Ralek Gracie on Art, Metamoris, and Chael Sonnen

Fightland Blog

By Michael Hresko

Photos by Stefan Kocev

28-year-old Ralek Gracie is making his mark on the world of mixed martial arts, but not with his fighting prowess. As one of the younger members of the legendary Gracie clan, Ralek has maintained the family commitment to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. You may have seen him as a youngster scrapping in the backyard in one of the notorious Gracie In Action videos, but these days, he's the brains behind grappling’s next great showcase—Metamoris.

It makes perfect sense that, out of all the Gracies out there spreading The Gentle Art, it’s Ralek who has chosen to develop a new way to present jiu jitsu. His dad, Rorion Gracie, created the first UFC as a means to showcase the effectiveness of their style of ground fighting.

The next edition, Metamoris 4, is set for August 9th in Los Angeles, and will feature grappling’s top competitors pitted against some of MMA’s biggest stars. There are no judges, and winners are only declared when matches end in submission.

Recently, Metamoris released a list of competitors for the forthcoming show that included Josh Barnett, Dean Lister, and Chael Sonnen. Considering the news this week about Chael, we thought it would be the perfect time to hang out with Ralek and ask him what his plan was.
Fightland: Chael Sonnen was released by UFC and Fox this week after failing a second drug test. How do you feel about having him headline your next event?
Ralek Gracie:
I didn’t want him to be the main event. It just kind of turned out that way, the way he just attracts so much attention. Every news organization said he was headlining the card. We didn’t say that. It was leaked that he was on the card, and they assumed he would be headlining. That wasn’t my plan. My plan was to have him be like 4th match of the night. So, I’m still considering doing that. What do you think? You think we should just do it and have him headline it and do the last match? Generally speaking it makes sense to have the most interesting match last so people are kind of waiting for that final experience.
In terms of the skill level he doesn’t deserve to be the main event, quote unquote. So a lot of our core followers are like, aw dude… what the fuck?

He’s fighting [elite grappling champion] Andre Galvao. Andre is no joke, but [they will say] that’s easy. That’s not a good fight for him. If it were Andre versus any other top, top guy [having the match as the last fight] would make sense.

Dean Lister and Josh Barnett are a little more qualified to be the main event. The Chael Sonnen match is more of a super fight. It’s an interest match about clashing two styles.

Will you test Chael for performance enhancing drugs?
People think that we should be testing. First of all, we are not the UFC, and we are not MMA. We don’t know how we are going to approach it yet. We have so much shit to learn first. We need to hire a consultant and take this extremely seriously. What are our limitations? Can someone take Creatine? Can someone take HGH? Do we care? What about in the off-season? If someone gets injured can they take a steroid to help with recovery? How do we regulate that? It’s a mess.

Does it even matter to the competitors? There are a lot of fighters out there that do it and win, and that do it and lose. Me personally—I think you should be able to do whatever you want, because the fact is that most guys are [using drugs ] anyway. Who knows if you are effective testing that guy as well as you are testing me. Nothing is really fair anymore. It’s a huge monster to tackle. 

Is this the interview yet, man? This should already be the interview.

When did you decide to forgo a career in MMA, and build a promotion company instead?
It came from getting injured and not getting paid. I didn’t get paid for my fight with Sakuraba. [Dream] stiffed me on a big amount of money. It was a big deal for me at the time.

Then, I got a couple injuries during training. I could have continued to focus on fighting and recovered and kept it moving but it dawned on me that I needed to focus on something more substantial for my family. Something more long term and something that was beyond just me having to carry the weight of everything, having to show up and perform, and be healthy. As a professional athlete, you know how sensitive your health is. You know how frail your existence really is when you go in there and someone is trying to rip your head off… or rather, knock your head off.

The idea of Metamoris, and the feeling behind it, came from my music career. I produced and wrote my own music. I released an album, but didn’t like it, took it down, and started over again. I’m very much a music producer. It’s really something I enjoy.

While making the videos for that album, I found my passion was in the actual production of the videos—even more so than my own performance. I was really into how the video looked and how the experience felt. It just kind of transformed. 

I geek out on everything Metamoris—the whole experience. It’s not like I just want to make money. For me, it’s almost a selfish endeavor. It’s like I’m building a big art piece.

We love how intimate and artful the event feels.
Initially, because we had the financial resources, I didn’t have to do what a lot of grimey promoters would have to do. It was a huge blessing. 

I still don’t know who the right sponsors are. We can’t just paint up our mat. It takes away from the experience so much.

I have people in my ear like, ‘dude, we aren’t balling.’ It’s a heavy ship. Hell yeah I want to get a sponsor who can cover our production costs, but we need a sponsor who gets what we are doing, fits our brand, and understands that they lose more by trying to be all over the place in our experience.

If you look at up-and-coming events, they will have something like 30 different sponsors. It’s disgusting. For me it just comes back to respecting the athlete and the art. I don’t want people to notice anything else besides the grappling, or be distracted looking at 30 different [advertisements] as if they have anything to do with the performance of the athlete.

People hate on you and your brothers a lot. They say that you’re always trying to sell jiu jitsu to them.
The problem is, when you are in an industry where nobody sells anything, they don’t know how, and there’s no sales model whatsoever… it looks like you’re the most sales-driven person ever.

What’s ironic is that, personally, I have issues with money. I grew up with the idea that if you do something for money, than you are a prostitute. That was drilled into our heads. [My family would say,] you need to be doing something for a real reason—because it’s significant and because you believe in it. You know? That old school mentality. 

Doing something to make money is important. The show has to make money. We need to do more Pay-Per-Views than we did last time. So, I’m sorry. Are you going to hate on us and not buy it? If not, we won't be around and you will have nothing to complain about. Is that what you want? [laughs]

You briefly brought in judges at Metamoris 2, but got rid of them before the following event.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to incorporate a judging or point system, so that the athletes have the ability to win by something other than a submission. It’s an insurmountable task. The moment you have one rule, you open yourself up for side-effects. You open yourself up for the scar tissue that will surround that. It’s like doing an implant in the human body, once you implant one piece of machinery, you don’t know what the response is. 

Putting one type of regulation in our event can create an effect where five years from now we end up with a circus. Something where athletes literally can go in there and fucking move their body in a very specific pattern, create a victory, and are then considered the best in the world. [If that happens] everything I believe in is gone. I have to think ten years down the line. What are we doing to affect the future generations that are going to train for Metamoris? What are kids doing now to prepare for the IBJJF tournaments? I think they are learning a style of jiu jitsu that is completely alien.

Taking time to figure out the most appropriate way to judge your bouts is the opposite of what MMA did in the beginning, when they adopted the boxing model.
It’s a square peg in a round hole.

I have not come up with one rule or strategy, that will force someone into a submission that does not, in some way, affect the way the people approach the fight. Good or bad. You can’t do it. When that initial butterfly flaps his wings, it becomes an infinite potential for things to go wrong. 

We were thinking we needed at least one rule so we could avoid another performance like Brendan Schaub's. Something that would make it illegal to back away during the match. There have been some serious discussions with members of my family, and people outside of my family, who I respect very much. People in the game, and people out of the game. The unfortunate fact is, when you have a rule where someone can’t back up, you are forcing forward movement. In jiu jitsu, you are not constantly moving forward. 

I would love to have a winner of every match, but because I’m so sensitive and because the event was so new, the judges had to go. 

If Brendan would have had a 10-minute war and got caught, people would have loved him for it. 
You can’t blame the event for providing a canvas for an athlete who goes in there and runs away. You saw his video, he was talking about how he was going to go in there and do something—we didn’t know he was going to go in and run away.

And that’s where I’m at now. We are a blank canvas. It’s like when you go into an art store—you can buy a painting that’s half-done. You can buy something that’s already sketched and you can go color the lines in. But, if you are a real artist, you don’t want any of that in your way. Not only that, but you will go out and make your own, bleach it white, and know that it’s a canvas that nobody has messed with.

What’s next for Metamoris?
We want to have weight divisions. At Metamoris 4, Dean Lister and Josh Barnett are actually fighting for a title. We didn’t want to over publicize that too much. We want someone to get the belt, because then we want Buchecha to come in and fight the winner. It just builds to the next event. We are really excited. 

We want to create grappling titles, because there are some guys out there that are really solid jiu jitsu technicians that are not getting enough respect. I think we need to create titles because I think that connects with people and provides a way for them to appreciate grappling.

I am interested in creating an experience that you want to take your wife or your friends to. Our goal is to give the audience the coolest, most interesting stylistic match-ups that we can possibly put on the mat for 20 minutes of submission only grappling. We wanted to push a pure grappling event with no obstruction. It’s a very simple concept. There’s no cage, no ring… just a white mat. That’s the formula. It’s not anything new, it’s just new for grappling.

We are bringing the distillation of grappling that has disappeared with MMA. We are synonymous with MMA culture, but we want to create more of an experience for people in jiu jitsu—something they can be a part of. I really care about that.

Metamoris 4 will be held on August 9th at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, CA. Buy tickets to watch the live-stream here.


Check out this related story:

Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers

Metamoris II