Can Metamoris Make Jiu-Jitsu a Spectator Sport?
By Walter L. Sebring IV
Eddie Bravo hadn't stood on the mat as a competitor for 11 years, and now he only stood a few feet and a few moments away from facing the last man he beat. The percussion section hired as the only music for the event boomed and thundered, matching the intensity in Bravo's eyes as he passed the cheering crowds in the large dark room as he headed toward the stage. There was an excited tension as Bravo walked up the steps and emerged out of the dark onto the brightly lit canvas. As Bravo began to steadily circle the stage and slowly raise his arms, the crowd roared. Not just for the competitor, but also for the culmination of the drama that had haunted the jiu-jitsu world for over a decade. In 2003, black belt champion Royler Gracie submitted to the underdog - then-unknown brown belt, Eddie Bravo - in a triangle choke at the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship. After the tournament, both men walked away from the competitive jiu-jitsu world. The crowd erupted over the possibility of finally receiving an answer to the question that had lingered for 11 long years - was Eddie Bravo's win just a fluke?
The atmosphere of Metamoris 3 was one of excitement and anticipation, very familiar to the world of spectator sports but new to the world of sport jiu-jitsu. Jiu-jitsu has always had a niche following as a sport, largely consisting of a hardcore fan base, many of whom are participants themselves. Metamoris is trying to change that by creating a grappling entertainment product that can be enjoyed on a mainstream level, similar to what the UFC has accomplished. Can Ralek Gracie, founder of Metamoris, revolutionize the grappling world by bringing grappling as entertainment to the masses?
Can Metamoris streamline ‘grappling as entertainment'?
I simultaneously recognize the significance of the gi in Brazilian jiu-jitsu culture, and also believe that it will forever hold Metamoris back from gaining traction on any mainstream level. The amazing technical battle between Clark Gracie and Rafael Mendes had the audience dead silent in wonder as Mendes aggressively sought to take Gracie's back, while constantly fighting off the counter legs attacks from the young Gracie. Though entertaining to the live audience, this match, along with Zak Maxwell vs. Sean Roberts, may be hard to sell to someone without previous knowledge of the techniques being implemented. Jiu-jitsu in the gi is slow, methodical, and at times uneventful to those unfamiliar with grappling. The no-gi matches were undeniably more fast-paced and from an action point of view, more entertaining. They contained more drama, more scrambles, more submission possibilities and attempts. It's no coincidence that the two best matches of the night, Bravo vs. Gracie & Cornelius vs. Casey, were fought without the gi.
Though there have been multiple competitors in the three Metamoris events that have extensive training in other grappling arts, I think the organization is in danger of limiting itself by having mostly Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitors, rather than drawing from other similar grappling styles such as catch wrestling, judo, sambo, and luta livre. Invitations to competitors of other styles may help maintain interest and keep things fresh, while ultimately giving Metamoris more legitimacy as the premiere event in grappling entertainment. Ultimately, the styles that clashed the most at Metamoris 3 proved to be the most entertaining and also brought us the beautiful baseball choke by Guillherme Mendes to get the tap from opponent Samir Chantre after only six minutes.
It is important to take into consideration that despite having run a very smooth, friendly, low-budget but beautifully orchestrated event, there are fundamental complications about the way the show was operated. $100 a ticket is a high price for spectators who aren't hardcore fans, especially when the seat in the very back and the seat in the front row are the same price. Simple solution: change to graded seating, and give more price options.
Metamoris has been proud of the fact that the event sold out in five hours and it is my personal belief that they could've doubled their attendance with a few adjustments, but the promotion opted to limit the available seats. Raise the seating, add more available seats in a bigger venue, give more price options, and the situation is solved at an increased profit as well as a more enjoyable experience for the live spectator.
I was extremely impressed with their flexibility as a promotion at two specific points during the event. First was the spontaneous decision to use replay in a dispute about the restarting position after a re-centering break in Bravo vs. Gracie. The second was when Keenan Cornelius' opponent, former UFC veteran and Jiu-Jitsu World Champion Vinny Magalhães went down to a staph infection. They used the opportunity to turn a disaster into a storyline. Quick thinking averted what could have been an epic disappointment for the fans, as Metamoris was able to bring in MMA fighter and Rickson Gracie black belt, Kevin Casey on an hour's notice. The storyline had become one of an underdog with a warrior spirit and no preparation competing against a younger, up-and-coming, dominant opponent - Cornelius - a storyline much more entertaining than the original matchup.
Of six matches, only two ended with a submission, yet the event felt consistently exciting throughout. Royler Gracie was quoted multiple times saying that the rematch carried no weight or significance, but anyone at Metamoris 3 could feel how much the result meant to those behind Bravo and Gracie. A large portion of the attendees was there to witness the leader of their school battle for validation. Validation for Bravo's first submission victory over Gracie, and validation for Gracie's theoretically superior skill. The Bravo-Gracie matchup proved that the right storyline, in this case one that strikes up interest among cult-like members of the martial arts community, has potential to push grappling into the realm of spectator-friendly sports.
Just like Bravo and Gracie have their own respective loyal following, the potential for crossover interest of MMA fans is great. By employing the participation of someone with a proven cult-like following in the MMA community, like BJ Penn, the event could draw fans from not only jiu-jitsu but MMA, as well. Penn was one of the UFC's biggest draws as lightweight champion, and any matchup with him would pique interest. I'd love to see him vs. Shinya Aoki. They were the best lightweights in MMA simultaneously but never met in competition, Aoki is a veteran of Metamoris, and he has always outspokenly viewed Penn as a hero. Ronda Rousey vs. (currently retired) Megumi Fujii would be an epic battle of judokas, pitting Megumi's diverse grappling prowess against Rousey's eagerness to play the villain and her Olympic-level judo skillset. The Miyao brothers, Josh Barnett, and of course, Marcelo Garcia are other possibilities that come to mind who would create the kind of draw that could extend Metamoris interest to fans of MMA.
More than anything, Metamoris should work on creating its own mythology. They should bring back Kevin Casey, who, to the crowd's wild cheers, already suggested a rematch against Keenan Cornelius. Metamoris should build its own stars, drama, and storylines to reach people in the mainstream - and given a couple more years, it's likely that will happen. During the main event, the audience at Metamoris 3 erupted into chants, stood on their feet, cheered, and felt excitement in every moment of the entire 20 minutes. Gracie's control of Bravo in the first half of the match reflected how many thought the first match should've gone, but once Bravo sunk in his lockdown from half-guard and swept Gracie, threatening with submissions and initiating an epic back and forth battle, they were both legitimized as true equals. Eddie Bravo and Royler Gracie's rematch ended in a draw, but not one fan left unsatisfied. It was a match that I would argue is the first true main event in grappling entertainment in this new era of mainstream combat sports acceptance. Those who watched the event witnessed history unfolding. Metamoris 3 was a huge success as a live event and if they can continue to evolve as they grow, and maintain the momentum of dramatic storylines, they may be onto something.