During the primitive years of mixed martial arts, the early-to-mid 1990’s, the Gracie name was almost as big as the sport itself.
The Brazilian family were so far ahead of everyone else in the fight game it was frightening.
Many felt that they were invincible and that the rest of the fighting world would never catch up.
They were of course wrong. A little over five years later and the rest had clearly caught up, and then some.
We take a brief look at some of the matches that were instrumental in the gradual erosion the Gracie mystique, and therefore milestones in the development of the sport.
Royce Gracie vs Kimo Leopoldo – UFC 3, September 9, 1994.
Royce Gracie had amazed everyone up to this point, submitting all comers with consummate ease to win the first two UFC’s. He had barely broken sweat and his faced had never been so much as touched.
The fact that the unknown Kimo swamped Gracie in size was irrelevant to most as nearly all of the Brazilian’s victims thus far were much larger.
From the get-go it was clear that Gracie was in for perhaps the first proper contest of his MMA career.
He simply couldn’t come to terms with his opponent’s size and power.
For more than four minutes the fight went back and fourth with a fatigued Gracie unable to control Kimo on the ground, and famously resorting to pulling on his hair for leverage.
If Kimo had displayed even an ounce of fighting savvy he would have surely won the bout.
In the end Gracie, fighting on his last reserves, pulled a submission victory out of the bag.
Although the Brazilian won, he had to be helped from the ring and ultimately pulled out of the tournament.
The need for legitimate weight classes in the sport was perhaps first highlighted with this encounter.
Royce Gracie vs Ken Shamrock – UFC 5, April 7, 1995.
The first ever Superfight in UFC history showcased the sports first great rivalry.
Gracie and Shamrock had met in the octagon around 18 months earlier with the Brazilian taking the spoils, somewhat surprising the Shootfighter with his submission proficiency.
Despite this, Shamrock was for many fans, the only fighter who could match ground skills with Royce Gracie. As it happened they were right, painfully right.
For Shamrock sat in Gracie’s guard for more than 30 minutes, in what was easily the longest fight in UFC history.
With boos ringing around the octagon, they were asked to get to their feet again. Shamrock clocked Gracie with a solid right and the Brazilian, in desperation pulled the fight to the ground once again.
At the 36 minute mark, with no points system in place, the fight was declared a draw.
Gracie sported a huge shiner and Shamrock was universally declared the unofficial winner.
Although Royce had still not been beaten, it was apparent for all to see that he had met his equal in Shamrock.
It would be more than a decade later before he would fight in the UFC.
Kasushi Sakuraba vs Royler Gracie – Pride 8, November 21, 1999.
This was the match that started the legendary rivalry between Sakuraba and the Gracie family.
With the Japanese wrestler enjoying a significant size advantage, Royler was unable to score a takedown, lying on the ground for much of the match and tempting Sakuraba to engage him on the mat.
With less than two minutes remaining, Sakuraba eventually engaged Royler on the ground and before long Gracie was caught in a Kimura lock.
With Sakuraba wrenching the Brazilian’s arm the referee intervened with just under two minutes remaining on the clock, ending the contest and awarding the Japanese fighter the win by TKO.
This was a momentus result in the history of MMA – the first loss by a Gracie in professional fighting in several decades.
Kasushi Sakuraba vs Royce Gracie – Pride Grand Prix, May 1, 2000.
After Sakuraba’s momentus victory over his brother Royler, Royce was given the chance to avenge the loss.
The match was epic in every sense of the word. Two of the world’s most famous fighters battled for an hour and a half, after Gracie stipulated that their should be no time limit.
Sakuraba nearly ended the match with a knee-bar towards the end of the first round. Later on, Royce returned the favor with a guillotine choke which Sakuraba lingered in, but eventually escaped.
As the fight went on, much like Royler, Royce found it increasingly hard to score takedown’s against his opponent.
Perhaps for the first time Royce’s jiu-jitsu gi become a weapon for his opponent, with Sakuraba useing it to control Gracie.
With Royce limping, enduring leg kick after leg kick, Royce’s brother, Rorian, threw in the towel and conceeded defeat after 90 minutes.
Every part of this match-up had been on the Gracie family’s terms and yet Sakuraba proved too strong in every department.
Kasushi Sakuraba vs Renzo Gracie – Pride 10, August 27, 2000.
Although a Gracie, Renzo was noticeably more aggressive than Royce or Royler and more than prepared to strike with his opponents.
These attributes were clear from the outset as he pressed the pace of the bout with a variety of kicks and punches.
Both fighters appeared to be very evenly matched, both cancelling each other out for most of the match.
With mere seconds remaining the contestants found themselves pressed against the turnbuckle.
In spactacular fashion, Sakuraba locked in a kimura and spun around, flipping Renzo to the canvas as he wrenched his arm behind his back..
Like Royler before him, Renzo refused to submit to the hold despite his elbow being snapped prior to hitting the ground.
The referee waved off the contest due to the injury.
Sakuraba was again victorious against a Gracie, although it was arguably the toughest challenge he faced from the family.
Royce Gracie vs Matt Hughes – UFC 60, May 27, 2006.
Many casual American fans, who had not followed Royce’s career in Japan after his first departure from the UFC, believed that Gracie would present a real challenge to Hughes.
It was widely publicised that Gracie was cross-training in Muay Thai for the fight, another facet that Hughes would apparently have to contend with.
Every MMA fan in the know though, knew that Gracie woiuld have his work cut out just to last out the first round against Hughes. And they were not wrong.
The fight was a gargantuan mismatch, a fight Royce should never have taken.
After taking the Brazilian down with ease, Hughes hyperextended Gracie’s arm in a kimura, but Gracie refused to tap and held on with a calm expression on his face.
Hughes stated, in a later interview, that he purposely let Gracie out of the arm lock because he knew that the Brazilian would not submit and would rather allow his arm to break.
The American went on to win the fight by TKO due to strikes at 4:39 of the first round.
If anyone needed proof of MMA’s rapid evolution, Matt Hughes provided it in devastating fashion.