Royce Gracie, the man who started it all as three-time UFC tournament champion, tells FO’s Tony Reid about the five nights that shaped his legendary MMA career.

1: Art Jimmerson, Ken Shamrock & Gerard Gordeau

UFC 1: The Beginning

How about the first UFC? Three fights in one night. I went there to show my father’s style, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. It showed that when someone tackles you and takes you to the ground you don’t know what to do. You are hopeless. Ken Shamrock knew a little bit, but he still had no idea what happened to him. No one knew about what happened in Brazil. My brother, Rorion, thought the best way to spread the word was through the media. If we put it on TV in Brazil nobody would hear about it. If we put it on TV in America the whole world will see it. Media came from all over the world to cover that event.

2: Minoki Ichihara, Jason DeLucia, Remco Pardoel & Pat Smith

UFC 2: No Way Out

No gloves, no time limits… Some guys fight once or twice a year, but I fought four guys in one night. All of those fighters were champions of their styles. I just found out a few years ago from people in Holland at a seminar that they were preparing Remco Pardoel to beat me after UFC 1. They tabbed Remco to beat me! He was big. A good grappler. A judo guy. They got him ready to beat me. Then he came back and they were like ‘OK. That’s it. We need to learn that stuff.’

3: Kimo Leopoldo

UFC 3: The American Dream

I fought Kimo at 250lb and with a pharmacy in his body. Everybody told me he was strong, but he was super strong. He was probably the strongest guy I fought. I used the wrong strategy. I tried to match strength. It was wrong, but I got him in an armlock and I finished him.

4: Dan Severn

UFC 4: Revenge of the Warriors

They brought a big wrestler in to beat me. He was 265lb. It took a little longer, but I submitted him. It was a fight. He was trying to grapple me. He was just trying to ground me up. He was putting his head in my chin. He was trying to grind on me but there was no finish. He tried to punch me numerous times, but I blocked him. I threw him. I tied him up. He didn’t know what to do. I feel like he was lost. He made a mistake and I caught him in a choke.

5: Kazushi Sakuraba

Pride Grand Prix 2000

One hour and 45 minutes. If you sat in that chair for an hour and 45 minutes, your butt would hurt. We fought six rounds of 15 minutes. Three rounds of five and most guys are dead today. That was six for 15 – and that’s a lot for someone who smokes as much as he did! It’s crazy. To last an hour and 45 minutes is incredible – and then to lose the fight… It was just a battle.

This interview first appeared in the February 2018 issue of Fighters Only.