Eight years ago this week, I walked into an auditorium in San Diego to watch Metamoris 1. What I didn’t know then was that I was seeing a foundational shift in BJJ that has shaken up the whole sport. Before Polaris, before the Eddie Bravo Invitational, before Fight 2 Win, there was Metamoris… and Metamoris had money.
The Rise and Fall of Metamoris
By 2012, the UFC was a well-established organisation. We had been seeing UFC events for years, and they drew viewers and in-person fans in droves, but nothing like those events had ever been done for jiu jitsu. While there’s an overlap between the BJJ community and the MMA community, they aren’t the same thing, and Metamoris demonstrated to us that there’s a niche audience that would prefer to watch a pure BJJ event.
For a while, Metamoris dominated. They were offering money that was unprecedented for many of the athletes competing, so they had matches people actually wanted to watch. Money that could pull Roger Gracie out of retirement to fight Buchecha, for example. Money that could convince Eddie Bravo and Royler Gracie to relive that iconic 2003 ADCC semi-finals match. It was less exciting the second time around, I think, and it hinted at the problems to come.
And there were definitely problems. By the fourth or fifth iteration of the show there were rumours of mismanagement of funds, and athletes who fought on the later, closed-door shows never got paid at all (that’s me, still waiting five years later…). Then there were the misogynistic and sexist comments that Ralek Gracie couldn’t seem to help spitting out in interviews. People got tired of watching athletes fight for twenty minutes and come to a draw.
Metamoris died slowly and quietly, but it fundamentally changed things. All of a sudden, people realised that jiu jitsu could be an event all by itself. With the right attention, it could even make money, as long as you poured money into it and raised production quality. Anyone with experience in business or social media isn’t surprised by this, of course, so it’s not a huge revelation. It just hadn’t been done before for some reason. I suspect that the success of the Mendes brothers’ Art of Jiu Jitsu Academy— an Academy that was clearly expensive, and whose social media appeared professional and widely consumed across demographic divides— might have helped pave the way for a successful paid event. Knowing that there’s an audience out there is half the battle to selling an event like Metamoris to sponsors.
Fixing the Metamoris Problem
The more interesting, long-lasting changes came in the rise of submission-only events. There were some excellent fights at Metamoris, but there were some absolute flops as well. It’s hard to forget the painfully boring Schaub vs. Cyborg fight, for instance. I’d rather watch my five year old beginner students roll than ever be subjected to that again, at least they do something resembling BJJ (I’m aware that Abreu had no responsibility for how boring that fight was, but it was still boring). When Ryron Gracie fought Andre Galvao, he managed to draw the match, despite spending most of the match on the bottom of mount. At Metamoris VII, five of the six matches ended in draws. Metamoris showed us that human nature will always cause a problem with a win/lose/draw system: if one athlete is significantly worse than the other, a win/lose/draw system will let them hunker down and hide for twenty minutes in an attempt to draw rather than lose outright.
Every rule set has issues, but without fail, a win/lose/draw system lends itself to the problem of boring matches. Professional organisations around the world have each developed their own way of dealing with this problem. Eddie Bravo has introduced overtime rounds with specific rules. Polaris uses a judging system, not unlike the UFC. ADCC has my favourite system— they use an unscored first half and a scored second half, although the rules surrounding guard pulling in the first half are quite strange and contradictory. I’ll never understand the vehement dislike for pulling guard in sport grappling.
The truest test for a submission-only match would be submission only with no time limit, but there’s always the chance of it going on forever, so it would make for a terrible event. There’s no flawless solution to the Metamoris win/loss/draw problem. So what makes an event and rule set “good?” Which ruleset is your favourite? Which creates the most exciting matches? Every promotion has its advocates and its detractors, but what Metamoris really brought us is the ability to choose. It just wasn’t there before. Now we’re spoiled for choice.
There is depth in professional promotions that wasn’t there eight years ago when I first walked into that auditorium with my teammates to watch Professor Galvao fight. Despite its problems and pitfalls, we have to look at Metamoris for what it was: imperfect but groundbreaking in the sport BJJ world.