“When I first came to America,” Royce Gracie confessed to Breitbart Sports, “I thought, ‘Wow. How come people don’t know what Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is?’”
As his family had done in their native Brazil since the 1920s, they issued a challenge to fighters of other disciplines to take on one of the Gracies. The Gracie Challenge, and the clan’s school teaching their martial art, gradually established the family name in America. The challenge served as a precursor to the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s early tournaments in the 1990s involving karatekas, boxers, shoot wrestlers, and followers of other disciplines, which the 175-pound Royce Gracie won by defeating more physically imposing men.
Though long retired from active competition, the fit, trim, and 38-looking 48-year-old Gracie inspired awe among onlookers at the events surrounding this weekend’s Bellator 134. The inaugural UFC champion gave a motivational talk to a basketball gymnasium overflowing with high school wrestlers and other young admirers, cheerfully signed autographs for fans for two hours at Mohegan Sun casino, and watched Friday night’s matches with intense interest alongside fellow MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko.
Gracie saw the long-limbed Liam McGeary put on a jiu-jitsu exhibition in wresting the Bellator MMA light-heavyweight championship from Emanuel Newton in the main event. McGeary studies jiu-jitsu under Renzo Gracie, a cousin of Royce’s who set up an academy in Manhattan.
“A lot of people in America, too, in the beginning thought, ‘The Gracies are arrogant because of their challenge, they’re saying their style is the best, that they want to prove it,’” Gracie reported. “It’s not arrogance. It’s a quest. My family was in a quest to find out which style is the best.”
In Bellator 134’s main event, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu again reigned triumphant.