Royce Gracie isn’t upset he no longer holds the UFC record for submission victories.
He’s just shocked he held it as long as he did.
Veteran fighter Charles Oliveira secured his 11th UFC submission on Saturday at UFC Fight Night 137 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, defeating Christos Giagos via rear-naked choke in the second round. Oliveira’s overbearing skill on the ground is a bit of a throwback to the heyday of Gracie, the original UFC champion who used his family’s style of Brazilian jiu-jitsu to dominate the early competitions.
With the evolution of jiu-jitsu in MMA since Gracie recorded his 10th and final UFC submission win in December 1994 at UFC 4, the legend was surprised it took this much time for someone to surpass his mark.
“I wasn’t watching to see it live because I was on the road traveling, but yeah it was interesting it took that long because everybody practices jiu-jitsu. Back then, it was just me pretty much, my family and my students,” Gracie said. “But now, both fighters have to know jiu-jitsu, both fighters have to know the stand-up game.”
Gracie was at a Bellator 208 media event on Thursday at LAW MMA in Garden City ahead of the promotion’s first event on Long Island, scheduled for Oct. 13 at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
The MMA pioneer set the stage for fighters like Oliveira to thrive on the mat, but nobody has been quite as dominant as the original. Still, Oliveira declared himself a “legend” of the sport after claiming the submission record Saturday. Those comments didn’t mean much to Gracie either way, but he has been impressed by the Brazilian’s performances and thinks “Do Bronx” has earned some consideration for a UFC title shot.
“The guy is doing so good, why is the guy not fighting for the title yet? He finishes everybody,” Gracie said. “So, I don’t have an opinion on the way he thinks, everybody is entitled to think what they want, but why is he not fighting for the title yet? That’s a question for the promoter, for whatever reason, they must have some reason cause he’s up there, he should be one of the top contenders.”
Gracie, currently a Bellator brand ambassador, said part of his success in MMA’s early days was a testament to the uniqueness of BJJ at the time. Once Gracie introduced fighters around the world to his martial art of choice, its spread was inevitable.
“After the first UFC, [Gracie’s final opponent] Gerard Gordeau — I talked to him about that when I was in Holland teaching a seminar at his gym maybe three or four years ago. He said, ‘man, after you beat me, I came back and we prepared Remco [Pardoel] to beat you because he was more of a grappler and judo champion, we taught him some standup and he was heavier and bigger than you, he was a European champion in judo. And you got there and you choked him out in seconds. When we got back from UFC 2, we sat down and knew we’ve got to learn [jiu-jitsu], and we’ve been learning since then.’ So it’s not like they just started now, even back then everybody started learning it,” Gracie said.
“As soon as the fighters saw the value — all the wrestlers, all the kickboxers, everybody involved in fighting and the martial arts business — they all saw the value of jiu-jitsu.”
Gracie still sees the value of his jiu-jitsu work each day. At 51 years old, he said he’s in as good of shape as ever and doesn’t feel his fight career catching up to him — something he attributes to a smart fighting strategy and healthy lifestyle — and spends plenty of time in the gym teaching classes and working with fighters.
In 2016, he had the itch to return to competition and made a short comeback, fighting old rival Ken Shamrock at Bellator 149 and oddly enough using his fists to earn the TKO victory.
In that fight, Gracie said he learned he still had what it took to compete, even if he knew it he should take a seat.
“The equipment is all still working. Everything works, I just haven’t been to war, but all the equipment is still functioning,” Gracie said. “The jaw is good, I’m on target, I just haven’t gone back to war.
“It’s hard to stop as a fighter. I think BJ Penn said that, it’s so hard for us to stop. In any professional level competition, soccer players, you’ve got to know when to stop. The recovery is not as fast any more, but the will is there. I’m at the same weight since the first UFC, I don’t change anything.”
Now that his UFC record has been broken, does he have any desire to compete at the highest level again?
Said Gracie, “I’m too old for this, let the young guys do it.”