In the sheer spectacle days of those first UFCs, when things were barely above ground and still so merrily ominous, Royce Gracie struck a chord with the everyman. He was, at first blush, nothing more than a very unimposing skinny dude in a gi. He was any of us.
Yet, unlike most of us, he entered a tournament of strongmen and brutes in 1993 and wrecked them all. This was very easy to admire. He did the same thing in the spring of 1994, at UFC 2. In fact, UFC’s 1-4 were all about the cult of Royce and, in turn, his father, Helio, and all Gracies. At UFC 5, Royce fought a 36-minute round with Ken Shamrock.
To this day, that remains the UFC’s most unbeatable record (even seven five-minute rounds doesn’t get there). Yet, even then, it wasn’t the most unthinkable. For that, he battled Japan’s Kazushi Sakuraba for 90 minutes in PRIDE, which made Andy Bowen’s 111-round boxing match with Jack Burke back in 1893 seem somehow less fictional.
These feats are part of the reason 46-year-old Royce Gracie is an icon in MMA. Half the UFC's current roster wouldn’t be fighting if Royce hadn’t shattered our notions of what’s effective in a “no holds barred” fight. Most discovered him through VHS and morbid curiosity. Many discovered Brazilian jiu-jitsu -- that game of “kinetic chess” -- at the same time. Here was Royce Gracie, forgoing the violent impulse through the world’s bloodiest assembled bracket, presenting a trump card to bullydom with superior technique.
His secret has long been out, but in a roundabout way, Metamoris II --happening June 9 at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion -- is a return to the spirit of the early UFCs. It’s trying to get at the original muse, as filtered through the Gracie lineage. Only, rather than being a proving ground for the gamut of opposing disciplines, it’s been honed to take the training wheels off of grappling tournaments specifically. Royce’s nephew Ralek Gracie came up with the idea. And that idea, in its relative infancy, is this: Metamoris seeks to bring Brazilian jiu-jitsu closer to “as real as it gets.”
That means getting rid of points.
“Ralek and I talked a lot ... about it, and the thing is, martial arts in general were not built for points,” Royce told ESPN.com. “Martial arts in general, besides maybe tai chi -- which is more for meditation -- were built for self-defense. It was for a street fight situation, not to score a point. Sometimes you watch a tournament with a point system, and it’s not the best fighter that wins. It’s the guy who scores more points and then he runs away and hides. So Ralek took away all the points. There’s no point system.”
In a nutshell, Metamoris combines the totality of a fight with the technical side of grappling. Stalling strategies, so common to BJJ tournaments, aren’t rewarded. As Ralek points out, “submissions are the only goal.” If a submission can’t be pulled off in a single 20-minute round, the three judges -- all of them known Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners, whom Ralek refers to as “curators” -- conspire to pick a winner. There are no draws.
“That’s how it should be,” Royce says. “The three referees watch the match like a spectator would. Like a fan. Just observing. And, since there’s no points, they’ll decide who controlled the fight the most.”
Metamoris II, a PPV event being offered on the Metamoris site for $19.95, will feature some brand names in MMA and will split six bouts between gi and no-gi action. UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub will face Roberto Abreu, and the main event pits DREAM and OneFC lightweight champion Shinya Aoki against Kron Gracie, also in a no-gi fight.
“Aoki is a very tough opponent,” Royce says. “He finishes all his fights by submission, so he likes to submit people. And not just submit them but break them. He’s always breaking people’s arms, and people tap and he keeps hanging onto it.”
And here, Royce laughs a little sadistically. “It’ll be good.”
The other three fights are gi matches: Braulio Estima versus Rodolfo Vieira, Mackenzie Dern against Michelle Nicolini and Andre Galvao against Rafael Lovato Jr. -- heavy hitters in the jitz world. All fighters will weigh in the morning of the show, yet there aren’t strict weights that a fighter must adhere to. It’ll be ballpark. Very loose and negotiable. Very Gracie.
“In the future, we’ll have weight classes and belts, but we might also have an open-weight division, too, where a guy who’s 250 pounds could fight a guy who’s 150 pounds.”
Ring a bell? That sort of matchmaking harks back to Royce’s heyday. Yet Royce, 20 years after making his mark, just wants to see his bread-and-butter discipline in a more realistic context.
“If somebody comes up and pinches your girlfriend on the behind, you’re not going to say, ‘Hey, hold on, honey, I’ll take care of this,’ then turn around and say, ‘How much do you weigh?’ Royce says. “In a street fight situation, there’s no weight division, there’s no time limits.”
There is a time limit in Metamoris, but the design is to show off the entire game within the game of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Striking is prohibited, which allows the many branches and dialects of grappling to stand out.
“What I personally love is that each competitor can come in with his or her own style, and use that style to best of their ability, and not get judged for things like being on bottom,” Ralek says. “I like that we’re going to see a full spectrum of jiu-jitsu. Points systems can’t help but create the style that people come in with, which makes it one-dimensional. And that’s all backwards because jiu-jitsu is multidimension.”
That’s a lot of high-minded concepts under one roof. Here is a promotion in which judges go off of general gut feeling and the eye-test -- the way a seasoned fan might -- and practitioners are asked to do away with the tactical conservatism of normal BJJ competitions all at once. Crazy? Maybe.
Then again, Metamoris could help educate fans and officials alike with the many intricacies of the ground game -- the one area in MMA where more education is needed.
“Or it could be a disaster and not work at all,” Ralek laughs. “But we’ve got to try.”