Back at my hotel the concierge hands me a small slip of paper that reads “Snr R. Gracie – Please call back.”
“Rickson Gracie,” I concluded. Rickson was the most famous Gracie and perhaps the only one more mythic than Hélio. He was the “champion” of the family and had taken up the mantle laid down by his father Hélio and his uncle Carlson. However, unlike both, Rickson had never been defeated. His record was 11 and 0 in sanctioned MMA matches but legend had it that he’d participated in over 400 street fights, Jiu-Jitsu, and Vale Tudo matches without ever tasting defeat. In the early 90s, while his brother Royce was fighting in the UFC, Rickson was busy becoming a sports icon in Japan. He’d parlayed his success into everything from a movie career to a successful school and private classes that cost thousands an hour. His two legendary victories over a fighter named Zulu helped resurrect Vale Tudo in Brazil after the outcry caused by João breaking his opponent’s arm on live national television.
When I met him he looked older than I expected but there was an aura of power about him. Many people doubted Rickson’s self-proclaimed 400 and 0 record but sitting across from him I thought , “It could be true.”
On a plane high above the Atlantic Ocean in the summer of 2008, the man who sat next to me regaleme with encyclopedic survey of mixed martial arts that spannedthree thousand years and four continents. He explain how the Filipino marital art of Kino mutai has classified 36 different ways to bite your opponent. He expand on the genius of Jigoro Kano, who created Judo in the late 1800s and how, in essence, Judo can be reduced to momentum applied to a series of circular motions. He elaborathow the effectiveness of Bruce Lee’s mythic six-inch lead punch was due to its speed and how the extreme utility of Jack Dempsey’s famous Shovel Punch was based on principles of deception and weight transference. He told me that Kali practitioners have the quickest reflexes of any martial artists because they train by dodging and deflecting the lightning fast tips of pointed weapons so that a punch or a kick is slow by comparison. When I’d first met him he’d said that if I really wanted to understand mixed martial arts I needed to go to Brazilthat’s where we’re headed.