Current Who’s Number One (WNO) heavyweight champion Tim Spriggs doesn’t shy away from the limelight. It comes as no surprise, then, that Spriggs served as one of two team coaches on FloGrappling’s new reality show “Who’s Next.”
In September of last year, Spriggs shocked grappling fans around the world when he captured the WNO title after defeating Haisam Rida, Tex Johnson, and Kaynan Duarte at the WNO Championships. Shortly after winning the belt, Spriggs spent two weeks in Austin, TX to film “Who’s Next” — a competition reality show that pits up-and-coming grapplers against each other in submission-only matches for a $10,000 prize and multi-match contract with WNO.
“I had a really good time filming the show,” Spriggs told Grappling Insider. “I mean this is top class, the production, the professionalism, with everyone behind the scenes and in front of the camera… We really put our best foot forward to make this show a hit, and I think from what I’ve seen so far, it gives everybody a chance to look inside the life of a professional grappler, and I think a lot of the guys come off pretty decent.”
Indeed, “Who’s Next” feels like a massive step in the right direction for the sport of grappling. Each athlete is given his time to shine and a chance to tell his own unique story. Personalities come through both on and off the mats. Conflicts arise and rivalries are explored. In short, “Who’s Next” competitors are treated like true professional athletes that are being built into legitimate stars of the sport.
On the show, Spriggs leads a squad of four grapplers opposite the other team coach, Craig Jones. And while interactions between Spriggs and Jones have (so far) been relatively tame, that doesn’t mean the two coaches were necessarily friendly with each other.
“I’m pretty sure I was under his skin from the get-go… I think once I started calling him a lifelong second placer and I talked about his recent record and how he didn’t deserve a match with me… he can kind of played it off, but I could tell deep down I kind of hurt his feelings a little bit. As athletes, we’re very sensitive about our work, and if you give somebody cold hard facts, they know it’s true and they don’t have a retort to it, it’s gonna get under their skin.”
For his part, Jones has been angling for a match against Spriggs since he won the WNO heavyweight title last year. On the show’s first episode, Jones wears a t-shirt imploring Spriggs to “accept the match Timothy.” But Spriggs isn’t interested in a match with Jones, both now and during the show’s filming.
“For me, there is no match in mind, just because of where we are in our careers…” Spriggs said. “You can look at [Jones’] recent record, its not up to par. It’s a lose-lose to me because the guy’s been losing to MMA fighters in grappling events, and he’s not even the best guy in his division, and I had just taken on the best guys in the world and beaten them.”
While Spriggs isn’t interested in a match against Jones, he is interested in a match against the sport’s current biggest star, Gordon Ryan.
“There was a lot of people getting in the way with that match, and I just wanted the toughest competition, and he’s not into it,” Spriggs said about a potential match against Ryan.
A Spriggs vs. Ryan match seemed like a no-brainer. In September, Spriggs was the newly-crowned WNO heavyweight champion, and Ryan was planning his return to competition after being sidelined due to chronic health issues (Spriggs doubts that Ryan was ever actually ill or unable to compete). Ryan — still widely considered the best no-gi grappler in the world — referred to Spriggs as the “interim” champion, setting the stage for a heavyweight title clash.
Spriggs publicly asked for the Ryan match, both immediately after winning the title and on social media the next day. The match, however, would never materialize.
“I put on my post the next day – the only two matches I’m interested in are Andre Galvao or Gordon Ryan, and I asked for those matches. Flo tells me that he’s not available, cool. Next thing you know, he ends up fighting Phillip Rowe.”
In October, Ryan faced UFC welterweight and brown belt Rowe in an “exhibition” match.
According to Spriggs, he tried his best to secure a match against Ryan, but was denied again and again. Spriggs’ telling of the situation is in stark contrast to the narrative typically promoted by Ryan — that no top competitors are willing to face him.
“So this whole time I’m thinking ‘OK, Gordon’s gonna want to have a match with me,’ and I talk to Flo, and Flo tells me something different. Flo tells me that he’s really sick, that he’s not gonna be able to compete, so I’m getting two different stories about this, right? So I just go about my life, because at the end of the day I’m a hobbyist, I prefer pursuing my professional wrestling career, I’m figuring my life out as I am post jiu-jitsu, and I get called in to do the pre-show and we have the whole pomp and circumstance, the last WNO event, and that week I find out that Gordon took a match with [Jacob Couch] Hillbilly Hammer — another guy that he outweighs by about 50 lbs and is a lower belt. And at this point I’m like – OK so, I’m getting told two different stories and you know, they don’t want that match to happen for whatever reason, between myself and Gordon… I’m not even worried about that match because its obvious that he doesn’t want it to happen, or didn’t want it to happen, and that’s where we are with it.“
Spriggs has not competed in grappling since winning the title, focusing his efforts on his promising career in professional wrestling. The champion is a self-proclaimed hobbyist in jiu-jitsu, training just two to three times per week.
A match against Ryan may still be a possibility for Spriggs. He recognizes that any sort of public beef with Ryan necessarily brings with it plenty of hate from Ryan’s loyal and vocal fan base. Spriggs, though, won’t let that hate, however charged it may be, get to him.
“Cyberbullying is a thing,” he said about messages and comments from Ryan’s fans. “But I can always just turn it off and block people, and that’s how I deal with it, because you know, with everything that happened the last couple years in the world, especially this past week, good Lord, you kind of gotta just be mindful of life outside the computer or off your phone and outside of the bubble, and just realize that what people think or say about you doesn’t matter. What matters is right in front of you, and you have to protect your peace and protect your mind and your spirit, and you know going down in the mud with the people that are saying hurtful things that they would never say in front of your face? It’s really not conducive to positive mental health. So I just ignore it.”
“Who’s Next” is available for free on FloGrappling (no subscription required). Episodes 1-3 are available now; episodes 4-6 will be released on June 8, 15, and 22.