You can't talk about the Ultimate Fighting Championship or the growth of mixed martial arts without discussing the impact of Royce Gracie. Widely considered to be one of the pioneers of the UFC, Gracie left his mark 20 years ago when he fought and defeated three different opponents on UFC 1. Now, at 46, Royce is no longer competing and instead, he's delved into the world of teaching his family's own variation on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu called Gracie Jiu Jitsu to the future generation of fighters, as well as helping his nephew develop an organization called Metamoris.
Tomorrow, June 9, Royce and the legendary Gracie family will hold Metamoris II, an all-submission competition, at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion (7 P.M. ET or pay per view stream at Metamoris.com for $19.95).
Before the big night, we got on the phone with Royce to discuss everything from what makes Metamoris different from the UFC, the qualities that go into being a complete fighter and the history of the Gracie family.
Interview by Jose Martinez (@ZayMarty)
Can you give us a quick background on Metamoris?
Most fights out there are based on scoring points and the best fighter doesn't win all the time. With Metamoris, there are no points and it's a 20-minute match with submissions only. This time, we have three referees to decide from their point-of-view who is the best fighter of the night because most martial arts were made to defend themselves in a street fight situation, not to score points.
What made you want to create this event?
To take out the points system. If someone were to pick a fight with you on the streets, you're not going out there to score points. You're out there to submit your opponent or knock him out.
If someone were to pick a fight with you on the streets, you're not going out there to score points.
Where do you see Metamoris going in the future?
We've talked about it and we're thinking about doing four events a year. We just started, so we're still trying things out, changing things here and there.
You mentioned 20-minute matches. Is that straight or broken down into rounds?
It's 20 minutes straight with no breaks and the best man will win. Both fighters are trying to subdue each other. If they're unable to, that's why we have the referees to decide. Sometimes, one person stays on top, controls the fight but there isn't even an attempt at a submission. Then the other opponent stays on the bottom, looks like he's losing but he's trying to finish the fight and catch his opponent with a submission. Four out of five times, in my eyes, the latter guy actually tried to win.
Recently, Georges St-Pierre said that he would alter fights to a 20-25 minute straight format because UFC was becoming too much like boxing. Would that be an alteration you'd support?
Of course. The thing is, look, if I put you in the middle of the desert and tell you that I'm coming back in five minutes, all you gotta do is tread water for five minutes. But if I tell you that I'm not coming back and you gotta find your way home, it's a different mental game now. First thing, you gotta know how to win the fight. Second thing, you need to have endurance. The third thing is strength. Some people work on only one thing, like strength. They look good but they lack endurance, so they can play the five-minute rounds. But if you make it one long round, it's a different story and the most complete fighter will win.
What current fighter do you see today that embodies all these qualities and would call a complete fighter?
In addition to those qualities, there are other things that a fighter needs to possess, such as strategy. You can't just say to yourself, "I'm going to walk in, take him down, mount and then apply a submission." That's not a strategy, that's a wish. You wish the fight would go like that. A strategy is knowing what your opponent is going to do and be able to take him out of his game. Take a guy like Anderson Silva. He makes the fight look easy, but it's not, man. He's taking his opponent out of his environment and making him look like nothing. That's why he's a champion. Same thing with St-Pierre.
Speaking of UFC, you competed in the first event. So, you have a close connection with the growth of the sport. How do you feel about how the UFC has grown from the UFC 1 to where it is today?
From the beginning, it was a style against a style, the grapplers versus the stand-up fighters and vice versa to see who would be able to enforce their technique on the other.
You can't just say to yourself, "I'm going to walk in, take him down, mount and then apply a submission." That's not a strategy, that's a wish. You wish the fight would go like that.
Do you believe the UFC has watered down the sport a bit to appeal to a wider audience and they're possibly coming off as GSP once said, looking like boxing?
No, it's not looking like boxing. It had to adapt and make changes in order to make it legal, so I understand. It makes the sport exciting.
Still, there are two states, including New York, that have prevented the UFC from holding events…
It's a question of educating the crowd. Man, it's not any less violent than soccer. Kids break their legs every year playing soccer, but does that mean soccer is violent? NASCAR drivers or F1 drivers are sponsored by alcohol companies, what's the message that they're sending? That it's OK to drink and drive. [Laughs.] Whoever is up there is too hard-headed to accept changes.
How would describe the different fighting styles?
People come up to me all the time and say, "could you teach me MMA or UFC?" Same thing goes for when people say, "I'm going to drink some Starbucks." No, you're going to drink coffee from Starbucks. Or, people who say I'm going to eat McDonald's. Again, you're eating a burger from McDonald's. What they're saying is that they want to learn martial arts or Jiu Jitsu.
So, how would you describe Gracie Jiu Jitsu from another style?
Gracie Jiu Jitsu is the most complete art of self defense there is out there. You don't have to be strong. You don't have to be fast. That's why the mixed martial arts events were created in the beginning. You do what you want, I'll do what I want and we'll see who wins. Every fighter will claim that their style is the best but there's only really one way to find out. Take all the rules out and each fighter does whatever they want as long as there are no weapons involved. Just hand-to-hand combat. You see, my family has been proving and winning for many years. That's why people probably say that "those Gracies are arrogant." No, we're not. You say your shit is good, I say my shit is good. Let's find out. Over time, we continued winning so people had to learn our style. If you take wrestling, they don't have submissions. They just pin the person down and try to win. In karate or boxing, you're going to strike but what happens when your opponent tackles you?
Can we get a breakdown of the Gracie family?
I grew up in a family where my uncle learned from the Japanese and my father learned by watching because he was too small. It was by watching that my father developed a new style that made it easier for a smaller person to do it. My father had nine kids, seven boys and two girls, and my uncle had 21 kids, 11 boys and 10 girls. They had the opportunity to teach the art of Gracie Jiu Jitsu and that's how we got involved from a young age. It's in the blood.
When did you realize that this was something you wanted to pursue long-term?
About 14 years old. That's when I said to myself that I wanted to get into the ring too and get into fights.
I'm happy and satisfied with my accomplishments. I sleep well at night.
Was there ever a point where you questioned fighting long-term?
No, no, man. With so many brothers and cousins, it was more like, "when is it going to be my turn? C'mon, give me a chance, please. I can do this!"
Do you ever think you'll have the itch to fight again or are you committed to building this Metamoris event and teaching?
Mostly, teaching. I travel all over the world and teach people. My nephew Relek came up with the idea of Metamoris, so he's the one doing all the promoting. Usually, I'm just doing more consulting. He comes over to me with questions and I give him my input.
Looking back at your career, what would you say are your most memorable fights?
Oh man, I don't know. Winning the first UFC, three fights in one night? Nah. The second UFC, beating four opponents in one night? No. Maybe fighting Kimo [Leopoldo], who was 250 pounds, in UFC 3? Nope. Maybe fighting Akebono [Tarō], who's 6'8". I don't know, man. There's too many.
So we'll never see you in another fight?
No, you gotta know when to stop, man. Especially so you don't get hurt. I've been there and done that. I'm happy and satisfied with my accomplishments. I sleep well at night.