A London-based Jiu-Jitsu professor, Roger Gracie is going through a special moment in life.
Having signed with the UFC in January, the 31-year-old middleweight has two months to go until the birth of his first daughter, Maya. In the meantime, Roger is planning his routine for a new stage in his career: the life of UFC athlete.
Over the phone from England, the three-time absolute world champion of Jiu-Jitsu spoke of his plans and explained the arm-and-neck choke that sent him through to the UFC and the changes to his career from here on out.
GRACIEMAG.com: First, the unprecedented. Is it true that a slippery floor tile nearly knocked you out before the fight?
ROGER GRACIE: It’s true. It was a few hours before the Jan. 11 weigh-ins for Strikeforce in Oklahoma. I was doing my last sauna and tub session to make weight and slipped, fell flat on my face on the ground. It opened up a big cut on my forehead. I was fortunate that I was already at weight when I got out of the Jacuzzi. If I’d had to sweat any more it would have been rough because of the cut. Renzo [Gracie] quickly calmed me down and went to the pharmacy to buy Super Glue. We glued my forehead together, put a discreet Band-Aid on it and went to weigh in. The Strikeforce medic was suspicious, but since it looked like an old training cut, he let it pass (laughs).
And what went through your head when you went in to fight Anthony Smith knowing the cut could open at any moment?
Well, Renzo warned me that as soon as I’d grab onto the guy, in clinch or on the ground, the cut would probably open up. I knew that if he’d touch it there it would open, so that made me all the faster on the ground. In the first round, he didn’t land a punch, which calmed me down. In the second, when I landed on top, I felt three drops of blood come out. I got kind of worried the ref might notice and the doctor could stop the fight… But I managed to tap him out quick.
You tend to only leave mount when you’re sure you’ve got a hold in place in MMA. Did you feel the hold was 100 percent in?
The moment I took him down I went straight to pressuring him with my shoulder on his neck, and I could feel his breathing getting kind of iffy. I kept smothering him, got my arms in place and had faith it would pan out, and it did.
After finishing him did it strike you that you were through to the UFC? Did you think about that?
I was pleased that everything had gone well. But even before the fight, my manager, the famous Jorge Guimarães, had already put me at ease about that. “Joinha” is always talking with the folks at the UFC, and he told me that I was practically in. It was great to win, but I think I would have made it in anyways so long as I didn’t have a really bad fight. The UFC will likely absorb everybody. Even so, I’ve only got one fight left on my contract, so now we have to work on getting it renewed. After we sign, then we’ll think about opponents, if just because that’s the routine for a fighter, right? They could call on me to fight next month to substitute someone, or four months from now. You never know. All I know is I have to be trained and ready.
You’re always really calm. Does anything change in your mind now you’re in the UFC?
These days there aren’t any dilettantes in MMA anymore, much less in the UFC. So if I chose this to be part of my life, I know I have to dedicate myself to being the best I can be. If Strikeforce was tough, the UFC is even tougher, since the level is a lot higher and there are a lot more athletes with different games and strengths in my weight class. There’s a lot of competition. To think that with my Jiu-Jitsu I’ll go in there and tap everyone out is an exaggeration. I have to train a lot, learn more and improve in a number of aspects.
That means your training routine is going to change, right?
Yes. I understand that now I need to do all-around training to not stop progressing. So far I’ve been satisfied with the training I’ve been doing alone in London for most of the season, but now I know I have to spend a lot more time in New York with Renzo and in Los Angeles at Black House.
Is there anyone in particular you have in mind as an opponent to move you up the ranks in your weight division? Or are you in no hurry?
I’m in no hurry? I’ll take on anyone. Truth is, I don’t really have a choice. At Strikeforce I couldn’t pick, so in the UFC there’s no way. In Jiu-Jitsu we can start with a seemingly easy match and go working your way up. In the UFC you could very well be facing a former divisional champion for your debut fight.
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