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At Metamoris 4, hip became the new taboo

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At UFC 4, Royce Gracie wore his gi into the cage against Dan Severn, a 260-pound behemoth stuffed into a simple black pro wrestling Speedo and wrestling shoes. It was two different kinds of machismo clashing in Tulsa, and Gracie -- 100 pounds lighter than Severn -- somewhat miraculously persevered through the early manhandling to choke him out near the 16-minute mark. In the early days of medley combat, it went down as another notch for Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

At Metamoris 4, Josh Barnett showed up as Severn’s blonde reincarnation. He came in at 260 pounds wearing the exact same get-up as Severn right down to the wrestling shoes, and, somewhat less miraculously, he avenged "The Beast" by suffocating the smaller Dean Lister via his front-loaded brand of catch wrestling. Barnett ended the match at around the 19:50 mark of a 20-minute bout with a neck crank from the scarf hold. Lister hadn’t been submitted in 16 years.

Yet, nobody asked Barnett if his "attire" was an homage to Severn, because no media were credentialed. Metamoris 4, unlike the first three editions, was a fans-only arrangement held at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. This distilled version of the "gentle art" of jiu-jitsu, as Metamoris founder Ralek Gracie calls it, has entered a space of exclusivity (tickets ranged from $100-300). The lights were dim, the drums were rolled, and the triangle slogan at the center of the space stood out like a beacon for the Illuminati.

Not that media were forbidden, exactly, but they certainly weren’t getting in for free. Plenty of media frowned on this. Some vetoed. Others bought tickets, or watched the Internet pay-per-view stream via free codes. One media member referred to it as elitist. But the whole thing felt a little too off-limits and inaccessible for the gilders of objectivity. Maybe because of the players.

Barnett has always been a red flag, but the greatest forbidden fruit of all, of course, was Chael Sonnen. Sonnen competed in the main event against Andre Galvao, even though he was freshly sentenced to a fight ban of two years by the Nevada Athletic Commission for popping hot on a colorful bouquet of banned substances. The word "fight" is complicated in grappling quarters. Still, the NAC threatened to fine Sonnen if he went through with it. Sonnen went through with it. He made the walk. "The bad guy always makes the walk," he said afterwards.

The pariah left the consequences for tomorrow and went to work.

Sonnen came out and gamely orbited Galvao’s guard, looking for safe entry. It was all futile. He lasted 13 minutes against the decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner before making a mistake and tapping out. Within moments his old colleague from UFC Tonight on FOX Sports 1, Kenny Florian, put a hot mic in his face to get his thoughts on this strikes-less, points-less encounter.

"Kenny, they tested me, they cleared me, they hired me, they fired, they drug me through the mud, and I’m still the toughest son of a bitch on two feet," Sonnen said. Exactly when he was "cleared" was as mysterious as the settings.

In the "secret match," a lingering mystery which oozed Silver Lake cool, Baret Yoshida took on Jeff Glover. Glover was the other half of the commentating team with Florian -- he never could figure out how to pronounce Vinny Magalhaes’ name -- yet he ripped off his suit and hopped up on the apron ready for combat. Florian sat dumbstruck, but these more comedic elements of the night were a nice touch.

At one point during the broadcast, Glover asked Florian to introduce him to Anderson Silva, who was in attendance. (Florian said he would). At another point, Glover confessed that Yoshida sweated into his mouth. (Florian insinuated that he was oversharing). The jiu-jitsu world and the MMA world were just that reverent of one another.

But Ralek is Royce’s nephew, and the Gracie’s as a tradition have always known how to blend the concepts of the exclusive and the taboo. Remember, Rorion, in the pre-UFC days, used to run ads in the paper entreating all comers to take him on. The Gracie’s love dancing to the beat of their own drum.

And that was still very much the case at Metamoris 4, just like with UFC 4, when "forbidden" was the UFC’s essential ingredient to lure attention to itself. Sonnen and Barnett, two popular outcasts in the near-unlimited world of MMA, got to enter the purer, far-more-specified space of jiu-jitsu in Metamoris.

Only, instead of the early UFC’s when anything went, this is a (re)refined idea where only some things go. Metamoris is, essentially, a hipster territory of artistic restraint. The referees are barefoot, which takes away some of their authority. The players, rather than winging mad bombs in a cage, are bound by no links or rope, and they showcase an infinite possibility within a game of leverage, smarts and interlocking limbs. It’s the mastery of the subdued. It’s all very aggressive Zen. All about the nuance.

And that’s why, in its own curious way, it’s a shame that Barnett could show up dressed as Severn with no questions asked.