Royce (pronounced Hoyce) Gracie (born December 12, 1966) is a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practioner. He became well-known in the mid 1990s with a string of submission victories over larger opponents in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Between 1993 and 1994, he won 11 matches by submission and was the tournament winner of UFC 1, UFC 2, UFC 4, and fought to a draw with Ken Shamrock in the superfight at UFC 5. These results contributed to the movement towards grappling, cross-training and MMA.
Royce is a son of Hélio Gracie (Helio, along with his older brother Carlos Gracie, is considered one of the originators of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) and spent his childhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As a toddler, Royce learned Jiu-Jitsu from his father and his older brothers Rorion, Relson, and Rickson Gracie. He began competing at the age of 8 and by the time he was 16 had attained the level of blue belt. A year later he was invited by his brother Rorion to help teach Jiu-Jitsu from his garage in America. Despite not knowing English, Royce accepted the offer and moved to California. He competed in a number of Jiu-Jitsu tournaments in Brazil and the United States and compiled an amateur record of 51-3.
The Gracie Challenge
Royce received his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at the age of 18 and soon began fighting in defense of the $100,000 “Gracie challenge”. This publicity stunt was an open challenge to all martial artists to see if they could defeat a Gracie in a no-rules fight. Most of these matches took place ad hoc in the Gracie gym when challengers would show up to fight. Many of these fights were videotaped and included in the Gracie In Action video series. While Gracies have lost in competition, there is no record of anyone successfully winning the Gracie Challenge. Royce had never fought professionally, but that would change on November 12, 1993.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship
Brainchild of Rorion Gracie and Art Davie, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was an eight-man single-elimination tournament with very few rules that would award $50,000 to the winner. The basic premise was to find out how different styles of martial arts would fare against each other. Art Davie placed ads in martial arts magazines and sent letters to anyone in any martial arts directory he could find to recruit competitors for the event. Among the takers were kickboxer Patrick Smith, #2 ranked shootfighter Ken Shamrock, and Savate world champion Gerard Gordeau.
While Art Davie felt that Royce’s older brother Rickson Gracie, who was stronger and more skilled than Royce, was the obvious choice as the Jiu-Jitsu representative, Rorion Gracie chose Royce to represent the family style. At 175 pounds, and with a frame much smaller than his opponents, the Gracie family felt that Royce would be the perfect fighter to demonstrate the claims that Jiu-Jitsu techniques could be employed to overcome a larger opponent.
In his first match, Royce defeated his opponent, journeyman boxer Art Jimmerson. He tackled him to the ground and obtained a dominant “mounted” position on top. Jimmerson quickly conceded defeat, not attempting to escape the position as he would earn $20,000 regardless of whether he won.
In the semi-finals, Royce looked to be the underdog against 220-pound Ken Shamrock, who showed excellent grappling skills in his first-round submission win over Patrick Smith. Royce immediately rushed Shamrock, who sprawled effectively and got on top of Royce. Shamrock then grabbed Royce’s ankle and sat back to attempt the same finishing hold he used to finish his first match, but Royce rolled on top of him and secured a rear choke that forced Shamrock to tap the mat in submission.
In the finals, Royce was again outweighed by 40 pounds, but defeated Savate World Champion Gerard Gordeau (who broke his hand in the first round of the tournament against Teila Tuli), taking his opponent to the ground and securing a rear choke. This victory, along with future UFC events, had a substantial impact on the public image of martial arts and fighting systems. Stand-up fighting arts lost some of their appeal to grappling arts such as wrestling, Sambo, Judo and Royce’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Over the next year, Royce Gracie continued his winning streak in the UFC, obtaining submission wins over fighters such as Patrick Smith, 250 pound (113 kg) European Judo Champion Remco Pardoel, and Kimo Leopoldo. His final UFC victory was in a match that lasted for 16 minutes (there were no rounds or time limits at the time), during which he was continuosly pinned underneath 260 pound (118 kg) wrestler Dan Severn. To end the match, Royce locked his legs in a triangle choke for a submission victory. The match extended beyond the pay-per-view time-slot and viewers, who missed the end of the fight, demanded their money back. Changes would have to be made if the sport was to be profitable.
Time limits were introduced into the sport in 1995 and Ken Shamrock would become the first fighter to survive Royce Gracie’s submission attack and earn a draw. The match lasted for 30 minutes and a 5 minute overtime. Fans have been calling for a rematch ever since. While the match was a draw, the match also sparked much debate and controversy as to who would have won the fight had Judges determined the outcome. Rorion sold his share of the UFC to Art Davie.
In November of 2003, at the 10 year anniversary of the UFC, Royce Gracie was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.
Royce’s official UFC record includes one loss. In the third round of UFC 3, Royce was to face fighter Harold Howard in the semi-finals. Although Royce came out to the ring, he was dehydrated as a result of his prior match against Kimo Leopoldo, and had to be physically helped to the ring. Before the Howard match began, Royce’s corner threw in the towel which conceded the match to Howard.
Shortly after he finished his tenure in the UFC, Royce was choked unconscious with a “clock choke” by Wallid Ismail in a no time limit jiu-jitsu tournament in Brazil.
Challenge to PRIDE Fighting Championship
With each of his first 11 victories, many in the martial arts world were impressed with Gracie and began cross-training in Jiu-Jitsu.
However one fighter in particular, Kazushi Sakuraba, a former amateur and professional wrestler with excellent submission skills, arose from the ranks in the years following Royce’s final UFC appearance to make a powerful argument for the potency of his particular approach to grappling with a series of wins over Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelts, including Marcus “Conan” Silvera, Vitor Belfort and Royce’s brother, Royler Gracie. Sakuraba’s victory over Royler constituted the first loss by a Gracie in professional fighting in several decades and as such, sent ripples of shock and controversy through the mixed martial arts community. Some protested that the victory was tainted due to the fact that Royler–although placed in a debilitating submission hold–never conceded defeat and was mere seconds away from the final bell when the bout was stopped. Others countered that Royler suffered a broken arm and several torn muscles stemming from the submission, thus validating the Sakuraba victory, but there is no medical evidence supporting or denying this.
The Gracie family took great umbrage over the incident, feeling that they had been cheated by Pride. Compelled to set the record straight, Royce Gracie returned to the sport of mixed martial arts in 2000 and entered the 16-Man Pride Grand Prix with dominant heavyweights Mark Coleman, Mark Kerr, and Igor Vovchanchyn. However, it could be argued that Royce’s main intention in entering the tournament was not winning the Grand Prix crown but rather doing battle with the Gracie family’s new nemesis, Kazushi Sakuraba. In fact, a special set of rules were requested by the Gracies in advance for the possible Sakuraba-Royce match, which included no referee stoppages and no time-limits, the fight ending only in the event of a submission or knock-out.
Royce advanced to the quarterfinals by beating Sakuraba’s stablemate Nobuhiko Takada (ironically enough, with a judge’s decision), before finding himself matched up with Sakuraba. Gracie and Sakuraba battled for an hour and a half. Early in the fight, Sakuraba nearly ended things with a knee-bar towards the end of the first round. Later on, Royce returned the favor with a guillotine choke which Sakuraba lingered in, but appeared to be in no trouble since he took the time to play to the crowd by trying to pull Royce’s pants down. Indeed, the Gracie’s own no time-limit rules began to work against Royce when Sakuraba, displaying much better conditioning, kept punishing Royce instead of going for submissions, prolonging the match.
As the fight wore on, Sakuraba’s wrestling skills and balance nullified Royce’s ability to score a takedown and–in some instances–even pull guard. Royce’s ever-present jiu-jitsu gi became a weapon for the wrestler to use against him as Sakuraba used it to help him control Gracie on the instances the fight did come to the ground. However, with Sakuraba’s control of the takedown, these instances of ground warfare became increasingly sporadic. After the 90 minute battle of punishing leg kicks, Royce’s brother threw in the towel. Gracie could no longer stand and suffered a broken foot from accumulated damage. Sakuraba would go on to defeat other members of the Gracie family including Renzo Gracie and Ryan Gracie earning him the nickname “Gracie Hunter.”
Royce returned to Pride in 2003 and showed off new-found striking skills and strong ground game against Judo gold-medalist Hidehiko Yoshida. The match went the distance and since there were no judges, it ended in a draw. It is widely speculated that if there were a judge’s decision, Gracie would have been the victor.
On December 31, 2004, Royce entered the K-1 scene at the “Dynamite!” card inside the Osaka Dome, facing off against former sumo wrestler Akebono Taro under special MMA rules (Two 10-minute rounds; the match would end as a draw if there was no winner after the two rounds). Royce made quick work of his heavy opponent, forcing Akebono to submit to a wristlock at 2:13 of the first round. The match was refereed by the UFC’s John McCarthy.
Exactly one year later, on the K-1 “Dynamite!” card of December 31, 2005, Royce battled Japan’s Hideo Tokoro to a draw after 20 hard-fought minutes. The match was refereed by the UFC’s Herb Dean.
Return to UFC
On January 16, 2006, UFC President Dana White announced that Royce Gracie would return to the UFC to fight UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes on May 27, 2006 at UFC 60. This will be a non-title bout, but under UFC rules (and so Gracie will uncharacteristically be fighting without a gi). In preparation for the fight, Royce has been cross-training in Thai boxing