Pre-Ontario Open Interview with its promoter Fernando “Gringo” Zulick
Fernando, the Ontario Open is Canada`s biggest and most prestigious event. Please tell us how many years it has been in operation and how you developed it to this point of prestige?
This year is the fifth edition of the Open. I believe that the prestige the tournament garners is related to the quality organization, the drive to bring more to the table each year and the occurrence of the tournament. There is not an Ontario Open every weekend; if you miss the Ontario Open this year, you will have to wait one year to compete again. Every prestigious tournament has this element; a World Cup in soccer is so prestigious because you wait so long before you get the chance to compete in another one, and then you have the entire world watching you. The open is like the super bowl of BJJ tournaments. Something like the UFC on the other hand, people don’t mind missing one show, because they know there will be another one next weekend.
Behind every great general was often a fearless army, could you tell us about the people who you work closest with in promoting and putting on the Ontario Open? How are the roles divided and how did the idea to promote events together occur?
This is absolutely true. I do have a group that I trust to help me make my tournament the best every year. Each one has their specific tasks and they know how to handle them without talking to me. On the day of the event all I need to do is make sure that everything is ready for them to perform their tasks. Under that group of people, I also have a ton of other people who help us to ensure things run smoothly.
The event has been held at several great venues, can you tell us where in the past you have hosted the Ontario Open and where this year’s edition will be held? Which venue has been your favorite and why is that, what do you look for in a venue as a promoter of an event?
We started the first 2 years in 2 different high schools, moving to a bigger gym in the second year. The 3rd and 4th year we were with Seneca College. This year the Open will be held at the Brampton Soccer Centre, the main reason for moving the venue is to accommodate the growing needs of the tournament. Seneca and the Brampton SC are great venues. Each venue has things we like and dislike, Brampton SC is my preference right now and that was the main reason for moving there.
As someone who owns their own gym, competes in the art, and promotes an annual massive tournament, how do you see Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments differently as a promoter than as a competitor? What are it biggest down faults?
I love competing and teaching. I am just glad to be doing something I love. The tournament I run is just a combination of my passion for BJJ, and trying to put on a great show. I compete everywhere and I see good and bad things, so I try to give to people the best tournament I can, I don’t try to be better than tournament A or B. I only try to be better than my last tournament, not anyone else’s.
What were some of the difficulties you faced when first wanting to promote an event of yours, and how did you overcome such obstacles?
Like all first timers, I did not have the experience. Luckily some good friends were involved in tournament scene and they helped me to run my first one. I am very lucky to have them helping me every year. There always going to be obstacles and issues, and mistakes happen, we just need to make sure we don’t let the same mistake happen twice.
The Ontario Open is known to have more than stellar refereeing, can you tell us why that is? Who is head refereeing the event and which other referees are involved in holding down the mats during the event?
The lack of good refereeing in Canada is not a new problem. There is a lot of good work being done to rectify the problem. The Association is training referees regularly, but we cannot afford to have new referees at this event. We only work with Brown and Black Belts, we do have a small number of purple belts that are very good with helping during the day also. We fly around 10 referees from the US to make sure things are under control. The head referee is Andre Terencio, he is also the IBJJF head referee, and the person we trust to do a good job controlling all referees. We bring many other experienced referees, like Andre Maneco and Hillary Williams to name a few.
Tell us about the two day format, and rule set used by the Ontario Open?
The rules are simple, we don’t change the rules, we follow IBJJF. The kids are a little different and some submissions are not allowed for the kids compared to the IBJJF, but basic submissions are the same. We run the tournament in 2 days because it is impossible to run it in one with the number of participants. The Gi portion is run on the Saturday, and Kids from 5 to 15 and nogi on the second day. One important note is that kids from 5to 15 will only compete with the gi on.
The event is working with a great charity headed by the head referee of the event. Can you tell us about this charity’s cause and aims, and how any of us at home can contribute to it?
We try to help a charity event every year, and why not to help one that is involved with what we do. You donate a kids gi that you are not using and we will send it to Brazil. The project helps poor kids to learn BJJ. We hope we will get a lot of donations and we will try to make these kids happy with some new gis. You can read more about the program at the Website at http://www.facebook.com/pages/
One of the traits well know about the Ontario Open is the amount of Grand Prize Trips given away at the event. Can you tell us about how many trips are being given out and who can win them? Why do you give away trips?
The trips are a great incentive to get competitors to come and compete. The focus is not only the trips but to make some cool, unique hardware that we change every year. This year we are giving out 10 trips to the absolute winners, (blue belt male, purple belt male , brown/black male , blue belt female , pruple/brown/black belt females , 2 for each).
This year’s event includes some of the best belts seen in a BJJ tournament yet, can you tell us about these belts and how someone can win them, how many are on the line? How do you hope to continuously better ideas like belts in the years to come?
This is the first year we are doing the belts. The belts are unique, and we will change the design every year, I am very happy with the result. Of course for next year we will try to get an even better belt and more divisions will be awarded with them. The belts are going to be given out for the 2 expert NOGI absolute light and heavy weight, male and 2 female.
Among other stuff you give out, you give out the most event t-shirts and rash guards, can you tell us about the shirts and rash guards? What purpose do they serve in promoting an event and how do you view giving away free swag at events?
This is the deal with the Ontario Open: everything the sponsors give we give back to the competitors we don’t hold anything. We don’t want to make money from sponsors we would rather give more to the competitors. So we give away lots of rash guards, t-shirts, gis, drinks and everything we can get from sponsors. We love seeing our event swag at other events and out and about around the city and in the local jiu jitsu clubs.
This year you have included patches, distinctly in the kids divisions. Can you tell us about the patches and who can win them? Having the biggest kid’s tournament in the country, how does rewarding the kids and youth in the martial art play into promoting?
The patches are great. They are made for all kids from 5 to 15. If you compete in any division from 5 to 15 years old, and win your division, you win a patch that states you are the 2013 Ontario Open Champion. I love the kids portion of the tournament, honestly; it is a lot of work, but seeing all those faces and them rolling is amazing, this is the best part of the day for me.
Among the amazing stuff being given out, what other new editions can spectators and competitors look forward to this weekend at the Ontario Open?
There are some cool new features coming, new scoreboards, new live broadcast recording system, and big screen updating the mats and warm up area. This year will be an amazing year with lots of cool features.
How do you view sponsors to tournaments? What role do they play in helping your tournament reach the masses and draw competitors in? Which of your sponsors do you want to give a special shout out and which new ones are you excited to be working with?
As I mentioned all we get from our sponsors go back to the competitors, so the more they give the more there name gets exposed. They help to spread the word and we get more competitors and in turn their name gets even more exposure. It’s a snowball, they help me, we help them. All sponsors have an equal part in the tournament promotion and prizes, so it is unfair for me to mention one, all of them deserve the same credit.
What do you like most about promoting a BJJ event? Would you ever consider promoting more than one a year or even working with a brand on promoting events on a large scale across the globe? How do you see yourself in spreading the art?
Today, the idea is not to run more than 1 tournament per year. In Ontario I am only running one per year for sure. I do this because I love BJJ, no other reason. I have thought about going into other provinces, it is hard to say yes or no at this point. We currently have some other priorities, so for at least the next year or two, we will stick to the one event per year.
What are you going to do when the event is over, will there less be stress now that the eye of the storm has passed?
For sure, after the tournament is done, it is time to rest. But, the rest is short. We start right away with making a list of all the good and bad aspects of the tournament. We work to improve on both aspects, and ensure that the mistakes don’t happen again in the following year. It is only a short time before we start work on the 2014 edition of the tournament.
Can you offer any advice to promoters out there looking to reach the level of the success that you have reached with the Ontario Open?
I am not one to give advice, but if I had any I would say: try to be fair with everyone; promoters, schools and competitors. I think there is space for everyone to coexist and promote, as long as we are all fair to each other, this is the message I try to get across in every aspect of my life; as an instructor, promoter, friend, husband and father.