Remembering the Impact of Carlson Gracie

By: Marcelo Alonso
Feb 2, 2021

Feb. 1, 2006: Exactly 15 years ago one of the most important masters of jiu-jitsu and MMA history was declared dead in a hospital in Chicago, putting the entire martial arts community in mourning. Carlson Gracie died due to heart failure as a result of complications of kidney stones following a hospitalization of several days.

As a fighter, Carlson was the Gracie who defended the family for the longest period. He started in 1950, but was only acknowledged by the press as Brazil 's best fighter in 1955, after avenging his uncle Helio by beating Waldemar Santana. He went on to become an absolute king, losing just once in 19 bouts until 1973. But it was as a trainer that Carlson gave his best contribution to the fight world, turning jiu-jitsu, which until the 70s was regarded as a Rio de Janeiro elite’s sport, into a popular art.

The only manner a sport can develop is with competitions. And Carlson made it possible when he left the Gracie Academy and opened his own gym, producing champions to beat Gracie students. The high-level competitions after the 1980s made it possible for jiu-jitsu to develop technically to the point it began to be called Brazilian jiu-jitsu. His academy in Copacabana was a place where the poor, rich, crazy and intellectuals all received the same treatment from Carlson and they gave him what he liked the most: titles.

And many titles he got: From 1975 to 1994, Carlson Gracie Team won the main tournaments in every division from white to black belt. Despite being widely considered the black sheep of his family, Carlson was, in fact, one of the most important people to develop the sport to today’s level.

In the 1990s, Carlson migrated his students from jiu-jitsu to MMA, repeating in rings and cages the success he used to have in jiu-jitsu dojos with pupils like Vitor Belfort, Murilo Bustamante, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Paulo Filho, Andre Pederneiras, Ricardo Arona, Marcus Silveira, Carlos Barreto, Allan Goes, Mario Sperry, Wallid Ismail, Amaury Bitetti and many others.

In addition to having all the qualities of a fighter and a trainer, Carlson Gracie the human being was even greater. He was able to take the clothes off his back to give to a fan; he allowed pupils with financial problems to train for free and even live at the gym. Creating nicknames and slang in a very particular way, Carlson had a unique charisma and was admired by all members of his academy.

Even 15 years after his death, Carlson's DNA is still present all over the world, not only in jiu-jitsu academies but also in the most important MMA gyms, like American Top Team (Marcus Silveira and Marco Da Matta), Team Alpha Male (Fabio Pateta), Nova Uniao (Andre Pederneiras) and Team Nogueira (Rodrigo and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira).

In August of 2018, recognizing Carlson’s impact on the life of so many Brazilians, Rio de Janeiro’s mayor authorized a statue paying homage to the ninth degree red belt in front of Copacabana subway, two blocks away from the academy where he created so many champions.

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