Rickson Gracie believes jiu-jitsu has “lost its capacity” in today’s MMA. | Photo: Denis Martins
More than a decade has passed since Rickson Gracie competed in mixed martial arts, but the 52-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt still holds a prominent place in the minds and hearts of most hardcore fans. Gracie last fought at an event in Japan in May 2000, when he choked Pancrase co-founder Masakatsu Funaki unconscious with a rear-naked choke in a little less than 13 minutes. He walked away from the sport with a perfect 11-0 mark, with all 11 victories by way of submission.
In this exclusive interview with Sherdog.com, Gracie discussed the impact of UFC 134 on Brazil, his recent participation in the Bintang Black Belt Challenge -- a surfing championship for jiu-jitsu black belts -- and, perhaps most importantly, the state of the ground game in modern-day MMA.
Sherdog.com: Do you believe jiu-jitsu fighters are having trouble getting the fight on the ground in today’s MMA?
Gracie: I see it as a new race of fighter developing, something that’s been invented. There are no more style matchups. Now, everyone knows everything. It’s about the strengths of the individual. The time of fights was shortened, the weights were equalized and technology was incorporated into training. There is no more romanticism in seeing a smaller guy fight a bigger guy for two hours. Thinking of that, I believe jiu-jitsu has lost the capacity to be put into practice in today’s MMA, because it’s an art you have to wait for the right moment with. Now, MMA is a sport for the better-prepared fighter, the guy who can absorb more punches and still win. There’s still an admiration for the art by those who practice it, but there’s a decline in how it’s working in MMA. My motivation is completely focused on the concept. That’s where I believe I can make a difference: in making the shy kid feel normal, in making the weak woman believe she’s strong. I want people to have a sense of self-defense and a concept of the invisible power. That’s where jiu-jitsu will achieve its eternity.
Sherdog.com: You have taken part in many legendary events. Do you still have the desire to compete again?
Gracie: There’s always that longing to fight, but I’m motivated by everything I’ve done so far. Nowadays, I have responsibilities that motivate me more than trying to live something I’ve already lived. Today, my focus is on remembering the people of jiu-jitsu and the philosophy that comes with the practice. It’s not directed at competition but at self-defense, self-confidence, discipline and emotional control. The values you learn are priceless.
Sherdog.com: There is no one better than you to describe the importance of UFC 134. What was it like to see 15,000 people supporting Brazilian fighters?
Gracie: It was very nice -- a Brazilian night. Guys fought really well. [Antonio Rodrigo] “Minotauro” [Nogueira], Anderson [Silva], [Mauricio] “Shogun” [Rua] ... everyone had a good role. And to feel the emotion that you only can feel in Brazil, where you have this human warmth, was great. I enjoyed taking part in a night like that.
Sherdog.com: Among the Brazilian fighters who competed at UFC 134, who did you like best?
Gracie: The Brazilians had a great night. They were pushed by the crowd and were well-prepared. I loved Minotauro. He’s a lion of a veteran. He was well-prepared physically and mentally, and he shut a lot of people’s mouths. Anderson showed his skills, which was no surprise. I expected that. Thiago Tavares was great, as was [Rousimar] “Toquinho” [Palhares]. Everyone showed the desire to win, and I congratulate them.
Sherdog.com: The Americans invited you to sit on the first row at the HSBC Arena. Some people were worried that they would tout MMA as their creation. How important was it for you to see your father, Helio Gracie, recognized, along with yourself and your brothers, Rorion Gracie and Royce Gracie?
Gracie: It was fair recognition. They are developing a great work with marketing, but everything is our creation. It’s not only about Brazilian fighters but about the concept and the Brazilian spirit behind it. They’re not re-inventing the wheel, and we have the resources needed to make the same kind of show as they have. We have human material and an interested audience, and now we also have the media vehicles needed to integrate them. We can have a Brazilian UFC, which is more important than recognizing the actions of others.
Sherdog.com: How was the surfing championship?
Gracie: I lost this time, but it was very cool to see the fellowship and to be with my friends on the ocean. It’s incredible to be in such a beautiful place like Prainha surfing with friends. There are no winners or losers there.