The MMA universe paid homage to its most inspiring pioneer at the Sixth Annual Fighters Only World MMA Awards in 2013. Let’s face it, where would this sport be without the impact of the original UFC champion?
On November 12, 1993, a Brazilian named Royce Gracie, wearing an ice-white colored gi changed combat sports forever when he won the very first UFC tournament and in doing so introduced the world to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Weighing just 180 pounds, he was tiny compared to some of the behemoth opponents he faced, but he went on to lend weight to the saying “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”
With subsequent wins at UFC 2 and UFC 4, submitting 10 opponents in those three tournaments, he managed to inspire fighters from the past and present to not only take up the ‘gentle art,’ but also step inside the cage and use their jiu-jitsu skills to emulate the success he had at the UFC’s genesis.
Therefore it was only right that at the Sixth Annual Fighters Only World MMA Awards ceremony, a few months after he’d officially announced his retirement from the sport, just three days following the 20th anniversary of UFC 1, Fighters Only presented Royce with the Lifetime Achievement award.
Hardly an interview is printed in this magazine in which a fighter doesn’t mention the impact Royce had on their journey into MMA. Easily the most inspirational fighter ever to compete, stories of schoolboys watching VHS tapes of the original UFC events – and Royce tying people up – are widespread.
What better way to pay tribute to the Lifetime Achievement award recipient than with more tales of how his early UFC dominance captivated the world, and to this day continues to motivate generations of both fighters and fans?
Former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre says: “When I first saw UFC, I saw Royce Gracie. He was the smallest and least intimidating of all the fighters but he was the smartest. The way he won the tournament really inspired me to pursue a career in MMA.”
And the accolades continue with former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans. “My favorite fighter was always Royce. He didn’t do the punching and fighting I liked to see, but he showed us that size didn’t matter. That was important because I was a runt and always the smallest guy in the crew.”
Former Strikeforce and Pancrase champion Nate Marquardt reveals: “I was once sent an autograph by Royce Gracie, which was cool, because I saw him fight when I was 15 years old and that’s what got me into BJJ.”
And UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub adds: “No one has done more for the sport than Royce Gracie. No one in the world has done more for MMA than Royce. When you talk about the greatest athletes ever, it’s tough to decide where he places. He’s definitely ahead of Bruce Lee, I’ll tell you that. I would even put him ahead of Muhammad Ali.”
Three-time UFC world title challenger-turned-Fox Sports commentator Kenny Florian states: “My first real experience was with Royce Gracie. My brother and I saved up money and went to New York and did a seminar with him. The first time I learned a jiu-jitsu technique I was hooked. It was like a drug I knew I’d be taking forever.
“From when I went to sleep to when I woke up, that’s all I wanted to do. My brain didn’t want to do anything else.”
And Royce’s fellow UFC 1 competitor Ken Shamrock recalls: “I didn’t think it was ever going to happen (UFC 1). When it did, I really felt like I was the favorite to win because I really didn’t think much of Royce Gracie – until after I got in the cage with him.”
While another of Royce’s UFC 1 victims, Art Jimmerson, says: “I walked into a gunfight with one gun, and Royce walked in with a gun, a bow and arrow, and a whole arsenal! I’m like the boxer in the game Street Fighter and Royce is one of the other higher-level guys in the game, but once Royce was on me I realized I was not in a video game.”
Rorian’s son Rener Gracie, co-creator of Gracie University, states: “In the Gracie family, you don’t really have much choice as to when you start or whether or not you do jiu-jitsu. You’re pretty much born into it. The same way dads are playing with their kids on the living room floor, we were made to fight each other. Our families would film it and analyze it. It’s a constant struggle to prevail from the very beginning and a constant fight to be the best you can.
“I think Royce had that. He had that intangible Gracie bloodline from birth. He had the motivation and fire to succeed. Look at the fights he’s had in the UFC, they were very challenging fights. For Royce to have been underneath Dan Severn for 15 minutes and in everyone’s eyes he’s losing the fight. This little guy was getting beat up by this wrestler and then to come back and win that fight, you need to have something more than good technique.
“You have to have the Gracie blood and you have to have the determination and conviction that what you have is magical. The conviction he had in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, his conviction in what the family has and represents goes way beyond the actual techniques.”
Finally, Rorion’s eldest son Ryron Gracie adds: “I think what made Royce so successful in the UFC was the fact that he was raised by my grandfather and his father, Helio Gracie.
“Helio was a very humble, peaceful man and with that kind of upbringing, Royce took all of those traits. And of course learning jiu-jitsu, he would go in there and defeat people and then he would be a great person afterward. That’s what made him a great champion.”
Originally published in Issue 113 of Fighters Only.