In the United States, the “M16” conjures images of military-grade assault rifles. In Australia, the term is more closely associated with a different kind of weapon.
The M16 Open is one of the country’s fastest-growing grappling promotions with a simple, but effective mission: make competitive grappling profitable for athletes, affordable for spectators, and fun for both.
Run by Myles Simpson and Adam Jones of the M16 Fight and Fitness gym in Seaford, SA, the promotion had humble beginnings as an innerstate 16-man, winner-take-all open tournament with a $50 entry fee that took place inside the academy itself. This weekend, the event enters its eighth installment; however, this is just the fourth time the show has been able to have live spectators in attendance.
The reason why, of course, is no secret or surprise. Jones and Simpson got the promotion up and running in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which they say has been their biggest challenge “by far.” Restrictions and lockdowns caused unprecedented unpredictability in an industry already rife with injuries and last-minute withdrawals. Still, Simpson and Jones successfully navigated multiple minefields of “what ifs,” and the payoff was worth it.
The same persistence that has contributed to the M16’s success is also what got it off the ground in the first place. Jones and Simpson had seen countless examples of competitions that weren’t affordable for athletes, with rulesets that were either boring or didn’t make sense. “Rather than sit back and whinge about the price of competing or the bad rulesets, we stepped up and made our own show,” they said.
Their own ruleset mirrors that of elite grappling competition ADCC, where Jones’ brother Craig exploded onto the international scene by submitting Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend Leandro Lo back in 2017. Craig subsequently won silver at the event in 2019 during the same weekend that Melbourne-based coach and athlete Lachlan Giles made waves by submitting his way to bronze in the open weight division. Jones and Simpson know all too well that there are far more high-level grapplers in Australia who have the potential to win big at the prestigious tournament, and they aim to use their own promotion to help them achieve that goal. “Australia has some very, very talented grapplers,” they said. “The whole reason we chose ADCC rules is because if you win that tournament, you’re set for life; no other tournament can do that for you. With saying that, we wanted this show to help prepare Australian athletes for the Trials.”
Winning the ADCC Trials on its own is a massive accomplishment, and winning the ADCC World Championship makes you a household name in the grappling world. But at this stage of the promotion’s development, even winning a match at the M16 Open is a remarkable achievement. The event has caught the eye of competitors both within Australia and beyond, and this weekend’s event is looking to be their biggest one yet. Polaris veteran Jeremy Skinner will be taking on newly contracted PFL fighter Aaron Blackie, and Kasai veteran Mikael Yahaya will face off against recently promoted BJJ black belt Diego Caruso. M16’s own Declan Moody will also be on the card, putting himself to the test against Brisbane’s Devon Coetzee. And, of course, we can expect to see plenty of familiar faces as some of South Australia’s best take to the mats, including Lachlan Conway of Beachside BJJ, Jesse Hughes of Armour BJJ, Adam Jones himself, and many more.
Jones and Simpson believe that Moody, who has long been marked as one of the best grapplers to watch from Australia, will be “the next big name” to come from Down Under. They also have their eye on Deacon Laugher from Tasmania, who they say “will go as far as he wants to go.” Decorated wrestler Tayla Ford and rising jiu-jitsu star Nora Naomi Schultz, both of whom are seldom seen leaving a competition without hard-earned hardware, are also regulars on the show, where they have cemented their position as two of Australia’s most terrifying grapplers.
Still, Jones and Simpson have their eyes on a few competitors they’d love to have on the show, both from Australia and abroad. In particular, they hope to bring Sydney-based ADCC Trials champ Keller Locke-Sodhi down to compete, as well as young standout Tito Carle. Jones is also determined to get his brother Craig back to Adelaide to compete for the M16. “We would love to bring out some big international names for the show and we have definitely been in contact with a few who are all very keen,” they added. “Thankfully, the DMs are full of people wanting to compete on our show; we don’t have to chase people down unless we really want them on the show. Finding matches for the women has been the most challenging. I’d love to see more girls on the show.”
Regardless of what challenges they face next, Jones and Simpson can at least sit with the comfort that their shows are designed by grapplers, for grapplers. “I truly believe our show is the only show that’s all about the competitors. None of the guys we invite from interstate have to pay a thing. Every winning athlete on the show makes some cash; As the show grows, the purses will grow. We don’t charge ridiculous prices for tickets --- $30 --- and kids under twelve are free. Sure, we could charge way more and charge for kids, but that’s not what this event is about. This is a high-level grappling show aimed at everyone.”
Their dedication to their mission shows. The community has returned the support, and there’s no doubt that soon, the M16’s influence will spread far and wide. “We get backed by an incredible amount of sponsors from SA and interstate. Any time we ask for sponsors, the support is unbelievable. We have companies fighting over who gets what every show! I’d just like to thank every competitor, every sponsor and spectator who has supported us. We are just two guys that weren’t happy with the scene, so we decided to do something about it.”
All images courtesy of Justin Whitey @rebelrebelfight