(Photo via Ricardo Bayona)
By Elias Cepeda
[Ed. note: This is the first in a series of interviews with the fighters and promoters behind Metamoris II: Gracie vs. Aoki, which goes down June 9th in Los Angeles. Stay tuned for more, and follow Metamoris on Facebook and Twitter for important event updates. You can purchase tickets right here.]
When your father invented the UFC and passed the name ‘Gracie’ down to you, there’s got to be a lot of pressure to become great at Jiu Jitsu and fighting. However, with two older brothers who got a head start on training because of age, Ralek Gracie had to wait a long time before he could even begin to compete with Ryron and Rener, the oldest sons of Rorian Gracie.
“I was probably eighteen or nineteen [before I could begin to compete with Ryron and Rener],” Ralek admits to CagePotato.
“It was rough, for sure. But getting through it made me who I am. Pressure creates diamonds. It absolutely made me tougher. You’re only as good as who you train with. They were competing with each other and then with me, so I got the best of both worlds. They sharpened themselves and then sharpened me. Life is about accepting that you are sharpening yourself along your journey, every day.”
Getting beaten up every day by your trained-to-kill older brothers made Ralek more than philosophical, however. It can be argued that it made him a mean son-of-a-gun when he needed to be, namely in fights.
With their “Gracie Breakdown,” national product endorsements and television segments, the fight world is growing accustomed to hearing from Rener and Ryron Gracie. In addition to being extremely technical Jiu Jitsu practitioners, they’re charismatic, verbose, and gregarious in public.
They seem poised to replace their father Rorian as the voice of the Gracie family, and its related public relations/business operations. On the other end of the spectrum, Ralek isn’t heard from often.
As he tends to his infant son while speaking with us one recent afternoon, Ralek is thoughtful and well-spoken, almost a surprise given how rarely he has a microphone in his face and how quiet he seems on the rare occasions that he does.
The world hasn’t heard Ralek speak much, but they have seen him fight. The twenty seven year-old has fought three times thus far on pretty large international stages, including against legend Kazushi Sakuraba — the man who was dubbed “The Gracie Hunter,” in his prime.
I ask Ralek to talk about why he decided to fight. I didn’t mention his brothers but, before answering my question, he takes several minutes to proactively defend them, perhaps sensing the implied corollary — why do you fight and your brothers do not?
“My brothers wanted to fight, too,” Ralek assures.
Their dad created the Ultimate Fighting Championships as a near no-rules fight sport. Participants had lots of time and little restriction to prove whose style was better and who was tougher. Through the UFC, Jiu Jitsu was revealed to the public at large, and quickly conquered the fight world.
In the twenty years since it began, professional MMA has had scores of rules, restrictions and regulations placed on it. Some view the changes as necessary for mainstream acceptance and fighter safety. Others, namely, Rorian’s family, view the changes as degradations of the pure, realistic sport that once showed that if you don’t know Jiu Jitsu in a fight, you don’t stand much of a chance against someone who does.
“We grew up with the idea to prepare ourselves to compete and fight. Our influence was the early UFC’s with no time limits, no gloves, raw. That was the idea that we were brought up with. In that open environment, Jiu Jitsu would prevail because there is nothing more complete and long lasting and efficient over a long distance,” Ralek explains.
After Rorian sold the UFC, the rules began to change. Even though every fighter trained Jiu Jitsu now, some felt that the art became less effective than it once was because the smaller fighter couldn’t always dominate everyone the way Royce Gracie did initially.
That gave some in the family pause when considering whether or not to put themselves and their name on the line in professional fights. “My brothers have taken more of a route to explain the technical components of Jiu Jitsu because that gets lost in modern MMA,” Ralek says.
“They educate people about Jiu Jitsu and give them a more pure connection to Jiu Jitsu. They explain and show what works in real situations.”
After Ralek gets through talking up his older brothers, though, he finally gets to talking about himself. “What MMA has become isn’t as pure or realistic as it was and could be. Jiu Jitsu is built for real fights so the sport of MMA doesn’t favor the most technical, most applicable style, ours, the way it used to,” he says.
“All of that aside, though, I still wanted to test myself. I just personally felt like I need to feel and know what it feels like to be in the ring and test myself and my Jiu Jitsu against the Jiu jitsu and skills of another person. [Fighting] was more simple on that level for me. And it was a fun experience. It was good for me, spiritually.”
And that’s it, really. Ralek fought because he just felt like he had to. The decision was “simple.”
Either someone is a fighter or they are not. And fighters know that they fight because, simply, they must.
Ralek Gracie sought pure fighting competition for himself and is attempting to facilitate similar opportunities for some of the world’s best grapplers through his Metamoris Pro Invitational.
The first Metamoris event took place last year to rave reviews from grappling heads and the next takes place in Los Angeles on June 9th, with Ralek’s cousin — and son of family champion Rickson — Kron Gracie in a main event match up against top MMA lightweight Shinya Aoki. The best in the world were paired up, some in gi matches, others in no-gi ones, given no restrictions on what submissions they could use and with no points or judges’ decision.
The only way you can win at Metamoris is by submission. You can stall, play for points, like many top Jiu Jitsu players do at other competitions, but you won’t be rewarded for it at Metamoris.
It’s a much-needed return to the roots of Jiu Jitsu, in Ralek’s mind.
“The big Jiu Jitsu and grappling tournaments have specific rules, positions where points are awarded, time limits and rules as to what submissions you can and cannot do,” Ralek says.
“That’s set up for the masses and set up for lower level belts, in my opinion. It is not set up for higher level belts. My belief, and what I grew up with, is that as a black belt you should be responsible for your own safety the same way boxers and MMA fighters are.
“We don’t need to save you from certain submissions and you can go for whatever type of grappling hold you think someone will make submit or prevent someone from getting the upper hand on you. We don’t want to limit the Sambo guy from being successful or the protect the Jiu Jitsu guy from a wrestler’s neck crank.”
The Metamoris concept is energizing the grappling community by letting the world’s best do what they do without restriction. It makes the competition more dangerous and pure for the participants and more exciting for the viewing audience.
And since there in fact was a viewing audience of some significant size for the first event, that means money for the grapplers — something hard to come by for even the most elite in the world. Ralek has gone from getting beaten up on by his older brothers to earning his own black belt, representing his family in the ring, and now, bringing the fighting attitude cultivated in his youth to this new enterprise.
“Metamoris is a stew of the best grappling,” he says.
“The competitors can do whatever they want to close the deal, and they are only rewarded for finishing… Of course Jiu Jitsu is going to be the most dominant art in that space. But if it isn’t, I’m curious to find what else is out there.”