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Why Are All ADCC Referees From Finland?

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John Danaher Instructionals

If you are a long-time fan of jiu-jitsu and/or submission grappling you may have noticed that the refereeing body of the ADCC (Abu Dhabi Combat Club) is very distinct from that of the IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation), in which the majority of officials is of Brazilian nationality.

Although the ADCC’s roots are strongly embedded in United Arab Emirates soil, the promotion has a long-standing tradition of employing Scandinavian judges, Finnish referees to be precise. This Middle Easter-European exchange started around the 2003 year mark and continuously developed, with the unlikely bond being first established by Marko Leistén, a jiu-jitsu black belt from Finland who has been engaged with the ADCC in a senior management capacity for many years, currently holding the rank of ADCC Europe President.

Marko Leisten and Renzo Gracie.

Leistén has done an excellent job at preparing a strong refereeing body in his home country for many years and given the complexity of the ADCC ruleset, good judges are far and few between. Finns are also well known for the social construct of “sisu”, a word that represents character traits such as: stoic determination, resilience, and hardiness; with these traits being strongly valued and fomented in the region – all excellent qualities to have when refereeing.

For these reasons, the ADCC World Championships have consistently sought out the services of these gentlemen.

More on the 2019 ADCC this month, here.

ADCC World Championship 2019

Date: 28-29 September
Location: Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim, California
Live Stream: FloGrappling

John Danaher BJJ Escapes


  • Danilo Rodriguez says:

    This article provided no logical reasoning for having Finland refs other than a close bond. There’s no difference between IBJJF refs and ADCC. I’m tired of American bias reporting against IBJJF. You can easily report that IBJJF refs are mostly (not all) refs are Brazilians due to their bond with each other.

    • BJJ Heroes says:

      Wait, is this what “Cancel Culture” looks like in BJJ? Think you are trying to look for things that aren’t there. We did not write anything negative about IBJJF referees other than mention they are majority Brazilian, which they are, as a segway to reference ADCC’s refs as Scandinavians. We did not intend to provide “logical reasoning either”, just state an interesting fact about the organization.

      PS. BJJ Heroes is not American.

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