Renzo Gracie, a key member of the generation of Gracies who dominated the 1990’s MMA land scape, will be making his UFC debut at UFC 112. He’ll be attempting to avenge his cousin Royce’s loss to Matt Hughes.
Since the majority of modern UFC fans have very little knowledge of Renzo’s storied career, I thought I’d do a quick re-cap of some of the highlights.
Renzo is the cousin of Royce, Rickson, and Royler Gracie and the brother of Ralph and the late Ryan Gracie. He is the grandson of Carlos Gracie, who was the first Gracie to learn judo/jiu jitsu from Mitsuyo Maeda.
Renzo burst onto the fighting scene in late 1995 when he won the World Combat Championship’s eight man tournament in 1995. WCC was the first attempt to compete head to head with the UFC on American PPV. Renzo blitzed through a tough field that included pro boxer James Waring and judoka Ben Spijkers. I talked about that event in MMA History VIII: From Russia With Leglocks.
Next he defeated UFC VI tournament champ Oleg Taktarov at MARS in 1996. This fight featured the first modern era KO via upkick when Renzo caught Taktarov leaning down and leaving his chin exposed. I posted the video of that fight in MMA History XII: The End of the UFC Glory Days.
Then in 1997, Renzo headlined one of the most infamous MMA events ever — Pentagon Combat in Rio de Janeiro. The event was backed by some very wealthy Arab backers and brought many of the biggest names in the world to Rio. Unfortunately Renzo’s headlining fight with arch-nemesis Eugenio Tadeau, a champion of the luta livre school of fighting, ended in a no contest when the fans rioted outside the cage. I wrote that one up in MMA History XIV: Boom and Bust in Brazil.
From there Renzo rolled into the RINGS King of Kings tournament in 1999, notching a win over former UFC champ Maurice Smith along the way. He suffered his first pro loss to Kiyoshi Tamura in the quarter-final round of the tournament via decision.
Although Tamura handed him his first loss, it took Kazushi “Gracie Hunter” Sakuraba to really score a clear, indisputable win over Renzo when he broke Gracie’s arm with a kimura. This was part of Sakuraba’s famous run of Gracie beating, having already beaten Royler and Royce already and he’d later go on to also defeat Renzo’s brother Ryan.
The losses to Tamura and Sakuraba were part of a disappointing 5-5-1 run for Renzo in Japan from 2000 to 2003. By the end of that run he was no longer considered one of the world’s top mixed martial artists.
But he remained a popular figure and continued to fight in high profile fights against opponents like B.J. Penn, Pat Miletich, Carlos Newton, and Frank Shamrock. Bringing us to where we are today with Renzo aiming to avenge his cousin Royce’s loss to Matt Hughes at UFC 112.
Renzo is probably the most beloved of his generation of Gracies by the MMA community. In contrast to his cousins, he never insisted on long lists of conditions and special rules and faced probably the toughest competition of any Gracie in the 1990s.
Legacy, a great documentary about Renzo’s career came out last year. I’ve included the trailer in the full entry.
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