Author's Note: The following is the second half of a two-part piece on my experience at Metamoris 3, on March 29, 2014. To read Part 1, click here.
See the rising crowds; the brightly lit tent. See the reception area, brimming with shifting, jovial bodies; people drinking; people laughing. A cool breeze threads the strings of lights above the patio; the city of L.A. twinkles in the dusk. Look, there’s Joe Rogan, joking with Bryan Callen; and there’s Chael Sonnen, deep in conversation with Robert Duval. Was that UFC referee Mike Beltran? I believe that’s Royce Gracie in a white polo, posing for pictures (he’s taller in person than he seems on TV). And now the drums are beating, beating; their rhythmic throb concludes our respite, and the peoples of the crowd, perhaps a little drunk, amble back to their seats, noisier than before.
And the second act begins.
The two fights before the main event consisted of a no-gi contest between Keenan Cornelius and Kevin Casey (Casey was a last minute replacement of Vinny Magalhaes, who was medically disqualified for severe staph infection), and Clark Gracie and Rafael Mendes (Cornelius won his fight via heel hook submission; Gracie and Mendes fought to a draw—a closely-contested match in which every limb, and every inch of gi, was accounted for; a masterpiece of double guard attack and defense, Mendes rolling a berimbolo, Gracie an Omoplata, almost unreal to behold—truly two of the best at their art, striving their absolute most to unravel one another, like living knots, across the mats).
Gracie and Mendes made their exits and the lights dimmed. A hot oil energy bubbled and spread throughout the air. People stood in their seats, a sea of flesh and exhilaration, straining for a better view of the canvas... Every inch of the darkly heated arena was occupied... The moment had come: Eddie Bravo and Royler Gracie were going to fight again. I stood at the beginning of the lane the fighters walked to reach the canvas. Bravo was there already, wearing white gi pants and a 10th Planet rash-guard designed to look like a skeleton. We made eye contact and he gave me a tiny nod. His focus was as palpable as the elation of the crowds, his hazel eyes sparking in the vociferous gloom.
The drums sounded, his name was called, and he strode onto the mats.
Gracie wore black spandex shorts and a white shirt. Like Bravo, you could feel his intensity as he journeyed down the aisle, people cheering either side. They faced each other atop the canvas like inverse images: so dissimilar they are in style and philosophy. Bravo, aged 43, is known for his innovation; Gracie, 48, for his sublime mastery of the basics.
They bowed. Nobody was seated. The silence of earlier was absent—the venue had become a roaring vortex of noise. Not a single person could contain their excitement. A booming signaled the fight’s start—“Oh my God, I can’t believe it’s happening,” I heard someone say—and they came together.
Bravo assumed a low stance and quickly engaged, dragging Gracie to the mat and seizing him in a tight quarter-guard. He then advanced to half-guard, and from there obtained the Lockdown—a modification of the half-guard, in which the defending player’s legs are further intertwined, a position Bravo would maintain, more or less, throughout the remainder of the fight; from it would come his most stunning sweeps, reversals, and submission attempts. Bravo’s fingers, callused and taped, clung to Gracie—who postured up in an effort to create space and pressed down on Bravo’s chest.
Gracie snuck an arm under Bravo’s head; Bravo cupped the back of Gracie’s knee. Chest to chest, Gracie clasped his hands, moving, wrenching, inching, laboring to free his leg from Bravo’s guard. He pressed his open hand against Bravo’s trachea; Bravo’s face reddened and veins leapt across his neck; Bravo swept, they rolled, they reset in half-guard. Back and forth, they went, and Bravo reversed Gracie, landing on top. Gracie rolled, his leg still trapped in Bravo’s thighs, and the crowd heaved. “He’s setting up a twister!” someone yelled, and cries of “Bravo!” and “Royler!” rang out in alternating waves.
Gracie escaped at the ten minute mark and transitioned back into Bravo’s half-guard. Bravo swept again, twisting Gracie into a position he calls the Electric Chair. Gracie’s legs spread, a full split—he defended; he breathed; he transitioned, somehow, back into the half-guard, and the game started anew.
4 minutes and 30 seconds remained and Bravo was on top, Gracie’s fingers clamped firmly in the fabric of his pant-leg. Bravo dipped, swept, rolled; he caught Gracie’s leg in a Vaporizer—a painful, knee-popping technique, blending a heel hook and a calf-slicer, that places near unbearable pressure on the joints of the knee, the shin, and ankle). Pulling, pulling, and Gracie’s knee popped. But his face remained a mask, and he did not tap. They lay together on the mats, side by side, defending and attacking, as though their legs were entangled ropes. 1 minute, now, and they seemed to have reached a kind of stalemate. 50 seconds. Bravo switched his attack to the ankle and cranked with all his might, the struggle on his adrenaline-swollen face an echo of that he’d shown in 2003, when pulling down on Gracie’s skull to secure a life-changing triangle choke.
Gracie shook his head. The booming came again—exploding over the unending din of the crowd—and the fight was over.
In the Aftermath
Twenty minutes of non-stop jiu-jitsu had concluded and the crowd erupted into wild jubilation. No one cared that it had ended in a draw; though everybody present would have preferred a submission, the lack of one did nothing to dim the grandeur of what we’d witnessed. It felt like a privilege merely to have watched these two men grapple.
Said Bravo, in the aftermath: “For me, the most important thing was to not let the people down… I’ve always thought that he [Gracie] was a legendary figure. I still think that…. I’ve always had the utmost respect for him. If it wasn’t for the Gracies I wouldn’t be here.”
Said Gracie, “I think we both came very prepared for the fight… We did a really good job. I’m happy just to be in the match one more time… I don’t have to prove nothing. To be in the match with Ed again, it’s a pleasure.”
It was an excellent night of martial artistry, one that harkened to and celebrated the submission-only roots of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, while providing its greatest practitioners the best venue available today. There was a purity to the manner in which the fights were conducted, and the audience, composed solely of people who love the sport, reacted.
Kenny Florian summed it up perfectly when he said, “Man I tell you what: This was exactly what jiu-jitsu needed. You look at the turnout—it was completely sold out. We had some phenomenal matches. And we had two legends go at it for the main event, and they more than delivered… It’s rare that you get a rematch that delivers, and Eddie Bravo and Royler Gracie with the skill, the heart, and the technique they showed out here today proves that jiu-jitsu is very much alive and well… These are the kinds of events that are gonna push the sport forward and take it to that next level.”
Gradually, the crowd meandered its way outside and the clean-up crew went to work. Two men shod their shoes and leapt onto the mats and wrestled until admonished by a security guard and they got down. The arena emptied. Among the last to leave was a small boy, standing on the mats and gazing at the Metamoris logo—eyes distant and dreamy, a gap-toothed smile spread between his lips.
The chairs were folded and stacked and a smell of stale beer arose and hovered over the canvas and I too went outside. The sky above Los Angeles was dark, pale blue at the western edges. A hazy diadem of smog-light lifted over the glittering nightscape and, like the onset of a new era, washed away the stars.