NEW YORK – Neiman Gracie has a pretty dreamlike scenario ahead of him: Fighting for his first Bellator title, before his 31st birthday, at an iconic venue that also happens to be in his backyard.
There’s one caveat, though: It all hinges on delicate timing.
Last December, Gracie beat Ed Ruth to secure a spot in the semifinals of Bellator’s ongoing welterweight grand prix. That meant he’d get the winner of a quarterfinal bout between champ Rory MacDonald vs. Jon Fitch – and, necessarily, a title shot, as MacDonald is putting his belt on the line at every stage of the tournament.
The deal got even sweeter for Gracie when the semifinal was placed on the Bellator 222 card, at New York’s Madison Square Garden, just two blocks away from where the trains at his uncle Renzo Gracie’s gym.
The small detail? The MacDonald vs. Fitch battle is set for Bellator 220, on April 27. Bellator 222 takes place June 14. That means there is a short window between the two bouts and, therefore, very little room for recovery in the case the winning fighter sustains an injury.
And if Bellator president Scott Coker says he’d rather not even think about the possibility of that tight timeline backfiring right now, Gracie admits that he is at least a little worried.
“It concerned me a little bit, but I hope everything goes smooth for them,” Neiman told MMA Junkie after a press conference in New York on Tuesday. “Like Scott just said, if someone gets hurt he might take some time and put is another show.
“To me, that would suck, because I really want to fight here, in my house, again. And I want to fight here for the belt. So I hope nothing bad happens, you know.”
Gracie (9-0 MMA, 7-0 BMMA) sees champ MacDonald (20-5 MMA, 2-1 BMMA) as “definitely the” favorite going into the headliner, which will take place at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., but he also wouldn’t sleep on a tough wrestler like Fitch (31-7-1 MMA, 1-0 BMMA).
Ultimately, though, Gracie doesn’t particularly care who comes out on top. After all, not only is the unbeaten welterweight ready to fight either one, but he’s planning on getting to both of them eventually.
“(The match-up) with Fitch is really good, because he’s also a grappler,” Gracie said. “And (the match-up) with Rory I think is also really good because my jiu-jitsu is better than his.
“I want to fight both of these guys. I want to fight the winner now. And, after all of this is over, maybe I’ll want to fight whoever loses, too. Because they are two big names.”
Earlier Tuesday, during the official Bellator 222 press conference, Chael Sonnen sang Gracie’s praises. “Three years ago, nobody knew whether Neiman was his first name or his last name,” Sonnen said, but then he went on and handily beat a fellow up-and-comer who many thought to be the tournament’s dark horse in Ruth.
“Now he’s going to be fighting for a world championship, he’s two wins away from $1 million,” Sonnen said. “I think that’s something really special.”
Just nine fights into his pro MMA career, 30-year-old Gracie is, indeed, somewhat of a fresh face in a grand prix stacked with talented veterans. Who would have thought, a few years ago, that he would be this close to a title?
Well… Gracie, actually.
“When I started on this sport, I didn’t want to fight just to fight,” Gracie said. “Just to do a couple of fights here and there and to tell people I’m a fighter. I started in the sport because I want to be a world champion. I really think this is my time and I’m ready to take this belt back to my family.”
To hear from Gracie, check out the video above.
- Scott Coker isn't sure yet what'll happen if MacDonald-Fitch winner can't make Bellator 222
- Bellator welterweight title fight added to June 14 card in New York
- Dana White confident ESPN's first UFC pay-per-view will run smooth
Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
Read the full article here: Bellator 222's Neiman Gracie worried about Rory MacDonald-Jon Fitch timing