Robson Gracie Jr. is very aware of the type of doors that having a last name like his can help open.
As he prepares to take an 0-0 MMA record into his upcoming Bellator debut later this month, he knows just how much of it had to do with being a Gracie. In fact, the very opportunity stemmed from a case of being at the right place at the right time, as Robson accompanied his cousin, Neiman Gracie, to Neiman’s sixth Bellator bout.
“Heaven-sent” is the expression Gracie Jr. uses to describe his Bellator debut, before going on to acknowledge that there are other fighters out there who were probably ahead of him in line, or even more deserving of a shot at the big stage.
But there are some things you can’t infer by Robson Gracie Jr.’s important last name or his MMA record, and that’s just how much he’s worked and pined for an opportunity – rather, a dream – so elusive that at one point he thought may never end up happening.
“I thought about that a lot,” Gracie Jr. told MMAjunkie. “It haunted me a lot, to be honest, and it was painful. You see time going by… and what hurts the most are those close to you, really. You see your friends, people saying – when the arrow comes from an enemy, screw it, but when it comes from a friend it’s a lot more painful. So I did think of giving up. I thought of doing something else.
“But, thank God, I was able to keep going. If this opportunity feel from heaven, there’s a purpose, so I’m going to embrace it. I’ll earn this. I’ll work hard to earn this opportunity that they gave me.”
But let’s start from the beginning.
“I’ve actually always to fight, since I was a kid,” Gracie Jr. said. “I saw my brothers fighting, and that always motivated me a lot to fight. But the idea really took shape about four years ago, in Rio de Janeiro.”
That’s when Gracie Jr. started training MMA under UFC vet Murilo Bustamante at Brazilian Top Team in Rio de Janeiro. He was, of course, quite familiar with jiu-jitsu already and had taken his first stab at boxing training at 14 – though it intensified when he was 19.
After six months at BTT, Gracie Jr. said, he got an offer to compete for a new promotion in Rio. They kept changing his opponent and the date of his debut, however, and when the fight was moved for a third time he decided to give his brother Renzo – yes, that Renzo – a call.
“Renzo said, ‘Come live here in New York, and we’ll get you a fight here,’” Gracie Jr. said.
So, pushed by his desire to pursue MMA, Gracie Jr. moved. Getting to New York, though, things weren’t as easy as they’d expected and, as he adjusted to life in a new country, those aspirations kept getting postponed. Then, when Gracie Jr. finally started preparing to fight, in June 2017, a serious hand injury interfered to keep him out of action for at least another four months.
Those plans wouldn’t really take shape again until April, when Gracie Jr. accompanied Neiman to his Bellator 198 meeting with Javier Torres. Robson and Neiman had similar haircut that day and Bellator’s Rich Chou approached them jokingly asking if they were related. During the casual chat, Neiman said he should sign his cousin.
It was a bit of a backstage joke, Gracie Jr. said, and while he’d go on to have a more serious conversation in which he confirmed his intentions to the official, he wasn’t making much of the whole thing.
“I thought it wasn’t going to lead to anything,” Gracie Jr. said.
Time passed. Some ONE Championship conversations, specifically to compete in the same card as his brother Renzo, came and went. And Gracie Jr. came back to Rio for his daughter’s birthday. That’s when he got a text – or better yet, a direct Instagram message – from his manager. All it said was “Bellator is coming.”
“I didn’t even respond at the time,” Gracie Jr. said. “I was just daydreaming. I was with a few friends, we were having a barbecue, and I didn’t even tell anyone. I stayed quiet. I am very religious. I believe everything has a purpose, so I just thanked God a lot. It was my chance.”
Now, some context: Gracie Jr. had this conversation with MMAjunkie in August, shortly after his signing had been made public. He hadn’t even been booked for the first of his four contracted bouts, but he already visualized his walk-out constantly.
“There isn’t one day when I don’t think about it,” Gracie Jr. said.
What he didn’t know at the time is that there would be more waiting and more uncertainty. He didn’t know that he would have an opponent set and replaced, and then go through the entire Bellator 208 fight week – only to have Jamal Pottinger miss their 175-catchweight limit so badly that the bout was canceled, despite Gracie Jr.’s own willingness to fight.
“I was really upset,” Gracie Jr. recalled. “I couldn’t even talk to anyone. I went straight to my room. … Walking into the arena to watch the event and thinking ‘I could have fought on this card. It’s the same card as Fedor (Emelianenko).’ I really wanted to be on the same card as him, it was a dream, so I was really upset.”
After asking for spots at both Bellator’s Israel and Oklahoma events, Gracie Jr. had some fears that his debut would have to wait until 2019. After yet another disappointment, he admits, it was hard to get himself back to training with the same intensity and drive.
It eventually happened, though, and so did another booking. As his meeting with Brysen Bolohao (9-2-1 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) at Bellator’s “Salute the Troops” event on Dec. 14 approaches, Gracie Jr. (0-0 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) has allowed himself to get excited again.
Gracie Jr. acknowledges there are some concerns of having something similar happen again, leading to what would be even worse frustration. But he also looks at the positives of the canceled but: He got to feel what it was like to cut his 6-foot-3 frame down to 175 pounds and learn that it wasn’t so bad, after all.
For Gracie Jr., it’s hard to sum up the feeling of his long-awaited MMA debut in one word. If he has to pick, though, he goes with “dream.”
That isn’t surprising. After all, “dream” is a word he’d used quite a few times all those months ago. And it is quite telling that Gracie Jr. used it not to describe the idea of a world title, or of defending jiu-jitsu and the family name. In fact, he doesn’t even know how many fights he’ll do, or how long he’ll want this for his life. That’s for another time.
He does know, though, that he wants it now. And the “dream” is simply the chance to make that walk-out and see this thing through.
“I’m doing this for me,” Gracie Jr. said. “This beginning, it’s for me. It’s because I want it. Because if it’s about money and all that stuff – it doesn’t matter to me now. I’m doing this because it’s a dream.”
To better put the stakes of this pursuit into perspective, Gracie Jr. offers an anecdote.
Years ago, when he arrived in New York, his brother made him an offer. Someone he knew was selling a flower shop, and Renzo said he could buy it for Robson. It was a profitable business, and he’d be able to live comfortably off of it. Asked whether he wanted that money, or the hard life of a fighter, Gracie Jr. responded.
“I said, ‘You can take this money and these flowers and…’” Gracie Jr. recalled playfully, before adding his brother’s response.
“That is the right answer,” Renzo said. “That is the answer that I wanted to hear.”
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
Read the full article here: At long last, Bellator's Robson Gracie Jr. has his chance to live out the dream of pro MMA debut