On November 12, 1993 Hélio Gracie watched from the crowd as Royce, the youngest of his seven sons, jogged to a steel cage at the head of a long line of family members. As they passed, Hélio met his son’s eyes, his leonine gaze steeling the young man’s courage. If Hélio, had an ounce of concern he didn’t show it. The old man’s aura of confidence was the fulcrum of a giant machine that, after this night, would get much bigger.
A man who left nothing to chance, Hélio ensured that all the variables were set for his son to be victorious. Royce’s first match was against a boxer, the most vulnerable of all the fighters in the tournament. His older brother Rickson, who had much more experience and was known by the family to be the better fighter, was in his brother’s corner. Most in the family thought Rickson should represent the Gracies in the tournament but Hélio was a man who knew the value of spectacle.
His Jiu-Jitsu was founded on the principle that the weak can defeat the strong and what better way to prove this than fight against a larger, stronger opponent. He wanted to prove that any man, as long as he learned the closely guarded secrets of his system, could attain invincibility.
To prove this to the Americans, to put the focus on the art and not the individual, Helio knew it had the slight and unassuming Royce and not the fierce-looking Rickson who made the point. The referee for the match was a trusted family friend and one of Hélio’s first and greatest students, João Alberto Baretto. João was a veteran of many such cage wars and was therefore one of the few people in the world qualified to referee such a no-holds-barred match.
The fight itself should be an afterthought, knew Helio. If Royce made no mistakes he’d win. The Jiu-Jitsu Hélio armed his sons with over the course of their lives is flawless. The only way for Royce to lose is if he veered from the path; if human frailty somehow polluted the mathematical perfection of Hélio’s precise system of leverage, position, and form. To those unfamiliar with it, his Jiu-Jitsu was an endless maze, an imponderable series of puzzles, a bottomless pit, and by the night’s end it would be a revelation.