Gethin Aldous’ documentary about legendary Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor and MMA fi ghter Renzo Gracie debuted October 25 at the inaugural United States Film Festival at the Crown Music Theater in Philadelphia.
While mainstream productions such as Never Back Down and David Mamet’s Redbelt disappointed the sport’s loyal fanbase, Renzo Gracie: Legacy presented an enlightening and engaging look into not only Gracie’s career, but the cultures of MMA and Jiu-Jitsu.
Filmed over the course of 10 years, the fi lm chronicles Gracie’s life and fi ghting career. Making his directorial debut, Aldous fi lmed a documentary in its truest form as opposed to a public relations piece to help further the Gracie legacy.
While Gracie’s credentials are highlighted, there was little fi lter in illuminating some of his setbacks during his fi ghting career. In the forefront was Gracie’s failure to redeem the family name back in 2000 against the man known as “The Gracie Hunter,” Kazushi Sakuraba. After losses to Sakuraba by cousins Royler and Royce, Renzo was handpicked by the Gracie family to settle the score at PRIDE 10.
Despite coming into the fi ght with a 9-1 record, the then-33-year-old was unable to succeed where his cousins had failed, as Sakuraba was declared the victor at 9:43 of round 2. While the fi ght fi nders show the result of the match being a submission defeat, footage in the fi lm showed the fi ght being stopped even though Gracie had not tapped.
While the fi ght had been stopped without a tap, there were no visual protests by the Gracie camp because it was apparent to everyone in attendance that Renzo’s arm was severely fractured. Despite the uncomfortable angle on which his forearm and elbow had been bent, Gracie was all smiles after the contest. In a sobering moment of truth, Gracie acknowledged to the cameras that it was the most painful injury that he had endured in his life but that he wasn’t going to give his opponent the satisfaction of knowing he had been hurt.
Yes, Renzo Gracie is old school, which was apparent once again during the fi lm when his 2005 unanimous decision loss to B.J. Penn during K-1’s World Grand Prix event in Hawaii was placed under the microscope.
The feud between the Gracies and the Penns was bitter and personal for reasons that might not be easily understood by newer fans to the sport. In today’s MMA world, fi ghters switching camps has become an accepted practice. But the Gracies come from a time and place in which being part of a camp was akin to being part of a family. As such, a decision a few years earlier by Penn and training partner Dave Camarillo to leave Ralph Gracie and start a camp of their own was poorly received.
The past affi liation between Penn and the Gracies led to one of the fi lm’s many high- lights following the discovery of a Ralph Gracie Jiu-Jitsu tattoo on Camarillo’s back that became visible during a rolling session with Penn. Aldous began to cross-examine Camarillo, who initially tried to evade the questioning. After reluctantly identifying what the tattoo was, Camarillo offered a glimpse into the animosity that existed between the two camps by claiming the tattoo was no longer relevant as it was going to be redone.
A common theme throughout the duration of the fi lm is that regardless of his successes or failures, Gracie is a man comfortable in his own skin. Looking directly in the camera, he states, “I will die s—— in my pants like everybody else but knowing who I was. Knowing for sure and truly who I was.”
In an industry full of self-promoters who misrepresent themselves, Gracie’s selfawareness is something that is appreciated by his students, many of whom traveled from New York and New Jersey for the premiere and greeted the fi lm’s end credits with a standing ovation.