We’re Psyched to Watch Metamoris 4

Fightland Blog

By Fightland Staff

Grappling star Dean Lister. Photo by Michael Hresko.

One time, I saw the New York Giants play basketball. That’s not a typo: To raise money for my hometown’s football team, strings were pulled and a bus full of the players from the mid-90s roster—none of whom I remember now, except for Ottis Anderson—arrived at a high school gymnasium on a frigid evening in the off-season. The G-Men faced a team made up of people I saw in the hallways and in the classroom: teachers, administrators, coaches. I can’t remember much about how it played out except that the score was pretty close (thanks to a science teacher who played pro basketball in Brazil for a year). Also, the novelty of watching athletes from one sport compete in another wore off long before the fourth quarter.

That’s in marked contrast to what Metamoris has done in bringing athletes from mixed martial arts into the realm of 20-minute, submission-only grappling matches against the world’s best jiu jitsu stylists. Metamoris 4 is expected to take place August 9 in Los Angeles, and word of its first few match-ups started trickling in last week, including Chael Sonnen versus Andre Galvao, and Josh Barnett against Dean Lister, on a card that also includes Vinny Magalhaes versus Keenan Cornelius, Saulo Ribeiro against Rodrigo “Comprido” Medeiros, and Gary Tonon versus Kit Dale. For Sonnen, it marks the start of a second act since retiring from MMA after his positive test for banned substances. For Barnett, it’s a way station between injury and a return to bona fide MMA competition. And for every athlete on the card who devotes their attention to MMA above all else, it’s a way to all the possibilities allowed when you aren’t worried about ground and pound or a 10-second mark.

Earlier this month, Mike Chiappetta of Fox Sports wrote an illuminating piece about the diminished role of submissions in the modern MMA landscape. Among Chiappetta’s findings, while submissions accounted for the outcome of nearly a third of all UFC fights in 2006, that figure has dipped to 15 percent in the first half of 2014. And for the most part, “submission” is synonymous with “choke,” rather than arm bar or heel hook. For those of us reared on the Sakurabas, the Nogueiras, and the Imanaris of the fighting world, this trend is concerning but maybe inevitable: In 2014, a career attuned to high-level MMA doesn’t leave much time left over to hone sweeps from 50-50 guard.

Metamoris founder Ralek Gracie. Photo by Stefan Kocev.

In one sense, pure grappling is a niche interest, but in another, it’s mandatory. Virtually every MMA fighter devotes some percentage of time to pure grappling, the kind where strikes are accidents and gloves are absent, that kind that breaks up sparring and hitting pads. It’s fair to assume that just because we’re not seeing a greater and more dynamic array of submissions doesn’t mean the fighters themselves are not capable of pulling them off. Without the constraints of five-minute intervals and bulky gloves—or, for that matter, complicated scoring structures. And while the submission grapplers inherently have an edge over MMA fighters in a no-strikes setting, there’s ample room for upsets.

It’s going to be cool watching Barnett and Lister trade leg locks, or finding out how Sonnen might walk away from Galvao without having slapped his hand on the mat first. And unlike the New York Giants versus a bunch of high school teachers on a basketball court, these are the sorts of novelties that remain compelling right until the end.


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