Who remembers UFC 1? Who remembers Kevin Rosier, with his belly hanging over his uncomfortably tight white shorts, pounding and stomping Zane Frazier until Frazier was bloody and incoherent. All while Rosier himself was gasping for breath? Who remembers Ken Shamrock, screaming at Pat Smith after their fight ended for reasons nobody can explain? It was as forgettable and unentertaining as pro wrestling without all the glitter and lights. It was like watching boxing with none of the skill or technique that elevates true boxers to the level of scientists.
In all this gray noise, in walks the man in white… Royce Gracie. Weighing 170 pounds in his sparkling white gi and introducing not only his art but the core concepts and ideas of true fighting. Royce crushed his competition. Boxer? no problem. Kick boxer? no problem. Street fighter? no problem. Using almost unheard of, or at the very least forgotten, ground techniques from previous Judo masters, Gracie turned the fighting world upside down. Royce had no size or strength advantage, he excelled with technique alone. It was something new, exciting and very different.
By the time Royce Gracie withdrew from the UFC in ’95, he had already revolutionized martial arts the UFC. Breaking boards and winning bar fights was not enough to enter fight competitions. It would now require a level of skill and discipline previously non-existent. Gracie showed the world that no one had a chance in a real struggle without some idea of how to defend themselves on the ground.
Royce Gracie has had a few returns to MMA which include 3 years in Pride (2000-2003), K1 in Japan (2004-2005), a UFC fight against Matt Hughes in 2006 and a Bellator fight against Ken Shamrock in 2016 which he won. Through all of this, the Gracie story is unique. Even in loss the Gracie family name grew in notoriety. An example would be the ’06 Matt Hughes fight. Matt, a collegiate wrestler, used Gracie’s own jiu jitsu techniques to defeat him. Doing this only proved to the world that Gracie Jiu Jitsu was here to stay. The Gracie’s have put their stamp on every MMA or Octagon fight from now until eternity. Any fighter with a good ground game owes a debt of gratitude to Gracie Jiu Jitsu.
Royce Gracie is a legend. One of the sport’s all-time greats. The Gracie name will never be forgotten and will be an icon for generations. Gracie will hold a place alongside great names such as Kano, Bruce Lee, and Mas Oyama. Without Royce Gracie there would be no Ultimate Fighting Championship today. Without Royce Gracie the first UFC would have been little more than an overhyped Tough Man competition.
MMA may have grown far past Royce and UFC 1, but it couldn’t have gotten there without the Gracie family and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.