Sunday, 21 October 2012

Day Out At Metamoris

It’s been a whole calendar week since The Great ‘Metamoris’ Event. Anyone worth their Jiu Jitsu salt will have pored over the video footage and debated those decisions with coaches, colleagues, mat partners and grandma.

So this won’t be an analytical play-by-play account of the fights. Instead I’m going to cover off the bit that most of you won’t have experienced first hand – what it was like to actually go.

Needless to say, we were feeling pretty excited the morning of Metamoris. I was also feeling like I’d been driven over by one of San Diego’s best buses, on account of the sickness/training melange, which is why I’m looking a bit squinty in the first few photos, but thank god for Instagram. Here we are on the way to the venue, looking pretty pleased with ourselves.

After a quick pit stop to fuel up on fish tacos (I tried to take a snap but Andy was too quick off the mark) we set off to find the Arena Viejas. Easier said than done, it seemed.

Having successfully navigated the public transport system all the way from Clairemont Mesa, we’d presumed the final stretch would be the easy bit. Cue a twenty minute walk around a university campus (unchallenged, which I find a little unnerving given we are both on the "mature" side of student age).

American universities (ok, I’m basing this on a sample of one so it’s a generalisation) are big. This drama area rivals London’s Royal Albert Hall. No low-budget community theatre groups in these parts.

Once at the venue, it was time for a t-shirt change (we’d played it safe with alternate wear during the fish tacos).

Everyone from Atos was sporting box-fresh white numbers, emblazoned with the logo of Andre’s new website,

Metamoris fashion was, as expected, 98% BJJ led. Everyone, bar a couple of glam trophy girlfriends, had picked their very favourite Jiu Jitsu t-shirt for the occasion.

From team shirts, to Helio tributes, to slogans about rolling and flow, BJJ was truly in the essence.

For anyone who wanted to commemorate the occasion, or felt twitchy sporting something unBJJ related, there was the usual selection of merchandise, along with some less-common items (apparently you can celebrate your love of Jiu Jitsu by sporting brand-specific briefs. Who knew?)

The timing of the event took a tip out of the Brazilian book too. Originally advertised as “doors open at 2pm, fights begin at 3pm”, the doors opened some time before 3pm and the fights kicked off around 4pm.

We maintained our enthusiasm and bodily warmth (the arena was a tad on the chilly side) with a healthy supply of caffeine.

The venue was amazing (this view on the way in really lived up to the hype). It’s worth saying though, that it was largely quite empty. So vacant in fact that our entire Andre-flavoured group were able to shift down to the front.

Whilst obviously this was great for our collection of holiday snaps, I couldn’t help feeling slightly saddened given the number of BJJ fanatics that, from the facebook posts of the previous week, would have given their best gi to attend.

Perhaps the hall was just a touch big for the crowd, but with tickets starting at around £20ish, and a lineup including 12 of the most reknowned black belts on the planet, I would have expected a slightly higher headcount.

Stepping back and putting on my academic hat (I’m imagining one of those mortar board affairs) it was also interesting to watch the fights in light of the “Should BJJ be an Olympic sport?” debate. With such luxuriant surroundings, and comprehensive cameras/screens (including a crane which ruined most of my photos), would the action be easy to follow? And how would the crowd react?

As it happened, very tentatively as the fights started.

The Jeff Glover/Caio Terra round was largely silent, with a distinct lack of cornering for both fighters. This coupled with some intense crowd concentration, gave the match an air rather like finals day at Wimbledon (a bit of polite clapping and the occasional nervous rally of “Get out of it Glover!” from a spectator).

Despite the subsequent backlash against the American fighter, I have to say I enjoyed the light and playful style of both the fight and those taking part – Glover sticking out his backside to receive a spanking from Terra, and waggling his finger in a “Not today, girlfriend” style whilst trapped in an armbar felt fun rather than mocking when watching in person.

Glover even did a post-fight lap with Terra, pointing out the victor to the crowd. It was an upbeat start to an event laden with testosterone and reputation.

Dean Lister and Xande Ribeiro was another nail-biting favourite, with both fighters defeating seemingly inevitable submissions. Lister’s dalliance at the wrong end of an armbar was winceworthy, and his recovery prompted a fair bit of “How the hell…” from the stands.

Buchecha (Marcus Almeida) taking on Roger Gracie was personally a tough call in terms of allegiance – whilst Buchecha’s onslaught was relentless and awe-inspiring, I’ve trained at a Roger Gracie school for several years in the past, and though I haven’t exactly popped round to Roger’s for Sunday lunch, it was tough to see him struggling with the pace.

And on the Gracie subject…of course, we were there to support Andre in his fight against Ryron. Retrospectively one of the most contentious fights of the evening, it was both wildly exciting to watch, and bitterly disappointing when the time ran out without a submission.

It’s hard to play the unbiased card when you’re sitting with fifty other students, sporting across your chest, and screaming at the top of your lungs, but Andre’s movement was seamless, his dominance obvious, and his guardpassing effortless.

And even though we all knew the “submission only” rules of the contest, it felt bereft when we realised no one was stepping in to recognise and reward the discrepancy between the fighters.

There may be a time and a place for proving Jiu Jitsu’s effectiveness as a self-protection mechanism (a whole different debate entirely), but in a stadium full of people, on the biggest card of the year, is not, in my opinion, that time. White-belt or black-belt, no one would step onto the mat in a competition and claim “not losing” was winning. And Metamoris was essentially a competition.

Regardless of the official outcome, I was proud to have been in the Galvao camp.

So, event over, and it was time for post-event dichotomy and public transport again.

For me, Metamoris really flagged up the difference between the very traditional BJJ techniques and the emerging new styles, and I have to say the latter inspired me more. I will master (well, learn) the Berimbolo and the seated De La Riva pass by the time I leave…

Despite the excitement of the main event, there was one more action-packed “highlight” to come.

The last section of our epic journey back to the California Hotel Suites, the 44 bus had circa 21 passengers, of whom minimum 13 had severe social “issues”.

At the last count, two travellers who had learning difficulties, three mutterers, four stoned gang members, one misanthropic man in a wheelchair, one possible prison tag, one person who looked like he belonged in a line up and a (presumably) homeless guy who repeatedly told a story about his “sister” being nearly raped.

Given this chap was loony tunes, I would have hoped his imagination stretched wider than the one story, but we heard it about six or seven times.

As luck would have it, the endless story loop was punctuated by a bus breakdown - homeless guy pessimistically predicted that we were “all going to die” before claiming he would leap through the window “like a cat” (given his rotund appearance, unlike any cat I’ve seen).

After a tense incident between Catman and the guy in the wheelchair (“I didn’t steal your shopping”), followed by a tense incident between Catman and one of the learning difficulties (“I’m going to knock your head off”), the zombie apocalypse was getting grating. I began to plot my fellow travellers on a scale of most to least helpful should the whole situation tip into a bussful of psychotic monkeys (ally with stoned gang leader, ignore anyone who’s mainly hitting themself in the face, and team up with Andy to doubletag the Catman, if you’re interested).

By the time we got home it was past restaurant closing, so we were forced to celebrate our day out with some garage fare – turkey sandwich and crackers for Andy, bowl of cereal for me. A dinner of champions…

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