one point.
  • If a contestant tries to escape from the submission by fleeing the match more than once,
  • For disobeying the referee’s commands. Using foul language or utilizing illegal techniques.

ADCC Weight classes

For the ADCC World Championship and Qualifiers, there are five weight classes and an absolute weight class (no limit) for men, and there are two weight classes for women (no absolute).

ADCC male weight classes (only for people over 16 years of age)

  • -65.9 kg (-145.2 lbs)
  • -76.9 kg (-169.5 lbs)
  • -87.9 kg (-193.7 lbs)
  • -98.9 kg (-218.0 lbs)
  • +99 kg (+220.5 lbs)

ADCC female weight classes

  • -60.0 kg (-132.2 lbs)
  • +60.0 kg (-132.2 lbs)

Does ADCC test for banned substances?

The ADCC organization does not test its athletes for performance-enhancing drugs (PED). This leaves much room for speculation regarding the use of substances such as anabolic steroids and other substances banned in other combat sports.

But in the ADCC community, the lack of PED testing has never been a big controversial topic because it is a grappling-only tournament with no striking. In the end, if you want to be a top grappler, you need to be technically skilled and agile, which requires working on the mat for countless hours honing your craft rather than lifting weights to build more muscles and strength to be a better grappler.

As a grappler, you need to move faster, be more flexible, and have better endurance. On the other hand, the ones with PED-enhanced bodies tend to gas out early in the grappling match as big muscles deplete oxygen quicker. On top of that, PED-enhanced bodies are generally slower and have less flexibility simply because they have more mass to move. As a result, many people believe that using PED has little to no effect on significantly improving grappling skills.

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What is the prize in ADCC?

The prize money in the ADCC differs between male and female competitors. Men in non-absolute weight classes earn $10,000 for first place, $5,000 for second, $3,000 for third, and $1,000 for fourth. The ones who compete in an absolute weight class, however, earn $40,000 for first place, $10,000 for second, $5,000 for third, and $1,000 for fourth.

Female contestants receive $6,000 for first place, $3,000 for second, $2,000 for third, and $1,000 for fourth.

ADCC also includes bonuses for the best performances, fastest submissions, takedowns, etc. Contestants also boost their incomes through various sponsorship deals.

What is the ADCC Superfight?

ADCC Superfights are highly anticipated matches that feature only the best of the best grapplers in the world. It is a submission grappling contest between the reigning super champion against the winner of the absolute weight class in the most recent ADCC tournament. It is widely regarded as the most important match of the event.

Superfight rules are very much the same as in World Championship bouts, except for time limits. The duration of a super fight is 20 minutes, and in the case of a draw, the bout will be extended for an additional 10 minutes. If the overtime results in a draw, contestants will compete in the second 10-minute overtime.

Gordon Ryan vs. Andre Galvao is considered the greatest superfight in grappling history.

Do you have to be a BJJ practitioner to compete in ADCC?

ADCC is a submission grappling tournament, and as such, it incorporates all grappling styles. Any style of submission grappling is allowed as long as the techniques you utilize align with the rules.

That being said, the majority of ADCC athletes actually come from jiu-jitsu, as this specific martial art fits the rules better than most other grappling arts. This is confirmed by the number of ADCC champions with a background in jiu-jitsu, especially the no-gi style.

Some other martial arts that conceptually fit well are Russian Sambo as well as Judo and collegiate wrestling. Sambo is especially effective as it emphasizes explosive takedowns and aggressive groundwork. However, BJJ remains the most dominant martial art.

Who is the greatest ADCC competitor of all time?

Over the course of history, there have been many great grapplers who have dominated the competition. The following athletes are considered some of the greatest ADCC competitors in history.

Kyra Gracie — is one of the most dominant female grapplers in history. She won three ADCC gold medals and never lost a match in her division. She is also a four-time world jiu-jitsu champion.

Andre Galvao — is the ADCC legend with six championship titles. He holds the record for most super fight wins (4). In his career, he won just about every notable grappling tournament multiple times, and he had a decent MMA career fighting for “Dream” and “Strikeforce” promotions.

Mark Kerr — is a martial arts legend who has successfully competed both in MMA and submission grappling. He is a four-time ADCC world champion with a record of 12–1. In his prime, Kerr used his exceptional wrestling skills and superhuman strength to dominate his opponents.

Marcelo Garcia — is widely regarded as the best ADCC champion in history. In his career, he won the championship four times, and he went through wars to beat some of the biggest names, such as Kron Gracie, Pablo Popovitch, and Vitor Shaolin.

Gordon Ryan — is the most popular grappler in the world and is often seen as the best no-gi grappler in sports history. He won the ADCC world championship five times and is also a two-time IBJJF no-gi world champion.

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How do I participate in ADCC?

ADCC events include 16 competitors per weight class for men and 8 competitors for females, and there are three different ways you can be one of them.

First, winners from the previous tournament automatically qualify for the next event. Second, you may receive an invitation directly from the organization to participate in the tournament. Lastly, you must secure a place by winning one of the qualifying (trials) events organized worldwide.

Each male division has 8 athletes who qualified through trials, 7 who received an invitation, and the reigning champion. Female weight classes include eight competitors in total, with 4 securing a spot through trials, and 3 by receiving an invitation, and the last one being the champion.

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