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Reprint: Strikeforce’s Roger Gracie Responds to Tim Kennedy’s Challenge

As we get closer and closer to the fight between Roger Gracie and Tim Kennedy at UFC 162, let's not forget the role I played in orchestrating this match up. And, by that, I mean this interview I conducted with Roger Gracie back in August during the UFC on FOX 4 open workout.  Gracie was nice enough to take some time out to talk with me about the comments Tim Kennedy made on twitter and BOOM, ten months later, now they're fighting each other.

See how quickly I made things happen, people.

I recently ran into Roger at Metamoris II and thanked him for being my first article back at Studio MMA.  He couldn't have been nicer about it.  I'm really looking forward to the match up between him and (the always entertaining) Tim Kennedy -- and, frankly, can't wait to see it in person next week in Vegas.

Since the Studio MMA website is temporarily down, the guys over there were nice enough to let me reprint the article here at Verbal Tap (sadly, you're missing the accompanying picture of me interviewing him, but I think you'll live).  So here, for your reading pleasure, was my quick interview with Roger Gracie.

Strikeforce’s Roger Gracie Responds to Tim Kennedy’s Challenge By Raf Esparza

While the focus of the open work out for this Saturday’s UFC on FOX 4 may have been on his Black House teammate Lyoto Machida, Strikeforce middleweight Roger Gracie was on hand to talk with StudioMMA about a recent challenge issued by Tim Kennedy.

“What happened was Strikeforce President Scott Coker mentioned that I was the best grappler in Strikeforce and then Tim Kennedy said on Twitter that he’d like to prove him wrong,” said Gracie.

When asked if a future match up against Kennedy is in the works, Gracie expressed interest in the idea and said the fight is certainly a possibility, while also making a case on how his fighting style might prove difficult for Kennedy to overcome.

“I mean, I think my jiu-jitsu is better than his… and I think, of course, the ground game is in my favor, and I have a better reach [than him]. But you cannot predict, you just plan for the best.”

Gracie, however, was complimentary of Kennedy’s recent split decision loss to Strikeforce Middleweight Champion, Luke Rockhold.

“I think he did well, but in the end he lost—even though he looked better by the end of the fight. I think [Rockhold] kept him under pressure a lot more and that’s what lead to the loss.”

So how would a fight against Kennedy or another competitive middleweight contender play into the Brazilian’s long-term fighting aspirations?

“I think in MMA, for me, my plan now is a very long goal: Trying to become the best fighter you can. But before that a lot of people say, ‘Oh who do you want to fight next?’ and I think that is a very short goal. Because if you do fight that person, then, when it’s gone, what do you do next? For me, as long as I keep winning, I’m just going to keep fighting better people.”

Originally published on Studio August 3, 2012.


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Metamoris 2: Match Breakdown and Commentary

John Evans

Raf's Edit | The world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can be a tricky beast.  Because there are so many intricate movements and strategies involved in the game that can go unnoticed to the casual observer (a.k.a. me), we thought it best to bring along a BJJ technician to Metamoris to help us decipher the high-level techniques utilized by the athletes on the card.  Which is why we're asking you to give a big welcome to our go-to BJJ technician, Mr. John Evans (and from this photo of him on the right, you can see he thinks A LOT about BJJ).  John is a BJJ practitioner and competitor who also teaches and has a website ( dedicated to the educational deconstruction of Jiu-Jitsu and grappling matches.  So be a pal and welcome him to the Verbal Tap family as he takes you through this year's Metamoris event.

For more with John, check out his guest appearance on our Metamoris themed podcast here.

Metamoris 2: Breakdown

Victor Estima vs. JT Torres - gi


With his switch to atos, it's questionable if JT has had enough time to settle into his new team.  Estima has been on a tear, and should be the favorite.

Match Summary

Victor comes out and immediately starts attacking JT’s feet.  This continues throughout the match, with Victor allowing himself to be swept often, seemingly only interested in leg locks.  Victor strongly favors the knee-reap position—which is interesting to see, as that position is illegal in almost all gi tournaments.

JT does doing an excellent job of avoiding Victor’s submission attempts, while also sweeping and maintaining top position.  The end of the match has Victor switching to 50/50 with a lapel grip around JT’s trapped leg, allowing him to sweep and finally attack a belly down foot lock.  This attempt looks deep, but JT’s face never shows signs of worry.

Despite JT maintaining top position and sweeping with relative ease (even attacking a few leg locks of his own), it felt that he was defending the attacks from Victor for the majority of the match and I give him the slight edge in this fight.  The Judges see it as a slightly closer fight than I did, calling it a draw (a call I’m not very upset with).

Mackenzie Dern Vs. Michelle Nicolini - gi


These two have been on a collision course ever since Dern received her black belt. Having matched up previously at the Abu Dhabi World Pro, with Nicolini playing a smart game of pulling guard and sweeping toward the end of the match to secure the win, I give the edge to Nicolini going into this match.

Match Summary

Dern comes out extremely aggressive.  I am surprised to see such a relentless offense and even wonder if Nicolini will be able to handle such an onslaught.  Dern has a tight toe-hold early on, but Michelle is able to escape.  The fight goes to double guard, both athletes trading sweeps.  Both competitors going for berimbolo attempts until Nicolini attacks a toe-hold with one hand.

Dern softens the attack by holding onto one of Nicolini’s sleeves, making the toe-hold one handed, though it somehow still looks tight.  The excitement continues as Dern strings together a triangle choke to armbar transition.  Nicolini avoids Dern’s attacks, then counters with a kneebar of her own.  Time ticks down as Nicolini visibly puts everything into finishing the kneebar.  Dern, however, is able to escape as the clock expires for this match.  The most exciting match of the night and a draw in the truest sense of the word.  The judges agree with this assessment and also declare the match a draw.

Roberto "Cyborg" Abreu vs. Brendan Schaub - nogi


Cyborg is a seasoned grappler, a big , strong guy that moves like a featherweight.  On top of this, he is a very good competitor.  Brendan Schaub is an MMA fighter and not one particularly known for his grappling.  The clear advantage goes to Cyborg.

Match Summary

Cyborg shoots for a takedown, Brendan sprawls and grabs a front head-and-arm.  Cyborg is able to pull guard off this failed takedown attempt.  Schaub avoids playing in Cyborg's guard and pulls back.

The majority of this match plays out like this: Schaub avoiding takedown attempts, Cyborg sitting to guard, Schaub not engaging Cyborg in his guard, and Schaub running from Cyborg (both figuratively and literally).

Cyborg does get Schaub into his famous half guard a few times, but is unable to pull off a tornado sweep or knee bar during the fleeting seconds that Schaub actually stays in the pocket.  In the last 30 seconds of the fight, a frustrated Cyborg shoots in.  Schaub sprawls once again and attacks a guillotine.  Cyborg is able to counter the choke attempt and ends up on top, after transitioning to side control and going for mount.  The match ends and the fans boo Schaub when he explains it is a victory for him to have avoided submission. The judges declare Cyborg the winner.  An incredibly boring match that has sense spawned many hilarious photoshop masterpieces (like this and this).

Andre Galvao vs. Rafael Lovato Jr. - gi


Galvao is the favorite for this match, but with Lovato’s exceptional performance in this rule-set last year (coupled with some impressive footage of him rolling with Marcelo Garcia recently), Lavato is not to be counted out.

Match Summary

This match is back and forth, with a lot of standup.  Neither athlete wanting to give up the top position, Galvao eventually pulls guard and tries for an immediate sweep.  Lovato is not interested in Galvao’s tricks, though apparently surprised by the guard pull and the fight scrambles back to the feet.

At one point, Galvao attempts a flying triangle, which Lovato is able to shake off despite looking valid initially.  Galvao keeps going back to his strategy of takedown attempts mixed with hasty guard pulls that flow directly into attacks.  This strategy appears to be wearing on Lovato, and Galvao is successful with a few sweeps and guard passes.

Galvao’s passing looks sharp and dominant even against a waning Lovato, who refuses to accept defeat.  Lovato shows a lot of heart and some excellent guard retention, as he continually recovers from bad positions until the fight is over.  Judges’ decision goes unanimously to Galvao.

Braulio Estima vs. Rodolfo Vieira - gi


Not really sure if there is a favorite in this match.  One of the greatest passers of all time vs. one of the greatest guards.  Rodolfo is extremely dominant, but looked almost human against Buchecha at the Worlds one week prior.  Braulio is a top 5 grappler at any weight, but has not been as active as he once was.

Match Summary

This and the Nicolini vs. Dern match are my two personal favorites, both very exciting.  Braulio comes out and goes right to his guard. Rodolfo is vicious in his passing, but Braulio thwarts the attempts every time with a peculiar foot-in-lapel guard.  I ask Braulio about this guard later in the press conference and he refers to it as the "galaxy guard."

After a grueling 10 minutes, Rodolfo is finally successful in his passing, but is once again put back into guard when he attempts moving to north/south.  Rodolfo will not give up trying to pass, and is tiring just to watch.  Braulio’s galaxy guard is giving Rodolfo fits, as Rodolfo is continually milliseconds away from securing pass after pass, only to be lifted up and placed back into Braulio’s guard.

This is exhausting for both men, one applying grinding pressure, the other having to leg-press the former with each pass attempt.  With 30 seconds left, Rodolfo passes, albeit with Braulio’s foot still in his lapel, then jumps on an opportunity at a 180 armlock.  Rodolfo goes belly down to finish Braulio, but Braulio pulls his arm out and starts to attack Rodolfo’s back as the final seconds tick away.  The fight finishes with both practitioners in guard.  Rodolfo looks extremely depleted.

Rodolfo gets the decision 2 to 1, which I agree with, due to Braulio defending nearly the whole match, even though his guard retention was unbelievable.  Braulio later reveals that his goal was to use the galaxy guard because he hurt one of his fingers in his victory over Galvao at the worlds previously.

Kron Gracie vs. Shinya Aoki – nogi


Kron Gracie is an incredible grappler and—though he’s never won any world titles at the black belt level—he submitted the current gi world champion in the 1st Metamoris, arguably making him one of the greatest in his weight class.  Shinya Aoki, on the other hand, is a submission specialist from the MMA world.  Very rarely can a grappler be successful coming from MMA into a pure grappling environment against world class opposition for the first time.  The favorite is unquestionably Kron Gracie.

Match Summary

Kron and Aoki take the center of the mat, grip fighting and trading foot sweeps unsuccessfully for the first 4 minutes.  Kron jumps to closed guard and threatens a guillotine.  Aoki exits the closed guard of Kron and positions his body slightly toward the cross-side of the choke, while stapling Kron’s legs together on the ground with his own.

They scramble to the feet, where Kron attempts another guillotine as Aoki rolls again to defend, landing himself on the receiving end of a mounted guillotine.  This time Aoki is falling off the side of the platform as a bystander holds Aoki’s body up with his back(?).  The ref steps in to reset the match back in the center (or so it seems) stands both competitors up and declares Kron the winner.

According to the ref, Kron had finished the guillotine while Aoki was falling off the mat.  This is really confusing to most fans at the venue, and really surprising to me, personally.  I 100% did not expect a different outcome as far as which competitor would emerge victorious, but it only stands to put a damper on the finale by allowing the event to end with even a modicum of controversy.

In the press conference I ask Aoki (famous for his submissions from guard), what his game plan was.  His response is to “to maintain the top at all times”.  He also states that the choke was complete and it would’ve ended the same way even if they hadn’t rolled off the mat.  Whether or not that is the humility of the Japanese culture speaking, or the actuality of the events that unfolded, only Aoki truly knows.

Overall Event Impressions

I love the idea behind Metamoris 2.  I know some of the fights will look boring to the casual viewer who may not have the depth of knowledge in grappling needed to truly appreciate the exact athleticism on display, but, as a whole, the fights were exciting.

With that said, the Brendan Schaub fight was just ill-conceived and played out accordingly.  In this particular match, the 20 minute time limit, coupled with the addition of judges, really changed the tone of this event for the worse.  And, in some ways, may have unintentionally drew more parallels to a traditional tournament than intended.

I also was disappointed in the commentary.  After watching the event live with no commentary I went home to hear what the broadcast sounded like.  Sadly, I was not as thrilled with the play-by-play as I expected to be.  Maybe I’m being too harsh because I commentate matches frequently on my own youtube page and have put in a fair amount of time trying to hone that skill.  Or maybe I expected more out of Ed O'Neill, unfairly and subconsciously requiring him to live up to the greatness of the rest of his career during his first attempt at commentating a BJJ event?  Nonetheless, I felt there was room for improvement there.

Despite those missteps, there were a lot of positive sides to this event.  One of the main upsides being the production value and the treatment of the athletes.  BJJ is still an emerging sport, popularity wise, and it’s not often that even the top competitors are treated as well as they were at Metamoris, let alone paid accordingly for their time and efforts.  So this is a great step forward for the entire sport.  Clearly there are problems with the current format of all jiu-jitsu tournaments and Metamoris is a direct response to that criticism.  And while they were not 100% successful in this particular event, it is difficult to look past the care and desire to put on a spectacle that's worthy of consideration.

The truth of the matter is, no one has come up with an effective solution to this competition conundrum.  The closest we’ve come is to have no time-limit, submission-only matches, but tournaments utilizing this format could never hope to predict the length of their event.  The only way to figure out the correct combination of ingredients in order to produce a tournament that balances excitement with reasonable scheduling, all while preserving the essence of jiu-jitsu, is to try new formats.

Metamoris may not have gotten it perfect this time, but they are arguably the  tournament that pushes the envelope to recapture the essence of the sport and, for that, they should be praised.

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We are reporting live from Metamoris.  I am joined here with John Evans who is nice enough to lend his credibility to our dog and pony show here. We're gonna keep you updated as things progress throughout the day, but we took the time to record our first short audio summary of what down between Metamoris - Estima v. Torres.

***Keep checking back to our page for all the latest Metamoris coverage!***

Nicolini and Dern ends in a draw, no audio update here as things are moving RIDICULOUSLY fast this year.  No two hour delay.

Oh good,as we start Schaub vs. Cyborg, we have our first two Karate Kid references from the crowd.  The event is now complete.

At this point we've discovered that press row is out of power outlets, so we're going to reduce some of the online reporting so that we can conserve energy so we can make it through the evening. Updates to come in the form of tweets.

From @VerbalTapCast

Schaub vs. Cyborg (cont'd)

  • Schaub is touching Cyborg's head so much you'd think he's about to give him a haircut. #metamoris
  • The crowd is now turning extra feisty. They're heckling more than one of my own comedy shows. #metamoris
  • With a Cyborg guard, the crowd ooohs then awws when it's gone. The crowd might win this match. #metamoris
  • I've seen Lucha Libre matches with less defined good guys and bad guys. #metamoris
  • It's another DRAW... jk's. It's Cyborg all day. #metamoris
  • Snap. Post fight call out to Schaub. Cyborg: I think you should have tried to pass my guard. #metamoris
  • Is there an award we can give Rener for keeping a straight face and keeping positive. #metamoris
  • Did you just feel that? Eddie Bravo vs. Royler Gracie announced for Metamoris 3. The place goes nuts! #Metamoris

Galvao vs. Lovato Jr.

  • Well that was intense. Lovato and Galvao entertain the crowd after the intermission in a match that goes the distance.
  • Galvao was superb. Deserved that win and those two are amazing to watch. Just amazing high level competition. I'm in awe. #metamoris
  • Galvao comes in to plug Lovatos pressure passing system. This is what competition should be like. #metamoris.
  • .@lovatojrbjj apologizes to the crowd 4 not getting it done. Think I speak 4 the crowd: "no need to apologize" #Champion #metamoris #thanku

Vieira vs. Estima

  • Holy shit. After a 19 min pressure and recovery war, we had an action packed last minute with a set of submission set ups that looked sick.
  • Vieira says he was exhausted and couldn't finish. Must be something about worlds and beasting it for twenty minutes. #metamoris
  • Guy from the crowd yells "it'd be great to see a submission now." Think there should be an open invitation for that guy to try. #metamoris

Kron vs. Aoki.

  • Well we got a tap, but about as crazy as you can imagine. Just as they're rolling out of bounds Kron pulls off a guillotine. #metamoris
  • But Kron gets it with the assist of a audience member who ducked underneath the fighters, keeps them steady & prevents a reset? It was weird

Post-Event Press Conference

  • EddieRoylerEddie Bravo and Royler Gracie are up first.
  • Bravo and Gracie are very complimentary of one another.
  • Bravo talks about his respect for gi jiu-jitsu and clears up the misconception that he created 10th Planet as a means of revenge.
  • Press row is very happy to see the both of them, no Metamoris III date announced just yet.
  • JT Torres and Estima up next.  EEstima JT
  • Torres and Estima have a short discussion about their match as we then about-face to the main event (?).  Seems like we may be doing this out of order.
  • Kron Gracie and Shinya Aoki make their way out to the presser.
  • IMAG1400-1Metamoris President Ralek Gracie mentions Kron fighting for a Metamoris title.
  • Aoki takes the high road when asked a question about any discomfort with the audience member who provided support as he and Kron were falling, says it was not a factor in his loss.
  • Aoki and Gracie head out.
  • IMAG1403-1My sincere apologies to Michelle Nicolini and Mackenzie Dern, as my cell phone was starting to act up around this time of the press conference.  Our coverage here (or lack thereof) does not accurately reflect the superb exhibition of jiu-jitsu you two displayed on the mats today.  Thank you very much.
  • Right now we're at Schaub and Cyborg in the presser. All in the room admit, "this should be interesting."
  • Also, Aoki is sitting next to me. I'm terrified. #HeSeemsNice
  • Evans just re-ignated the conversation between Schaub and Cyborg. And now we've got a real war in the press room. #Awkward
  • The temperature in the room is pretty chilly between the two, as we have a difference in perspectives.
  • The question seems to be: Who is charged with needing to bring the fight? Schaub respecting a great guard or Cyborg having to respond to a "runaway opponent?"
  • The mention of "what would Royce Gracie have done, what if he just sat down the entire time?" There may be #Metamoris3 in the press room.
  • IMAG1407-1Yay, everyone respects each other again. We're all good!
  • Lovato and Galvao up next.
  • There's mention of "no fire" in the Lovato/Galvao fight. Not sure I really agree with that contention here.
  • Lovato and Galvao both take a moment to acknowledge one another and Metamoris. Perhaps also competing for sportsmanship of the event.
  • Lovato and Galvo exit, as Vieira and Estima make their way out.
  • VERBAL TAP's John Evans asked about Vieira about looking tired after the match, asks if it had to do w/ Worlds or just trying to pass Estima
  • IMAG1408We've got confirmation. It is called the "galaxy guard." #Estima
  • Estima closes with a money interpretation joke. Says Vieira's interpretator didn't mention Estima was one of the best looking people he's fought.
  • In response to a question about Schaub's performance, Ralek tries to play devils advocate, says he wasn't ready but applauds desire to test himself.
  • Ralek comes back w/ saying he was disappointed, seems he feels Metamoris was hindered by part of Worlds & the concept of time still a prob.
  • Ralek says not sure, but thinks he Kron gets "submission of the night."
  • Ralek says fighters get double the money if they land the submission. Interesting incentive.
  • EA Sports connection with Metamoris. Ralek says despite reluctance to video games that it can be a positive experience for kids.
  • When asked about the contingency for fighters falling off the mats: If you fall out the ring, you get disqualified. Yikes.

And that pretty much closes out the Event and Press Conference coverage.  Thanks for sticking it out with us this evening.  For more on Metamoris II check out our match-by-match breakdowns here and our podcast review here.

Thanks much everyone!