Growing up Gracie
Working at the family business is an odd proposition when your last name is Gracie. Instead of busting tables or pushing paper, the career trajectory involves breaking limbs and trading punches inside an eight-sided chain link cage.
Brothers Rolles, Igor and Gregor Gracie are neck-deep in their family’s trade. The trio, who were in town to fight for Asian MMA promotion One FC, are part of the new generation of a fighting lineage that goes back 80 years.
Their family, descended from a Scottish immigrant to Brazil during the 19th century, created a martial art that changed the uneducated view of fighting. The style, called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, allowed fighters to defend themselves against much larger opponents.
The martial art gained prominence during the early ’90s in the Ultimate Fighting Championships. Royce Gracie, widely considered as the most famous member of the family, won three of the first four UFC tournaments, beating opponents that outweighed him by as much as 50 pounds. His victories presented fight fans with a new perspective on fighting. While movies traded on mystic kung fu moves and one-inch punches, the Gracies showed a more realistic, mat-based style of fighting.
In spite of the history attached to his family, Rolles said that his upbringing was the same as any kid in Brazil. “I was just like a normal kid. The only difference was that my heroes and my role models were my family members,” he said.
While growing up, he dabbled in team sports like football. His parents also gave him the option to go into any profession he wants. However, like his brothers, he settled on a career in fighting, a condition that must be traceable to his DNA structure.
The brothers tangle on the mat on a regular basis. However, they said that there would never be a fight pitting a Gracie against a Gracie. “There are so many people to fight. Why fight a brother?” said Igor. “We fight each other in the gym every day. But just in order to help each other, to push each other to become better fighters. I would never try to hurt them.”
“It’s MMA. It’s not like tennis where you’re hitting a ball back and forth. It’s fighting. You have to hurt your opponent,” said Rolles.
The Gracie family is not dead
The Gracie brothers are fighting to prove a point. “We are here, us three in the same (fight) card, to show that the Gracie family is not dead,” said Rolles. In MMA circles, there remains a reverence for the Gracie name. Some of the top fighters in the sport train under Gracie Jiu-Jitsu academies. However, as the sport evolved, the family failed to build on its heyday during the one-dimensional era of MMA. “It was a different time,” said Rolles of his first cousin Royce’s dominant run at the UFC.
“As the sport evolved, so did we. Back then, people just trained one martial art and that was it. Now everyone’s a complete fighter, and so are we,” added Gregor. “We’re becoming complete fighters and we’re going to teach that to our kids, our cousins and our grandkids. We’re going to pass that along to them so I think they’re going to be more complete. The next generation’s always going to be more complete than the one before because they’re going to learn from our mistakes and they’re going to get better.”
“(We want) to keep the legacy going. Our family has been fighting for over 80 years. We’d like to carry on the torch and pass it on to future generations,” said Igor.
Carrying the torch is a family tradition. The Gracie patriarchs, Helio and Carlos, founded the martial art during the late 1920s and succeeding generations have kept the line going.
Said Rolles, “The Gracie family has been here way before us. It’s going to be here after us.”