UFC legend back to fight

JOSE RODRIGUEZ -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:27 PM ET

Hockey has Wayne Gretzky, basketball has Michael Jordan and ultimate fighting has Royce Gracie.

At 39, the godfather of Brazilian jiu-jitsu is held in almost mythical reverence by fans and fighters alike.

His resume and reputation are unrivalled in the sport.

He won the first three Ultimate Fighting Championships dating back to 1993 -- a time when there were no weight classes, no gloves and, essentially, no rules. He once defeated four opponents in one night.

His discipline -- highlighted by a calculated mix of ground work and submission holds -- is a staple for all modern mixed-martial arts fighters.

He has trained big-screen stars like Chuck Norris, Guy Ritchie and Nicholas Cage and has also worked with the CIA, FBI, Secret Service and Navy Seals.

He is a member of the UFC hall of fame and, to this day, remains undefeated in the octagon.

So why would someone with seemingly nothing left to prove jump back in the cage?

"A lot of people are telling me I can't hang with the new guys in the UFC," the soft-spoken Gracie, who will take on welterweight champ Matt Hughes in a non-title bout May 27, told the Sun.

"Tell me what I cannot do and I'll prove you wrong."

One of nine children, Gracie was taught jiu-jitsu by his father, Helio, who had created his own hybrid of the Japanese art after learning from a family friend as a child and adapting the moves to his own frail frame.

At 18, Royce moved to California to join his brother Rorion in opening the first Gracie jiu-jitsu school outside of Brazil.

Today, his school is one of the biggest in the world and has spawned sister studios and clone academies around the globe.

But a lot has changed in the 11 years since Gracie last stepped into the UFC pit. There are timed rounds, weight classes and rules.

Lots of rules. Something he doesn't like.

"When we started this, it was about finding out which discipline was the best," says Gracie, who at 176 lb. has fought men twice his size, including a 490-lb. sumo wrestler.

"In the back of people's minds, they wanted to know who would win a fight, Muhammad Ali or Bruce Lee?"

Gracie's biggest knock on the new UFC is the timed rounds.

"I don't like the time limits," he said, referring to the three five-minute rounds for fights and five five-minute rounds for championship bouts. "I'm a technician, I need time to work my opponent."

The rules aren't the only changes.

Under the tutelage of president Dana White, today's UFC has become a slick marketing machine.

It has become so popular with young males that one night last week an episode of its reality show The Ultimate Fighter, drew bigger numbers in the U.S. among men 18-34 than the NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs and a game combined.

Despite the new rules and new-found fame, Gracie says he has a strategy -- one he's not willing to share -- to have his arm raised in victory at the Hughes fight.

And he hints it may not be the last UFC fans see of the legendary fighter -- who has been scrapping in Japan for the better part of a decade.

Hughes, however, is more than a formidable opponent.

He is the longest-serving welterweight champion in UFC history and one of its most popular fighters. He can wrestle, he can strike and, yes, he knows his Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

It will be a battle of old UFC vs. new UFC. Master vs. apprentice.

But Gracie says he has a secret weapon for the May 27 bout at the nearly sold out Staples Centre in Los Angeles.

His father Helio, who turns 95 this year, will be in his corner.


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