Has there ever been an Octagon debut in which the fighter in question is so well known to fight fans, such a prominent figure in the world of mixed martial arts despite never competing in the world's largest MMA promotion, and on the wrong side of 40?
The answer to that question the last 17 years has been no. The answer to said question come April 10 will be Renzo Gracie.
At the tender age of 43, the sixth degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and member of mixed martial arts' royal family is set to fight for the first time at UFC 112 this weekend in Abu Dhabi.
In preparation of his debut bout against former UFC welterweight champ Matt Hughes, Gracie joined MMAmania.com's exclusive presentation of Pro MMA Radio with Larry Pepe to discuss why it has taken this long for him to jump inside the Octagon, his role in the UFC coming to the Middle East, and what he sees in Matt Hughes.
When news broke a few months ago that the UFC would be holding an event in Abu Dhabi, aside from the obvious connection to Zuffa's new Middle Eastern business partner Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, thoughts of Renzo's involvement in the move immediately took center stage.
And make no mistake, Gracie played an integral role.
"I had a lot to do with it," Renzo said. "For the last 14 years I've been going over there [United Arab Emirates] keeping the jiu-jitsu flame alive. It's now becoming a national passion for them. I see the United Arab Emirates as one of the centers of mixed martial arts in the future. I brought the idea to the Sheikh [Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan] and a lawyer friend of the Fertittas helped move it forward. From there it was easy. They made it real. In reality, I had been selling it to them for the last 14 years."
While it's very fitting for Renzo Gracie's first fight in the UFC to take place in Abu Dhabi, what took so long for him to finally make his debut? Renzo explains.
"Even though I haven't been competing, I've been fighting on a regular basis. I've been working at my school and working to continue the Gracie legacy. I have an obligation to keep Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu alive. I have to make sure it doesn't die during my generation. But believe me, I was fighting everyday. I was born with it."
Renzo's last line there is a commonly overused expression when it comes to fighters. ‘I was born to do it.' But in knowing Gracie's past, the way he was brought up in a family full of martial artists, and just hearing him speak on the subject, you know the idiom couldn't be more true as it relates to Renzo.
"It's something that I love, it fulfills me. I knew I had to be in my prime to fight in the UFC. And for the first time in my life I've been able to dedicate everything to my own training. Everything with the rest of my life is set. I'm not doing this for anything other than myself."
So how did the deal with the UFC finally come about? Gracie says it was as simple as a handshake over dinner.
"I was over in Abu Dhabi having dinner with the Sheikh, Lorenzo [Fertitta], Dana [White], and Frank [Fertitta]. And Lorenzo asked me if I was done fighting or if I was planning on coming back. So I said to him, ‘is this an invitation, and he said ‘you bet it is.' It was that simple. We shook hands and here I am."
The first order of business once he signed with Zuffa was of course to find him an opponent. And though that can sometimes be a painstaking process, Renzo revealed that from the moment the UFC told him what they were thinking for a first fight, he was all for it.
"When I first signed with the UFC, I told them I had one demand. I didn't want to fight any cans. So they said what about Matt Hughes, and right there I said that was it. He is the greatest welterweight champion of all time. It's an honor to fight him in the Octagon."
Of course in fighting a guy like Matt Hughes who is a legend of the sport and has been around the game for such a long time, there is no shortage of film for Renzo to study. But in his unique situation, Gracie has a bit more resources to work with than the average man when it comes to finding a way to beat the former champ.
Gracie's cousin Royce famously fought and lost to Matt Hughes at UFC 60 while his longtime pupil and training partner Matt Serra just recently fell victim to Hughes at UFC 98. So does Renzo have any special insights as to what Hughes is all about? You bet he does.
"When Royce fought him, I was fighting him, you know? I have all the knowledge to defeat him now. And Serra helped me a lot. We've trained together a lot for this fight. I hope Matt Hughes brings something new to the table, because we have every area covered. We're working hard to win this fight."
While admitting Hughes is a very formidable opponent, Gracie makes no bones about it that he has what it takes to get the victory and also lets the fans know that he recommends they don't miss what could be a war for the ages.
"He's very strong, it's difficult to find a weakness. I'm looking forward to getting in there and seeing where the fight goes. I'm very confident it every aspect. It's gonna be an interesting match. I wouldn't miss it."
There you have it. Renzo Gracie himself says to tune to UFC 112 this Saturday, April 10 from Abu Dhabi. So you best listen.
For complete coverage of UFC 112 click here.