Matt Hughes and Renzo Gracie took opposite paths into mixed martial arts, but they both ended up with legendary status.
Hughes turned farm boy strength and Midwest wrestling a fighting style. The Illinois native’s workmanlike ground and pound earned him the billing of the most dominant welterweight in UFC history as a nine-time 170-pound king and the second member of the exclusive five-title defense club.
While Hughes built his legacy establishing a division, Gracie did so by defying them. The celebrated personality defended his storied family name and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu regardless of weight classes in vale tudo matches across the world. Despite never holding a notable title aside from his black belt, Gracie, a natural lightweight, holds wins over six different UFC champions all the way up to heavyweight.
The clash of legends happens at UFC 112 from Ferrari World in Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on April 10. UFC fans have had 22 opportunities to see Matt Hughes in the Octagon over the last 11 years with no sightings of Gracie. Entering the UFC for the first time at 43-years-old, here are five defining moments of Gracie’s famed career.
Renzo Gracie vs. Pat Miletich (2006)An admitted battle of old dogs, Renzo Gracie tapped out Matt Hughes mentor Pat Miletich in the first round of a 2006 International Fight League super fight with a jumping guillotine choke in front of the inaugural UFC Welterweight Champion’s home crowd.
Renzo Gracie vs. Eugenio Tadeu (1997)
The main event fight of super fight-oriented Brazilian promotion Pentagon Combat was stopped because of a full scale riot that erupted in the arena over the deeply rooted cultural rivalry of jiu-jitsu versus luta livre. Gunshots rang through the arena after Gracie struck an onlooker, who crowded the cage and kicked him through it as he failed to get hold of a greased up Tadeu. The bout resulted in a no contest.
Renzo Gracie vs. Oleg Taktarov (1996)
UFC 6 tournament winner Oleg Taktarov was looking to test his sambo against Renzo Gracie in the main event of a star studded no holds barred event Martial Arts Reality Superfighting. He failed. “The Russian Bear” stopped Gracie’s foot dead in its tracks with his face. Taktarov fell back slowly and Gracie scrambled to his feet, ran over to the Russian and slid into a bare-knuckled punch to seize victory.
Renzo Gracie vs. Maurice Smith (1999)
Renzo’s best representation of his family’s art lasted only 50 seconds. He took down and held former UFC Heavyweight Champion Maurice Smith on the mat—not even a task Olympic level wrestler Mark Coleman could accomplish—en route to an arm lock. It was an efficient demonstration of the tennets of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu: the smaller man defeating the larger man with technique, the submission fighter subduing the striker.
Renzo Gracie vs. Kazushi Sakuraba (2000)
It says everything about Renzo Gracie that the best performance of his career could be a loss. Considered the top fighter of the Gracie clan, Renzo was selected to defend his family’s honor against the man who became known as “The Gracie Hunter,” Kazushi Sakuraba. Deep into a great performance, Gracie was deceived into giving up a kimura against the catch wrestler. Gracie refused to submit, bracing himself and accepting a broken arm.
He honors Sakuraba with a photo in his New York academy to this day, paying respect to a fellow warrior. Gracie’s sense of honor and gameness in lends weight to his martial artist musings like seen in his Legacy documentary. Filmed over 10 years, one of the film’s most poignant moments comes when Gracie stares straight into the camera while driving and says, “I will die shitting in my pants like everyone else but knowing who I was.”
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