5 Defining Moments: Royce Gracie

Royce Gracie is a legendary fighter—some of the losses and draws on his record notwithstanding. In fact, he may be one of the greatest in the history of our sport and is widely regarded as the trailblazer who heralded the significance of jiu-jitsu in the combat sports arsenal. Today, every MMA fighter, no matter their background, eventually incorporates jiu-jitsu into their training, tracing back to the legend and lore that is the Gracie family. Royce Gracie was the chosen champion among the ranks of several reputed practitioners owing to his fragile frame and slender form. His older brother Rorion, the co-founder of the Ultimate Fighting Championship wanted Royce to represent the family and roots of jiu-jitsu to teach the world the art of alavanca, aka, leveraging an opponent’s size and strength against themselves. Very few people in MMA history command the reverence and respect Royce Gracie does, and with that, we take a look at the five defining moments of his career.


The Submission King Emerges

Gracie burst onto the scene at UFC 1 in 1993 and cut straight right to the bone. While he didn’t present a terrifying stare or the look of a cage assassin, something was unsettling in his calm demeanor, perhaps a reminder of the storm that was coming. Gracie dominated the first UFC showcase against bigger, stronger opponents Art Jimmerson, Ken Shamrock and Gerard Gordeau, rattling off all of those victories by submission. The ardor to validate his wisdom took over the meek countenance that his opponents misconceived. For his monumental run, he was declared the "Ultimate Fighting Champion" and was awarded $50,000 in prize money.

Defending Established Ground

The Brazilian returned to compete at UFC 2, once again facing a gauntlet of opponents in the old UFC single-night tournament format. The road to success was more demanding this time since everyone was informed about his competence. He also had to endure a lot of injuries en route to winning the tournament again, starting with a lapel choke submission victory over Minoki Ichihar. He later took on Jason DeLucia in the quarterfinals, securing a quick armbar submission win in emphatic fashion. He then submitted 250-pound judo standout Remco Pardoel with a lapel choke and locked horns against kickboxer Patrick Smith in the finals. He utilized his superior grappling skills to take Smith to the canvas and won the fight via submission to punches.

Navigating an Endurance Test

At UFC 4, Gracie’s endurance was put to the test in each of the three bouts that he competed in, starting with a rear-naked choke submission victory over Ron van Clief. He went on to fight American Kenpo Karate specialist Keith Hackney in the semi-finals. Hackney managed to wear out Gracie’s takedown attempts for four minutes before succumbing to an armbar submission at the 5:32 mark. In the finals, he squared off against Dan Severn, a former Pan American freestyle wrestling gold medalist who was wise to Gracie’s grappling onslaught. Severn dominated the fight and maintained top control while pounding strikes from the top in the war of attrition. However, Gracie’s resilience held through as he managed to secure a triangle choke at the 15:49 mark of the no-time-limit bout.

Return to Glory

After a decade-long absence from the UFC, Gracie returned to the organization to take on Matt Hughes at UFC 60. The Brazilian was visibly past his prime, yet, he displayed flashes of brilliance until Hughes used sheer force to drag Gracie to the canvas. From there, he attempted a straight armbar but Gracie refused to tap. Hughes continued on the pursuit to chase the finish, eventually hammering away the finish with ruthless battering forcing the referee to stop the fight at the 4:39 mark of the first round.

A Rivalry for the Ages

Gracie’s rivalry with Shamrock saw the pair wage hostility in three encounters across two different promotions. As brought up before, he got the better of the American during their first clash at UFC 1. They later squared off again at UFC 5 for the inaugural superfight championship. As the fight commenced, Shamrock immediately secured a takedown while Gracie pulled guard. That would be the tone of the fight thereafter; Shamrock spending time in top control unleashing occasional ground-and-pound in the lackluster encounter. The contest went into overtime after 30 minutes of deadlock, which led to another uneventful few minutes, resulting in the contest being ruled out a draw. In the rubber match and what would also be Gracie’s last professional fight, the pair rekindled hostilities, this time under the Bellator banner. He won the fight by TKO in round one amidst controversy stemming from replays that show Gracie landed a knee that grazed the groin of Shamrock before the decisive moment.


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Jingnan Xiong