LOS ANGELES -- On Saturday night, it took UFC on Fuel 10 -- a card where the martial arts were very much mixed -- exactly 1:52 to produce its first submission. On Sunday, it took Metamoris II, a no-points jiu-jitsu showcase specifically geared toward submissions, approximately 108 minutes before anybody tapped.
Oh, the irony.
The "anybody" who tapped in this case was none other than Shinya Aoki, who fought aggressively against Kron Gracie in the main event yet got caught at the edge of the apron with a guillotine. Gracie was aided by a spectator who came over, stood at the lip of the elevated platform just as the fighters were about to topple over and presented his back as a barrier.
Was it legal? Who knows. The referee was watching the choke. It looked like Aoki might have been trying to drag the action out of bounds to temporarily get rid of the lock around his neck. But it worked out for Kron Gracie, who finished the match seconds later. Now he’s 2-0 in Metamoris (his first victory came over Otavio Souza at Metamoris I). As for Aoki, the spectators appreciated that he passed guard and went for submissions. He played the game the right way (aggressively).
Which was sort of the whole point, exactly how it’s supposed to work and just the way everybody imagined it.
The second Metamoris event was well-run and pretty interesting. Part of the allure was names like the UFC’s Brendan Schaub and Dream’s Aoki -- people with followings in MMA -- to direct some crossover appeal to what amounts to a Brazilian jiu-jitsu exhibition. In that way, Metamoris is the full-circle return to what the Gracie family introduced to the UFC 20 years ago, stripped of all the violent frills.
The legend himself, Royce Gracie, was on hand to accept a lifetime achievement award at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. It was him who ruled UFC’s 1-4 and proved the old Gracie Academy flagship that jiu-jitsu is a “triumph of human intelligence over brute strength.” Now he and his nephew Ralek Gracie have made Metamoris all about that jiu-jitsu in its purest form. And instead of eight matches going on simultaneously (how traditional jiu-jitsu events are normally executed), it was one match, front and center, where the game of “kinetic chess” could play out for all to see.
How did it come off? One curious onlooker said it’s like “watching a couple of the NBA’s sharpshooters play Horse rather than compete in a game.” A description like that hardly justifies the $19.95 asking price of the Internet pay-per-view. As tempting as it is to agree with an assessment like that, it also feels a little extreme. ESPN.com’s Josh Gross, who was on hand, said it better -- “for MMA fans it’s like going to the opera.”
There was something operalike going on with Metamoris, right down to the cathedral hush that came over things as each fight started.
In fact, it almost felt the like the exact opposite of your typical MMA event. It was so quiet through fights that you could hear the zip of the bare feet on the mat. The audience -- made up of Gracie students, Gracies themselves, celebrities of many stripes, and plenty of the hardcore curious -- was thoroughly tuned in to the technical side of what was playing out. When somebody tried to advance their position or pass guard, the cheers were passionate and informed. When Andre Galvao and Rafael Lovato Jr. toiled relentlessly for inside grip, the keener eyes knew. Ditto when Rodolfo Vieira finally passed Braulio Estima’s guard 10 minutes into the project.
People were several steps ahead, watching the set-ups, seeing the intentions unfold and be thwarted. As it should be with a fluid sport. The idea is to educate the eye. Jiu-jitsu’s tension ebbs and flows through anticipation.
Yet, when the UFC’s Brendan Schaub refused to go to the ground with Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu, the hecklers came alive in the tense quiet and let him know. Schaub, who forced Abreu to butt-scoot for nearly 20 minutes (and occasionally drift off in siestas, it seemed), said he was playing it smart.
“I make my living in the UFC,” he said. “If he takes my leg, I’m not going to be able to make a living. I’m not letting the crowd pressure get to me. If I do that, he’s taking home my leg.”
Abreu left empty-handed, but was given the decision. Schaub got a workout in ahead of his UFC fight with Matt Mitrione in July (Mitrione was in attendance, too). In the six bouts, two were draws, three were black-and-white decisions, and only the last one ended in a tap. Four of the battles were in gi, and two without.
Did Metamoris II achieve what it wanted in drawing more attention to the technical battle of the ground game? Probably. At least for those who watched. If you go in for bloodsport, this might have been a little too specific, but it couldn’t help but inform MMA fans just how many layers an MMA practitioner must have to be a complete fighter. For the hardcores in attendance (and there were plenty), the slick jiu-jitsu on display further distanced what they already know to be true from the casuals who have no idea.
All in all, not a bad second showing by Metamoris. The matinee setting with the ominous red lighting gave the thing the right feel. The final “bell” to each fight sounded like a baby grand crashing to the ground from eight stories. That couldn’t help but jar the onlookers. And really, it was necessary from the trancelike state that comes with watching a 20-minute battle between two honed specialists in the very specific field of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
At some point, Metamoris believes, more people will know exactly what they’re watching.