MMA History V: The Reign of Royce Gracie

So in our last installment, I jumped ahead a bit and got into mid 1995 with Rickson Gracie's second Vale Tudo tournament in Japan.

And since I've only covered UFC 1, that means we've left out something important -- the reign of Royce. After his triumph at UFC 1, Royce took part in three UFC tournaments in 1994 going 8-1 with his only loss coming because he wasn't able to answer the opening bell in a match.

I haven't been able to find a good embeddable video of any of these fights, but this gym match against kung fu expert Jason DeLucia circa 1992 is illustrative of the basic dynamic. DeLucia would lose again to Royce at UFC 2 and later became a successful Pancrase fighter and founding member of Ken Shamrock's Lion's Den.

Basically, Royce's run, along with Rickson's success in Japan established that a one dimensional Jiu Jitsu stylist with a vale tudo background could clean house with a range of traditional martial artists, untrained brawlers, kickboxers and even a credentialed amateur wrestler with a 70+ pound weight advantage.

The great thing about these fights was the drama. Unlike Rickson who was never really challenged in his matches in Japan, at least three of Royce's matches were intensely dramatic and showed that Royce had the grit to overcome tremendous challenges.

After breezing through UFC 2, Royce fought a 250lb brawler in Kimo Leopoldo to open UFC 3. I wasn't able to embed the video of that fight, but I did find a version online with Royce's post-fight commentary. It's an ungainly affair, and the commentary kills some of the drama of the match. This was the first MMA fight I ever saw on videotape and I was on the edge of my seat. We couldn't believe this scrawny guy in the gi could handle the aggressive giant. In retrospect, it's interesting to note how many illegal techniques Royce used against Kimo -- hair pulling, point of elbow attacks, kicks to the kidneys and the back of the head -- but ultimately it was Kimo's lack of conditioning that helped Royce sink in the fatal armbar.

That fight took everything Gracie had and knocked him out of the tournament. In UFC 4 he came back and faced down two more serious challenges -- karateka Keith Hackney and wrestler Dan Severn. Hackney never really threatened Royce, but he really resisted the takedown and gave Royce all he could handle. Severn was a different story.

The first serious wrestler to enter MMA competition, Severn suplexed his way past strikers Anthony Macias and Marcus Bossett before running into Royce. Severn easily got the take down, but had no answer for what the announcers called "the riddle of the guard." It took forever (well over 15 minutes) but Royce eventually worked his way into a triangle choke and forced Severn to tap. Since the pay per view went off the air minutes before the end of the fight, this was the first of a series of disasters that would dog the early UFCs.

Here's a highlight reel of Royce's early wins. I apologize for the crappy music.

Royce never matched these early heights again, but for sixteen months in the early 1990's he was a hero to every little runt who dreamed of overcoming the big jocks with superior brains, balls and skill.

War Royce!

Links to more MMA History in the extended entry.

Previous installments of MMA History:

XXII: Catch Wrestling and Kazushi Sakuraba's Early PRIDE Run
XXI: The Amazing UFC Championship Run of Frank Shamrock

XX: Kazushi Sakuraba and Frank Shamrock Emerge at Ultimate Japan
XIX: The Humbled PRIDE of Nobuhiko Takada
XVIII: The Losses of Luta Livre
XVII: The Lion's Den Roars
XVI: Rico Chiapparelli and the RAW Team
XV: Pancrase, RINGS, and Shooto 1996
XIV: Boom and Bust in Brazil
XIII: Coleman Gets His Kicks
XII: End of the UFC Glory Days
XI: Carlson Gracie's Mighty Camp
X: The Reign of the Wrestlers
IX: Strikers Attack
VIII: From Russia With Leglocks
VII: A New Phase in the UFC
VI: A Dutch Detour
V: The Reign of Royce
IV: Rickson Brings Jiu Jitsu Back to Japan
III: Proto MMA Evolves Out of Worked Pro Wrestling in Japan
II: The Ur-Brazilian MMA Feud: BJJ vs Luta Livre and the Style They Never Saw Coming
I: UFC 1 Pancrase meets BJJ

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