It’s hard to believe that 2019 will mark the seven-year anniversary of Metamoris I. Not only did the promotion give us some sensational matches in it’s five year run, but it undertook the painful birthing process of what is now a standard format in competitive BJJ. It paved the way for the many other pay-per-view platforms that exist now. And of course, it experienced the pitfalls. Today, Metamoris seems to be defunct, but it’s legacy still looms large over the BJJ world.
A Radical Idea
It all started with a really good question: Why isn’t competitive BJJ more of an event? If the UFC can sell out the Rogers Arena, why can’t the IBJJF sell out the gym at the local community college? After all, BJJ has world-class athletes and a fanatic fanbase. Athletes should be making more money, and fans probably would pay more than the $15 spectator charge.
For the longest time, the answer to these questions seemed like a given: BJJ wasn’t exciting to watch. It was all sleeve grips and fifty-fifty guard stalling. Even its own athletes wouldn’t pay to watch it.
But Ralek Gracie and his future business partner saw it differently. To them, the product wasn’t the problem. To an educated audience, jiu-jitsu was as exciting as any other major sport. The problem was the format.
Jiu-jitsu had always structured its competitions like high school wrestling tournaments. You couldn’t have chosen a worse format to translate to a television audience. Too many matches happening at once, no breaks, no chance for storytelling, and no way to focus the audience at home or live.
But the answer was already there: adopt the boxing format, just like the UFC had done.
A new vision started to incubate in their heads. A small, intimate venue with a single mat. Forget a tournament with hundreds of matches. Find a dozen of the best jiu-jitsu fighters and match them up. Tell the story of each match, leveraging the deep history between fighters, teams, and even nations.
But that wasn’t even their biggest angle. They had another idea up their sleeve that would strike a chord with the masses: ditch the scoring system entirely. Why educate viewers at all with complex graphics on advantages and the technical definition of a sweep or guard pass? Raise the stakes by making it simple: Twenty-minute matches, submission only. No submission, no win.
It would be a return to kill-or-be-killed jiu-jitsu. A throwback to those epic three-hour bouts of Helio Gracie in Brazil. People would pay good money to see it, and athletes could finally be offered good money to do it. All it would take was money. A lot of it.
I don’t need to tell you about the financial woes of Metamoris, which became public around 2015 and quickly turned the community against what had been the darling of the sport.
To his credit, Ralek Gracie has been pretty upfront about the financial disaster happening behind the scenes since day one. It wasn’t due to greed or corruption, but startup costs and the unforeseen challenges of creating a category.
The first Metamoris had a killer roster of athletes, rented out the Viejas Arena in San Diego, sent film crews to gather promo footage, and put together a TV quality graphics package and event team. All to be streamed on a brand new, untested website.
It all cost money.
The business plan was to recoup their up-front losses in pay-per-view sales. But a combination of rampant piracy, large watch parties, and technical issues meant the windfalls they were relying on never quite came.
The financial particulars aren’t clear, but Ralek has said bluntly that even in the heyday of the promotion, they were never really profitable overall. They had started behind the eight ball, and even when individual events made money, the big picture never looked good.
Plenty of other articles will recap the fall of Metamoris. But as we look at the current golden age of jiu-jitsu, with pay-per-view events more numerous than ever and athletes finally making real money, it’s hard to say Metamoris was a failure if it led to so many good things.
Creating the Formula
The truth is, while Metamoris was struggling, other entrepreneurs were watching closely and learning from their mistakes. They would go on to recreate the formula. Polaris launched their first grappling event in 2015. EBI 1 happened in June 2014 — a mere three months after Eddie Bravo competed in Metamoris 3. And of course, in 2015, FloGrappling launched an entire streaming platform. All of these events improved upon various aspects of the Metamoris formula. EBI tweaked the ruleset, FloGrappling partnered with IBJJF and switched to a subscription model. And, as far as we know, all of the checks are clearing. They did it better, but only Metamoris can say they did it first.
And man, when Metamoris was humming, what a special few years that was. We got some incredible matches, like Eddie Bravo verses Royler Gracie 2, one of the most important matches in jiu-jitsu history. It was also the stage that propelled athletes like Garry Tonon and Jeff Glover to new heights, as their talents were boosted by their personalities. Ryron Gracie famously took a fight on days notice against Josh Barnett. Brendan Schaub became a meme by fighting without fighting. Even MMA fighters got into the grappling game because of Metamoris.
All this isn’t to say that the promotion didn’t deserve criticism. It made mistakes, and it paid for them. Hell, other people paid for them and still are. But despite all that, we’re still living in the house they built. On the whole, BJJ is in a better place because of their failures. Which makes it… kind of successful.
The Jiu-Jitsu Times reached out to Ralek Gracie for comment, but did not receive a reply as of publication time. We will update the article if he replies.
Hey, if you’re a nerd for BJJ statistics. I have a website called HighPercentageMartialArts.com, where we take data from hundreds of BJJ matches to find the most used techniques.