September 25, 2006

by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com (Photo courtesy of IFL/April Pishna)
It’s no secret that heading into this past weekend’s IFL event in Moline, Iowa that Renzo Gracie was a heavy underdog to returning fellow MMA legend Pat Miletich in their superfight.

Even though Gracie had remained more active over the past couple years inside the ring than Miletich, most reports out of Pat’s camp had him in the best shape he’d been in, in years and extremely focused on the fight.

Couple this with the fact that Renzo had lost six of his last seven bouts and had looked decidedly sluggish in his most recent bout against BJ Penn in July of ’05, and many felt it was to be Miletich’s night this past Saturday.

And while Pat was ready and fought hard, it was Renzo’s calm and cool demeanor, a staple of the Gracie family fighters, which helped him secure a guillotine choke 3:37 into Round 1.

Gracie’s success is of course by no means unprecedented. From 1992-2000 Renzo was a force to be reckoned with going undefeated in his first 11 bouts, winning nine with one no contest and one draw.

During that stretch Gracie had defeated some of the best fighters ever in the sport, including UFC Tournament Champion Oleg Taktarov, former King of Pancrase Sanae Kikuta, and the former UFC Heavyweight Champion Maurice Smith.

So when Renzo signed on as one of the original four coaches of the IFL it appeared that he had perhaps come to terms with his success and recent disappointments as a fighter and embraced the role of full-time coach.

But as has been the case recently with legends such as Bas Rutten, the fire in the heart of a fighter is never truly extinguished…thus Gracie stepped back into the ring this weekend and showed there’s still a lot of fight left in the head Pitbull.

From here who knows where Renzo will go. With the Pitbulls eliminated from the team tournament we may see Gracie once again step into the ring with one of the other legendary coaches where potential abounds.

Opponents such as Matt Lindland, Frank Shamrock, and Jeremy Horn could present new and exciting challenges for Renzo. Who wouldn’t want to see if Gracie could handle the wrestling skills of Lindland, the jiu-jitsu of Horn or perhaps avenge his cousin Cesar’s loss to Shamrock?

Perhaps more interestingly could be rematches with Maurice Smith and Carlos Newton. While heavier, Smith assuredly would want to avenge his earlier loss to Gracie and with Newton we could see a replay of their bout at the first ever PRIDE Bushido event, which to date is still one of the best in that format’s young history.

What’s next for Renzo Gracie is anyone’s guess at this time but one thing is for sure, he can still get up into the ring, perform and entertain as he always has. And when that’s the case every one wins, the IFL, the fans and if he has any say in it, Gracie as well.