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The Gracie name has long been synonymous with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Rorion Gracie was one of its founders. Royce Gracie was its first superstar.
But Renzo Gracie, despite a long and accomplished career in mixed martial arts, has never managed to make it to the sport's largest promotion.
He'll get that chance in April, however, when he meets former welterweight champion Matt Hughes at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Gracie helped broker a deal that was finalized earlier this year that led to the UFC selling a 10 percent ownership stake to the Abu Dhabi-based Flash Entertainment. His reward, if you will, is a six-fight contract in the UFC. He's now 42 and closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but he's as excited as a 21-year-old making his professional debut. "The UFC is the ultimate," Gracie said at a news conference in Abu Dhabi last month to officially announce UFC 112. "This is where it counts. My family helped create the UFC so I always wanted to fight here. It was important that I fight in the UFC in my career.
"I've wanted to fight in the UFC for a long, long time. But over the last few years I needed to clear up my life – my business – before I could concentrate 100 percent on training for the UFC. And you need to be a full-time, 100 percent of the time, athlete to fight in the UFC but my businesses needed my attention until recently.
"There was a time when I was training people six and seven days a week, with classes all day, plus being a husband and a father and I could not train myself to where I needed to be to fight in the UFC. Now, though, all I have to do is get ready for Matt Hughes. That's my life for the next [several] weeks: Getting ready to beat Hughes."
Gracie is very familiar with Abu Dhabi and has trained many of the Flash executives who wound up buying a stake in the UFC. He thinks that familiarity will give him a significant advantage over Hughes, who defeated Renzo's cousin, Royce Gracie, at UFC 60.
"Abu Dhabi is my second home," he said. "I've been coming here for 14 years, at least 10 times a year every year since 1996. When I first started coming, Abu Dhabi was basically a town, but every time you come here the skyline has completely changed. I am very at home here, I love the people, the food, the weather. I love it here.
"I know the people. I have friends, I have training partners already here that I can use in April. I have a lot of advantages that Matt Hughes will not have. He is coming to my house. This will be like fighting in my hometown. I am going to come out a couple of weeks before the event and get used to the time change. I think Matt Hughes is going to feel like he's a million miles from home, and I am very happy about that."
With that, let's get to your questions and comments and my replies in this week's edition of the MMA mailbag:
After watching Chael Sonnen manhandle Nate Marquardt Saturday at UFC 109, I have to question the UFC's matchmaking. Congratulations to Chael, but I have minimal interest in an Anderson Silva-Sonnen showdown outside of seeing the return of Anderson. Quite regularly, the UFC is missing interesting title fights in their attempts to determine a No. 1 contender. Since Anderson Silva became middleweight champion the following fighters have been eliminated from contention: Michael Bisping, Nate Marquardt, Dan Henderson, Yushin Okami and Ryo Chonan. All of these challengers had been built up and marketed to be both interesting fights and fights that could draw a strong audience only to lose (or be let to sign with another organization) before getting their shot. We have been treated to last resort opponents like Thales Leites, Patrick Cote and now Sonnen, all fighters who have less name recognition. I understand that they want to offer a true No. 1 contender, but this is also a business and selling the fights that interest fans is the point. Shouldn't UFC president Dana White and matchmaker Joe Silva be questioning their matchmaking a little more?
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Chris, I disagree with much of your premise. First, let's not overlook the fact that Henderson and Marquardt have already had title opportunities against Silva and were beaten. Marquardt was stopped in the first round and Henderson in the second. But more than that, fights against guys like Chonan and Okami would have only interested the most hard core of fans, who comprise about 2 percent or less of the audience. Bisping would have had a title shot, but he was knocked out by Henderson. Now, you can suggest that he shouldn't have fought Henderson and should have gone straight to a title bout. However, I think that's getting too close to the mistakes that boxing routinely makes, protecting challengers, giving them easy fights and then putting them into title matches. At 185, Bisping had wins over Charles McCarthy, Jason Day and Chris Leben, which I don't believe earns one a right to face Silva. Had he beaten Henderson, he would have, but that's part of the sport. I think they're doing the right thing by forcing challengers to take, and win, tough fights.
Sonnen not qualified
Chael Sonnen is the biggest hype job in a long time. Yes, he might have the style to beat Silva. So did Dan Henderson and he didn't do it. Let's face it: Chael Sonnen is no Henderson. Nate almost finished this guy a couple of times. Silva will explode on him with pinpoint shots and put him to sleep like he has everybody else. I think Silva will have to fight at 205 to be challenged, just like welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre will have to fight at middleweight and lightweight champion B.J. Penn will have to fight at welterweight. Sonnen just talked his way into getting knocked out. Silva probably will punish him ’cause he talks too much.
Sonnen nearly was submitted, but the impressive thing is that he managed to fight through it and won a tough fight. Yes, he talked a lot, but he backed up his words. Can he do it against Silva? Well, it's unlikely. But Silva first has to win a tough fight against Vitor Belfort at UFC 112.
Keep it up, Chael
I'm sure I wasn't the only one surprised by Chael Sonnen's recent upset of Nate Marquardt. But more intriguing to me were his verbal attacks on Anderson Silva. I hope he continues to go all out in his almost pro-wrestling style of fight promotion for his shot at Silva. Maybe he'll copy Silva's interview style, whispering little comments to his coach, Matt Lindland, with Lindland relaying the response to the press. That would be fantastic.
You're one of the few I've heard from, Fritz, who appreciated Sonnen's trash talking. I got a kick out of it, frankly, and give him credit for backing up his boastful talk. And he isn't about to stop. After the fight on Saturday, he said he's got a lot more ammunition to use on Silva.
'The Hammer' doesn't belong
Kevin, I'm going to say what everyone was thinking BEFORE UFC 109: Mark Coleman should not be inside the cage any longer, much less headlining a UFC event. I was shocked when they put him into the Hall of Fame.
I would argue with you about his inclusion into the Hall of Fame, Matt. He accomplished enough in the early days of the UFC and in PRIDE to deserve that. But I can't argue with the notion he didn't deserve to meet Randy Couture in the main event of UFC 109. At the prefight news conference, Coleman said, "A win over Randy Couture means something." I completely agree, but for it to mean something, a fighter should have to earn the right to fight Couture. Coleman had beaten Stephan Bonnar at UFC 100. That was enough, in my mind, to earn him another UFC fight, but not enough to deserve a shot at Couture. Couture dominated Coleman and submitted him on Saturday, likely ending 'The Hammer's' UFC career.
Kevin, how in the world could Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields or former champion Robbie Lawler be ranked above UFC fighters Demian Maia or Chael Sonnen? Shields and Lawler are both very one-dimensional fighters and would get destroyed by half the middleweights in the UFC.
Fort Worth, Texas
Did you see Maia on Saturday, Joel? I think he looked pretty one-dimensional, as well. He tried to fight a standup fight with Dan Miller and certainly didn't appear to be the next Anderson Silva. I think Shields and Lawler would be in the mix with the other contenders in the UFC, with the possible exception of Vitor Belfort. I'm assuming you're referencing the MMA Weekly middleweight rankings but I'd suggest that Sonnen is going to shoot up when those rankings are updated given his impressive win over Marquardt.
Would Randy have a shot?
I'm a huge Randy Couture fan. I met him in Kirkuk, Iraq on his visit to the Air Force base there in 2007. Do you really think he would have a realistic chance to defeat either Lyoto Machida or Mauricio "Shogun" Rua without getting hurt? I think it was a great move to heavyweight after Liddell knocked him out. He just couldn't get out of the way of punches and doesn't take them well. Now that Brock Lesnar is the heavyweight champion, and Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez are dominant forces in the division, light heavyweight is where he seems to belong. At his age, he is in tremendous shape. He is very strong and is a dominant wrestler and an excellent dirty boxer. The problem in my mind is that when he is in the middle of the ring he is slow and very hittable. You can be strong at 46, but your head cannot take that kind of punishment. I sure wouldn't want to see him get hurt. He is too valuable to the UFC. I think there is a place for him in the UFC. Rematches with Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell, in terms of money and fan interest, are there but I don't think he should fight the top two guys.
Machida and Rua are meeting in a rematch for the light heavyweight belt on May 8 at UFC 113 in Montreal. It's not out of the question that Couture could fight the winner. Do I think he has a chance? Yes. Do I think he has a very good chance? Yes. Do I think he'll beat either? No, particularly not Machida. But that's why they fight the fights. He's clearly better at 205 than he is at heavyweight. Since UFC 31, he's 4-4 at heavyweight and 6-3 at light heavyweight. Two of the light heavyweight losses were to Liddell; the other was a fluke, when he was cut on the eyelid by the seam of Vitor Belfort's glove in the first 45 seconds of the bout and the doctor stopped it. He dominated Belfort in the rematch. I believe he'd have a better chance against Rua than Machida, though I believe he'd be the underdog in either. In any event, though, I disagree with the notion his age is a factor or that he'd be in any kind of unusual danger.
What's the deal with Matt Serra being in a pink-slip situation going into his fight with Frank Trigg at UFC 109? He was champion two fights ago, and his fight with Matt Hughes at UFC 98 was a competitive one that he could have won. Look at Keith Jardine: He's lost quite a few, never held a belt, and somehow they keep him. I'm not a Serra fan at all, not by a stretch, but I don't understand why Serra has seen so little action lately, and now finds himself in this scenario.
He was not in danger of being cut, Michael, and his knockout over Trigg on Saturday keeps him in the mix. UFC president Dana White didn't rule out another fight with champion Georges St. Pierre. Injuries are the primary reason for his long stretches of inactivity.