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MIXED MARTIAL ARTS

Royce Gracie wants to take UFC back to its roots

The winner of Ultimate Fighting Championship 1 sizes up the field at UFC 100 and concludes he could still bring the pain, and the crowds.

July 11, 2009|Lance Pugmire

LAS VEGAS — The champion of UFC 1 who later won two more titles in the era when mixed martial arts champs were crowned after four fights in a single night, and when there were no gloves or weight classes, took a look at a poster for tonight's UFC 100 and sized up the competition.

"Brock Lesnar? Been there, done that. Bring him on," Royce Gracie said of the UFC's 265-pound heavyweight champion. "[Georges] St-Pierre? I'm a prize fighter. Put me in any card and I'll sell it out. I can do it, man. You tell me what's impossible and I'll prove you wrong."

Gracie opened his arms wide and invited an inspection of his body, which at 42 still comes in at his UFC 1 fighting weight (175 pounds) and just two weeks ago allowed him on a whim to run 41 miles from Seal Beach to Laguna Beach and nearly all the way back.

He arrived in Las Vegas this week from his home on the Palos Verdes Peninsula to be feted this weekend as UFC celebrates its own long run, an event that culminates not only in the 100th show but dates to the "quest" that Gracie's father, Helio, and his uncle Carlos pushed in Brazil to determine which fighting style was superior.

The Gracies believed their Brazilian jujitsu self-defense techniques were unbeatable. Helio announced, "Give me the right leverage, and I can lift the world." Helio's academies were popular and lucrative in Brazil, Royce said, and the interest in establishing the most effective fighting style led to the pursuit of a no-holds-barred, "no rules" contest including wrestlers, boxers and karate black-belts.

Royce, one of nine Gracies, moved to California as a teenager with his brother Rorion and became the family's chosen one when Rorion and others created the eight-fighter UFC tournament in 1993. Royce, wearing a white kimono suit, won UFC 1 by defeating a boxer, 220-pound wrestler Ken Shamrock and a karate specialist in matches with no time limit that ended "when someone quit or passed out," Royce said.

"Our entire country's name was built on that fighting style," Gracie said. "If I had doubts, I would've never walked into the ring. I knew they could not beat me."

Brazilian light-heavyweight challenger Mauricio "Shugun" Rua stopped in his tracks Friday to shake Gracie's hand. Rua first practiced at a Gracie academy in Brazil, and calls Royce and his family "the root of the sport."

Gracie oversees about 50 Gracie academies worldwide, spending six months on the road passing on lessons in seminars.

Much has changed in UFC, including states' regulation of the sport. Gracie said the UFC has developed from a style-versus-style battle to "athlete versus athlete, usually decided by who's done their homework better." In 2006, he last fought in the UFC and was defeated by Matt Hughes, who passed his welterweight title to St-Pierre.

Gracie won his most recent fight, at the Coliseum in 2007, but tested positive for the steroid nandrolone and was suspended by the California State Athletic Commission for one year. He denies the accuracy of the test, claiming he has proved he doesn't need excessive muscle to win fights.

"My favorite fighters are St-Pierre and [middleweight champ] Anderson Silva because they use strategy, they know how to use this," he said, pointing to his head.

Gracie maintains he needs only to tell UFC President Dana White he wants to fight again, and, for the right money, a return fight will happen. White secured Gracie a ringside seat to UFC 100.

"I just need the itch," Gracie said, shaking his hands to indicate what he meant. "I don't feel the itch right now, but I could. I know where the itch lives, he's still there. As soon as I tell him, he'll join me. I'm expensive, but I'll fill seats -- 97,000 a few years ago in Japan. People want to see me."

Etc.

Lesnar weighed in at the heavyweight-limit 265 pounds for his title-fight rematch tonight with Frank Mir, the submission specialist who weighed in at 245. Both welterweight champion St-Pierre and Thiago Alves weighed in at the class limit, 170 pounds, a big accomplishment for Alves, who weighs nearly 200 outside of training camp. . . . Nevada State Athletic Commission officer Keith Kizer said St-Pierre's corner will be forbidden to touch the fighter after the walk-in as part of new UFC restrictions following complaints by the defeated B.J. Penn that St-Pierre was slathered in Vaseline during his January win.

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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