“Hoger” Gracie looked exactly as many might have predicted he would in his first Octagon bout: like every other Gracie before him. That likeness cost him his UFC debut. More importantly it made him look out of place on the biggest stage in MMA.
Gracie fell under the curse of all the Gracie fighters when it comes to mixed-martial arts. He had a linear strategy that his opponent prepared for. He did not have any semblance of striking to create openings for his ground fighting. When on the ground he was predictable in his set-ups, which were quickly rendered useless.
Despite how he looked in his debut, the UFC should not relegate Roger to no-name gatekeeper matchups. His name and ability hold enough clout to warrant another shot at a marketable name, albeit on the lower tier of the division.
UFC jitters are something many have to deal with, and at UFC 162 Gracie's opponent simply handled them better. In his return, the young submission fighter needs to show he can be a viable member of the middleweight division.
Tom Watson and Thales Leites both have more to prove in the division. Neither has been given a chance to do so in 2013. The winner of their bout will be pushed up as a contender in the middleweight division. The loser will be left with more to prove. Gracie is the perfect match up for whomever falls short.
Watson has amassed a six-and-two record since 2010. The Jackson's gym veteran has worked hard to get where he is, spending the majority of his career in the lower leagues. At 30-years-old, he shows no signs of slowing down. A loss will not deter Watson from his goal, but he'll have to bite the bullet and fight a gatekeeper bout against someone like Gracie.
Leites has had few fights since his return to the UFC with only two since 2011. He was victorious in both bouts, but that does not exactly lend to a momentum swing in his favor. If he can stay healthy but falls to Watson, the long-time veteran could use an old-fashion grappler's battle with the likes of Gracie.
Both fighters are beatable foes for the Roger, but neither is an easy fight. That is why they are likely the best match for the downtrodden Gracie.
“The Crippler” has fallen on hard times and on the wrong side of his career. Still, he holds a name in the sport and is adored by those who champion a warrior spirit over a record.
Leben has dropped three straight bouts.That places him with little left to give to the organization. Casual fans are sure to write him off. Even hardcore fans might want to see him hang up the gloves. With all that in mind, Leben is a prime candidate for a Brazilian preliminary headliner with Roger Gracie. The bout is a strong test for both men. It also will not put Leben through another vicious beating if he is to be bested.
The Gracie name holds considerable clout in Brazil. Roger, while not a superstar, is a name the UFC can promote as a prelim headline or main-card opener. Leben's sledgehammer-fisted-zombie tactic can be appreciated by the Brazilian fans who love a violent brawl as much as they do beautiful jiu-jitsu.
Only one of two outcomes would result from a fight between these competitors: Gracie unconscious from a knockout or Leben tapping from any number of submissions. The fight also sets up an exciting (if not a tad heartbreaking) loser-leaves-town dynamic.
“Toquinho” has dealt with a long hiatus following his loss to Hector Lombard at UFC on FX 6. A failed drug test put the Brazilian on the shelf for a year, and he is set to return in the fall. A fight with Gracie would promise to be an interesting ground battle that Brazilian fans would appreciate.
Palhares is known as a sort of one-trick pony, which makes him a worthwhile matchup for Gracie. Both possess a linear mindsets when working their ground skills. For Palhares it is leg locks (and Joe Rogan will remind you of that fact at least 12 times every fight). Meanwhile Roger works the classic Gracie style, looking for rear-naked chokes and armbars.
While the fight could turn into a stalemate, for Brazilian fans the matchup holds some intrigue. The two fighters possess variants on their world-famous fighting style, which could lend to a ground session like Sakuraba vs. Newton circa 1998.
The former Strikeforce champion may seem a tad out of Gracie's league at this point, but Luke Rockhold is coming off a thunderous loss to Vitor Belfort. A tune up or recalibration to see if he still has something to give is necessary. Gracie provides that type of fight, and each man is potentially dangerous for the other.
Rockhold has a well-rounded game. He would have more ways to win if the two fought. Luke also has a similar size and build, negating some of what Gracie has to offer. All that said, many a competitor has lost some zest and killer instinct following a knockout loss like Rockhold took. Gracie provides a quality challenge that tests the heart of Rockhold without throwing him back into the fire of a devastating striker.
The bout is more of a tune up for Rockhold than a good fight for Gracie. But the last remaining heir to the "First Family of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu" should not be handled with kid gloves. It is time to sink or swim for the young man. Rockhold, while a difficult challenge for any fighter, is beatable for Gracie if he is capable of rising to the occasion.
“The Talent” had a rough go his last outing against Michael Bisping. The loss marked his second in as many fights. Some are now doubting if Belcher still has the capability to fight against the top guys in the division. The UFC may decide his next fight is not the appropriate bout to answer that question, and instead put him up against Gracie.
Alan had been riding a four-fight win streak before suffering his two straight losses. The opponents Belcher defeated were not exactly top-tier, much like Gracie now. Wilson Gouveia, Patrick Cote, Jason McDonald and Rousimar Palhares are not pushovers by any means. Still, they were also never considered top dogs when Belcher fought them.
Again, Gracie becomes more of a measuring stick for his opponent rather than a contender in the fight. But one ought not count out Gracie against Belcher. Given Roger does not have to concern himself with working his ground game, he can dedicate himself to stand-up, learning to utilize the reach and jab to ward off Belcher's main weapons. From there Gracie can establish his own game and dictate the pace.
It would be a rough but winnable bout for the young man who already has his back against the wall in terms of his UFC career.