Throughout all of sports history we can remember when the combination of talent and innovation took the sport by storm and rest of the world needed to catch up.
These individuals were complete game changers and were leading confidently into the unknown territory of the sport. Boxing had Muhammad Ali, Basketball Michael Jordan and the MMA had the Gracie Family.
The humble beginnings of modern MMA are forever remembered through the dominance of one particular style, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
Royce and Rickson Gracie caught the fighting world off guard by demonstrating this highly effective and mystical technique of fighting which will dominate over any other martial arts back in the days.
Most of the fans remember Royce Gracie through his domination inside the UFC octagon. However, it appears that the myth and the legacy of his half-brother Rickson are unknown among modern fans. Rickson is considered the toughest Gracie of all time.
To be absolutely honest, Rickson never received deserved credit for his remarkable accomplishments. This pioneer of mixed martial arts is directly responsible for the mainstream growth that we’re witnessing today. Allow me to put it this way: Rickson Gracie is the modern-day Bruce Lee!
This is why you should know more about Rickson Gracie if you are a fan of MMA.
Groomed To Be BJJ Master
Rickson Gracie was predestined for success! Born on November 21, 1958, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Rickson grow up observing his father carefully developing the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu from scratch.
While other kids typically played with toy cars, Rickson was rolling on the mat and adopting the positive grappling philosophy and tradition carried out by his father and cousins. Being raised in a gym helped him to early develop a competitive mindset which will bring him a ton of success in the future.
Considering he made first footsteps on the mat and was educated by grappling Masters rather than teachers, it’s not a surprise that Rickson started participating in Jiu-jitsu tournaments at the age of six.
In the following years, his rare talent got more evident and incredible physical strength more obvious. His father Helio was there to successfully put the wild adolescent years under direct control, and focus on maximizing his son’s potential.
At the age of 18, Rickson already received a black belt around his waist and was naturally seeking greater accomplishments.
Thinking about their childhoods, it seems like Royce and Rickson were assigned by MMA Gods for a special mission. A mission that will perceive them changing the world of the fighting game!
Rickson’s BJJ Domination
Despite the fact that he could be overconfident at times and even look arrogant, when it comes to honor and discipline in the grappling world, Rickson was the true example of the martial artist. By possessing the great knowledge and experience at such a young age, he conquered the world of Jiu-jitsu and had accomplished everything a grappler could in a short period of time.
He is the multiple BJJ World champion in different weight classes, and had also captured the gold on several wrestling tournaments.
What he was capable of doing to his rivals could be only expressed as poetry or art. Everything he performed looked so easy, without any difficulty whatsoever.
On many occasions, Rickson completely obliterated the opposition, making the most elite black belts looking like amateurs. It was obvious that being the best in the family was a greater challenge than winning tournaments, which his brother once confirmed:
Rickson could beat me in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu match with one hand tied to his backRoyce Gracie
What Was So Special About Rickson’s Style?
As a true pioneer of the sport, Rickson was an innovative person and not afraid of exploring the unknown techniques and always experimenting with his body. That said, he was directly responsible for bringing a lot of new elements in Jiu-jitsu.
From the beginnings, the movements in Jiu-jitsu were very mechanical, and this is where Rickson saw the opportunity for biggest improvements. He was always more muscular than others and much stronger on the mat.
Being deeply involved in the gymnastics and yoga clearly got him a significant advantage in flexibility and mindset which doesn’t recognize panic or any sort of fearsome behavior.
Although it may sound familiar today, moving with the flow and triggering animal instincts during the grappling exchanges was unknown back then.
By turning around towards the unconventional techniques and becoming more unpredictable, Rickson set the bar high. The ability to guide the movement of his rivals made him always in front and a difficult puzzle to solve.
Representing Jiu-jitsu On The Streets Of Brazil
Having the mission to properly promote Brazilian Jiu-jitsu as the most effective martial arts stamped into his genetic code, Rickson was traveling all over Brazil and challenging anybody to a fight.
If we’ve to point out one incident in his life which will mark the beginning of his popularity, that would be the famous “beach” incident.
At that particular time, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu was enjoying the rise along with another martial art, famous Luta Livre! The two techniques were on a collision course for a long time. It was just a matter of time before they collide.
While most Brazilians took pleasure in the sunbathing on Rio de Janerio beaches, Rickson showed up fight ready and encountered a Luta Livre master, Hugo Duarte. After a small argument, he slapped him and immediately, both fighters started scrambling on the Brazilian sand.
The fight went back and forth before Rickson unloaded with the ground and pound, forcing Duarte to give up. Shortly after, Duarte insisted on a rematch which will see the two battling for the second time but the result stayed the same. Instantly, this triggered a massive rivalry between the two martial arts which will go on for years, but, without the man who actually caused it.
Rather than letting Rickson wasting his talent and energy on the streets of Brazil. Helio Gracie realized that the sport needs to go beyond the borders of Brazil and had decided that Rickson and Rorion were the perfect ones to establish the first-ever Gracie Jiu-jitsu Academy in the US.
Rickson Was Skipped Over Royce
When the family had firmly decided to “attack” the newly created sport of mixed martial arts and prove once again that Jiu-jitsu is the most important of them all, it was obvious that Rickson, who was the strongest fighter in the family will play the key role.
However, Rorion Gracie deliberately selected the younger Royce to introduce the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to American people instead of Rickon who was the best in the family. The reason may be confused at first, but it speaks a lot about the Gracie family.
Royce was a much skinnier and looking more “fragile” compared to the UFC monsters at that time. The muscles of Rickson may produce a similar effect, but Royce would do a better job of emphasizing the art and not the fighter.
In 1993, Royce stormed though the UFC promotion by obliterating any style they’ve put in front of him. He scored three submissions on the same night, capturing the title in less than five minutes total.
The world was in shock! How could that skinny guy demolish the jacked and juiced UFC monsters with such ease! The strategy of Rorion produced the desired effect, and suddenly, everyone was searching for a place in which they could master this mysterious technique.
Rickson wasn’t jealous by any means! Like a true family, he was along with his brother, helping him in a mission that’s high above the personal media spotlight. Furthermore, Rickson would soon possibly face a considerably larger challenge!
The success of Jiu-jitsu in English-speaking countries only woke up the doubters across the ocean! Estimating that Japanese tradition and culture are key parts of Jiu-jitsu, Rickson Gracie was under much bigger pressure to deliver in the land of the rising sun.
Rickson Conquered MMA In Japan
In 1994, the fighting world got what it asked for! Rickson Gracie traveled to Japan and agreed to participate in their famous Vale Tudo tournament. In all fights, Rickson met different styles and specialist, however, he was born for this task, and they all went down spectacularly!
The first one to get locked into the rear-naked choke was the famous Daido-juku specialist Yoshinori Nishi, and the next victory against a much bigger wing chun practitioner Dave Levicki secured him a place in the finals.
Everybody thought that American Kickboxer, Bud Smith will put a strong resistance, but Rickson got the job done in 39 seconds and placed himself into the history books! Immediately, he got adopted by Japanese people as their new child!
After a one-year layoff, Rickson came back to the Vale Tudo Japan to face their wrestling star, Yoshihisa Yamamoto. For the first time in his successful career, he felt the taste of adversity early in the fight. However, like a true legend of the sport, Rickson found his way towards the victory shortly after.
The win over pro wrestler Koichiro Kimura launched him into the finals once again where he faced Yuki Nakai. The Japanese fighter put on a hell of a fight, but the Brazilian took his back and conquered the Japan soil once again by setting up the rear-naked choke.
Although he enjoyed much popularity, the Japanese had another challenge for him. In 1997 Rickson signed for the newly established PRIDE promotion.
The audience of 50.000 people came seeing the Brazilian dominating Nobuhiko Takada at PRIDE 1 and achieving the same thing against the same opponent at PRIDE 4.
The world went insane about him! However, Rickson always maintained his dignity, humbleness, and respect. At the end of the day, he did it to prove that Jiu-jitsu is the most effective fighting style, not because of money and fame.
Rickson vs Funaki Is The Last Fight
In May 2000, Rickson signed for the Colosseum promotion and agreed to take on their prospect, Masakatsu Funaki. Although Rickson scored yet another spectacular submission victory, in the hearts of the hardcore fans, the event has been carved as his last MMA performance.
The devastating loss of his son Rockson in January 2001 left him in pieces, and out of further competition.
Like only legends do, Rickson Gracie retired young, undefeated in BJJ and mixed martial arts.
The Greatest Grappler Of All Time
Rickson never cared about competing in BJJ championships. But it was well known in BJJ community that Rickson was the greatest grappler anyone witnessed. Many world-class BJJ practitioners have grappled with Rickson in the 90’s and they were all soundly defeated.
One well-documented story is when 15 years younger Saulo Ribeiro, who won 6 black belt world titles at the time, rolled at Rickson’s academy in the late 90’s and was easily defeated by Rickson. It’s important to note that Rickson is unbeaten in BJJ.
Rickson never sought recognition. But if anyone doubted Rickson’s BJJ skills, Rickson welcomed anyone to visit his dojo and roll with him.
Never Lost In MMA Fights
Rickson never lost in MMA fights. It’s been said Rickon’s fight record is 400-0 which includes official and unofficial fights. The only recorded loss comes from when Rickson had a Sambo match against Ron Tripp who’s was a high-level Sambo practitioner. However this loss is disputed because it was a Sambo tournament, it was not a BJJ match.
Rickson Receiving Legendary 9th Degree Red Belt
Instead of fighting and obsessively challenging fighters around the globe, Rickson switched his focus on much more relaxed things. A true master is not recognized by his battles only, but the unique ability to transfer the knowledge on younger generations.
For Rickson, this role came naturally and he typically spends his retirement days participating in seminars worldwide, and expanding the valuable knowledge.
In 2014, during the one particular seminar, a couple of family members and friends carefully approached Rickson from behind, carrying the famous 9th-degree red belt in their hands.
It was the first time Rickson had truly shown his emotions and instantly started crying. I mean, who wouldn’t? The man willingly sacrificed his entire life and devoted his body and soul for this memorable moment.
The Legacy Continues To Live On
The ultimate question is: how he will be remembered?
Many people try to diminish the legacy of Rickson Gracie by pointing out various controversies and moral arguments. Yes, he was rejecting a lot of fights and stated that his record stands for 400-0-0 at the same time. Also, the quality of competition was questionable at times, but is that a point?
As we mentioned above, Rickson Gracie had one goal in life and that is to show the world the effectiveness of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. As much as it was unknown during his rise, Jiu-jitsu became the fundamental aspect of modern-day MMA and is more popular than ever!
The world moves forward thanks to the innovators like Rickson, who dedicated their lives to prove their point and inspire the younger generations to do the same.
Speaking of younger generations, Kron Gracie followed his father’s footsteps and today stands for one of the biggest MMA prospects. He had already captured the ADCC World Championship gold and has competed in the UFC organization.
Watching him perform, we perceived an equal talent and potential which will without question be maximized under the eyes of the Master himself.