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Even if a little quick on the draw, Metamoris 5 had meaning

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Scott Hirano, Metamoris

LONG BEACH, Calif. – By traditional standards, there was only one winner at Metamoris 5, and that was New Jersey’s Garry Tonon in the very first match. He scored a heel hook on Zak Maxwell, and heard a few ominous pops in the process. Otherwise, there were enough people drawing to create a mural on the Long Beach Convention Center.

The biggest of which came in the main event between Renzo Gracie and Kazushi Sakuraba -- two fight game iconicals who’d arrived this time as lovable fortysomethings to rekindle an old bit of business.

They didn’t clash in the middle of the apron so much as ease into a slow, deliberate toil in which, after seemingly flipping through each other’s biographies on the feet, opportunities were sought within the smallest cracks on the ground. Turned out both held their own just fine. The great Sakuraba, who broke Renzo’s arm that time in Japan more than a decade ago, wasn’t going to budge. Renzo, who said he lost nearly 30 pounds in three months to prep for not only this bout but another MMA run (!) and his ADCC clash with Matt Hughes, wasn’t either.

They cancelled each other out, and by doing that they both got their arms raised.

Which by now has become a common sight at Metamoris. The cats competing are so versed in the singular craft of jiu-jitsu, in all its fluid instinctive arrangement of limbs and pressure points, that submissions are like trying to smash a drop of mercury with a pen.

If you’re going to knock Metamoris at this point, it’s not because it’s an exclusive Fight Club jiu-jitsu competition with secret knocks and stars and hot sharp-angled women and acai being served in the refreshment stands and Gracies galore roaming around (because all of that is awesome); it’s just that there’s rarely a sense of resolve in the end. No closure. Most matches end in draws. These matchings are heavily nuanced, very technical, totally thoughtful encounters, but America likes to see somebody vanquished.

That’s what the UFC preaches, and uses its fight night bonus structure to award. The motto is: Make something emphatic happen. Nobody’s trying to split first place, if you know what I mean. It’s just not that simple in the land of slick rashguards. Submissions at this level become a casualty of sweat and fatigue. Purchases are harder. And through the course of 20 minutes, so is friction. Unless there are tweaks made at some point -- or Metamoris goes in for mismatches -- draws are going to be the norm.

But here’s the thing from a viewer of all five Metamoris’s to date, and a live audience member for two: What glorious draws they are. Gotdamb. The origami that plays out in rapt silence at these things is pretty tense. And it’s hard not to like the matchmaking. Sakuraba vs. Renzo, in the more restricted/restrained area of jiu-jitsu, is classic…something. The idea of Eddie Bravo and Royler Gracie is part of the sport’s connective tissue. Kron Gracie and Shinya Aoki carries something for the imagination.

These are hardcore imaginings.

And the crossovers at this point work well. Rory MacDonald competing this weekend...why? Best I can tell, because it’s a spiritual asides from the hardwired straight-to-bashing world of straight MMA. There’s a rooting in Metamoris, which not only attracts big name participants, but sort of geeks them out. MacDonald, like Chael Sonnen and Josh Barnett, can’t help but feel good about themselves for slipping off to the art house theater while the blockbusters roar on across the street.

In fact, when MacDonald got caught there for a minute he said he was going to let J.T. Torres break his arm, if that was the way it had to happen. This is man assured of a title shot in the UFC, waiting the winner of Robbie Lawler and Johny Hendricks, who was willing to throw it all away in a moment of pure competition. Because that’s what the thing is: Pure. It may be too pure for popular taste, a delicacy that Metamoris serves, but it’s one that you can acquire a taste for if you aren’t afraid to order it again.

And besides, at some point it’s not about MacDonald so much as it’s about Torres, a marauder in the BJJ circuit, showing off against a commodity. Or Roberto Satoshi, who let out a growling roar before he tangled limbs with Jake Shields in the "Secret Match." Or Sonnen, who was the steak slid under the door for Andre Galvao. If Metamoris uses UFC names to compete, it’s at least in part because there are people like Torres, Satashi and Galvao that could use the push to the broader audience.

It’s an intriguing world. I like dipping my toe in it. And Metamoris, with its drums documenting the intricacy of the action, does a fine job of displaying that intricacy, even if the idea of grappling alone continues to be a tough draw.