I remember the first UFC tournament back in 1993 where they used an eight-man tournament format with the winner receiving $50,000. No weight classes, no time limits and the match would be ended by either submission, knockout or throwing in the towel.
Martial art experts around the world gathered to compete on the said event. More than half of them were focused on striking. There were wrestlers too, who thought otherwise that they could take a boxer off its feet, making boxer's weapons useless.
And there came Royce Gracie, who never fought a martial arts tournament was handpicked by his older brother Rorion to represent their family. At 176 pounds, he was the smallest man in the tournament. The idea of the Gracie's was to show that technique was more important than size in fighting, and that a skinny man who looked like he could easily be broken in two could be the Ultimate Fighting Champion.
Eventually, the Gracie's have proven their point. The Gracie family altered the combat sports forever when Royce dominated UFC 1, 2 and 4, having the most submission victories in the history of UFC with 11.
Come UFC 109, another Gracie will enter the octagon by the name of Rolles Gracie Jr.
At 31, 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 240 pounds, he is indeed the largest member of the Gracie family to ever compete in MMA and it doesn't seem to bother him at all as he learned and trained Jiu Jitsu as a "little" guy.
"I've been doing Jiu Jitsu for a long time. I've been doing it since I was a little kid, so I kind of learned Jiu Jitsu as a small guy. I understand the concept. I had a growth spurt when I was 15, but before that, I was always working out with guys that were bigger and stronger than me. It was only until I was like 25 or 26 years old that I started weighing like 240. Before then, I was always the smallest guy in the gym training with bigger guys, so yeah, I learned Jiu Jitsu as a small guy and those techniques stuck with me."
He's up against Mostapha Al-Turk, a Lebanese mixed martial artist and submission wrestler who's got a 0-2 record in the UFC so far. However, Rolles knows that it's not going to be a walk in the park for him.
"I think he had a couple of bad matchups for his last couple of fights. He's had to fight very good strikers, but I still think he is a very tough guy. He's good Jiu Jitsu, good wrestling and decent boxing. I'm really looking forward to that. I gotta get ready and I have to train because once you're in the UFC, there are no easy fights."
The charisma of a Gracie, his 3-0 MMA record with all wins via submission simply tells MMA fans that this giant from Brazil can bring something to the table.
"The UFC heavyweight division is pretty stacked. I hear people saying that it doesn't have too many fighters and talent, but the division is stacked with a lot of new up-and-coming guys. I think what I bring is the mystique of the Gracie family. It's been a long time since we've seen a Gracie inside of the Octagon and I'm very happy to be in this position,"
Rolles might be the next best hope of the Gracie family to prove that the Gracies could compete against tougher fighters in today's more complex mixed martial arts world.
Can he surpass Royce Gracie's achievements?