On September 9th, athletes from across the country gathered in a smoke-filled arena in Compton to get stoned and attempt to choke each other out for the chance to win a pound of weed. High Rollerz BJJ is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition that encourages participants to smoke weed before their match. Instead of winning prize money, winners of each division are awarded with a pound of high-quality bud.
High Rollerz is the brainchild of “Big” Lonn Howard and “Mighty” Matt Staudt Jr, who share a passion for martial arts and cannabis. Like all classic stoner innovations, the tournament started as a conversation between the two friends as they shared a joint. Howard, the personal bodyguard of Wiz Khalifa, brought the idea to Staudt, whose PR firm STAUDT Agency works with cannabis brands and MMA fighters. The first tournament took place in June, just a few months later.
The event was such a hit that when they announced the second tournament, which took place on Sunday, Sept 9, the competitor spots sold out within hours. High Rollerz BJJ Round 2 featured the addition of two female brackets, 25 sponsors and sold 550 general admission tickets.
High Rollerz competitors are allowed to smoke as little or as much as they’d like based on the honor system. Before the event kicked-off most fighters gathered in a warm-up area to stretch and smoke together.
“It’s cool because in any other competition, they’re kind of spread out and nobody is talking, there’s no music. It’s almost like war mode, they’re not very friendly,” said Staudt. “In this, they’re passing joints. We like that. We like that about what we’re doing. We’re not trying to have people fight at all, it’s an art.”
While this is the only tournament to openly celebrate the plant, cannabis use is hardly anything new in the world of combat sports and many top-level fighters incorporate it into their daily training regime.
“I’d say 75% of active Bellator and UFC fighters smoke weed constantly,” said Staudt. “That’s a huge misconception to the average person because they think there’s an inability to do substances in professional sports. That’s not the case with UFC and Bellator. You can do whatever the hell you want as long as it’s not steroids and it’s out of competition,” he said.
In competition is defined as the 30-day period prior to any given fight. To be very precise, this means that during the 30 days before a fight, a competitor’s bloodstream is only allowed to contain a level of THC not to exceed 180 ng/mL. This regulation gives fighters the ability to use it during training. “A lot of these guys go through pretty dramatic weight cuts so they’re pretty much stripping and replacing everything in their system anyway, so it’s not usually an issue in drug tests,” says Staudt.
The Diaz brothers, world-renowned black belts with cult followings, are probably the most well-known cannabis activists in the sport. “These guys are animals. They have endurance that everybody looks at. They have a pretty unique style that’s influenced in part by cannabis, so that’s why they use it and that’s why they stand by it,” said Staudt.
Despite the open secret of cannabis consumption, the professional fighting industry has been rocked by numerous cannabis controversies. Most notably, in 2015 the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) voted to punish Nick Diaz with a 5-year suspension and $165,000 fine after failing a drug test for excessive levels of THC. This was basically a career-ending suspension since Diaz is barred from the sport until 2020, when he’ll be 37 — past the physical prime of most fighters. In relation to the same fight, his opponent, Anderson Silva, tested positive for anabolic steroids, yet the NAC only gave Silva a 12-month suspension. Despite an uproar from the community and petitions from fans, the UFC has yet to change its policy on cannabis.
However, Staudt isn’t too concerned about when the governing bodies will change its rules. For him, High Rollerz is about educating the general public, unifying the community and rebranding the image of stoners. “There’s a lot of shame associated with it, so some people who could really benefit from it might not be doing it out of fear or misinformation that’s been given to them,” he said. “I feel like a lot of cannabis companies are left with sponsoring music festivals and stuff like that and that to me doesn’t destigmatize it at all. It doesn’t do anything negatively, but it just is what it is. I want to actually change the way people look at the plant.”