Royce Gracie believes this is his fifteenth time in Israel. He’s given seminars at David Binyamin’s gyms in the country’s north, to the army, and vacationed in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. More recently, he’s been traveling over as a brand ambassador for Bellator.
Twenty odd years on, the UFC 1, 2 & 4 winner is in a Bellator MMA shirt. He looks fit, and much younger than almost 51. I catch him on the conference floor of Leonardo City Tower Hotel.
“Oh, for Bloody Elbow?”, Gracie asks. “Then no. They always talk shit about me.”
He says so with a world-renowned straight face, and I immediately say I’m sorry, I only freelance there, and I too, never really liked them. But then he laughs.
I had no idea he’d be here when I came over on the purpose of interviewing Fedor Emelianenko, and we can only sit for a few minutes before he has to continue with his Bellator duties. There’s no problem immediately thinking of issues one would be interested in Gracie’s opinion on.
For better or worse, Royce Gracie is always a family ambassador first and foremost. If time would prove to be an impediment, it would only be that it won’t suffice to get around the known party line. I ask two Bellator employees for their okay to use their makeshift office for a few minutes, so they stop typing and listen in.
Mr Gracie, always an honor. I think on this opportunity of 24 years - and a day - after UFC 1, it would be wrong to not dedicate this interview to that event. Muhammad Ali once said something along the lines that a man that didn’t change at all in 30 years, has just wasted that time of his life. With your experience: how did you look at Jiu-Jitsu, and MMA and Vale-Tudo, in 1993, and how do you look at it now?
In the beginning, it was almost like a quest for my family to find out which style is the best, because all different styles claimed that their style was the best, was the deadliest, whatever. So my uncles, my father, they had a quest to find out. Hey, you’ll do your thing, I’ll do my thing, so it was a style against a style. Today, is more of an athlete [against an athlete], because after many years proving that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was the best style, everybody had to learn Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. So it became that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is like the bond, the glue between all the other martial arts. Put all of them together to become the MMA show today, the Mixed Martial Arts there is today.
Obviously the evolution of Mixed Martial Arts is amazing in terms of what happened, and what changed. But in your view, in 1993 you had a 26 year-old view of the world, of fighting, and on what martial arts is. Did you also learn a lot in these years, did something surprise you, did you see something in the cage or the ring and said, ‘You know what, I didn’t think that fighting can be like this’?
How many ways there is to punch? How many ways there is to kick a ball, because the aerodynamics of the ball change, the shoes are better? The glove, the jumping rope, the equipment improve, the diets and the food, and the supplements, everything else change, but there’s only so many ways to punch. The guys that used to box 50 years ago, it was the same right hand, the same uppercut, you see? The training is better, you have better technology. So yes what you improve, let’s not forget, is the technology around everything. Yes, there are better ways to train so you can punch harder, and faster, but the punch is the same.
Still, do you remember an event in the past 25 years – you fought so many times, and you saw so many events – do you remember seeing a certain fight and saying ‘you know what, this is some kind of evolution, I was sure this is going to go this way, it went that way’.
Not really. Because, that’s what I was saying. In the beginning, it was a style against a style. Today, it is more of an athlete against an athlete. So it’s who does the training camp better, who’s able to cut weight or gain weight, who’s able to figure out the opponent’s strategy. It’s not about a style anymore.
Which MMA do you like more, this MMA, or the MMA in the nineties?
Back then it was no, ah, hmm — it was no bullshit. In a street fight there is no time-limit, no weight division, you don’t choose your opponent. So today I see fighters complain ‘Oh my god, my opponent’s a pound over the weight!’ — Really?
(This gets some laughs in the room, from the two guys in the office we crashed. One of whom I now think is Mike Johnson, of recent Conor McGregor fame).
‘He didn’t make weight, he’s a pound over, I don’t wanna fight him.’ C’mon man. That’s why I say all the time, somebody walk down the street, pinch your girlfriend, your wife on the buns, what’re you gonna do? you’re gonna come up to him and ask him ‘excuse me, how much do you weigh? What belt are you? Sorry, he’s not in my division, I’m not going to beat him up’. C’mon man.
What about Jiu-Jitsu, do you think it evolved at all in the past 20 years?
I think it got horrible.
Jiu-Jitsu got horrible?
Horrible. Got really-really bad in the past 20 years. It added so many rules. Like you cannot slam the guy – I just saw a fight, on the internet, somebody was fighting, one guy got the other one, I think in a guillotine. The opponent picked him up, walked, across the cage, and dropped him, knocked him out. In BJJ you can’t do that! Imagine if that fight was on the street, that’ll teach the guy. The guy picks you up, man, let it go. Don’t hang on to him. The guy went for the guillotine, he picked him up, walked across the cage, very calm, stood there, and just dove down to the ground with him. Knocked him out, won the fight. Hey, imagine if that was on a curb.
You see, so in BJJ, oh no, you cannot slam the guy. Dude, for me not to get slammed all I got to do is let it go. Let go of him. You see, if I just let go. So if a guy like in the guard – if I pick you up, for me not to slam you, all you gotta do is uncross your legs. And I would never. I can’t pick you up off the ground, it’s dead weight, there’s no way I can pick you up.
Perhaps Alexander Karelin.
That’s the only person yeah. But he doesn’t do Jiu-Jitsu so we’re safe.
They need you, so we’ll wrap it up soon. Do you have any favorite fighters today?
I like to watch Neiman [Gracie]. He plays very calm.
MJ over there, man. (Gracie is pointing beyond me, so I turn to the formidable-pale Bellator administrator, who looks up from his computer smiling) He just put up a fight against McGregor, no?
Full Disclosure: Ram Gilboa will be a part of the commentary team on the Israeli broadcast of Bellator 188 on the local Ego Total channel.