Following months of quiet rumour and speculation, Royce Gracie’s manager has confirmed that he is in negotiations for the fighter’s return to the UFC. Mike Kogan, speaking with MMA Junkie, revealed the plans for the original UFC tournament winner to return to the organisation where he made his name, when the UFC return to Gracie’s native Brazil some time later this year.
While this will undoubtedly raise feelings of nostalgia amongst older fans of the sport, the prospect of a one-dimensional 44-year old fighting on the biggest stage, for the sport’s premier promotion, in the supposed era of modern MMA is an unappealing one to say the least. You have to question the good sense and realism of the negotiators on both sides of this deal, not least those of Gracie himself.
The early talk is of Gracie fighting another fading legend, with the names of Ken Shamrock and Kazushi Sakuraba being mentioned. Fun and novel as those matchups may sound, the chance of either being made is unrealistic and the result would certainly be unfitting of a place on even a UFC undercard. If Royce is delusional enough to believe he still has a place in a top MMA organization then it is only fitting that he should face a top MMA fighter. Given the history his family have with BJ Penn, the comments made by Royce’s cousin Ralph, and the fact that Penn fights at 170lbs – the division in which Royce is expected to return– and has a very liberal attitude to fighting bigger opponents, the former UFC lightweight and welterweight champion looks to be the perfect candidate.
Of course Gracie would be outclassed and of course he would lose quickly and embarrassingly, but if the alternative to that is him tentatively standing with a decrepit Ken Shamrock for three rounds then bring on the embarrassing beating. You can point to Royce’s former success in the sport as reason for him deserving a more favourable fight than this, but Royce’s actual actions during and particularly following that success make him more deserving of an unwinnable fight with Penn than a handpicked, mediocre opponent for him to struggle to a win against.
This is the same Royce Gracie who demanded special rules in a number of fights later in his career, believing judges and even in some cases time limits to be ill fitting to and beneath his style of fighting. The same Royce Gracie who disputed a perfectly legitimate loss to Hidehiko Yoshida at PRIDE Shockwave 2002, and had his family put enough pressure on the promotion for the loss to be changed to a no-contest and a rematch scheduled, under special rules of course. The same Royce Gracie who tested positive for the anabolic steroid Nandrolone following his rematch with Kazushi Sakuraba in 2007, with the level of the substance in his system being so elevated that it would not actually register on the laboratory's calibrator. The same Royce Gracie who, despite his demolition at the hands of Matt Hughes back in 2006, still believes he is worthy of sharing a ring with Georges St. Pierre or even Brock Lesnar.
Yes, his achievements in the sport are great, he is a worthy member of any MMA Hall of Fame, but this is not a man who deserves a handpicked opponent, certainly not on the sport’s largest stage and in a fight which you assume would secure him a substantial pay check.
Realistically, the inclusion of Royce Gracie on any modern UFC card is ludicrous and the possibility of it should be treated with both derision and outright contempt. If it really goes ahead though, if the self proclaimed "home of the world’s best mixed martial artists" really decides to give a fight to someone who wouldn’t make it past the first round of trials for The Ultimate Fighter, then for the sake of the sport it has to be against a competent opponent.
Giving Royce an easy fight would be a disservice to whichever young, up and coming fighter whose place on the card he would be taking. A fight with Penn, farcical as it is, would at least be over quickly and serve the purpose of highlighting the sport’s obvious evolution – for those who missed Gracie’s fight with Matt Hughes anyway.
If Royce Gracie wants a place on a UFC card then give him a world class opponent. Judging by his own comments on the current elite fighters in the sport it is the fight he craves and frankly, in a perversely karmic way, the fight that he deserves.
This article was written by Jack Barrington for FightLockdown.com