Over the years, I’ve covered and attended dozens of UFC’s, Mixed Martial Arts competitions, and boxing matches, but last Sunday marked the first time I’ve ever attended a grappling-only tournament.
Yes, I, too, have no idea how I’ve never been to a single grappling-only tournament; No, I don’t get out much.
Now that’s not to say I’m completely oblivious to the competitive world of competitive jiu-jitsu. I’m familiar with the athletes, I regularly watch the matches, and have an above average recollection of the trends in the sport. But it’s also why I thought it best to bring along a strong jiu-jitsu technician (and all around good guy), John Evans, to properly contextualize the event for all of our dedicated grappling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu fans (you can read his excellent summary of the event right here).
Having said all that, I came to Metamoris with high expectations. This is, after all, an event that prides itself on being the alternative to the oft-criticized world of elite jiu-jitsu. The format, the rules, and the first-rate caliber athletes involved display a thoughtful and measured response to the “point” and “advantage” system that some argue ruin the essence of modern jiu-jitsu competition.
And with just that concept and design, the event gave us plenty to talk about this week: On our podcast here, we touch upon all of the individual matches (good and bad) and have a thoughtful discussion about type athleticism that was displayed on the Metamoris mats.
But I’d like to take a moment to talk specifically about my own experience and the concept of “spectacle.”
To begin, you could tell there were a few looming ghosts from inaugural event. After the event started over an hour late last year, everything seemed rushed at the pace of a runaway freight train. I’m a stickler to keeping things prompt, but I can also understand the difficulty of keeping things on time for a PPV, when you have matches that can go anywhere from one to twenty minutes (especially when five of the six matches go the distance). However, from a production standpoint, if the audience feels like you’re rushing, chances are it’s because you’re rushing. There is a certain effortlessness the event has yet to find that can easily make the production value of the event come off as more assured.
Second, in what was perhaps the biggest conversation piece after the event: Match-ups are key. When they work (Galvao v. Lovato Jr., Dern v. Nicolini), they produce fascinating displays of jiu-jitsu between two equally matched opponents that, even if they don’t end in a finish, do more to advance the art. But when you get match ups that are a hard sell to begin with, you sometimes get what you pay for. My sincere congrats for Brendan Schaub for volunteering to be a participant in the event. Seriously. It’s a level of competition that is truly difficult and I don’t think anyone would fault him for wanting to be involved. Would I have like to see him engage more with Cyborg? Of course. Would I have like to have seen Cyborg calculate a new game plan when there was an opponent who was “running away?” Sure. But the fault isn’t so black and white. Did Schaub have an obligation to “fall into Cyborg’s guard?” Should a seasoned jiu-jitsu guy like Cyborg—who doesn’t typically have the problem of an opponent who is constantly backpedaling—be forced to dictate the pace and abandon his own game plan just because he “knows better?” Again, a tricky conundrum. It seemed both performers were implementing a game plan to “win,” which sadly came at the expense of anything remotely worth watching. So let’s take it a step further: With the very prevalent disparity between the participants, what was the expectation in this match? I’ve run this scenario a hundred times in my brain and have still yet to produce an answer, except to say that maybe next year we give Cyborg an opponent that’s at least on his level. I think there are few people who would question Cyborg’s placement on a Metamoris card, why not give him the type of opponent he deserves? Who knows, could produce something that’s fascinating for all the right reasons.
And I’m sure I can spend a lot of time discussing how the event would have been better served with more than a week after the Worlds (we can play this set of “what if” scenarios for days). But I take Metamoris President Ralek Gracie and team at their word when they say they plan to work around other jiu-jitsu competitions in the future.
Blemishes aside, Metamoris has more in its win column than it does in its needs improvement file.
The stage. The programs. The invitations. The promos. All things this tournament gets right. But it’s more than just all the small things, for me the thing that makes Metamoris so uniquely special is “the feel.”
The majority of the audience (when they’re not heckling Schaub) is quiet and respects the athletes. The mood is tense and ooh’s and aww’s come with every sweep and take down attempt almost instinctively, with the tempered politeness a reflection of an educated audience who understands how difficult many of these moves are to pull off. In some ways, despite the band, the big lights, and the large cheering crowd, the competition gives off a kind of “exclusive” vibe. At one point, the intimacy of the venue and quietness made it feel like we were given the opportunity to watch a match between two high level practitioners at a local academy that would otherwise be closed off to the lower belts and spectators. The kind of thing that in years past would have just been the subject of lore and storytelling. Pulling off that kind of thing isn’t easy and is certainly worthy of recognition.
So depending on what it is you consider ideal, I think when it comes to format, even the most impassioned jiu-jitsu fan would have to admit that the concept of a perfect system seems somewhat out of reach.
There will always be Brendan Schaub’s. Time limit draws. Audiences who may not “get it” or resist these kinds of events from time to time.
But that doesn’t mean we stop trying. Aside from all of the superb attention to detail and ethos the Gracie family loans this event, the strongest thing Metamoris may have going for it right now is zeitgeist. It is the right tournament at the right time.
Frankly, as a jiu-jitsu fan, we don’t have many large-scale options. There’s no other event that makes this sport come off like a spectacle. The athletes are treated like rock stars, the selection of venue is just right, and a majority of the players and participants are spot-on. For the time being, why not make this the exclusive home for competitive jiu-jitsu? Care less about giving us match-ups with marquee UFC fighters and care more about filling that spectacle void that so many of us jiu-jitsu fans crave and need.
And, in return, as fans of the sport, we should keep the following grim realities in check before we use our collective wit to troll the internet: we don’t live in an age where Nike sponsorships happen to the elite-level jiu-jitsu practitioner, we don’t have coverage on national prime time television, and the sport that closest resembles this one is currently fighting for its rightful place in the Olympics. At the end of the day, I think we need to ask ourselves: do we want to see something like this on a regular basis? And, if so, is there anything else out there like it? At least here, for better or worse, we have a collection of folks putting this event together who care.
The very figurehead of said organization caring so much he does something like this:
I’m not sure I share the look of grave concern expressed by Ralek here (I think the show was far from a disappointment and has more positives than his face lets on), but it is nice to know that going forward we’ve got someone who wants to give us the best kind of experience possible. But I also feel good in knowing that as long as he and his team are committed to giving us a first-rate event, they merit a strong consideration for an experimental format that puts jiu-jitsu on display for those people who love it.
And that’s why I, for one, was happy to call Metamoris II my first live grappling experience. And hope it’s the first of many to come.