by Tom Hamlin for MMAWeekly.com
LONG BEACH, CALIF. – Mixed martial arts forefather Royce Gracie treated a group of American and Japanese press to an open training session for his rematch with fellow legend Kazushi Sakuraba.
After rolling, kicking, and punching with members of his affiliated school, Neutral Grounds, Gracie took a breather to give his thoughts on the upcoming bout.
“I’m on schedule,” Gracie said confidently. “This time I’m pacing myself.”
His last fight, a rout at the hands of Matt Hughes at UFC 60, was a stark reminder of the evolution of MMA. Gracie claimed his preparation for the bout was the fatal mistake.
“I peaked too early,” Gracie said. “I overtrained. It wasn’t the technique; it wasn’t being in shape, just missed timing. Everybody that watched that fight said, man, you were not present. You didn’t show up. Anyone’s entitled to lose when you’re put to the test.”
Overall, Gracie was nonchalant when he learned he would be facing his old foe again. “Ok,” he recounted. “Good. I’m not looking for revenge. We had a fight before…it’s not like I can’t sleep at night. It’s a totally new fight. New Royce Gracie, old style.”
In a teleconference after the training session, Elite XC President Gary Shaw revealed that the formal rules for the bout had not been set. While it was understood that rounds would clock in at the standard 5-minute mark, the number of total rounds was under review. Shaw mentioned the possibility of a 5 round encounter, taking a modest step to simulate the epic timeframe of their previous meeting, but concluded that many of the specifics would be decided in the next few weeks. Also undecided was the use of elbows.
The most pressing concern is the California State Athletic Commission’s approval of Sakuraba for the June 2nd bout. Sakuraba has been ordered to report for his medicals three days in advance of a May 24th deadline for all foreign fighters. At 37, Sakuraba not only requires additional medical scrutiny per the CSAC, but also has a documented episode of head trauma as a result of combat sports. Should the CSAC’s requisite MRI scan reveal any questionable medical conditions, it seems clear the commission would bar him from fighting on California soil.
Gracie is unconcerned about Sakuraba’s health. “That’s all rumors. The guy’s fine. They can go ahead and do whatever medicals. The guy’s a fighter. If he doesn’t pass, hey I’m not worried about that, but I have faith that he’ll pass. He’s been doing this long enough. If he wasn’t ready, if he wasn’t going to pass, he’s pulled out from fights before, he would have pulled out from this one.”
In the same vein, Shaw seemed confident that Gracie would pass, but admitted that there was no back-up plan should Sakuraba fail his medicals. “We don’t have a second opponent lined up,” he said bluntly. “I think that’s bad karma for me and the way I deal in business. Hopefully, everybody that we have is in top shape and is medically cleared to fight. Obviously, everybody knows my reputation. I would not put anyone in to fight that is not medically cleared or has any injury. As of right now, I am told that he [Sakuraba] is in excellent health and that there is no problem and that he will clear the medicals. So, the direct answer: there is no contingency plan at this moment.”
As for Royce, the prospect of performing in front of 70,000 fans (revised down from 92,000) was the spark to rekindle the excitement of the original meeting of legends. “It’s the biggest event in the United States,” Gracie said with a smile. “So just being a part of that will reproduce the impact of a ninety some minutes fight back in 2000.”