Igor Gracie: Like Many of His Namesake, Choosing Own Path Led to Competition, MMA David Massey March 18, 2013 UFC Upcoming World Series of Fighting 2 competitor Igor Gracie is part of the famed Gracie family of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners. He’s a second-degree black belt, holder of multiple medals in jiu-jitsu competition, and a teacher of the art of jiu-jitsu at his cousin’s gym, the Renzo Gracie Academy in New York City. He does it because he fell in love with the lifestyle, not because he was pressured into competing based on his last name. And he only needed to look to the people nearest to him for inspiration to bring that level of passion and success into MMA. “I started as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor and then migrated to MMA. I thought it was the evolution. I thought it was the next step,” said Gracie in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “I moved to New York and Renzo [Gracie], Ricardo Almeida, Rodrigo Gracie—all those guys—were fighting in Pride, and I was watching them close. I grew up looking up to them, and I wanted to be just like them. I want to get up there and also fight in a big show like Pride.” Gracie (Keith Mills/Sherdog) So that became the next goal for Gracie, who has spent the last 10 years living in New York. With only eight fights on his professional record, Gracie has already competed under the banners of some of the most well-known MMA organizations, including one-fight stints with Bellator and Strikeforce. His last fight, however, was in the Philippines for Asia’s largest MMA promotion, ONE FC. It was a hard-fought loss against Jung Hwan Cha that saw Gracie thoroughly tested standing and on the ground, but eventually fading in the third and losing by TKO. “Everybody says this for every fight, ‘oh I was in the best shape of my life,’ but it was very frustrating because I literally was in the best shape of my life,” Gracie explained. “My training camp was very, very good. It was one of the best training camps I ever had. But it was my first time fighting overseas. It was a couple hours time difference. So, I don’t know if I stopped my training camp a little bit too early because of traveling pending before going there. “When you get tired in a fight, then you lose because you got tired. That is what was frustrating. Especially because I was riding a four-fight win streak and losing that way—I felt very sad. I went back and I saw went wrong, so I’m just fixing that so it won’t happen again.” Gracie had won four fights by submission, with three ending in the first round, leading up to the loss. Many fans might believe that Gracie was simply making an excuse for himself, or they tire of hearing athletes explain how they are always in great shape for their next fight, but those fans might not understand the whole story. For professional athletes, competing and training is a full-time job, and more so, many onlookers might not understand that it is a way of life. It’s not just relevant for the time they see them in the cage. “Jiu-jitsu is not like a martial art. It is a lifestyle,” Gracie said. “Once you start training and engaging with it, it will change your whole life, changing your diet, changing the way you act, changing your perspective—your life. You can’t only care about the training, you can only have the full experience once you start training, and then you get into it.” Part of that lifestyle is the diet and the associated weight cut, which can be the hardest part of MMA, perhaps even harder than the actual fight itself. Watch everything you eat for a couple months without allowing yourself to splurge, and maybe you’d better understand how it feels to triumph or fail in the cage. That preparation is important to a good-sized welterweight like Gracie, who walks around at about 193 pounds. “It is always hard. It’s like a six-week diet,” he explained. “Six weeks to the fight, I start changing up my diet, and then I start counting carbs. That’s the most important thing. You have to count the carbs you eat. I just eat clean and eat very few carbs a night. I eat most of my carbs in the morning and lunchtime. When nighttime comes, I start slowing down the carbs and then the weight starts shedding. Then I get down to 185, and 183, and then, the week before the fight, I lost a few more pounds and then just cut the water weight. And you’re good to go.” Diet is an integral part of the Gracie jiu-jitsu lifestyle, one where greasy foods are never on the menu since they “take a toll on the body” and actually have a negative effect on an athlete’s body during training. But the days after a fight, that’s a different story. “After the fight, I eat as much as I can,” Gracie said. “We usually get food and keep eating more and more until we get tired of eating. “When I have a fight, you cannot eat [unhealthy]; it’s different. If I eat [like that], I will not make weight. It’s very tempting. It’s hard because I have a girlfriend at the house and she’s getting groceries, and you see all that stuff she’s eating and you want some. It’s always hard.” Splurging for a fighter like Gracie has a completely different meaning compared to fans that can snack on fatty foods and drink beer while watching him compete. Fans will get that chance this coming Saturday when Gracie makes his World Series of Fighting debut at WSOF 2 against 4-1 Richard Patishnock. His upcoming opponent is where Gracie’s thoughts are focused at the moment. “He’s a very aggressive fighter,” said Gracie. “He likes to come in straight. I’m going to be working on my movement. Of course, I’m always trying to take the fight down to the ground—that will also be my goal. There’s no script, there’s no mystery. He knows what I’m trying to do. For sure, he’s been training takedown defense to try to keep it standing. He thinks he may have the advantage on the feet, but we’ll see how that goes.” Gracie (top) controls his opponent (Dave Mandel/Sherdog) Some fans who might not be familiar with Igor but know his last name would assume that a victory by submission is a likely outcome. But if you’ve seen some of Gracie’s fights, you’d know he is comfortable on the feet. Just ask famed striking coach Jason Strout. “We’re working a lot of trying to implement my takedowns and move to my Muay Thai and keeping the stance low,” Gracie said. “[Strout] is an awesome coach. I’m also working my boxing with Mark Henry, which is Frankie Edgar’s boxing coach. That’s also coming along well. If I can’t take the fight down, we’ll stand and fight. “Those days when you come out there and know I’m going to clinch and take him down right away—those days are over. Everybody is good all around. So, I get into a fight wherever the fight goes. If I can’t take the person down, I’ll just stay standing. That’s why I’ve been working a lot on my striking—my Muay Thai and boxing.” Of course, we all know Gracie’s bread and butter, but his point is one that’s grounded in common sense. One cannot simply excel in only a single area if they hope for success in MMA. For example, there’s the criticism of Gracie’s tendency to keep his hands low while engaging in a striking battle. “I’m working on that,” Gracie answered with a good laugh. “I’m trying to keeping them as high as possible now.” This Saturday, Gracie will continue to make a name for himself, but he will always be associated with the legacy of his late father, Rolls. Rolls Gracie is known as the father of modern jiu-jitsu for breaking off from Gracie tradition by adapting other arts, such as sambo and judo, to evolve his jiu-jitsu practice. His great influence also popularized the open guard in jiu-jitsu competition, leaving a lasting legacy felt to this day. Tragically, Rolls perished in a hang-gliding accident at 31. Igor is now 33, and if you compare their pictures, you will find he is the spitting image of his father. Naturally, Igor is his own man, but he will always carry the spirit of his father in competition by birthright. But again, Gracie emphasizes that he is here because it is his choice, not his family’s. “It’s a very unique pleasure to be able to carry on my father’s legacy,” Gracie confessed. “I never want to compare myself with him, but I know he was a great athlete. Everybody that talks about him just say that he was a phenom. I’m just happy to be able to carry on the legacy of the whole family. No pressure. I don’t do it because I feel pressure to do it; I do it because I like it. I don’t want to measure myself through anything else than teaching, training, fighting and competing. “The family has over 200 members, and only a few are competing. You don’t [have to] compete if you are a Gracie. A lot of people think, ‘oh, you are a Gracie; you are obligated to compete. They force you to train? They force you to fight, right?’ No, that’s not true. It’s the opposite. My mom always made me go to school. I went to law school and other stuff. “I chose my own path.” Igor would like to thank Jackal Clothing. His training partners at Ricardo Almeida Gym. Frankie Edgar. And his coaches and brothers Top Photo: Igor Gracie (Dave Mandel/Sherdog) Chris It must be incredibly hard to be a Gracie in MMA today. There are so many expectations that come with your last name, the pressure to live up to that name must be tremendous. David MMA Corner Hey Chris thanks for reading. We talked a bit about that, and really, only a handful of Gracies compete in MMA with it being such a large family. To your point, it probably is a lot to live up to, especially for Igor with a father like Rolls. But he really wanted to emphasize that the family doesn’t put that pressure on themselves, though the fans might expect a certain level of success. The ones that train and compete are definitely there cause they want to be.