Rolles Gracie's trophy cabinet bears testament to all he has achieved in his martial arts career containing awards received for being named No-Gi American National Super Heavyweight Champion in 2010, No-Gi Pan-American Champion in 2008, Pan American Champion in 1996, 2000 and 2006 and Brazilian Teams Champion in 2000 amongst others.
He also finished second at the World Jiu Jitsu Championships in 1998 and has a couple of gold medals from Judo competitions in Florida thrown in for good measure. It's an impressive collection but the one thing which the third degree BJJ black belt is missing is a belt won in MMA competition.
That is a situation he is looking to rectify after signing a contract with ONE Fighting Championship in Asia. He has only fought sporadically since he making his MMA debut five years ago but is determined to make his mark on the heavyweight division in 2012,
"There are many reasons why I haven't fought MMA more regularly; injuries, teaching, deals that didn't go through.... sometimes things don't go the way you want to. 2012 is the year to stay active, I'm kicking it off with a fight already and I want do do at least three more."
His first opponent will be Bob Sapp who will come into the cage with a 100 lbs size advantage at ONE Fighting Championship 'Battle of Heroes' in Jakarta, Indonesia on February 11th. Sapp is a K-1 veteran who should have an advantage in the striking, as well as the size department, but Gracie does not feel he will necessarily need a submission to win,
"I respect Sapp but I had no hesitation what so ever in taking this fight. I'm highly confident in my training and my technique. I'm going there to win and I'll find a way to do it, submission, decision or KO."
Gracie currently has a 5-1 MMA record having submitted every opponent he has ever faced with one notable exception. On his UFC debut, against Joey Beltran, he rapidly ran out of steam and was finished in the second round causing him to be unceremoniously removed from the roster.
While that performance will linger long in the memory for some it is the sole blemish on an otherwise flawless career and, as Gracie outlines, there were extenuating circumstances,
"During my training camp for that fight I had two injuries 5-6 weeks prior to the fight that kept me from training as hard as i wanted to. I hurt my ribs and I was training and fought with a broken foot."
He will get a chance at redemption when he returns to the main stage to take on Sapp in an event which will be streamed live on the internet for $10 and broadcast all over Asia by ESPN Star Sports. It will be the highest profile fight for Gracie since his UFC debut and beating a man who is 100 lbs heavier would be a great way to demonstrate that he is still very much a force to be reckoned with in the heavyweight division.
It is the type of fight which harks back the early days of MMA when Renzo and Royce Gracie would use their BJJ to defeat much larger opponents but Rolles feels that the sport which his Grandfather pioneered has evolved to the extent that he no longer need to worry about his role as an ambassador for it,
"It doesn't really matter to me how I win this fight. I think as time has passed people already know the true value of BJJ but it's always good to reinforce it. Every time I fight I'll go for a submission win, it might not happen but that's what I'm aiming for for and so far it's working."
His brothers Igor and Gregor have also been signed by ONE FC and Rolles was at the inaugural event to see Gregor defeat Korean Seok Mo Kim by decision. There has been some suggestion that MMA has evolved so rapidly that its first family are in danger of being left behind but these three brothers have a fantastic opportunity to put that theory to bed by winning fights for Asia's most prestigious mixed martial arts promotion,
"I was at the first show and I liked it a lot. in my opinion ONE FC have what it takes to be a power house in Asia and in the world. Both Gregor and Igor have something in the works with them, I think its just a matter little details now so they can announce it."
ONE Fighting Championship are putting on eight events in 2012 with shows in Jakarta, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to start the year. The ONE FC Network will also allow Gracie to fight for promotions such as DREAM in Japan, Road FC in Korea, URCC in the Philippines and Cage Fighting Championship in Australia so if he wants to stay busy there should be plenty of opportunity for him to do so.
Without the Gracie family it is questionable whether the sport of MMA would ever have evolved to the point where it has become a multi billion dollar business. There is still a tremendous appetite to see a member of this famous fighting family reach the pinnacle of competition for the first time since the days when Royce and Renzo would submit multiple opponents in a single night.
ONE FC is currently the highest profile organization outside of the US and if Gracie can continue to rack up the submission wins with them he is going be one of the hottest heavyweight properties on the market. He was fast tracked into the UFC after just three fights and might have benefited from a more gentle career trajectory but he has bounced back with two straight victories since then and could take another step on the comeback trail by beating Bob Sapp.