For Rolles Gracie, the journey to the Octagon has been a long time coming. His debut at UFC 109 signals the arrival of a new generation of Gracie fighter, grounded in the principals set in motion by legendary names like Helio, Carlson, Rickson and Royce.
But Rolles (pronounded Hollis) Gracie is his own man, with his own goals and his own dreams. And though he certainly feels the weight of the Gracie lore, he also believes that he’s a completely different type of fighter than any Gracie before him, and he’s ready to make his own way in the sport his family helped create. Heavy.com sat down with Rolles following an open workout at Renzo Gracie’s gym in New York to talk about the pressure that comes with being a Gracie, his UFC debut and other topics.
Heavy.com: People say that your father (Rolls Gracie) was the leading fighter of his time. Do you hope to live up to his name?
Rolles Gracie: To me, and to a lot of people, he was the greatest of all time. He was many, many years ahead of his generation. So filling his shoes is a complicated thing. I’m trying to be myself, not my father. There’s no pressure for me. I’m stepping into the cage to make my own name, to stand my ground. I want to show my own work.
Heavy.com: It took many years before you decided to try mixed martial arts. Why didn’t you come to the sport at a younger age?
Rolles Gracie: I feel that right now is the time. I’m at the best time of my life for this. I feel very mature and very experienced. It’s the right time. If I’d started younger, I might be burned out. I might be tired. There’s never been a better time than now.
Heavy.com: Your cousin Renzo is a legend in the sport, and many say that he’s the most well-rounded Gracie to ever compete in the sport. What have you learned from him?
Rolles Gracie: I’ve learned everything from Renzo. He’s been teaching me for six years, ever since he moved to New York City. He has a lot of experience and he’s given me that edge. He’s a legend in the sport, you know? He teaches me all the moves, even the ones that don’t work. He’s really helped me modify my game to the cage.
Heavy.com: What attracted you to judo as well as jiu-jitsu?
Rolles Gracie: I started competing in judo when I was in Florida. Back in 1998, jiu-jitsu competitions weren’t well-developed. In order to compete, I decided to try judo competitions. Because the closest thing to jiu-jitsu competitions that was available to me was judo.
Heavy.com: The UFC was started by the Gracie family. Do you feel a lot of pressure to represent the family name that has seen so many legends, such as Helio, Carlson, Rickson, Royce and others come before you?
Rolles Gracie: I’d be lying if I said no. But I try not to let that get into my head or to consume me. I’m not trying to live up to my father, and I’m not trying to live up to Rickson or anyone else from my family. I’m just another human being, but one with a famous last name.
Heavy.com: Your father was seen as the bridge between the old jiu-jitsu and the new jiu-jitsu. Do you see yourself as a bridge to a new era of Gracie jiu-jitsu?
Rolles Gracie: Well, I’m the biggest Gracie. I’m built like a bridge. (laughs) But the sport has changed. This is not 1993, and the sport is nothing like it was in 1993. Today, the Gracies have to evolve. I just want to fight. I’ve been training every aspect of the game, putting everything into my own style.
Heavy.com: What have you learned training with Greg Jackson?
Rolles Gracie: Greg is an outstanding guy. The thing about training at Greg’s camp is that you have excellent sparring available to you at all times. You have straight up MMA guys. You have strong wrestlers. You have guys to are closer to my upcoming opponent in terms of style. It’s allowed me to work my standup game more and to be ready for any situation that is thrown at me.
Heavy.com: How do you think you’ll adapt to the Octagon?
Rolles Gracie: I’ve been training inside a cage for a long time. This may be my first UFC fight, but the cage is nothing new for me. I don’t know if it’s a big deal. I started training in the cage in 2007 and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Heavy.com: Good luck at UFC 109, Rolles.
Rolles Gracie: Thank you very much.
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