In a fit of journalistic whimsy, I sent a request to talk to the organizer of the Copa Podio events after the frustrating presentation of the 2013 Middleweight Grand Prix. For reasons known only to them and to the gods, Jeferson Maycá, the president of Copa Podio responded to my request and we went back and forth by e-mails to get an interview together.
This interview has been edited slightly to remove redundant questions and answers, avoiding any significant re-hashing of the same stuff. Otherwise, these statements are as Jeferson delivered them to me.
Ben Thapa: How did you come to establish Copa Podio? Were you running events before or is this a wholly new venture to you?
Jeferson Maycá: I have always been keenly interested in sports and especially fights; however, my professional activity in the area of civil construction did not allow me to dedicate more time. As soon as my construction company began operating a little more independently, I decided to take the Copa Podio project off the drawing board and actually implement it. To me, it's a life project.
As I used to practice karate, the first event was in that modality. [Ben's note: there is a YouTube playlist of a few videos from that karate-focused event in 2011) But then soon afterwards, I was introduced to jiu-jitsu and quickly fell in love with the sport. Nowadays, Copa Podio is focused exclusively on jiu-jitsu.
BT: Are there unique obstacles or issues when running events in Rio or in Brazil in general? How do you scout competitors to include in tournaments as first choice competitors or injury replacements?
JM: We have technology problems here in Brazil, with adapting fighters to a competition in the form of an audience event and there is also the issue of natural maturation and evolution of an event like this, as were talking about jiu-jitsu in an unprecedented format.
I think, despite the difficulties, the event is on the right path and that it's a question of time until we reach our objective, which is the professionalization of jiu-jitsu.
There are no specific criteria for selecting competitors, except that fighters who train together are not permitted to compete. As you've noticed, each Copa Podio GP has a maximum weight limit, but never a minimum. The idea is to offer the audience great fights, but fights that are not your run-of-the-mill contests at the traditional jiu-jitsu events. The focus is always on the 'show'.
BT: The Copa Podio events have been unusually open to participation of many major teams - Alliance, Gracie Barra, GFTeam, Ribeiro Team, Atos and more. Why is this so?
JM: This basically happens because the offer of fighters from these teams is greater, but we are certainly not closed to other teams, especially those from outside of the country. In fact, we will soon be launching a team for non-Brazilian fighters in the USA and Canada.
BT: In a related question, why is Copa Podio so strongly connected to Leandro Lo and the PSLPB Cicero Costha team? They seem to be by far the smallest team of those represented at Copa Podio thus far, yet Leandro has been featured in every edition.
JM: Leandro Lo won the first two Copa Podio events. Following that, he signed a contact prioritizing Copa Podio over other events. When he was crowned champion of Copa Podio for the first time, he had still not become world champion, in other words, his career as a fighter is closely linked to our event. I'd risk betting that Felipe (Pena) Preguiça, champion of the last event, will follow in the same footsteps as Leandro Lo.
The Miyao brothers had not participated in Copa Podio precisely because they train with Leandro Lo. This time however, as Leandro was in the super fight, a place opened in the GP for Paulo Miyao, who put on a truly great performance.
In short, they are always at the event because they possess the fighter profile we are after and, basically, because the audience loves to watch them compete.
BT: Why did you switch venues for the Copa Podio events? I believe the Heavyweight GP, the Lightweight GP and the first Middleweight GP were held in the Hibraica Gymnasium in Laranjeiras and this MW GP was held in the Tijuca Tennis Club.
JM: We are still looking for the ideal venue to host the event in Brazil. We still don't have an audience large enough to hold the event in a major gymnasium like Maracanazinho, for example, and there aren't many options when it comes to medium size venues. Furthermore, the majority of gymnasiums does not offer adequate infrastructure for live streaming the event.
We are planning a few editions outside of Brazil in the future.
BT: When did you realize things were not going smoothly? What was the chain of events as you experienced it?
JM: If you mean the live broadcast of the event, I only found out about the problems with the generator after the start of Clark's fight [Ben's note: the first match of the event]. We had a team working on a solution, but we preferred not to delay the event. Those responsible for the problem will be held legally accountable.
BT: Did you use the same streaming vendor for all events or have you been dealing with different companies each time? Would you tell me who the vendor is, what the agreed upon terms were and what the actual conditions ended up being?
JM: We have streamed through both Brazilian and foreign companies, but, as I said, streaming quality has never been a problem. The Heavyweight GP was attacked by hackers when the link was publicized, leading to a user demand that the server simply couldn't handle, and now, at the last event again, the problems had nothing to do with the streaming. The power generator was the issue. If not for the blackout, the streaming would certainly have been better than the Lightweight Grand Prix in May. We had a qualified team of professionals to guarantee streaming quality.
BT: [The generator going out] hindered the presentation of the actual event itself, with the lights going out for some time. How did the live crowd handle the disruptions and resumption of the event?
JM: The audience at the gymnasium did not manifest its dissatisfaction. I think that is because they'd been at previous events and also due to the quality of the contests that were certainly the best since the first edition of Copa Podio.
BT: The heavyweight event back on January 13, 2013 had some streaming overload problems too and you reacted by giving a free stream. Is what happened with MW GP a similar thing or are they two different sets of problems?
JM: As I mentioned previously, there were a number of problems, for which we assume full responsibility, but the company providing the live streaming service was not responsible.
BT: Were the cameras able to capture the matches in full? When will we (the paying customers) be able to see them?
JM: The power blackout meant some of the fights were not recorded, chiefly the earlier ones, but we are getting hold of images through a number of press vehicles and our team is working hard on editing to deliver material of excellent quality for pay-per-view subscribers. The fights will be available on the official event website as from 09/17.
[Ben's Note: As of 9/18, the videos are not yet up on Copa Podio's website. However, there is now a black button on their website saying "Click to watch the Middleweight Grand Prix fights", which leads to the videos screen and a dialogue that says "All fights will be available in a few hours." The link to the page is here: http://www.copapodio.com/videos_ultimo_evento/ I will check this repeatedly over the next day and update this piece to reflect any changes.]
BT: What are your plans for the next Copa Podio event? Will you return to the Tijuca Club or go back to the Hebraica gym? Will you use a different streaming services vendor or try once more with this one?
JM: The next event is scheduled for January 11 and we are looking at proposals for hosting it in another city or even outside of Brazil. This will be defined over the next few days.
After defining the venue, we will define the streaming service provider, but it is important to reiterate that the broadcast problems from the Heavyweight GP and the previous event were not caused by the streaming service provider.
BT: Any ideas of trying to run an MMA event?
JM: I confess that I have considered the possibility, but I honestly believe in the potential of jiu-jitsu. We have to iron out a few detail to reach our objective.
Even with a few problems, the event has been great and is being recognized for its innovative approach and respect for fighters. As I said, we are nearing our objective.
BT: Dealing with angry or irrational customers is not an easy thing to do. I hope there were not too many of them and that they did not sour things for the future.
JM: The positive side of irritated customers is that they feel this way because they are passionate about the event. If they were indifferent, they certainly wouldn't be as irritated or intolerant.
On the other hand, we have a huge number of customers that understand the extent of our effort and who support us. Copa Pódio will have a long life and guaranteed success. Our work is only just beginning.
[End of Interview]
To fully disclose my interests: I paid for each Copa Podio event out of my pocket, although I was reimbursed by SB Nation (the people who allow Bloody Elbow.com to continue being awesome) at times for the expenses incurred. I have no professional or grappling ties with Copa Podio or any of its organizers - or really any tournament or major competition team in the BJJ/MMA world. My BJJ team in upstate NY has ties to Maguilla and Carlson Gracie, but we're a low key school with no official ties to any organization.
As for my thoughts, I believe that Jeferson was fairly candid about the rock and a hard place situation that the Grand Prix generator problems caused - Although he was under no obligations to do so, I believe Jeferson gave me answers to my questions with as much honesty and openness as legally and fiscally prudent.
Picking the right venue is absolutely essential to Copa Podio's future and the recognition of their mid-size live audience and need for technologically/electrically sophisticated venues is a great thing to see. Those are essentially Goldilocks requirements though.
Since I live all the way up in New York, USA and have no event coordination skills beyond throwing a great backyard party for less than 100 people, I've no idea of where Copa Podio will land next - in Brazil or elsewhere. But I do hope they land and the events keep going. By all accounts, the athletes are being treated well, the matches are actually entertaining and the intended/actual professionalism of the sport does indeed come through at each event. The Copa Podio organization represents what I believe to be the best iteration of professional Brazilian jiu jitsu out there right now - although that's a distinction somewhat aided by the gargantuan scope of the IBJJF and NAGA schedules and the high tension oddities of ADCC.
I once again thank Jeferson for his time and honesty and express appreciation for the athletes and supporters of combat sports in general, as well as those who participated in and watched the Copa Podio events.