After eight years away from MMA competition, living legend Renzo Gracie returns to fighting on July 27 for ONE Championship in Manila, Philippines, to take on stalwart Yuki Kondo.
For Gracie, his return comes after he’s become one of combat sports most successful instructors, with numerous gyms and students under his banner. And while he could have been content staying on the business and training side of things, the desire to test himself and prove his generation of the famed Gracie family still has what it takes in the modern fight game.
During his final preparations for his bout with Kondo, Gracie spoke to MMAWeekly.com and discussed why he is returning, the future of Gracie family fighting, and the possibility of keeping his MMA career going.
MMAWeekly.com: Firstly, Renzo, why did you decide to step away from the sport eight years ago following your last bout against Matt Hughes at UFC 112?
Renzo Gracie: I never retired. Fighting is part of my life. Every time that I feel that I’m healthy and am moving well and am training well, I want to fight and test myself.
I was out for a little bit, and I had things to do. I have one of the biggest Jiu-Jitsu schools in the world right now. I have 1500 students in Manhattan. I’m expanding and am opening more schools. So my life has been a lot of work. People think that you’re retired because you’re off for a little bit, but fighting is my life.
MMAWeekly.com: How do you balance getting in your own training with the responsibilities it comes from having such a vast number of schools under the Renzo Gracie banner?
Renzo Gracie: I was able to be very efficient and put a group together that was complete. I have unbelievable instructors. I have unbelievable people running my schools. All this group, I was able to get the right people to help them, to understand where we want to go, and now things run well. I can be out and doing what I love – and that is fighting.
MMAWeekly.com: Since you last fought MMA in 2010, many young members of the Gracie family have been making their mark in the sport. What do you think of this next generation of fighters your family has produced?
Renzo Gracie: There’s nothing that makes me more happy than to see this happen. To see these amazing kids keep going; like Neiman, Gregor and Igor. It’s a blessing to know that these amazing gifts that life has given us through Jiu-Jitsu will not die with my generation. I’m so proud of them. I believe these kids will be better than we could ever dream, that they will know much more than we ever dream.
MMAWeekly.com: What is the biggest difference between you as a fighter now compared to then?
Renzo Gracie: I was thinking about life and looked back and thought what a waste of energy I used to have. How I had to work for everything. Now that I’m older, I see there are better ways to do things; more efficient. I look back and think how much better I would be if I had a coach like me now, with the knowledge that I have now.
MMAWeekly.com: What are your thoughts on your upcoming ONE Championship bout against fellow great Yuki Kondo?
Renzo Gracie: Yuki Kondo is a very tough opponent. He’s fought the best guys out there. He’s beat the best Jiu-Jitsu guys out there. He represented Japan in the final PRIDE. He’s going to be a very tough opponent.
One of my dreams was to fight him back then, but it never happened. I never had the opportunity. When ONE offered me this unique, amazing opportunity to fight Kondo, how could I say no? It’s like a dream come true. Overall, it’s going to be an extremely tough challenge for my skill, my mind and my ability to fight.
MMAWeekly.com: With this upcoming fight being billed as your MMA retirement, what do you see next for yourself?
Renzo Gracie: I will see how this fight goes. When I work, I get in shape and I won’t stop. One of the last times, I did three fights in six months. One time, I was on three different continents in 14 days; I fought in Brazil, I fought in Japan, and then I fought in Abu Dhabi. Fighting is what I love.
The goal is to get better by increasing my knowledge. Those things are ingrained in your soul; you never able to get rid of that knowledge. You pass it on to the next generation. That’s why I say the future generation is better than I could ever dream. They will be able to improve and adapt and change with a young heart and a young ability to see things.