UFC Rio: Royce Gracie, Make Room for Vitor Belfort vs. Chael Sonnen

Joe SchaferCorrespondent IApril 17, 2011

Legendary, iconic winner of UFC 1, 2 and 4 Royce Gracie should step aside and stay out of the Octagon for the promotion’s highly return to Brazil, an indisputable origin for the sport. For the last couple of weeks, news sources around the Internet have speculated the possibility of Gracie’s paralleled return for an exclusive prizefight in Rio De Janeiro, a “swan” match in front of his home crowd.

While there is no dispute that Gracie’s presence is irreplaceable for such a symbolic event, his influential impact on the sport this summer will be more strongly felt outside of the ring rather than from within, facing insurmountable risk of getting embarrassed if the UFC was to put any formidable opponent in his path.

The last thing mixed martial arts needs—more importantly, the UFC—is to celebrate their triumphed return to the birth country of the historic Gracie family and their innovative fighting discipline with a staggering defeat for its facilitator and Octagon pioneer.

This undesirable predicament for hardcore fans of the sport leaves two safer alternatives—one more likely to preserve the great BJJ Hall of Famer’s mystique, especially with younger generations of fans.

UFC matchmaker Joe Silva has a delicate case on his hands if he really wants to put Gracie in the Octagon, since Gracie is now 44 years old and hasn’t competitively fought since 2007 in Japan against Kazushi Sakuraba; as a side note, the Brazilian went on to test positive for anabolic steroids after the fight.

Despite winning a unanimous decision over his elderly, yet equally iconic counterpart, Gracie’s last Octagon appearance garnered less-than-stellar results. Back at UFC 60, nearly a year prior to the Sakuraba fight, former welterweight powerhouse and champ Matt Hughes dominated Gracie with a first-round TKO win. Gracie was instantly outclassed, displayed virtually no stand-up skills and was never given the opportunity to utilize his ground game after quickly getting overtaken by Hughes’ wrestling.

Watching the former tournament winner get dismantled was a cringe-filled moment for every fan filled with nostalgic memories of vintage gi-wearing Royce Gracie choking out lesser opponents with his family’s fascinating fighting style.

So the first option for the UFC would be to match Gracie with essentially a can, an undeveloped pseudo amateur sporting a .500 record to avoid duplicating the UFC 60 disaster in front of thousands of passionate Brazilian fans.

Though, this really does nothing for the creditability of neither the promotion’s matchmaking nor Gracie’s legacy—a far-fetched idea of “prizefighting.”

Plus, who would be a formidable 40-year-old-plus welterweight that could give Gracie a believable fight other than Hughes in a superfluous rematch?

The most sensible and second option to include Gracie into the Rio festivities would involve an outside-of-the-cage appearance, special guest color commentary or any assistance pumping up the PR bonanza that will surely go down in Brazil leading up to the event. To minimize Octagon damage control, any position for Gracie that did not require four once gloves, would be preferred.   

Furthermore, with Gracie looking in through the cage instead of out, that would leave a vacant spot on the main card for an enticing battle between another Brazilian UFC pillar against a quick-witted wordsmith looking to return after a long absence marred by suspension and legal judgments.

Keeping Gracie out of the Octagon would free up a potential fight for Vitor Belfort, who desperately wants on the card for obvious reasons. Who better to put in front of the Phenom than public enemy No. 1 Chael Sonnen?

Sure it’s possible to have both Gracie and Belfort on the same card, but with so many high-profile Brazilians active on the UFC roster, filling the main five fights would be a breeze. Replacing names like Dos Santos, Thiago Silva, Jose Aldo, Lyoto Machida or a Nogueira brother with Royce Gracie versus a less-notable or a “clearly past his prime” fighter would be a disappointing sell for such a monumental event.

In addition, before and after Anderson Silva narrowly defended his middleweight belt at UFC 117 last summer, Chael Sonnen moved up to the top of Brazil’s sporting “Wanted List” after the offensive verbal barrage the contender orchestrated against the champ, his Black House training partners and the whole of Brazil.

Sonnen, the ultimate heel locking horns with any past or present Brazilian champion would produce fireworks, escalating the excitement of a card that will have expectations of being one of the best of 2011.

Respectfully, Royce, sit this one out.  


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