Metamoris 4 goes down this weekend in Los Angeles. A veritable roster of jiu jitsu all-stars has been compiled for the fight card, with a secret match to boot. There’s even a heavyweight title on the line, and still, all anyone can talk about is Chael Sonnen and the histrionics of his back-and-forth tête-à-tête with the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
Sonnen has always been adept at making headlines, and his recent two-year suspension from competitive MMA after testing positive for a cornucopia of performance enhancing drugs is a compelling story. But in all fairness, it’s the matchup between Josh Barnett and Dean Lister, for the Metamoris heavyweight title, that should be captivating the jiu jitsu community at large.
Barnett, a former UFC champion, IBJJF no gi gold medalist, and Pancrase titlist, needs little introduction; he’s the Warmaster, a feared submission wrestler, and Revolver Magazine’s 2014 “Most Metal Athlete.” Considered one of the finest heavyweight submission artists in the world, Barnett is a second-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, an unabashed fan of Magic: The Gathering, and perhaps the only professional athlete to publicly profess his admiration for Georgia, stoner metalists Mastodon, whose current release Once More ‘Round the Sun is the best album of the year, thus far.
Lister may be less known outside of hardcore jiu jitsu circles, but The Boogeyman has one of the most impressive resumes in the BJJ game today. A three-time ADCC Submission Wrestling world champion, Lister has never tapped out. He’s also never been finished in professional MMA, where he compiled a 4-2 record inside the Octagon during a brief UFC stint from 2006-2008.
Both Barnett and Lister are world-class talents and big names in the contact sports world. So why has their upcoming battle been overshadowed by a debate on PEDs and some yapping “gangster” from West Linn, Oregon?
Well, for starters, Metamoris is a young, fledgling promotion with minimal traction outside of the hardcore combat scene. And competitive jiu jitsu, while huge in Brazil and Abu Dhabi, is still just a blip on the radar in the rest of the world.
So perhaps Sonnen’s antics will help cast a bit more light on competitive BJJ; he is the event headliner after all, set to square off against Andre Galvao, a multiple time ADCC champ who has won every single BJJ accolade imaginable. But in all fairness to Chael and his buddies human growth hormone, recombinant human erythropoietin, anastrozole, and human chorionic gonadotropin, Barnett and Lister don’t need the extra flicker from your massive spotlight.
This in no way should devolve into some sort of righteous pontification on the ills of performance enhancing drugs (heck, even Barnett is a repeat offender, testing positive for anabolic steroids as recently as 2009, although he has passed a stringent series of tests since his last offense). But the focus should remain on the heavyweights, who are vying for a championship.
For his part, Barnett has the advantage in size, outweighing Lister by about 20 pounds. And while weight does not always equate to strength in BJJ, it is always more difficult to take down a heavier opponent.
Josh Barnett smothering Hidehiko Yoshida during an MMA bout in 2008.
Barnett also possesses a deeper resume, having faced legends like submission ace Frank Mir, current UFC light heavyweight title challenger Daniel Cormier, Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira, and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. But those contests all came in professional mixed martial arts, a sport that is drastically different from the no-striking affairs of competitive BJJ.
Lister has also gone up against some top opposition, squaring off against guys like Glover Teixeira, Nate Marquardt, Renato “Babalu” Sobral, and Vinny Magalhães. And while he’s lost a few contests here and there, he carries with him an aura of invincibility: he’s never been finished, and how many combat athletes with over a decade of experience can claim such a feat.
There is also the matter of Lister’s devastating leg attacks: ankle locks, heel hooks, kneebars; with which he’s become synonymous. Lister may end up on the wrong side of a Barnett takedown, but a little crafty hip out, and suddenly he’s secured a limb or torqueing a hinge joint. It all can happen in an instant for Lister.
On any other day, a Josh Barnett-versus-Dean Lister heavyweight title fight would draw interest around the combat sports world; casual fans know Barnett and his history, and hardcore BJJ geeks are in awe of Lister’s perfect submission defense. On any other jiu jitsu fight card, this matchup would command intrigue: two well-regarded grapplers putting it all on the mat. But Sonnen, Chael Sonnen, has stolen the headlines for himself.
So do yourself a favor, and look beyond the drama when the heavyweight title is on the line.
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