The Ultimate Fighting Championship
Brainchild of Rorion Gracie and Art Davie, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was an eight-man single-elimination tournament with very few rules that would award $50,000 to the winner. The basic premise was to find out how different styles of martial arts would fare against each other. Art Davie placed ads in martial arts magazines and sent letters to anyone in any martial arts directory he could find to recruit competitors for the event. Among the takers were kickboxer Patrick Smith, Pancrase fighter Ken Shamrock, and Savate world champion Gerard Gordeau.
While Art Davie felt that Royce’s older brother Rickson Gracie, who was stronger and more skilled than Royce, was the obvious choice as the Jiu-Jitsu representative, Rorion Gracie chose the younger Royce to represent the family style.
In his first match, Royce defeated journeyman boxer Art Jimmerson. He tackled him to the ground using a baiana (morote-gari or double-leg) and obtained the dominant “mounted” position, also pinning Jimmerson’s left arm around the boxer’s own neck. Mounted and with only one free arm Jimmerson conceded defeat, mostly due to frustration rather than submission.
In the semi-finals, Royce fought Ken Shamrock, who showed excellent grappling skills in his first-round submission win over Patrick Smith. Royce immediately rushed Shamrock, who sprawled effectively and got on top of Royce. Shamrock then grabbed Royce’s ankle and sat back to attempt the same finishing hold he used to finish his first match, but Royce rolled on top of him and secured a rear choke that forced Shamrock to tap the mat in submission. Shamrock has later stated that Gracie used his gi suit as a tool for ligature strangulation to perform the submission, protesting the fact that he was not allowed to wear his wrestling shoes because the event organisers had stated that it could be used as a weapon, feeling that the rules for the tournament were created to favor Gracie. Royce disputed the claim and said he had used a no-gi choke, meaning that there is no need to use his gi to apply this choke.
In the finals, Royce defeated Savate World Champion Gerard Gordeau (who broke his hand in the first round of the tournament against Teila Tuli), taking his opponent to the ground and securing a rear choke.
Over the next year, Royce Gracie continued fighting in the UFC, obtaining submission wins over fighters such as Patrick Smith, 250 pound (113 kg) European Judo Champion Remco Pardoel, and Kimo Leopoldo. His final UFC victory was in a match that lasted for 16 minutes (there were no rounds or time limits at the time), during which he was continuously pinned underneath 260 pound (118 kg) wrestler Dan Severn. To end the match, Royce locked his legs in a triangle choke for a submission victory. The match extended beyond the pay-per-view time-slot and viewers, who missed the end of the fight, demanded their money back.
Time limits were re-introduced into the sport in 1995 and MMA legend Ken Shamrock would become the first fighter to survive Royce Gracie’s submission attack and earn a draw. The match lasted for 30 minutes and a 5-minute overtime. Fans have been calling for a rematch ever since. The draw sparked much debate and controversy as to who would have won the fight had judges determined the outcome, or had there been no time limits, as by the end of the fight Royce’s right eye was swollen shut. However, the swollen eye was a result of a standing punch due to a sudden change of the rules in which both of the fighters were restarted on the feet. After this fight the Gracies left the UFC.
At UFC 45 in November 2003, at the ten year anniversary of the UFC, Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie became the first inductees into the UFC Hall of Fame. UFC President Dana White said; “We feel that no two individuals are more deserving than Royce and Ken to be the charter members. Their contributions to our sport, both inside and outside the Octagon, may never be equaled. ”
Royce’s official UFC record when he left did include one loss. In the second round of UFC 3 Royce was to face fighter Harold Howard in the semi-finals. Although Royce came out to the ring, he was dehydrated as a result of his first round match against Kimo Leopoldo. The announcers of UFC 3 stated that Gracie’s shoulder had been hurt in the previous round. Before the Howard match began, Royce’s corner threw in the towel.