On November 12th, 1993 in Denver, Colorado, combat sports as we knew them changed forever. It was on this night that a new sport was unveiled. A company called SEG Sports held a revolutionary pay-per-view event. Dubbed The Ultimate Fighting Championship, this event would pit renowned practitioners of several different fighting styles in a one-night tournament. When 26-year-old Royce Gracie entered the cage that evening, very few people could have imagined that he would not only run through the evening's competition, but that he would also initiate a major change in the way that the general public viewed fighting. At approximately 175 pounds, Royce efficiently dispatched of multiple opponents that were much larger and quicker. As Gracie racked up win after win against bigger and stronger athletes, many fighters worldwide began training, at least to some degree, in the discipline of jiu-jitsu. The sport on display at that first UFC was quickly dubbed "No Holds Barred (NHB)" fighting and that initial pay-per-view event drew over 86,000 buys. The sport eventually evolved into what we now know as mixed martial arts (MMA) and jiu-jitsu has become a discipline that is extremely well represented in MMA today. Those of us who are sports fanatics know that terms like legendary get thrown around FAR too often. Very few athletes can truly be called iconic figures in their sport. Because of the accomplishments of Gracie in MMA's embryonic stage, most observers would agree that terms like "legendary" and "iconic figure" would be appropriate terms for Royce Gracie. He was MMA's version of John L Sullivan, the first superstar in his burgeoning sport. Royce Gracie finished his MMA career with a 14-3-3 record (* one of those losses was because he was unable to continue in a tournament due of injuries sustained in a prior victory), with twelve of his victories coming by way of submission. Hailing from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, Royce was quickly introduced to his family's signature fighting discipline as a child, learning from his father, Helio, and his older brothers Rorion, Relson and Rickson. Royce began competing in competitive jiu-jitsu tournaments at the age of 8 and was a black belt in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu at the age of 18. Competing in competitive jiu-jitsu tournaments in the United States and Brazil, he eventually compiled a record of 51-3. He would eventually become a 6th degree black belt, the highest such honor in his discipline. Now 42 years old, Royce continues to be a great ambassador for both the sport of MMA and his discipline, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
Royce was recently kind enough to take a couple of minutes out of his schedule to answer a few questions for MMA For Real:
More after the jump:
Rich Wyatt: At the time of the first UFC event, the concept of MMA was brand new. What were your thoughts heading into that first fight?
Royce Gracie: I train for that! That is what my family had being doing for a long time back in Brazil, so it was not something new to me!
Rich Wyatt: Are there any fighters competing today that you enjoy watching? Are there any that remind you of yourself?
Royce Gracie: I like to watch the guys that know how to use strategy. I’d say that Demian Maia fights very much like me.
Rich Wyatt: In your opinion, is it to incorporate weight training as part of a training routine?
Royce Gracie: Not just weight training but I’d also say lots of cardio to help complement your martial arts skills.
Rich Wyatt: How do you spend most of your time now? Do you get a chance to do a lot of instructing?
Royce Gracie: I spend about six months on the road teaching and 6 months at home with the family. Great life!!!!
Rich Wyatt: What do you think about the way that the sport is being marketed?
Royce Gracie: It's big all over the world! The UFC did a very good job.
Rich Wyatt: We all know that the Gracies brought Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to the forefront during the early UFC events. What are your thoughts on Eddie Bravo’s version of jiu-jitsu and the rubber guard? Have you
tried implementing any of what he does in your style?
Royce Gracie: Who is he? Did he ever win the Worlds in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? Or ADCC? Or has he ever fought in the UFC, Pride, or Dream?
Rich Wyatt: Looking back at your MMA career, what fight meant the most to you?
Royce Gracie: All the fights are important in my opinion. The first UFC, having three fights in one night; the second UFC, four fights in one night; the fourth UFC and the finals with Dan Severn. Also, going an hour and forty five minutes with Sakuraba and the fight against Akebono, who is 6'8" and 490 pounds.
Rich Wyatt: Which have you enjoyed the most? Competing in jiu-jitsu tournaments, fighting professionally in MMA or teaching others?
Royce Gracie: Fighting MMA.
Rich Wyatt: It’s been rumored that we may possibly see Renzo Gracie fight against Matt Hughes in the UFC sometime soon. Do you think that is likely to happen?
Royce Gracie: I don't think this will happen.
Rich Wyatt: Brazil has produced a lot of very accomplished, world-class MMA fighters. MMA has seen a boom in popularity in the United States. However, the sport is still illegal and/or unsanctioned in
most of Brazil. Do you see the sport gaining popularity there in the coming years?
Royce Gracie: Brazilians are very hot blooded so they don't need much to fight. They fight on the streets. But with time it will be legal all over, like it is in the USA.