Roger Gracie may not have a lot of experience in mixed martial arts, but his last name alone sets a great amount of expectation.
Gracie spoke to HeavyMMA on Thursday afternoon about the matchup.
“I see myself stepping up every time to get more experience in MMA. I’ve been fighting my entire life, so fighting is not really new to me. You realize that fighting is the same – it’s only the style that changes – so the environment of it all is something I’m used to. I want fights that are going to challenge me. I’ve yet to fight an easy opponent. My first professional fight was against a guy who was 30 kilos heavier than me. I think that King Mo is a very good fighter and I’m not taking him lightly. I have to be really sharp for this fight and make no mistakes.”
On paper, the bout appears to be a classic wrestler vs. BJJ matchup. Gracie doesn’t agree. He feels there are far more factors that will come into play during the matchup.
“I don’t really see it that way because everything has changed from what it used to be. The rules have changed over the years and now you have a much shorter time on the ground. Now you get maybe one or two minutes on the ground and sometimes it is enough, but most times it’s not. It’s difficult to submit your opponent in a short amount of time and most guys are very strong. I don’t see this fight as a competition of style because he is very athletic and I’m sure he’s been training his jiu-jitsu.
“Back in the old days it was easier because no one knew about jiu-jitsu. If your opponent didn’t know what was coming then it was very easy to submit them. But now everyone trains jiu-jitsu a great deal. I think today it is much more difficult because you fight three-five minute rounds and you have to be much more athletic. If you are having a boring fight on the ground, the referee will stand you back up, and if your striking isn’t solid then you are getting put back into a situation where you don’t feel comfortable. Then you are in a position to lose the fight so you have to be prepared in all aspects.
“You see submission victories less and less because everyone is training now. Back then you could know a little bit, and maybe that would get you by. But if you faced someone who was very well trained, they would get the submission. I have the advantage because I have been training jiu-jitsu all of my life. I might even come across someone who has trained enough to defend my attacks but they will never be able to put me in danger. I don’t think I’ll ever have to be worry about an opponent trying to submit me, so in a way I’m safe in that aspect. Now I have to focus on getting my striking there.”
When Gracie enters the cage on Saturday night it will only be his 5th professional fight. Despite his decorated background as a jiu-jitsu practitioner, he understands his success in the MMA world will rely heavily on his ability to develop in other aspects of the sport.
“I’m feeling comfortable with my progression. I have been training a lot of Muay Thai lately and I’m getting more and more relaxed standing up which is very important. That’s the key. It’s not all about your striking. It’s about how to keep yourself relaxed in the stand-up. You want to stay relaxed and keep your shoulders loose so don’t get tense and tired too quickly. I’m feeling very good about stand-up. I will have the reach advantage in this fight and honestly in most fights, because I’m a tall guy.
“Having the reach advantage is a good thing to have on your side and that alone makes it difficult for my opponent to get to me. If I can get my striking to the point where it is great, what are my opponents going to do? Are they going to take me down? If they do that then it plays into my greatest strength. So my goal is to get my hands and feet good where it makes them uncomfortable standing with me to where they have to take me down where it is better for me anyway.”
Gracie is a torch bearer for the family name. He’s won multiple world grappling championships and has had many strong showings in Abu Dhabi. While he is off to a solid start in mixed martial arts, he knows the expectations of others will always be high because of the family’s long-time association with the sport.
“It would be impossible to separate myself from my last name. If you are a Gracie and you are fighting, then you are representing the entire family and our history. Any Gracie you see fighting is representing the family and I’ve been doing it since I was very small so it’s something I’m used to. There are so many of us, and to tell you the truth, more people expect more from you because you are a Gracie. That kind of pressure has been there my entire life. Trust me.
“In a way, that is good, because it makes you work harder. When you are a Gracie you have to carry a heavy last name. But it’s not a bad thing. Because I have this last name it makes me train harder and harder because I always want to do a little bit more.