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The Great Jiu Jitsu Experiment: ‘The Road to Metamoris’

Fightland Blog

By Michael Hresko

Photos by Scott Hirano

A few weeks ago, Ralek Gracie invited me down to Gardena, California, to visit the taping of a new tournament series, which—at the time when he called—was happening in secret. Ralek, son of UFC founder Rorion Gracie, is the creator of his own promotion called Metamoris, which throws upscale grappling tournaments showcasing jiu jitsu talent and pit today’s best MMA stars against pure grapplers. What makes Metamoris so different is that there is no point-scoring system, and matches are 20 minutes long—rules that Ralek thinks will promote a more realistic and appropriate training of the art form. Training that focuses more on self-defense and jiu jitsu’s ultimate goal: submission.

They were filming the new project in an undisclosed location, which turned out to be a decently sized warehouse that he outfitted with a smaller version of the now-famous white-canvas stage. When I showed up, they were halfway through their second day of matches.

The tournament will be released to the public as a series called The Road to Metamoris. Season 1 is available today on their new exclusive network All Access. I sat down next to Ralek and in between quietly watching the matches, we chatted about the current state of jiu jitsu: what the rules are and why he thinks it will further his core mission of providing the best platform for grappling.

I’ve always been a huge fan and supporter of Metamoris, but when I left the event that day, I felt as though Ralek was closer than ever to realizing his goal. At the end of the two-day tournament, 16 out of 18 wins were won by submission.

Fightland: What was the motivation behind this new tournament series?
Ralek Gracie: [The amount of talented jiu jitsu fighters] is so vast. If you go and train at some random academy, like I just trained at Saulo’s academy in San Diego—even like three years ago I would go to academies and I would just feel like there was only really one person who wanted to train with me. You get that feeling that no one is really on the level. There’s the instructor and maybe he has his backup guy. And his backup guy is not like…usually they are not that strong.

Oh, you mean the guy he makes you train with to get you tired before he trains with you?
(laughs) Exactly! But even that, they wouldn’t even get me tired. Now it's like… Dude, I went to Saulo’s and there’s like 15 [very skilled] guys. There’s like 10 black belts that are solid. You train with them and you’re like, “damn these guys are sneaky,” and they have their own game, they’re lean.

This is the Pilot, and now we are going to make this available globally. That’s the concept. It’s going to be a global qualifier and we are going to get the best people in every state, every city—we’re going to be the best. And then everything is going to culminate and the final will be here. This is a pilot to get people excited.

What are the rules?
There are four four-men brackets. And each of the four-men brackets fights each other.

It’s not about the number, per se. It could be five-man brackets. In this case, there are four, four-men brackets. The idea is that each man will fight everyone in their bracket but it's not a traditional round robin. It's a “Death-Trap” round robin... Basically, if someone has more submissions than you, but you beat them, you move on and you inherit all their wins for yourself. It’s “King of the Hill” style so the brackets will close out very fast. 

If one guy ends up winning three matches in a row, and the other two guys are losing (or they just draw) they are not going to be able to catch up with him, they haven’t done their submissions, and they don’t deserve to move on at that point. We also told them that if every match in a bracket ends in a draw they all go home... Needless to say, they were going all-out.

So the people who move on have the most points, and you get a point by getting a submission.
You can call it a point, but it’s just a submission. The number of submissions you get determines your ability to move forward and the main thing is that it keeps it really simple. It’s just about who catches submissions and who doesn’t.

We have been avoiding the point (scoring) system, because whenever you have a point system, you have people trying to game the system, and then it changes the way people train, and it changes the objective. Even, like, giving a point for a submission attempt during a match, you know, which has been suggested to me, it will mutate the way people train because they will attempt that submission—they will look for that point for attempting, because it’s easier to attempt than it is to finish. Always. The distance between finishing a submission…you never know.

Anyone that trains knows there is a huge difference there. So we just want to focus on the submission, I think we always have. We don’t want them thinking about anything else.

That’s what we felt in here when the first couple matches started happening. We are testing it, we are like scientists. We are trying to figure out the way to create a situation where the best athletes will move on—and the best to me has always been defined by submissions, and effectiveness in your ability to close the deal.

So you will have satellite tournaments, and the winners of those will compete at a live event? Will that person be picked to fight, say, Josh Barnett?
Yes. Local, regional, national, and international. Not only that but that final guy—we have built his media package and his presence to where he’s as big as anyone. 

We have to do it because there is not enough linear support in the industry. We had to create a linear business model because there’s not enough support for this final step in what we are doing. We kind of went straight to the cream of the crop. There’s not enough of a foundation [in the sport].

As far as our game plan for our site. We are basically creating the Netflix of grappling. Our new website we are launching is going to be only five percent of our content. This is just one little project. The Road to Metamoris is just one piece.

Fighters who win the “road” tournaments are then invited to the stage of the bigger live events, and a chance to compete against big names in the sport.

I was always so bummed jiu jitsu players were forced to compete in MMA to make a living. For me, the first Metamoris meant that there was going to be a cool place to show off your jiu jitsu without having to compromise.
That’s what I’ve been trying to do since day one. Actually, that has been the core goal. To make it to where…For example, someone like Kron. He was a diamond in the rough and I noticed he wasn't getting respect for his level of technique. He did IBJJF and he would lose on points. If he didn’t submit you, there was almost a 90 percent chance he was going to lose on points. So he was ranked really low but at Metamoris 1 he beat Otavio Souza by submission (just over the comfortable 10 minute mark, which is the IBJJF time limit for black belts) who was ranked #1 at the time. And the clock was working against him. So he was just going in there trying to tap everyone out and if the time runs out in 8 minutes or 10 minutes and you happen to survive, you probably swept him because he gave up position in an attempt to submit you—his unwavering attempt at submission. Kron was a big inspiration for us to provide a platform to guys who only went for submissions, the real 'underground' champions of jiu jitsu. 

There was no space for people on the level. It’s gone so far since 8, 10 years ago. It’s been exponential, [the growth] in the amount of effective people that now compete.

It’s very limited toward the higher-level grappler. It has been progressively increasing. The number of brown belts and purple belts and black belts who aren’t well-known but have a solid background, you know, ten years into the game.

So this gives you that opportunity to have that shot?
Yes, and it reaches the bigger pool of people who are great athletes, who have the potential to be really good, that just aren’t getting the exposure. If they are not just trying to win the IBJJF World’s, they are basically nobody. Culturally, I think a lot of people have really bad experiences in points-format tournaments.

It doesn’t allow them to be as dynamic as they want to be. You have to be very regimented. You have to approach it like you would a Judo competition. OK, these are the fucking rules, this is how…if you really want to be successful—especially if your game is not as naturally as good as a Buchecha or a Kron. You have to get tricky. That’s the point system. Those are the rules.

A big part of what we cater to is this culture of people who came into jiu jitsu feeling like, “oh this is that thing that’s like a fight with no punches, where I am able to be effective.” That era of people is absolutely frustrated, overall. If they had an opportunity, if these guys out here who are competing…if you ask them, they are really excited they don’t have to worry about points. They can just come in here and play their game. It’s a sense of freedom.

This is another way for me to express what I think the culture of grappling represents and what it means. It’s about the respect. That walls and the whole design is about respecting the battles and making a space where…you don’t really even know how big this place is, you know? You just feel something.

Watch Season 1 of The Road to Metamoris here.

 

Check out these related stories:

Art for Art’s Sake: Metamoris 5 Recap

Metamoris 5: Portraits After the Fight

A Shakespearian Saga: The Gracies, Sakuraba, and Metamoris

The Faces of Metamoris 4

 

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