EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Royce Gracie – Mixed Martial Arts’ Living Legend

“Royce is not letting go he wants to make sure that the referee sees that it’s over. That is the power of Jiu Jitsu in action.” – Bill Wallace, Commentator, UFC 1

“The power of Jiu Jitsu in action.” If there is one man who can demonstrate that power it is UFC Hall of Famer Royce Gracie, and that is exactly what he did on 12th November 1993 – the humble, but brutal, beginnings of the UFC. Royce walked into that caged arena unknown to the mass of fighting fans and left a legend, with his name scrawled into MMA lore and his fists held high. He became a pioneer for grappling in mixed martial arts, decimating much larger opponents in the early tournaments with his ruling and impeccable ground work, something only achievable by perfecting the art form your entire life.

Royce Gracie was the tinder that set combat sports alight and played a major role in why the UFC is the successful blazing inferno it is today. Fighting at the first ever UFC tournament in Denver, Colorado, at the age of 26 and emblazoned with his white Gracie gi, Royce conquered boxer Art Jimmerson, “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” and eventual rival Ken Shamrock and Dutch savate expert Gerard Gordeau with ease – the latter was choked out for a considerable amount of time after he tapped as he had bitten Royce earlier in the fight. Even as the smallest competitor in the tournament, Royce Gracie was not a man to be messed with.

Now Gracie is positioned outside of the ring, for the time being, as a Bellator ambassador as well as visiting his many Royce Gracie Jiu Jitsu gyms that are located across all corners of the globe. Whilst he was in England for the past Bellator London event, Master Royce visited Royce Gracie Lancashire, my resident gym, and agreed to answer some questions after his annual seminar.

“Obviously you won the first ever UFC tournament, did you know what to expect going into such an unpredictable event?”

“Yes I kind of knew what to expect because that’s what Gracie Jiu Jitsu is all about, it’s all about challenging yourself. I mean, I see my family doing this and I trained for this I knew I was going in to fight someone with a different style of martial arts. So yes I knew what to expect.”

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Royce fighting Art Jimmerson in his first ever MMA fight, UFC 1. Jimmerson earned the nickname “One Glove” after this fight as he was one boxing glove to protect his jab hand, but jeep his other hand free for grabbing.

“Did you know that you were going to win?”

“I had no doubt! I didn’t walk in to lose, I didn’t train to lose, I trained to win.”

A philosophy that has followed Royce throughout his long mixed martial arts tenure. With a record of 15-2-3, he is documented as having the most submission wins in UFC history with eleven, most UFC tournament wins with three, longest UFC fight at 36 minutes against Shamrock – which pales into comparison with his longest fight, lasting 90 minutes against Kazushi Sakuraba in Pride – and the fact that he was the man to start it all. The name “Royce Gracie” is imprinted all over the MMA history book, and you can’t deny that he doesn’t deserve to be there.

“Some people have labelled you a pioneer for both MMA and Jiu Jitsu, do you feel personally that you’ve earned that title?”

“My father was the pioneer, I just follow his footsteps. I’m a product of his work.”

 

 

 

 

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“You are an ambassador for Bellator, do you feel that Bellator is reaching the heights that the UFC is at?”

“Oh yes! Numbers wise they’re already pretty close, on the Spike channel and on the FOX open channel. Not the pay-per-view [buys] as the UFC but the numbers are pretty close to each other. They’ve got very good fighters and very good upcoming prospects coming up so yes.”

“Are there any of those prospects that you feel could reach the heights that you reached?”

“Well we got [A.J.] McKee, we got [Aaron] Pico that’s coming up he’s going to start in New York. We got the Irish kid, James Gallagher, I saw him here in England, I saw him over in London and he’s got good grappling and good hands so there’s quite a few.  Michael “Venom” Page obviously too.”

“The best fight from Bellator [179] was, after Paul Daley lost to Rory MacDonald, he started talking trash. Paul Daley started talking trash to Page, MVP, and I’m over here and I didn’t hear what he said but I saw Michael square up, it got serious man. He started to look up, I didn’t hear what he said, I was like, “relax man!” But Michael changed and he took a sprint towards [Daley]. It all broke out, people were jumping over the fence, both teams went at it. The crowd were like flipping chairs and jumping in, I was pulling people away! That was the best fight of the night!”

Fighting is prominent in the ethos that surrounds Royce. Growing up in Brazil with his brothers and being coached by his father, and legendary Jiu Jitsu pioneer; Hélio Gracie, the Gracie familly embodied Brazillian Jiu Jitsu and moulded the martial art into what Gracie Jiu Jitsu is today and why it is so vital in modern martial arts. The Gracie Family are the monarchy of Jiu Jitsu and are pivotal in overall martial arts, so it is no wonder how Royce became the lethal and expert fighter he was.

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LEGENDARY: Royce entering the Octagon, accompanied by his father and mentor Hélio Gracie. Hélio passed away in 2009, at the age of 95, and was apparently practising on the mat just a week prior.

“Do you feel you could ever make a return to the UFC in some capacity or are you completely loyal to Bellator?”

“I’m totally with Bellator right now. I’ve done my share with the UFC and I’m done.”

“You stepped in the ring against Ken Shamrock last year at Bellator and beat him. Would you ever make a competitive return to fighting again at the age of 50? Or are you retired?”

“I don’t know that depends on the promoter, it’s not up to me. If they ask me, hey I’m a fighter it’s what I do!”

It seems not even time can wither the will of Royce, who doesn’t seem phased by age at all and gave the impression that he would step in the ring at the next opportunity. Even now at the age of half a century, Gracie still embodies a phenomenal physique and his mental strength has always been present – evident from letting Matt Hughes hyper-extend his arm rather than tapping in their UFC 60 bout. It’s the kind of ardent perseverance that led Royce to his triumphs of his career and to be eventually inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.

“You are the most influential character in all of fighting and your advice is golden to any fighter. What advice would you give to someone who wants to enter the fight business?”

“You gotta train. You gotta get up and train every day. There’s a lot of talented people out there, there’s a lot of tough guys out there but without the discipline to get up and train they’re not going to stay on top forever.”

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Royce’s seminar at Royce Gracie Lancashire.

“The power of Jiu Jitsu in action.” The power you gain from having the tenacious and zealous determination to be the best; something that Royce Gracie accomplished. In his prime he was on top of the world and, even at the age of 50, he is still hoisted on that pedestal because of his accomplishments. A stern and sombre teacher but one whose teachings are invaluable and exude lifelong experience.

The power of Jiu Jitsu. The power of Royce Gracie.

Harry Robinson

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