Royce Gracie’s place in MMA history is assured. Without his efforts at UFC 1, the current combat sports landscape would likely be almost unrecognizable. It’s unfortunate, then, that his recent behaviour has further tarnished a once-spotless reputation.
For those who have been living under a rock, Royce confronted Eddie Bravo backstage at the recent Metamoris 3 event, after the 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu founder had dominated his brother Royler in the long-awaited rematch of their 2003 ADCC contest.
Confirming the altercation, Royce made the following remarks to MMA Fighting:
I met him after the fight and he was there, throwing up. Royler dominated him so much, he did so much strength, that he threw up after the fight. I told him that I liked what he said after the fight, but didn't like the fact that he always talked trash about Royler and my family. He stood up and started yelling, so I also raised the tone of my voice and told him I didn't like it. I'm a vale-tudo fighter. I'm not a fighter to score points of fight with time limit. Let's (fight) with no time limit and with punches allowed. I'm a vale-tudo fighter, I don't compete in (grappling) tournaments.
Making this all the more bizarre is the fact that Bravo has repeatedly gone out of his way to praise the Gracie family, both in interviews and in print. Indeed, Bravo’s first book, Jiu Jitsu Unleashed, contains a lengthy tribute to various members of the Gracie family, including Royce.
That being said, the most surprising aspect of Royce’s most recent transgression is that people actually found it surprising.
I can still remember the first time I became conscious of Royce Gracie. It was 1998 and the then-WWF’s promotion of Ken Shamrock had brainwashed me into thinking “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” was precisely that.
Imagine my surprise when a friend filled me in on a few details about UFC 1, informing me that Shamrock had been tapped out in under a minute by some skinny bloke in a pair of pyjamas.
My curiosity had been piqued.
I bought the first few UFCs on VHS and took a crash course in Gracie jiu-jitsu. I recall thinking that there was something elegant about Royce and how he handled his business.
He was winning fights against men who had no right to exist outside of a comic book, and doing so without ever having to hurt them. Royce was class personified, as far as I was concerned.
However, his words and deeds in the ensuing years have eroded any affection I once had for the man. From protesting losses to testing positive for steroids to giving free reign to his king-sized ego, Royce has done little to endear himself to MMA fans since the turn of the century. Confronting and threatening Bravo is just the tip of the iceberg.
It would be unfair to single him out in this instance, though. In fact, collective delusion and denial has apparently taken hold of several members of the Gracie family since Metamoris 3.
For example, take a look at the bizarrely misleading action shots of the contest from Gracie Mag and this mind-boggling description of the match.
One can ordinarily rely on the breakdowns from Rener and Ryron Gracie to provide an objective account of what took place in a fight. Instead, the pair talked at length about Bravo’s tactics not going through the “Helio Gracie filter” and being unsuitable for a street fight, as though these objections were somehow relevant to the match with Royler.
It’s as though the family has been engaged in full-on damage control since the moment the match ended. What purpose does it serve, though? Short of mass amnesia breaking out among those who witnessed the contest, history will reflect the fact that Royler was outclassed by Bravo.
It’s difficult to know what to make of the Gracies’ need to control public perception, given that their legacy is already assured. No one can take away what the family has given to combat sports.
Their contribution provided us with the opportunity to separate fantasy from reality in the martial arts. Without them, we may still be wondering whether it’s a good idea to block a baseball bat with one’s forearm or whether the flying kick is an effective technique.
If the intention is to protect their family’s reputation, the Gracies are going about it the wrong way.
James MacDonald is a freelance writer and featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow James on Twitter.