In a landscape where Brazilian jiu jitsu is a key element of MMA, tons of gyms have opened up across the world. One name stands at the forefront as the most globally recognized system. Gracie. The Gracies are credited with having brought that mass recognition to the general public, and are basically what some consider to be BJJ royalty. They're like the Kennedys of combat sports. To be awarded a Gracie black belt in BJJ is no easy task, and is considered an elite accomplishment. I recently had the good fortune to be able to interview a member of this legendary family, Rener Gracie, and got his thoughts on a variety of topics.
Braulio Estima MMA Debut
What a beautiful display. It really wasn't a surprise to me. Braulio is such a dedicated hard worker, and such a professional athlete. Even though most of the sport jiu jitsu doesn't translate directly into MMA, the fact that Braulio is the competitor that he is, and the tactician that he is, gave me certainty that he would dedicate himself equally to the modification and adaptation he needed to be successful in that setting.
He went in there, and it was just very clean with control of the fight and dominant positioning. There was beautiful movement and control on the ground. Like any jiu jitsu expert who makes the transition to MMA, there was going to be a little bit of lag time in terms of sharpening their striking skills to get it up to par with the rest of the MMA community, but in the mean time, he can rely on his far superior jiu jitsu ground skills, and close the deals that way.
Any time you see beautiful technique like Braulio used in MMA, it makes me proud. There are people out there that see things like that, and get motivated to get off the couch and go from being just a dedicated fan, to being practitioners of the art. They end up wanting to adopt that healthier lifestyle, and it's awesome to see.
Single Most Important Tool In BJJ For Transitioning To MMA
Well, my brother and I were doing one of our breakdowns on The Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen fight, the second one, and one thing we noticed was the way Anderson beautifully avoided the ground and pound in round one. He was able to be underneath one of the most effective wrestlers and GNP masters of the game, and not take any substantial damage. Not a black eye, bruise or cut. Nothing at all.
As masterful as Anderson Silva is at creating the perfect distance to knock people out, he's equally masterful at preventing the dangerous distances launched against him, so others are unable to hit him effectively. It was Anderson Silva's distance management in keeping his opponent from acquiring that striking distance that allowed him to survive round one and go into round two, where he finally loosened up and did his standard knockout procedure.
The moral of the story is, in jiu jitsu, the one thing that we teach, and heavily emphasize, is distance management. It is one of the most important things I learned growing up. My grandfather pulled me aside and said to me, 'Rener, whoever manages the distance, manages the damage that can be done.' Basically, that means if I can keep myself too far out of range, or so close to him that he has trouble with movement, in either case, they can't hit me with any effectiveness. For someone going from BJJ into MMA, their distance management has to be impeccable. I think that's the number one thing that they would have to carry over to be successful.
It's going to be tough. Jon Jones, with his wrestling background will not be easy to put on his back. If anything, it will cause Vitor to be on his back, from the bottom of the guard, defending. We all saw how that went for Lyoto Machida, who is also a jiu jitsu black belt. From a purely jiu jitsu perspective, Belfort and Machida's jiu jitsu isn't exactly their forte. It's there, but it's kind of like a fail safe for both of them. They both rely more on their striking than their jiu jitsu. I think if Vitor has a chance, it will be with the knockout. Machida was able to rock Jones one time in the first round, and I think Vitor will be able to do the same if he calculates that distance, and is able to get inside to land it, but I don't think Vitor has what it takes to get Jones on the ground and control him enough to submit him. No one has been able to do that, and I don't think that Vitor will be the first one to do it.
UFC 151 Debacle
Of course, the immediate fan response is how disappointed everyone is in Jon Jones not taking the fight with Chael, but I always try to see it from both sides and give everyone a fair chance. Jon Jones is one of the best fighters right now, pound for pound. It's one thing to train for an opponent for three or four months, and it's another to switch that opponent at the last minute, to train for a man as tough as Chael Sonnen. As the belt holder, he worked hard for that title. His ability to methodically and diligently train for each individual opponent that he's beaten is the biggest reason for his success.
On eight days notice, to give him a new opponent, a wild card, we can hardly blame him for saying no. All that being said, I wish that he would have accepted the fight. It would have been more exciting, and it truly was a major showing of courage on Sonnen's part, but then again, if you were in Chael Sonnen's shoes, wouldn't you do the same thing? Jones has more on the line, so he's allowed to be more cautious about the concerns brought about by a fight on such short notice against a completely different opponent than the one he spent months training for.
Gracie Breakdowns UFC Partnership
All the fans that are watching MMA aren't connecting with the arts. They're loving the fights, but there's a disconnect between the spectator and the actual practice. We realized that our next mission was to turn those casual fans into explorers and practitioners of the art. For us, the main concern is getting more people connected to the jiu jitsu side of it. That's when we had the idea for the Gracie Breakdowns.
We used a language called LCD (Lowest Common Denominator) to break down the moves for the casual fan who might not know anything at all about jiu jitsu to understand. The breakdowns became so effective and got so many views, that we got the call from the UFC asking us to do the breakdowns in partnership with them for Fuel TV. That's the phone call we had been waiting for, because I know that once we started doing these with the UFC, they would reach a much wider audience.
The show is called UFC Ultimate Insider, and it's a weekly, magazine type show that airs on Tuesday night's at 10:30 pm Eastern. They're using our segments to promote and pump up upcoming bouts now. Their production value is off the hook. They splice in UFC footage for us, special effects, computer generated graphics. It's really cool what they've done with them. They're a little shorter than our standard breakdowns, but are edited so well, that they really provide the core value for the viewer.
Crusading For BJJ In The Olympics
The real issue is that even though jiu jitsu is being practiced on a grass roots level, it's not being practiced competition-wise everywhere. With Olympic rules and regulations, there's a minimum number of countries that have to be practicing the sport under the same rules, regulations and guidelines, universally. That's the tricky part. It's a huge undertaking. Jiu jitsu is a relatively young martial art, especially in the United States.
It's not a matter of people being passionate about it, as much as it' is the undertaking of structuring it all over the world, and unifying it in practice under one ruleset. It certainly won't happen by the Rio Olympics, and to be honest, I don't know when it's going to happen. Right now, I'm kind of busy, and couldn't possibly take on that kind of task. My current mission is to educate as many people as I can on the fundamentals of the art. Maybe down the road, once I get this all sorted out, I can change missions, but until then, I've got to keep grinding.
You can follow Rener via his Twitter account, @RenerGracie