This is number ninety-three in Jack’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re honored to feature the legendary MMA and BJJ pioneer, Renzo Gracie. Gracie is a veteran of Pride, Rings, the IFL, and the UFC. He is also a renowned BJJ coach for four former or current UFC champions. Gracie, in his own inimitable way, took some time today to speak to Jack about his career as an MMA fighter and coach, his timeline for his next fight, the upcoming World Jiu-Jitsu Expo, and life in general. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: We know that as a Gracie, you were born into the martial arts. What are some of your very earliest memories of learning Jiu-jitsu as a child?
Renzo Gracie: It’s amazing, but I don’t have a recollection of not learning Jiu-jitsu. I think even when I was a baby in my father’s lap, he was playing fighting with me. I think now about how every time that he would play with me or take me to a park, we were always playing fighting. He always showed me moves and put me on his back and made me put the hooks on. Now I realize that he was doing the same thing that I did with my son growing up, teaching him how to fight.
JB: What do you recall about your first professional MMA fight, a submission win over Luiz Augusto Alvareda back in 1992, and how prepared do you feel you were at the time?
RG: Yes. Back then it was very complicated. They called it “Vale Tudo” back then. “Anything goes” was the translation. I was actually a brown belt. I was getting my black belt. There was a lot of confusion about who was going to fight. I was training a lot and I offered myself to do it. In the end, they picked me to go fight this guy. I was very glad. I didn’t lay my eyes on my opponent until I stepped into the ring. When he walked in the ring, that was the first time I saw him. To me, it was just another day at the academy, training. That’s how I saw the fight. I didn’t get nervous. I didn’t get anxious. But it was an unbelievable feeling after the fight was done. I knew then that everything that I did in my whole life was to build toward that. I really love the sport and I really love to fight. I think show that every time I fight.
JB: Though you eventually lost a decision to Tamura in Rings, no one finished you in an MMA fight until Sakuraba submitted you in your historic fight at Pride 10. Sakuraba included, who do you consider some of the toughest opponents that you ever faced in MMA?
RG: Man, I didn’t have any easy matches. It was because I was always fighting outweighed. I was always 155 pounds. That was my weight, 155, 160 pounds. Everybody that I fought was over 200, 220. I had a very tough match at Pride 2 against Kikuta. I was able to choke him after fifty-one minutes of fighting. Back then he probably walked around at 230. I was like 155, 160. We fought for fifty-one minutes, and I remember he was so strong and so good that I couldn’t move him around. The difference in weight was unbelievable. I remember that after I finally got him and choked him, in the first interview that I did after the fight, when I walked out of the ring, I said, “There is nobody that is going to beat this guy for a while. He’s going to be a champion.” And Kikuta ended up winning his next thirty-two fights in a row. He didn’t lose for thirty-two fights. He was the King of Pancrase. He ended up winning the prestigious Abu Dhabi competition. He was one of the first Japanese guys to do this. I knew I was right.
Then I had Dan Henderson. I was very lucky that I was able to fight with unbelievable people. I fought Maurice Smith. I fought Oleg Taktarov. I fought Pat Miletich. I fought Carlos Newton twice. I was very lucky. I was very lucky that every man that I fought was one tougher than the other, you know? That’s what made me. If I’m a special guy today, it’s because I had a chance to sweat and bleed and trade blows with those unbelievable people.
JB: So not only did you fight those legendary guys, but you beat Taktarov, Smith, Newton, Miletich, and others. What was your single most satisfying performance in MMA?
RG: I really love the ones that I had with Taktarov and Maurice Smith. For those two fights, I was in very good shape and I was very sharp. The Jiu-jitsu allowed me to overcome them even though they were much heavier than me. When I finished the fight with Maurice Smith, I tried to lift him and I could barely take him off of the ground. I hugged him and tried to lift him off of the floor to celebrate, and I could barely move him off of the ground. I said, “Holy s—-, he’s heavy!” Those fights were pure Jiu-jitsu. They let me show how efficient Jiu-jitsu could be.
JB: Your last fight was at UFC 112, in 2010, in a much anticipated matchup of two legends, you and Matt Hughes. How important was it to you to finally fight in the UFC and what do you think of the promotion that your family took part in founding twenty years ago?
RG: Man, I do believe that the UFC only grows. It’s the best sport out there. It’s receiving now all the attention that it deserved since the beginning. It’s like there is no harder sport than this one. You have to be in an Olympian’s shape. You have to be a top athlete. You have a guy across the ring from you that’s trying to rip your head off or trying to knock you out. It’s another guy with these small gloves and in the same physical condition as you. The only way that you could compare the excitement to an Olympic sport is if you throw behind Michael Phelps a crocodile. He would have to swim faster than the crocodile. That would be the only way that you could compare those sports with ours. Our sport equals intensity. Look at the people involved. It’s amazing. And the UFC did an unbelievable job making this sport get what it deserves, what it is right now. Dana, the Fertitta brothers, they were amazing at building this. They created a new trend with this sport that is going to be endless. I will see my grandkids fighting in this.
JB: Very recently, you mentioned that your MMA fighting career is not over. What would be the ideal scenario for you to fight again? When might you like to fight and who would you like a chance to match up against?
RG: I’m already training a lot. I’m trying to set my mind for around the end of February, beginning of March. I want to be ready then to take any challenge that I can find. For sure, I’ll be looking forward to fighting a good opponent again. Actually, this time, it’s going to be the first time in my life that I’ll fight in my weight division. I intend to fight at 155.
JB: You have passed on your skills to many other great fighters, including four UFC champions: Matt Serra, Georges St-Pierre, Frankie Edgar, and Chris Weidman. What do you think of each of these remarkable individuals?
RG: I do believe that it is passion. Passion is what drives a man to build. Those guys are more passionate than anything else. I was glad that I was able to drop some confidence in them. The reality was that it wasn’t me. It was actually Jiu-jitsu. It builds that confidence to be able to walk in there and achieve whatever they want. It’s like I was just a tool to teach them and set their minds in a fighting mode that they would be able to go in there and perform. Guys like Matt Serra, Georges, Weidman, and Frankie Edgar, they’re born champions. Whatever you teach them, they are using, applying, and believing. Those are unbelievable individuals. They succeed, and if they are stars, it is because they deserve it. They, for sure, deserve it.
JB: Next month is the World Jiu-Jitsu Expo, on November 9th and 10th, at the Long Beach Convention Center, in California. You and many other greats of today and years past will be conducting seminars. There will also be a number of superfights broadcast live on pay-per-view. What are a few of the highlights of the event that fans should be looking forward to?
RG: It’s going to be an unbelievable weekend. We have the best Jiu-jitsu guys out there. We have unbelievable MMA guys who are joining us to fight. We have Jon Fitch, who’s going to be fighting Paulo Miyao, who is one of the best Jiu-jitsu players out there. We have Kron Gracie. He was going to fight Rodolfo Viera, but unfortunately Rodolfo just got hurt. So we’ll be replacing him with another star, for sure. We have Buchecha, who is the current number one Jiu-jitsu player in the world, fighting. We have Bruno Malfacine vs. Jeff Glover, Lucas Leite against Keenan Cornelius, Cyborg against Dean Lister. This is on November 10th. On November 9th, we have Efrain Escudero against Phillipe Nover. We have Samuel Braga against Joao Miyao, the other Miyao brother. These kids are around 140 pounds, 143 pounds, and they fight and win the openweight division. That’s how good they are. We have my brother, Rafael Lovato, against Matt Riddle, Romulo Barral against Leandro Lo, and Caio Terra against Nam Phan. On top of that, we’re going to have free seminars for everybody to attend. We have a seminar with Rorion, with the Mendes brothers, Braulio Estima, Tanquinho, Draculino, and Rafael Natal. Rafael Natal is going to be fighting Tim Kennedy and he will leave from the fight and go straight to the expo. We’re going to have meet and greets with Carlos Condit, Lyoto Machida, Roger Gracie, Rorion, Ryron, Rener, Ricardo Liborio, Dean Lister. Rickson is coming. Royce will be there too. We’re going to have Jiu-jitsu awards. We’re going to have a grand prix for brown belts, sixteen fighters fighting. And all of this is going to be transmitted by pay-per-view live. We’re going to have cameras the whole day transmitting everything at the expo. We’re going to have an unbelievable photo exhibition. Man, it’s a dream-come-true. And on top of that, we will have an open Jiu-jitsu tournament for men and women. So it’s going to be everything about Jiu-jitsu under one roof.
JB: You have accomplished so much in your life thus far. You are a beloved ambassador for your family, the martial arts, and the sport of MMA. What plans or goals, outside of fighting again, do you still have for the future?
RG: My brother, I do believe that when a man stops dreaming, he stops living. I can’t stop dreaming. I have so many things to do, so many projects in my head right now. That’s why I sleep four hours a night. I believe the secret of longevity is to dream and to try to realize those dreams. I want to see Jiu-jitsu growing. I want to see the World Expo continue to build. Last year we had 8,000 people walking in and out of the place. Back then it was just one day. This time it’s two days. I want to double that number. I want to make this huge. I want to get my sport under the sun, in the place that it deserves. It’s a great sport. It’s a sport that builds unbelievable fighters like the ones that we just mentioned. With that, I also want to expand my academies. I want to make kids. I want to have more kids! I want to fall in love with my wife again every day! I want to be passionate about life. Those are my main projects.
JB: Last question, Renzo, and it has been my honor. Thank you. What does it mean to you to be a fighter and how much do you enjoy it?
RG: Oh man, today, as I get older, I understand more and more that the fighting is actually one of the most important things that a man can have in his life. Everything that you do is fighting. You put your kids through school. You put them through college. You raise them and that is a fight. There is not a tougher fight than that. You work hard to build something. You give your whole life fighting to build something. There’s glory and fighting in everything we do. To get out of bed and come talk to you was a fight, and I’m glad to be doing that. A lot of times people don’t realize that fighting is an important thing that you have to have in your soul to push you forward. If you see it as a fighter, every day is a blessed day, every day is a great day. A lot of times people don’t understand why we fight so much and why we’re driven so much. We fight to make ourselves better.
Recently, I sent a quote to Dana White. And it said, “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” That’s by Nietzche. A lot of times it’s difficult for people to understand because they cannot hear the music. They cannot see it. I had a chance to see my grandfather at 90 years old talking about building a clinic to help people to improve their health. He was 90. So at 90, he was dreaming about building a hospital that would improve people’s health. How could I do less? I want to be 90 and still dream about building something.
Thank you so much for reading and please follow Renzo Gracie and Jack Brown on Twitter.
Visit JackJohnBrownMMA on Facebook for links to all of Jack’s past interviews. Previous interviews include: Dan Hardy, Rose Namajunas, Joe Lauzon, War Machine, Tom Lawlor, Bas Rutten, Chris Leben, Phil Baroni, Julie Kedzie, Michael Bisping, Duane Ludwig, Sara McMann, Matt Lindland, Duke Roufus, Pat Miletich, Jens Pulver, Dan Severn, Nate Quarry, Ken Shamrock, Matt Serra, Jeremy Horn, Ray Longo, Kevin Randleman, Dennis Hallman, Daniel Cormier, and dozens more.
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