By Ken Pishna, MMAWeekly.com
His legend is immeasurable, possibly vaster than his actual record warrants, but let’s face it, when you mention the name Gracie everyone knows what you’re talking about. Prelude that surname with Royce and visions of the most dangerous beanpole to walk the Earth come to mind. But at 39 years of age and only his fifth mixed martial arts bout in the past decade coming up, is the legendary career of Royce Gracie coming to its conclusion?

That’s what many people are saying, including MMAWeekly’s own Ryan Bennett… and he has a knack for figuring these things out… and his inside track as a commentator for K-1 doesn’t hurt either. Now, I don’t know if Bennett really has any inside info or not, but he’s usually pretty accurate on these situations.

Of course, Royce is paired up with a fighter that, while decent, he should be able to handle. Hideo Tokoro is known as a solid submission wrestler with a strong arsenal of leg attacks, but he’s also usually fighting at or around 145 pounds. Royce on the other hand is more than known for his submissions; his whole life has been based on his submission abilities. Oh yeah, he weighs in at about 185-190 pounds these days.

Really, what chance does Tokoro fair against Royce? He does possess decent stand-up skills, but really what are the odds that he’ll be able to do what no other fighter in the world has done and knock out Royce? The only top level fighter that Tokoro has taken to task is Alexandre Nogueira earlier this year. That was definitely an impressive win, knocking Nogueira out with a spinning back fist, but Royce is a much bigger man and presents an entirely different set of obstacles to overcome, not the least of which is his experience.

Royce fought in the very first UFC. Actually, the UFC was originally created to showcase his family’s style of martial arts… Gracie Jiujitsu… and it worked well. In little more than one year, he won 3 one-night tournaments including UFC 2 where he won four fights in a single night. Royce has defeated the likes of Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Kimo, Keith Hackney, Pat Smith, and more… and that was before he started fighting in Japan.

Since debuting at Pride with a win over Nobuhiko Takada, Royce has fought a legendary bout with Kazushi Sakuraba that went six rounds over 90 minutes ending with Royce’s corner throwing in the towel. He lost a controversial grappling match with Hidehiko Yoshida, then had a time-limit draw with Yoshida although he was manhandling the much larger Judoka under MMA rules. Most recently, he submitted the gigantic Chad “Akebono” Rowan at last year’s K-1 New Year’s Eve show.

Interestingly, with Tokoro, Royce will finally be the larger fighter in the ring. He has always had to face competition that has outweighed him and usually substantially so. With Royce probably being in better physical shape now than he usually was back in his UFC days, it will be interesting to see how he uses his strength and size advantage. It almost sounds as if Royce is finally getting a break, but then again, that is why they fight the fight right?

Despite the size advantage, Royce can’t afford to overlook anyone in this day and age of well-trained fighters at nearly every level… and I don’t think he has at all. Royce arrived very early in Japan, I believe two weeks prior to the event, with a camp that includes both Royler and Rodrigo Gracie. He’s taking his preparations very seriously and despite Tokoro being a last minute substitute, Royce should be ready.

The odds are stacked highly in his favor and if I’m putting money down on this one, I would say Royce will win and win handily. But to me, it just doesn’t have that career-ending feel about it. Not after the career that Royce has had.

Do I think that if this is not the end that we will see Royce cap his career with a final match against Ken Shamrock? No, especially not after Shamrock has recently resigned with the UFC. But I don’t see him ending his career against Hideo Tokoro either. I think he will end things on a much larger note than Tokoro. I could see him facing Yoshida one more time, or even Sakuraba… now that could be one for the ages.