Rolles Gracie gleaned much from his one-fight UFC stint. | Andreas Serna/Sherdog.com
Believe it or not, Rolles Gracie wants another chance in the UFC.
The 32-year-old Brazilian debuted with the promotion at UFC 109 in February 2010, in just his fourth professional fight. Taking on the durable Joey Beltran, who replaced Mostapha Al-Turk on short notice, Gracie looked strong in the early going as he brought the fight to the floor and dominated his foe with superior groundwork.
Beltran managed to survive Gracie’s ground attack, however, and the jiu-jitsu black belt became fatigued in the second frame. After failing to execute a takedown, an exhausted Gracie turtled up while Beltran pounded away until the referee waved off the bout. The heavyweight with the most famous last name in all of MMA was cut from the UFC shortly thereafter.
Speaking exclusively to Sherdog.com this week, Gracie said that he should never have competed that night.
“I hate to be the guy who makes excuses, but I [should not have] taken that fight. It was a big mistake on my end. [I should have withdrawn] when Mostapha Al-Turk backed out, but I pushed for the fight,” Gracie said. “Four weeks before the fight, I thought I sprained my foot or my ankle, but it was actually broken, and I took the last four weeks of the camp lightly.”
According to Gracie, his injury was not the only problem which lead to his first career defeat. He also made the cardinal mistake of underestimating his opponent.
“I took Joey Beltran lightly, too. I thought to myself that I could beat him even without a foot. I underestimated him, big time, and I lacked cardio in that fight,” said Gracie. “I learned a lot more from that fight than I did from all my wins. Hopefully, that will be the only loss on my record.”
Gracie’s road back to the world’s largest MMA promotion begins Friday, as he competes at Urban Conflict Championships 4 “Supremacy” in Morristown, N.J., against King of the Cage veteran Braden Bice. With his first loss now behind him, Gracie asserts that he’s not overlooking his next opponent in the least.
“To be honest, I don’t have a lot of info on this guy, but I didn’t base my training camp on his record,” said Gracie. “I just saw one of his fights, but he fought Mike Russow, and Mike Russow is a beast, so I didn't want to [underestimate him].”
Regardless of the outcome, Gracie says he wants to fight “at least two or three more times” this year. The heavyweight was supposed to return to the cage in January against Mike Ciesnolevicz under the Shine Fights banner, but Gracie says that he has little interest in competing for the promotion after the fight was frustratingly postponed on numerous occasions.
Looking ahead, Gracie believes that his technique, standup included, will allow him to compete with some of the best fighters in the game. In fact, says Gracie, technique was never the issue, even in defeat.
“Actually, going into that fight, I felt pretty good about my standup. In the standup [exchanges], Joey Beltran never hit me. I was the one hitting him in the standup. If [the fight had been scored as] a boxing match, I would have won,” said Gracie. “So, I feel comfortable enough in my standup to bring the fight to the ground. When I fight people, I’m going to bring the fight to the floor. That’s a fact. I have nothing to hide. I just [need] my standup to be good enough to get to the clinch.”
The eldest son of Rolls Gracie, Sr. -- widely regarded as a grappling innovator who melded his jiu-jitsu game with wrestling, sambo and other arts -- Rolles comes from some of the best stock in the fight game. Though Rolls died in a hang gliding accident when Rolles was only four years old, Gracie tries to incorporate his father’s philosophies into his training.
“I try to keep my mind open, just like he did. I’ve studied judo and wrestling, and I love the standup. I love it,” said Gracie. “So, I try to follow him. I didn’t have a lot of contact with him, but I learned from my uncles, talking about him and the things he did.”
While Gracie’s famous last name could viewed as a burden, the heavyweight says that he feels no pressure to win, or even to compete, from his family. What he receives instead is a massive amount of support.
“If I felt like there was a lot of pressure, I wouldn’t do it,” said Gracie. “Pressure is like a myth, in my opinion. I’m doing this because I want to. Even if I didn’t want to fight, and I just wanted to train jiu-jitsu and teach, and never compete, I think my family would still respect me the same way. Even if I wanted to follow another road and be a doctor or a lawyer or whatever, I think they would still respect me.”
Gracie is also addressing the issue of cardio. According to the fighter, there is a big difference between being in shape for a fight and being in shape for a jiu-jitsu match.
“In jiu-jitsu, sometimes you’re able to pace yourself with one 10-minute-long round. Since I’m very comfortable on the ground, I know how to rest on the ground and take my time. I want to bring my standup game to that level, where I feel relaxed and don’t struggle and waste energy,” said Gracie. “If you took a marathon runner and [made him] roll jiu-jitsu a little bit, he would get tired in, like, a minute, because he’s not comfortable there.”
As his next fight looms, Gracie says his mind is now prepared to make his run back to the world’s premier organization. But this time, he will not repeat his prior mistakes.
“I’m going to be more cautious instead of trying to prove a point [by competing] when I’m not 100 percent. I want to be in condition to fight, and I don’t want to take anybody lightly. That’s the lesson I learned, and it’s going to stay with me forever."