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posted by C. M. Holden

For those interested in the origins and history of modern mixed martial arts (MMA), the Gracie name is synonymous with those beginnings. One name in particular goes hand-in-hand with the early days of what has become the premiere organization, Ultim- ate Fighting Championship, and the immediate growth and expansion of the sport thereafter. That name is Royce Gracie. Though the future success of MMA, on both a national and international scale, was far from apparent when the first pay-per-views aired, and despite Royce Gracie's tendency to deflect the credit away from himself, it is undeniable that Royce, as the visible representative of his family and their particular martial art, Gracie jiu-jitsu, or more simply, Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), changed the direction, acceptance, and skill set of what is now one of the fastest rising sports in the world in terms of popularity and mainstream exposure.

Although nearly sixteen years from his first celebrated appearance, the 39 year-old Gracie remains as busy as ever, teaching seminars, making appearances, and perennially on the cusp of reentering the cage or ring if he feels the need or desire to once again test himself as an athlete and a martial artist.

MMA Spot recently spoke with MMA's elder statesmen and elicited his thoughts on a variety of topics including the state of the sport today, his role in its history, and the future of fighting.

A consummate competitor, Gracie's participation in MMA has always been secondary to the practice and teaching of BJJ; as such, his fight record (14-3-3) is marked by sporadic periods of inactivity. After the first two years, from 1993-1995, he was absent from MMA, at least as an active fighter, for two lengthy stretches, one of almost five years, another of nearly three. From 2003-2007 Gracie averaged one fight per year. In his last fight on June 2, 2007, he avenged a previous loss against Kazushi "The Gracie Hunter" Sakuraba (24-12-1, 2 NC), another legendary figure in terms of the developing importance of grappling for MMA, winning via unanimous decision.

In the two years since that battle, one wonders what Royce has been up to. "Man I am busier then ever. Traveling all over the world doing seminars and appearances."

"Right now I am in Europe with the family, but still doing some seminars in the UK and Israel, the rest of the time, I am all over the place." Traveling has been his priority, and as such, a time-consuming, and somewhat limiting, activity.

Regarding his current role in training students, and in particular about the celebrities that have been quick to jump in on the latest trend, Gracie commented, "Since I travel so much, I don't have time to dedicate myself to training a fighter, but I have a lot of students that fight, so they call me for advice or strategy. As for celebrities, when I am in LA, I try to relax and spend time with the family, so [I'm] not teaching anyone right now."

It is clear, that the exponential growth and ever-broadening fan base for the sport of MMA, and martial arts in general, has both allowed for and demanded the lifestyle that Gracie currently leads. The fans are extremely important, obviously, but which fans, given his travels, mean the most? Gracie responded, "I love all my fans, they are all very supportive and knowledgeable. [I] just want to thank them for so many years of support, its been awesome."

When speaking about his full and extraordinary career, Gracie expressed almost complete contentment. Regarding what he would change, he commented, "Nothing, don't regret the past, learn from it; and don't foresee the future, just take it one day at a time, you live longer."

In fact, Gracie's satisfaction with the path he has chosen, or in some ways the path that has chosen him, nearly exceeds description. When asked about his favorite stories from his career, be it fighting, teaching, or traveling, Gracie explained that there was, in all actuality, just too many to tell, "Man I have so many, it would take all day [to tell them]."

Does the opportunity to teach others compare to the actual experience of fighting against an opponent; does that desire to prove oneself in physical combat merely dissipate? The answer, one way or another, doesn't appear to be that simple, "I am comfortable with what I have done as a fighter, and I am fine with what I am doing as an instructor, but I know where the urge to fight lives, so if I need it, I can always call it out. Lets put it that way," Gracie stated, not ruling out the possibility of fighting again.

Age, admittedly, isn't the factor that would determine his return. In terms of his chances at competing at a high-level at this point in his career, ?? la Randy Couture, and a few others, "If I didn't [know I could], I wouldn't do it, " Gracie explained.

For the legendary Brazilian, the impetus to fight is borne neither of anger, nor the self-aggrandizing attempt to dominate another person. Much as he was in the cage, Gracie's reflections on combat are equally calm and methodical. "Fighting is business, so I don't hate anyone, I don't go around saying I want to fight this guy, that guy, when the fight is presented then I go to work," he responded.

Rather, the attraction to mixed martial arts, and the essence of the competition presented in their practice, remains in the mental component and the intensely personal challenge one faces prior to the sound of the opening bell. Which fight has been his most difficult? Gracie offered, "The fight inside my head, the opponent that has 6 heads and 12 arms that I have to fight before I step in the ring."

For Gracie, BJJ has embodied this mental challenge from the beginning, and it is why the discipline is so strong. "It's the most effective for anyone of any size or age, in defending yourself. You don't have to be a great champion, or tap everyone on the mat. Gracie jiu-jitsu is about a smaller guy surviving against a larger guy."

Not actively competing, Grace still finds time to assess the quality of fighters that continue to push the progression of the sport. As can be expected, he reserves his admiration for the truly elite fighters who have exceeded mere physical prowess, "I am very impressed with Anderson, Lyoto, GSP, guys that fight with strategy, Damien Maia ... [I] like his style, he wins with pure jiu-jitsu."

Of course, he also includes the family in the list of potential contenders or stars in the sport, "We always have members in the family ready to fight, Roger is starting to fight now, Ralek..."

When speaking of the success the sport has seen since the early days of unsanctioned events and uneducated fans, Royce Gracie is happy to have played what he deems a minor role.

By his own estimation, the truly groundbreaking figure was his father, H??lio Gracie. For Royce, the best representative of the Gracie name and its impact, was and will always be his father. "Of course, it's my father that really started this whole thing, so I am proud only of the small part that I played in it. He is the one with the vision that deserves all the credit."

It is this vision, a more pure form of fighting, that has had the most influence on MMA's rapid success, "Fighting has been around for a long time, and in a real fight, it can take you anywhere, on the ground, back up, so MMA gives fans that aspect of more or less reality of combat."

In what may surprise some, Gracie also gives a large part of the credit for the growth and success of MMA to Dana White and the UFC. "I think UFC is doing great, they are really driving the sport and its popularity. Dana White, what can I say, he is an honest in your face, upfront guy, but he can back it up. Look at what he has done with the UFC. You don't have to like the guy, though I do, but you have to give him respect. If it was not for his vision and the Fertitta brothers, MMA would not be as popular as it is today and maybe some of the other shows that are able to make a living today would not be around either. Strikeforce....[I] like the show, great fights they put on, nice guys too. I know Scott, very nice guy, I wish them all the best."

In the end, for Gracie, what began as a family, ends with the family. His extended family continues to spread the gospel of BJJ, through their separate schools and in a variety of locations, yet the Gracie clan remains as one. "We are spread all over the world, so to say that we chat on daily bases would not be true, but we are close, when something serous happens, we are there for each other," Gracie stated.

However, Gracie reserves a more intimate connection with his immediate family, whenever he can get the chance. As to what he's doing when he's not training people or giving seminars, Gracie commented, "Hang around with the kids, take them to Disneyland, the beach. Just family time."

That being said, will his three sons take up the family business and continue the proud and difficult legacy that is known as Gracie jiu-jitsu? In a statement that could be applied equally to his influence on the sport and the fighters that came after him, Gracie replied,
"Only if they want to. I give them the tools, the rest is up to them."

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