Widely considered the top prospect of his family’s next generation, multiple-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion Roger Gracie will return to active MMA competition when he challenges former UFC champion Kevin Randleman in a light heavyweight attraction at Strikeforce “Heavy Artillery” on May 15 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo.
Although such inactivity was never planned, the 28-year-old Gracie has only fought under MMA rules twice in the past four years, submitting UFC veteran Ron Waterman in December 2006 and longtime Pancrase star Yuki Kondo in May 2008.
“I never planned to be away for so long,” Gracie said during a teleconference call touting the May 15 event. “I tried to come back twice before but I was injured. I’ve been away from the ring for years now but I’ve never stopped training. The plan now is to compete maybe two or three times a year. I used to compete in BJJ competitions four to five times a year, but now we’ve cut that back to two in order to concentrate on my MMA career. I think I can do both.”
For Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker, bringing Gracie into fold was a no-brainer. The last time the promotion utilized the Gracie name was Strikeforce’s inaugural foray into MMA back in March 2006. Frank Shamrock’s first-round KO of Cesar Gracie drew a then-U.S. record of 18, 265 fans at an MMA event.
“We started talking to (Roger) a while back and we had debated different ways of bringing him into the organization,” Coker said. “All of my indicators out there said, ‘Hey, this is a guy that could carry on the (Gracie) name. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t anyone else out there that could, but based on Roger’s jiu-jitsu accomplishments, we had to take a strong look at him.
“Roger came out for a visit last year and we talked for a while. Then it was a matter of placing him onto a Challengers show or putting him right into the big show. We feel that the Gracie name has worked well in the past. Is this a marketing gimmick? Absolutely not. We feel that Roger is a great fighter and will be able to move up the ranks.”
As expected, having the burden of carrying the Gracie name can come with its fair share of pressure. Looking to capitalize on the recent UFC setbacks of his relatives, Renzo and Rolles, Roger is determined to use the surname as motivation.
“Of course there’s a lot of weight behind the name,” said Gracie. “Many fighters carried the name around for many years. In the same way it gives me a lot of pressure, it pushes me forward a lot. I feel like I have to train that much harder and perform that much better because I have the name. It’s as almost as if it gives you extra strength.”
Looking to add the first blemish to Gracie’s record is Randleman, who despite having dropped seven out of his last ten fights, remains a dangerous opponent to anyone due to his wrestling prowess and explosive athletic ability.
Compelled to add skills other than grappling to his arsenal, Gracie has spent the last eight weeks improving his boxing and wrestling in hopes of leaving no stone unturned when it comes to facing the threat that Randleman presents.
“I came to New York at the beginning of the week to finish my training with my cousin Renzo and Ricardo Almeida,” Gracie said. “They have a lot of good guys to train with. I’ve been doing a lot of boxing with my coach and we’ve been bringing some guys in to wrestle as well. I feel like a pretty complete fighter. Just with my jiu-jitsu alone, I feel pretty safe.
“My boxing isn’t on a high level. I have decent hands, but my jiu-jitsu is what I’m going to use. My other skills will never be on par with my grappling, so I have to do what I have to do. I believe I’m prepared for whatever happens. I think it makes it harder to win because everyone is going to try their best to get away from the ground (against me). Again, I think that it’s my strength. If I can use it, I’ll be fine, but of course, it’s going to be hard. I’m excited for the fight. Kevin is going to be my toughest opponent yet.”
Despite only having two professional bouts under his belt, a win over Randleman could end up placing Gracie on the fast track to challenging newly crowned Strikeforce light heavyweight champ Muhammed Lawal in the near future.
“Usually, that’s a scenario where we would talk about it when the time comes,” Coker said of a future title shot for Gracie. “But you have to remember that even though Roger doesn’t have that many MMA fights, he’s had probably near a thousand jiu-jitsu matches. We’ll keep an eye on the winner of the Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante vs. Antwain Britt fight and that could be a good next opponent if Roger gets by Kevin.”