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Early Pioneers of the UFC: Rorion Gracie

Posted on 02/15/2011

He was one member of the legendary Gracie clan who did not make his name by fighting in officially-sanctioned MMA bouts. But if not for Rorion Gracie, the UFC, as we know it today, would not likely exist. As such he is one of the most important innovators in the mixed martial arts in America.

Rorion is the son of Helio Gracie, the pioneer of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and renowned South American no-holds-barred fighter, who taught Rorion the tricks of the trade at an early age. Rorion moved to California in 1978 and became, in a sense, the “Johnny Appleseed” of the Gracie brand of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, sharing its concepts and techniques to scores of interested students, beginning humbly in his own garage in Hermosa Beach.

He was soon choreographing fight scenes for movies, including the “Lethal Weapon” series, teaching self-defense to celebrities, and taking on all comers, from different disciplines, in his garage and in dojos throughout Southern California. He also produced instructional and action videos highlighting the Gracie fighting style, which became very popular cult items. Soon the Gracie Academy opened.

Also, the “Gracie Challenge” was put out to anyone who wished to match his fighting style with that of Rorion and his famous family. In fact, a match, which would have been presented with all the pomp and circumstance necessary, was proposed between Rorion and storied kick-boxing champion Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, who Rorion claimed to have submitted several times in private sessions. But Urquidez never came forward to officially accept the challenge. Nonetheless, articles in publications such as Playboy added a mystique to the mission Rorion was undertaking.

In 1993, Rorion Gracie collaborated with advertising executive Art Davie to formulate a fighting event that would cross over into all areas of combat. It eventually came to be called the “Ultimate Fighting Championship.” Rotion’s vision was that it would illustrate the superiority of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu over all other forms of combat, and that it would also have the residual effect of selling more Gracie videos. Davie saw it as a tremendous spectator event and a magnet for sponsors who wanted to reach the younger male demographic, with endless pay-per-view possibilities.

Over the course of time the UFC became all that, and much, much more.

And Rorion Gracie, the man who came to the United States intent on spreading the word about his family and its fighting

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