It’s no secret that Gordon Ryan is the world’s most well-known, attention-grabbing, often-controversial grappler in the world. It’s also no secret that he is likely the sport’s highest-paid athlete. In a recent appearance on the Business Jiu Jitsu Podcast, Ryan detailed his approach to building a personal brand and using that brand to negotiate paydays for grappling competitions.
According to Ryan, his current coach, John Danaher, advised him that in order to gain fame and become successful financially, he should focus on one thing and one thing only: “Become the best in the world.”
Ryan has done exactly that over the past few years, firmly establishing himself as the world’s top no-gi grappler. He is a multiple-time ADCC world champion, an IBJJF world and Panamerican no-gi champion, and a multiple-time EBI champion. Once he established himself as the best grappler on the planet, the rest — including higher paydays, lucrative instructional deals, and a massive following — fell into place.
Simply put, being the best in the world gives Ryan leverage.
“These jiu jitsu organizations, they know I don’t need them… I don’t ever have to compete again,” he said. “I don’t ever have to step on the mats and compete again in my life… I have the leverage because I’m the best in the world, I bring in far more viewers than anybody else, but at the same time, it’s actually more of a hassle to get on a plane and fly across the country to California to compete than it is to just stay here and just plan a DVD or just train…”
“They know I’m the best and they know that I don’t need them to be successful.”
Because he is the most sought-after competitor in the sport, grappling promotions know they need to make it worth his while to compete. Usually, that means a bigger purse.
“It’s actually more of a hassle to go out and compete for 15 or 20 or 25 thousand dollars for me right now than it is to just stay here and just do the stuff that I would normally do, and they know that,” Ryan said. “They all have so much leverage over the competitors whereas they just don’t have that with me… they know that I’m the best and they know that I don’t need them to be successful.”
Still, Ryan recognizes that submission grappling remains a niche sport and there’s a limited amount of money to go around. For that reason, he’s been selective with whom he associates and trusts in business dealings.
“The main thing for me when I’m negotiating with anyone in the jiu-jitsu community is just not to be a scumbag. The thing with everyone in this community is there’s such a small amount of money being fought over by all the people in the community… you’re all fighting over peanuts… If I can just get a relationship with someone who’s not a complete dickbag, who’s not gonna completely screw me over, I’m happy.”
Even with those limitations, and even with grappling being a relatively small sport, Ryan is setting his sights high.
“I want to make millions and millions of dollars a year,” he said.