Metamoris Jiu Jitsu Started Off Great… Then…
Metamoris burst onto the jiu jitsu scene in late 2012. It was a breath of fresh air for the Brazilian jiu jitsu and submission grappling communities. Finally, a professional platform for top grapplers to showcase their skills, abilities, and talents in front of a broad audience in an accessible and organized fashion. Rules and format aside, it was a revolutionary event that was looked at by other competitors and spectators alike as the potential model for true professional jiu jitsu. Metamoris jiu jitsu was set to change grappling forever. Now, 4 years later, Metamoris jiu jitsu has certainly changed things. But, the journey since October 2012 can only be described as utterly bizarre.
In the beginning…
Metamoris kind of started out like a young rock and roll group. There were a lot of hungry, excited people involved and they were supported by all the right agents of execution. Obviously, the most notable character in this entire saga is Ralek Gracie. However, most are probably aware that behind the scenes there was some very serious money behind the event. Its probably not fair to dig into all of those that contributed to this backing, but one that is rather notable — and public — is Robert Zeps (we’ll come back to Robert later). Nevertheless, in the beginning, it all looked good. Jiu jitsu finally had the platform that it deserved and the event was attached to the name that is most synonymous with the art, Gracie.
The first event was filled with some of the very best that top-level jiu jitsu and MMA had to offer. The match-up’s included legitimate athletes and thoughtful matchmaking. The production was unlike anything that had ever been seen before. Both the live experience and the online broadcast were above and beyond what the community had ever experienced. By any standards, it was both professional and well-executed.
The first installment was not without its quirks. The broadcasting, drums, and other nuances made the event odd in its own way, but jiu jitsu inofitself is a little odd, so most gave the event a pass in this area. However, an overwhelming sense of question brewed in many in the community regarding the sustainability of the event. Now, we have the benefit of hindsight… it was not — nor was it ever going to be — sustainable.
The train keeps rolling
The hype was real with Metamoris. Although official PPV buy numbers were never released to the public, the rumors were that Metamoris I had actually done better than some predicted (although not as well as those involved may have hoped).
To the outside world, the model — while fluid — seemed to be: position Ralek Gracie up front as the promotor, attract a small portion of UFC/MMA fans, and tap into the vast majority of jiu jitsu enthusiasts. On its surface the model seemed to make some sense.
While the jury was still out at this time on whether or not any MMA fans were interested in watching pro grappling, it was not a huge leap of faith to believe that this could be the case. One would think that hardcore MMA fans would be interested in watching the likes of Japanese MMA phenom, Shinya Aoki,grapple the only son of living legend, Rickson Gracie.
As Metamoris II kicked off, the organizers and fans of pro grappling collectively held their breath to see if increased investments could grow the event further than the first. The inclusion of judges and other gimmicks did not fair well, but likely did not affect the overall financial success of the event. Ultimately, fans of pro grappling could look at Metamoris II and proudly point to the event as a gold standard for professional grappling PPV’s.
Unfortunately, increased investments, strange judging, and an increased focus on digital marketing did not have the desired effect on PPV buys that the shows organizers were expecting. While a success for the grappling world, Metamoris was beginning down the road of financial failure.
Metamoris III: Jiu Jitsu’s Woodstock
When you’re struggling with an event like Metamoris, you typically end up with two choices. You can double-down and plow ahead or you can pull back and cut your loses. The organizers behind Metamoris super-mega-spinning-armlock-doubled down on Metamoris III.
At this point in grappling history, there was one match that seemed to stick out as one of the most infamous/famous matches of all time. That match was Royler Gracie vs. Eddie Bravo in 2003 at ADCC. The match was only a semi-final match, but it saw one of grappling’s hall-of-fame legends lose to a relatively unknown American grappler with an unorthodox style. It was (and still is) considered one of the greatest upsets of all time.
In the decade after Royler and Eddie’s match in 2003, there was no match more talked about in the grappling community than a rematch between these two titans. As Royler aged, and Bravo became increasingly absent from any sort of competition, the match-up had become a pipedream to most. However, after what can only be assumed as hundreds of conversations and disagreements back and forth between the competitors and the promoters at Metamoris, Royler Gracie vs. Eddie Bravo 2 was set to go down; and it was set to be jiu jitsu’s Woodstock.
Living Up To The Hype
The match between Royler and Eddie had a lot of drama leading up to the event. Multiple times it looked like the match would fall apart. Ultimately, that drama was the best form of marketing for the event.
Metamoris spared no expense on the event. It featured MMA superstars, other top level competitors from around the world, and boasted an impressive multi-channel marketing campaign to support PPV sales. If this card — and surrounding hype — didn’t produce the numbers the organizers were looking for… nothing would (right)?
When the event finally arrived, those attending were treated to world-class production. The live event saw the who’s who of grappling come out in droves to support the live action. Those watching online were treated to the same level of product that UFC events received (friends in the media said that the truck setup’s behind the scenes were even better than those that the UFC used).
Ultimately, the event lived up to the hype. Royler vs. Eddie ended in a draw. But, it was the barnburner that many expected when they shelled out their dollars to watch the card. It would be hard to imagine that the marketing and execution of the event could have been much better.
There Go the Wheels
Despite the successful organization and execution of Metamoris III, the event continued to hemorrhage cash. Only those involved truly know what was lost; however it has been said that the money lost on Metamoris is more than most will ever make in a lifetime.
So that’s it, right? Time to cut bait and call it quits. Ralek Gracie had other plans.
Its at this point that Ralek’s inexperience and immaturity in this space started to become exposed. Ralek was beginning to feel the pressure from the enormous financial losses that Metamoris had experienced, and it was showing. He started making a lot of strange public excuses for the why the events were failing. Stolen streams from the internet and other piracy had legitimately hurt the events, but Ralek expressed these concerns in odd ways.
Ralek also began to make misguided public comments that would lead to PR nightmare after PR nightmare. The first was a small comment he made about female jiu jitsu. Ralek actually brought up a valid point about supply and demand for grappling PPV’s but it was wrapped in a layer of what appeared to condescending chauvinism. He followed that comment up by issuing a bizarre public apology that wasn’t actually an apology, but rather something much worse than the original comments.
This episode was the first in what would become a long line of severely mismanaged decisions that would plummet Metamoris from relevance.
When It All Came Crashing Down
It was at this point that the perception of what Metamoris was started to change. The strange behavior of Ralek Gracie and the growing distance between him and those funding the events, was causing subsequent events to lose luster and always seem to be surrounded with gimmicks, uncertainty, and a lack of authenticity.
Secret matches, thrifty venue changes, dramatic card changes, and increasingly bizarre behavior and commentary from Ralek was causing each Metamoris jiu jitsu event to be worse than the last. The PPV buys supported this trend as well. Fewer and fewer were interested in what Ralek Gracie was selling.
It was public at this time that the event was losing money. It was also obvious. Some of the last few events were held in what could only be described as an airplane hangar. It was odd for the competitors and odd for those who were still buying the PPV’s.
To make matters worse, it came out that Metamoris’s new subscription services platform had been illegally and possibly intentionally (allegedly) double-charging it’s members for their subscriptions. It also failed to discontinue billing to members that attempted to unsubscribe. Those that had remained loyal to the Metamoris brand were now turning their backs and leaving in droves.
Metamoris looked like it was about to go out with an awkward whimper as Ralek rode the event into the ground with a steady hand on the wheel. Metamoris had just alienated too many members of it’s core audience, and many resented the organization at this point.
Bad Idea After Bad Idea
Just when you thought Metamoris was dead, out popped an e-mail announcing the launch of the Metamoris Challengers Series. Right out of the gate it didn’t make any sense and was wildly heralded as a terribly ill-planned and likely half-baked idea.
Metamoris challengers was set to be a special series of localized tournaments that would allow local competitors to work their way up to a final broadcasted event that would end in significant prize money. Everyone in the grappling community new that logistically the event would never work.
Many/most of Challenger series events were canceled. Some took place and others were poorly organized. Overall, the events were like a microcosm of Metamoris in general. Ultimetly, finals for the events were held… then no one got paid. This turned out to be a trend.
Ain’t Nobody Gettin’ Paid
After the Challenger series, it became public knowledge that Ralek had been promising to pay athletes and then not following through for a while. He had lost all financial backing and was bleeding money. As every day passed, he damaged his families name and isolated himself against the community he had once embraced.
It was AJ Agazarm who initially outed Ralek as someone who wasn’t paying competitors. In an ill-advised move by Ralek, AJ was given access to Metamoris’s Instagram account which led to him publically using Ralek’s own brand against him. It was the final nail in the coffin. Metamoris had largely become a joke. It had officially fallen from grace.
While the Metamoris brand to this day remains strong, because of the event that were held under its name, these final strings of failure ultimately ruined the remaining credibility that the event had left.
F’ It, We’re Burning This Mother Down
Conventional wisdom would say that this story ends now, but it doesn’t. Ralek Gracie is anything but conventional.
In early 2016, Ralek Gracie announced Metamoris 7. It was marketed as a return to what made it famous; including a rematch of Metamoris 1 (Buchecha vs. Roger Gracie). Metamoris wanted everyone to believe things had been made right and that it would be returning to its former glory. This was far far from the case.
When the card was announced, almost every match on the card was without formal agreement. Several even reported that some of those on the card had specifically told Ralek not to market the event with their name on it. Ultimately, the first Metamoris 7 card that was released would change so dramatically that not a single match would ever take place.
As the event grew closer, questions began to mount. Would Metamoris 7 even happen? All of those announced to be on the card said they weren’t even competing and Metamoris was clearly out of money. They still had not paid fighters from past shows. Who possibly would want to compete in this thing?
Only One Man
The truth is there was only one man crazy enough to attach his name to the headline of a card like Metamoris 7, Ralek Gracie. Ralek was able to talk popular submission grappler, Garry Tonon (who he had had previous public disagreement with) into headlining the event with him.
Once Ralek was announced as the headliner, he used all of his bad publicity as a weird marketing ploy to hype the event… and it kind of worked. Metamoris 7 had more buzz than it likely deserved and the stage was set for the event to potentially get back on track (well …maybe at least to pay some debts).
In Typical Pro Wrestling Fashion
Just before Metamoris 7 went live, in an act of pure poetic justice, AJ Agazarm took to Facebook to alert all of his followers that he would be broadcasting Metamoris 7 live on his personal account. He used the hashtag “paythefighters” in an act of rebellion against the fact that Ralek had still not paid many of the past Metamoris competitors.
At times, AJ’s live feed had 3k+ users watching. Its hard to say for sure, but this likely murdered the PPV buys for Metamoris.
AJ’s actions probably do not bode well for the future of pro jiu jitsu that looks to add revenue via internet streams, but it did seem somewhat appropriate after everything that had occured.
After Ralek Gracie was forced to tap out to a kneebar applied by Garry Tonon, he was granted the mic (one last time?). His comments and gaze were equally bizarre and he rambled blindly. Eventually he called Robert Zeps to the stage to thank him for his early support (see, I told you we’d come back to Robert). Robert refused to comment and politely smiled and waved to the crowd. Robert quickly retreated and Ralek bowed to the crowd and left as oddly as he arrived.
When asked about it later, Robert had no significant comment about the event. You could say that his silence at the event speaks for itself.
Metamoris should be dead now. It has done just about everything wrong at this point; however the brand still maintains a glimmer of hope. If Ralek Gracie’s forever tarnished image could ever be wiped from the event, the show would still have a chance.
As it stands today, Metamoris and Ralek Gracie are inseparable. And while that likely means the end of Metamoris forever, Ralek has proven too resourceful to completely count out.
So what happens next? Who the f*** knows.