by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
When the UFC announced plans to go to Abu Dhabi for an event, it only made sense that one of the legends of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a fighter who has called Abu Dhabi his second home, should make his return to action on the card.
Enter one Renzo Gracie.
The Brazilian has longstanding ties with Abu Dhabi, having traveled there several times in the last 14 years. Gracie says he was there 11 times in 2009 alone, and the government in Abu Dhabi just recently brought over 100 Brazilians to teach jiu-jitsu in their school systems as well.
Gracie, after a two-plus year layoff, will make his Octagon debut in Abu Dhabi this Saturday night at UFC 112 as he faces former welterweight champion Matt Hughes. It was a simple conversation over dinner that brought Gracie to the UFC, and he was happy to accept.
“It was just a chat over dinner,” Gracie explained when appearing on MMAWeekly Radio recently. “It was me, Lorenzo (Ferttita), the Sheik, and Dana. Lorenzo looked at me and he goes, ‘what about you, do you think about going back?’”
That’s all it took and Gracie said he immediately started cutting weight, dropping over 30 pounds, and prepared for his return to fighting. When he signed on with the UFC, Gracie said he only had one request, and it wasn’t for more money, more publicity or anything of that nature.
“In reality I only had one demand when I shook hands with them because we actually just signed the contract just shaking hands over dinner that day,” Gracie said. “I only had one demand, I don’t want to fight no tomato cans, no warm-up fight. I want to fight tough people from the beginning.”
The tough fights were surely offered, and Gracie was happy with the choice of opponents they gave him.
“They go to me ‘what about Matt Hughes? Is that tough enough for you?’” said Gracie. “They gave me the honor of facing Matt Hughes, definitely a guy I admire a lot.”
Gracie admits to running into Hughes a few different times over the years, but actually declining the former welterweight champion’s offers to train together because he had a feeling this day would come.
“In reality I always thought that I could face him,” said Gracie. “I saw a champion in him the first time I saw him. I saw someone who really wanted it, and the desire (that’s) in the soul of every champion, and he had it.
“I wasn’t wrong, I was right. Thank God, destiny put us and our paths to cross, and we’re going to be facing each other.”
Despite Gracie having a submission win over Hughes’ former coach Pat Miletich, and Hughes defeating Gracie’s cousin Royce a few years ago, Renzo says there is no bad blood at all between the two going into this fight and it’s all about competition.
Gracie did however have the advantage in his camp of bringing in Georges St-Pierre and Matt Serra, who combined have faced Hughes a total of four times. He says their knowledge was invaluable for the bout at UFC 112.
“His point of view is incredible, he’s an unbelievable guy, a very kind guy, and very technical,” Gracie said about working with GSP. “I did a lot of training with Matt Serra too, and they both help me put my head in the right mindset, and my body in the right direction to be able to pull out a victory in this one.”
Having no illusions about coming back after such a long layoff, Gracie is just ready to compete again and facing Hughes is exactly the challenge he was looking for.
“I know it’s going to be tough. I’m not expecting nothing easy, but I’m looking forward to this fight,” said Gracie. “I really want to see how my body reacts after two and a half years.”