On a ONE Championship card stacked with huge contests and a ONE Interim World Title bout, the name of Renzo Gracie stands out.
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu icon is making a return to mixed martial arts, eight years after his last contest, as he takes on fellow martial arts veteran Yuki Kondo at ONE: REIGN OF KINGS in Manila, the Philippines on July 27.
Gracie’s return will be the subject of huge attention throughout the martial arts world because of the esteem the amiable Brazilian warrior is held in across the globe.
Renzo was born in Rio de Janeiro as the son of Grand Master Robson Gracie (a ninth-degree BJJ black belt) and grandson of the founder of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Carlos Gracie.
In the Gracie family, jiu-jitsu was not, and is not a pastime – it is a way of life. Just as he learned to walk and talk, he learned jiu-jitsu.
“I begin learning from the moment that I was born, because every time my father played with me, he played like it was a jiu-jitsu move,” he remembers.
His formal training started when he was just 5 years of age, and as he grew up, he found himself under the tutelage of the many black belts in his legendary family, most notably Rolls Gracie and Carlos Gracie Jr. The latter eventually awarded Renzo his black belt.
“To grow up among the amazing people in my family was like growing up with your superheroes,” he says.
“Most kids have comics or watch cartoons to choose their heroes, but I had them inside my house. I saw my father fighting my grandfather, and my uncle fighting my older brother. It was an amazing experience, and it was easy to become a fighter.”
As his skills started to grow, he embarked on his journey as a professional mixed martial artist, Gracie became known for his determination to represent his family. His primary aim was to showcase the discipline they gave to the world.
It meant he often took on larger, stronger opponents, as he looked to prove that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was the ultimate leveller in hand-to-hand competition.
While competing in mixed martial arts, he also tried his hand in BJJ competition, and became a two-time ADCC Grappling World Champion.
Since his last outing, he has focused on the development of others, operating out of his Renzo Gracie Academy in New York City. His main gym has a worldwide reputation for being one of the best on the planet, but his brand has stretched across the globe, with affiliated gyms cropping up all over the world.
The ability to share his gift with other people has proved to be the most rewarding aspect of Gracie’s career.
“I think this is the greatest gift martial arts gave me – to give to others,” he explains.
“I think the most positive thing that comes from martial arts is the opportunity is to open a door that will touch students’ souls, change them as human beings, and make them better.
“People talk about how sports can change people’s lives. Martial arts can change them 10 times faster, and 10 times more efficiently.”
The usually-jovial Gracie presents a smiling face of the super-tough discipline of jiu-jitsu, but back in 2007, he was hit hard by the untimely loss of his brother, friend, and cornerman Ryan.
“I didn’t train for three years right after my brother’s death,” he admits.
“I really stopped training – I wouldn’t do a push-up.
“He was such a talented guy – 10 times more powerful than I am. I was the one who raised him, who trained him, who taught him.
“My way is to sit back, relieve all those amazing memories I had with him, and realise that our lives cannot be measured by the time that we live. Our life has to be measured by the intensity we live – and nobody could outlive my brother.
“He outlived all of us. Even though he died at 33, he probably will outdo any ordinary 85-year-old.”
Now 51 years of age, Gracie is making a return to ONE Championship against 43-year-old Kondo in a battle of legends in Manila.
The Brazilian says he can’t wait to test his skills under the bright lights in a ONE Championship event.
“It’s an amazing company. ONE makes one of the best shows in the world. That’s why I’m feeling so privileged to be fighting in ONE, and in Manila,” he says.
“I honestly think the biggest challenge I’m going to have is my next fight.
“It’s not because I think my opponent is someone out of this world. It’s because it’s going to be something new. I don’t know what’s going to happen.
“The only thing that I know is that I’ll be a better man, I’ll be a better teacher, and I’ll be a better person in the sense of passing forward everything that I learn in there.”