LOS ANGELES -- As far as Brendan Schaub was concerned, Sunday was a victory.
The UFC heavyweight contender stepped out of his mixed martial arts comfort zone and took on a jiu-jitsu master at his own game. Schaub met Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu in a much-hyped submission grappling contest and went the distance before Abreu took a decision win.
“Competing against a guy like ‘Cyborg’ Abreu, a multi-time world champ, it was a huge challenge to me,” Schaub said. “Not only is this the first time I’ve tried something like this, but you’re talking about an unorthodox type of guy. Our styles were different.”
But few others who attended the Metamoris 2 event at Pauley Pavilion agreed with his assessment. Schaub played a safe game over 20 minutes, refusing to engage Abreu, a seven-time medalist at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships and a four-time gold medalist in World No-Gi competition, in Abreu’s guard on the ground.
The crowd, which had watched most of the evening’s action in silent respect, turned on Schaub. One leather-lunged denizen taunted Schaub, a Renzo Gracie Academy brown belt, by yelling “maybe you’ll get your blue belt [a significantly lower rank] some day,” which elicited a wave of laughter from the spectators.
Still, Schaub stuck to his guns and defended his performance long after the crowd drowned out most of his post-match interview.
“He sits on his butt and these guys get frustrated,” Schaub said of Abreu. “They let the crowd get to them and they make mistakes, and this guy’s taking a leg home. Hate to tell ya, but, I make a living in the UFC, so the objective of taking a leg home wasn’t going to happen. For me, it was a success.”
Conventional wisdom on mixed martial artists vs. masters at individual disciplines has long gone something like this: The mixed martial artist would win under MMA rules, and the boxers, wrestlers, judokas, and jii-jitsu players would win under their own respective rules.
There’s evidence to support this theory. The most recent high-profile example occurred at UFC 118, when former IBF middleweight and cruiserweight boxing champion James Toney talked his way into an MMA bout with UFC legend Randy Couture. Couture scored a quick takedown on a low-single, a beginner's wrestling move, and made short work of Toney from there for a first round submission win.
The reverse proved true at Metamoris 2, where not only did Schaub lose to Abreu, but in the main event, Kron Gracie had little trouble submitting Japanese MMA star Shinya Aoki.
Metamoris, whose frontman is Ralek Gracie, the son of UFC co-founder Rorion Gracie and nephew to both Royce and Renzo Gracie, is an attempt to bring sport jiu-jitsu into the pay-per-view marketplace, with superfight cards that mimic boxing and MMA.
Sunday’s event was a first-class presentation, with big-screen pre-fight vignettes, a quality sound and lighting setup, and a live band which played Brazilian music between fights. Most important, the event ran according to schedule, not a small accomplishment in a jiu-jitsu subculture where punctuality isn’t the norm.
Schaub and Aoki were offered spots on the card in an attempt to lure curiosity crossover fans. And it worked, as the show received unprecedented attention for a jiu-jitsu event. All of the major websites which cover MMA were on hand. Among those spotted in attendance were UFC lightweight champion Ben Henderson (who tweeted on Monday that he would like to compete at a future Metamoris event), UFC color commentator Joe Rogan, and light heavyweight contender Alexander Gustafsson.
Schaub was acutely aware of the attention his presence brought.
“They tuned in to see a UFC fighter, which brought a bunch of publicity,” Schaub said. “They tune in and they see ‘Cyborg’ and his crazy guard, they see Braulio [Estima], they see Kron, they see jiu-jitsu at its finest. It was mission accomplished for me. Last time, there wasn’t a press conference like this.”
Still, though, was the MMA fighters’ presence a setup designed to make jiu-jitsu look good? It wouldn’t be the first time the Gracies pulled such a stunt: Royce Gracie was specifically matched with unwitting journeyman boxer Art Jimmerson in the opening round of UFC 1 with the intention of proving jiu-jitsu’s superiority to boxing, since the latter was considered the unquestioned king of combat sports at the time.
Ralek Gracie refused to take the bait, instead praising Schaub for his commitment.
“So Brendan, obviously coming into this situation, he’s slightly less seasoned in pure jiu-jitsu,” Gracie said.”So obviously his objective is to come in here and shut down and take any little angle he can. It’s hard to blame him for that.”
He did, however, allow that perhaps more even matchmaking should be applied if and when UFC fighters next compete on the jiu-jitsu mats.
“Maybe next time we have a UFC fighter vs. another UFC fighter in jiu-jitsu, instead of UFC vs. jiu-jitsu,” Gracie said. “Maybe that would be a good idea.”
Three hours after the Abreu-Schaub match, tempers still flared. Abreu and Schaub both got heated on the podium at the post-match news conference.
Schaub felt he accomplished his purpose. Abreu reiterated his claim that Schaub didn’t really want to fight.
Abreu was asked by a reporter whether or not there were two sides to the coin. If Schaub wasn’t fool enough to jump right into Abreu’s world-class tornado guard, then isn’t it incumbent on Abreu to pick up the pace and take on a more aggressive style?
“I think, in order to fight, you have to have two guys who want to fight,” Abreu said. “You should at least try to pass or try to do something, you know?”
This caused Schaub to go on offense on the podium in a way he didn’t on the mat.
“At the Gracie Academy, we don’t do jiu-jitsu where one guy starts on his butt,” Schaub countered.
“If you wanted to shut my jiu-jitsu down, congratulations,” Abreu said. “If you don’t want to jump in, then just stay home.”
“I’ve never run,” said Schaub, who noted he stuffed all seven of Abreu’s takedown attempts during the bout. “Ask Lavar Johnson. Ask Mirko Cro Cop. Gabriel Gonzaga.”
Schaub and Abreu finally cooled down. You couldn’t help but notice Ralek Gracie’s lips curl up into a smile as they shook hands. And why not? Whether or not the fight was an artistic success, people are talking about jiu-jitsu on Monday. Mission accomplished, indeed.
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