Last August, Rickson Gracie’s autobiography, Breathe: A Life in Flow, was released and reviewed by Bloody Elbow. Now the MMA legend has expanded on the secret he shared in that book—the true identity of his biological mother—on the Portuguese-language podcast, Trocação Franca.
“My uncle and my father had the intention to create a clan of fighters and, in order to do that, they couldn’t be limited to one relationship and two or three kids,” Rickson said. Famously, Carlos Gracie had 21 children with seven different women. Less famously, Helio Gracie had nine kids with his wife Margarida. Except not really.
Margarida, as it turns out, was unable to have children and was complicit in creating the public perception that Helio’s children were hers, going all the way to fake pregnancies with pillows.
Rickson felt that it was time to share his story. “I think that’s a truth that has to be told at some point. I didn’t know the reality when I was born. I always saw Margarida as my mother, completely, and didn’t see it any other way. I believed that up until I was 16. After I started connecting the dots and started to make things make more sense, I really understood that my real mother was a nanny that my father had for a long time. With [Margarida’s] agreement, they had a scheme that they had three kids.”
The nanny, a woman named Isabel, was also the biological mother of Rorion and Relson Gracie. In addition to the agreed upon situation with Isabel, Helio also had a secret family Margarida did not know about. While Rickson has been forthcoming about how all of this hurt Margarida, Rickson has never been able to get Isabel’s side of the story.
“After it was uncovered…we always treated her differently, as a unique nanny that later transformed into mother No. 2, you know? We treated her nicely, but she never opened up about that fact, never opened up about being our mother. We never spoke openly about it,” Gracie said. “The only time I tried to talk to her about it, I was already married, I think it was in 2006 or 2008, and she said no one in her family knew about that yet. She kept it a secret. Since she wanted it that way, I didn’t want to force anything by coming now as a new son.”
Helio’s other partner was a woman named Vera who worked at the Gracie Academy in Rio de Janeiro. One day Helio introduced Rickson to his four half brothers, Rolker, Royler, Royce, and Rerika. Later, Vera would have Ricci and Robin.
When Margarida learned of this secret family she fell into depression. “I saw that in my mom, even though she did it all for love, it got to a point where her depression, her sadness for not being able to satisfy him through her own powers, she felt like she didn’t succeed in the end. I felt a lack of joy as she got older, and that impacted me a lot. Thinking about it, seeing this relationship, that’s not something I wanted for my life. Even though I admired my father as an example, as a general…on the relationship side, I felt he lacked a bit.”
When asked how he was able to keep such a secret for so long, Rickson Gracie said, “I’m just a victim of the product.”
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