Rolls Gracie was viewed by many as the most technical Gracie grappler, and his oldest son, Rolles, has emerged as perhaps the first family’s next great hope in mixed martial arts. Three fights into his career, expectations are higher than ever.
The undefeated Brazilian submitted Peter Graham by rear-naked choke in one of the featured matches at Art of War 14 “Ground Zero” on Sept. 26 at the Cotai Arena in Macau, China. Gracie needed only 1:43 to take out the Australian kickboxer.
A two-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu national champion, Gracie stands to benefit from a fledgling alliance between Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts in Albuquerque, N.M., and the Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Holmdel, N.J.
“Actually, my manager lived in Albuquerque for a long time and trained with Greg [Jackson]. When he moved to New York, he started to train with us at Renzo’s academy,” Gracie said. “He brought us together with Rashad [Evans]. Rashad liked my jiu-jitsu, and right after his fight with Lyoto [Machida], he invited me to his camp. I met Greg Jackson, who’s an amazing person. I’m very lucky to be surrounded by so many great people, like my uncles, Renzo and Rillion, and now Greg. I believe I’m in the right place.”
Gracie, who made his professional MMA debut inside the International Fight League two years ago, has had no trouble with the transition to a new sport. None of his first three opponents have survived the first round against him. Graham, a decorated fighter with more than 50 kickboxing wins to his credit, provided a unique set of challenges for the Brazilian.
“I trained my wrestling more for this fight,” Gracie said. “I knew that Graham was the toughest guy I’ve ever faced. He’d already defeated fighters like Badr Hari, so I knew he was a dangerous opponent. I was in great shape, and everything went fine.”
“My uncles used to say that he was a bridge between the old and the modern jiu-jitsu, making jiu-jitsu more aggressive; in the past, it was more like a defensive style,” Gracie said. “When he died in a hang gliding accident, I was only 4 years old, and my brother, Igor, was 2 years old. I have a lot of good memories of him putting me down to roll and having fun.”
A second-degree black belt, the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Gracie has designs on eventually competing on MMA’s grandest stage. However, he seems content to wait for the right time to make his move.
“Of course, the biggest showcase in MMA is the UFC,” he said. “The dream of any fighter in the world is to fight in the UFC, but I want to go there when I think I’m ready. I don’t want to go there and return.”
Former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Brock Lesnar currently rules the UFC’s heavyweight division, having left Heath Herring, UFC hall of famer Randy Couture and Frank Mir in his wake. Gracie sees Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira as perhaps the most significant threat to the monstrous titleholder.
“In the UFC, I would bet on ‘Minotauro,’” Gracie said. “I’m a big fan of his for everything he’s done in the sport -- his historic fights. I think he can beat Lesnar using his jiu-jitsu. Jiu-jitsu is the backbone of MMA.”
Casting an eye toward the future, Gracie plans to keep his options open.
“My job is not to choose opponents; my job is to fight them,” he said. “Jiu-jitsu is also like that. You never know who you will face.”