Renzo Gracie has been involved in mixed martial arts since before most people were even aware that the sport existed. He fought at the first ever Pride back in 1997 and has witnessed first hand the explosion in interest in BJJ which has accompanied the phenomenal growth of MMA.
He is one of only a handful of sixth degree BJJ black belts in the world and after a fighting career which spanned 18 years and saw him participate in shows all over the world can be considered one of the true Godfathers of mixed martial arts as we know it today.
Despite having been involved with BJJ since an early age Gracie's infectious enthusiasm for the sport and desire to see it grow remains undiminished.
He is in Indonesia to prepare Rolles Gracie for a potentially career defining fight against Bob Sapp at ONE Fighting Championship 'Battle of Heroes' on Saturday night but was more than happy to sit down with me and share his thoughts on the incredible evolution which MMA has undergone in his lifetime,
Are you surprised by how much BJJ has grown?
I am not surprised because I always thought it was going to be big. We are not in the sport of fighting we are in the sport of building confidence and of making peoples lifes better and there is no limit to that, it is endless. In my life I will watch Jiu Jitsu grow a lot and we are very lucky to have a federation who has been organizing unbelievable competitions and pushing Jiu Jitsu to a very high level, all thanks to my uncle Carlos Gracie Jr. who organized competitions and helped bring Jiu Jitsu outside the country.
Rose Gracie recently questions whether what was going on with Jiu Jitsu today was what her Grandfather, Helio Gracie, would have imagined. Do you share her concerns?
I think Jiu Jitsu is in constant evolution, it will never be what my great uncle expected because he couldn't see the future and his education was in the past. If you ask my grandson about me 50 years from now you will probably get the same answer because I cannot predict the future either. Even though I dream this is going to be the biggest sport ever I cannot picture it because my heart and my soul are locked in the past and I think the same thing happened with my Grand Uncle Helio, he couldn't picture Jiu Jitsu the way it is today because he was raised in a small town in Rio and he always thought in a very provincial way, a very small town way. He could never have imagined how BJJ would grow, it would be like trying to describe the internet to him
You have been helping Rolles to prepare for his fight with Bob Sapp, how has that been going?
Rolles has been training with Brian Vettel who used to fight in IFL for my team the Pittbulls and he is 354 lbs. Rolles trains hard but it will be a big step for him to face someone so dangerous, I support him a hundred per cent, we train together a lot and I hope we can walk out with the victory.
ONE Fighting Championship is a unique opportunity for Gregor and Rolles and Igor because they get to fight against different opponents in different places in front of different crowds. Just like the internet made the world a small place fighting is making the world a small place and we have been lucky enough to have the chance to travel everywhere and learn about different cultures and different people.
Here's our cinematic reminder that ONE FC 2 goes down at the end of this week (via MiddleEasyTV)
You fought for Pride and you were also at the first ONE FC show. Do you see the similarities?
I was very impressed by the first ONE FC show, the fights were great, the organization was great. Victor Cui did a very good job and everything surrounding the event was perfect and I think the show in Jakarta will be even better because the show will get better every time.
Rolles' fight with Bob Sapp could easily have happened on a Pride show. The Asian market likes to see the fights that we like to see and are very knowledgeable about fighting and fighters. The fights I dream to watch they make possible, it was like that in Japan and that's what ONE FC are doing too.
You awarded Chatri Sityodtong his blue belt when he trained with you in New York and now he has the most successful martial arts academy in Asia. Does that mean a lot to you?
I was involved with Evolve MMA since the beginning and the first time I came was for the grand opening three years ago and the first thing I said to Chatri was 'be ready to open a bigger facility' and he said 'this is big enough for the first year' and after two months he called me and said 'you are completely right'. I could see the passion of the people and how much they wanted to get involved and I was really blown away the moment that I came the second time and saw the amazing facility, it was unbelievable.
Alex Silva from Evolve MMA has a very tough fight against Filipino Wushu expert Geje Eustaquio and his team mate Rodrigo Ribeiro is taking on Russian Combat Sambo Champion Rustam Khabilov. I know you have been working with them this week how has their training been going?
I have been at Evolve MMA for the past five days, the training program that Chatri has put together is amazing, you have eight Muay Thai world champions in the mat overlooking the Thai boxing training, you have unbelievable Jiu Jitsu guys overlooking the BJJ, I learned a lot while I was there and I plan to bring some of it to my school in New York. The way they are training and the circuits that they are doing, I'm bringing this to New York, next week I will have a lot of new stuff for my guys there.
ONE Fighting Championship 'Battle of Heroes' is set to start at 7:30 PM local time. The undercard will be available free of charge and the main card will cost $9.99 USD.
MMA fans can catch the action online via live streaming on the following websites:
Ole Laursen vs Felipe Enomoto
Honorio "The Rock" Banario vs Bae Young Kwon
Rustam Khabilov vs Rodrigo "Ximbica" Ribeiro
Gustavo Falciroli vs Soo Chul Kim
Rolles Gracie vs Bob Sapp
Victorio Senduk vs. Raymond Tiew
Alex Silva vs. Geje Eustaquio
Irshaad Sayed vs. Jessie Rafols
Ngabdi Mulyadi vs. Peter Davis
Zuli Silawanto vs. Agus Nanang
The BritAma Arena in Jakarta where Rolles Gracie is set to fight Bob Sapp at ONE Fighting Championship 'Battle of Heroes' on Saturday night.