While still considered one of the top jiu-jitsu practitioners in the world -- a reputation proven by his numerous competition wins and accolades -- Roger Gracie
has transitioned slowly into mixed martial arts. Now fast approaching his most important bout, the Strikeforce
light-heavyweight knows that his professional fighting career is about to hit overdrive.
As a result, Gracie said that he is now fully committed to MMA
The 4-0 Gracie, who will face Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal
on September 10's Strikeforce
event, said fighting was his destiny from the time he was a jiu-jitsu blue belt many years ago. He believes he followed a natural progression, dedicated himself to the family art and advancing to high-level black belt status before moving on to fight MMA
"I always knew," he said. "It was just a matter of time, of when I'm ready, I'll fight MMA. I never had any doubts of, Will I do that? That never crossed my mind. It was a natural way for things to happen."
But Gracie's progression has been slower than some might have liked. He made his debut back in December 2006, defeating Ron Waterman
via arm bar, then didn't fight again until May 2008. After that, he took another two years away from the cage before signing with Strikeforce and debuting in the promotion.
Gracie attributes those layoffs to various reasons including injuries and failed negotiations, adding that "everything happens in the right time."
"Now I feel that I can dedicate 100 percent to MMA," he said. "Before, I wanted to do MMA but I still wanted to dedicate time to jiu-jitsu. To do both very well is hard, because one gets in the way of the other. Now, in this day, I'm very happy to compete once a year in the world championships, which I like to do every year. But the rest of the year is dedicated just to MMA.
"This sport is so big now, so evolved that if you don't really take it serious, you don't go anywhere," he continued. "There are so many good fighters out there. It's not a joke. If I take it lightly, I won't go anywhere. For me to be able to succeed, to become a good fighter, I have to do it full-time. Now at this stage of my life, I'm ready for that, and I can leave everything else aside. I'm dedicated to MMA."
The fight against Lawal will undoubtedly cast him against his most prime opponent. Lawal (7-1) is a former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion who will be competing for the first time since losing his belt and then undergoing knee surgery.
While all four of Gracie's wins have come by way of submission, the Lawal bout offers no guarantees of a ground advantage, mostly because Gracie is not guaranteed to get the fight there. Lawal is a highly decorated amateur wrestler who is likely to keep the fight where he wants it. And that means the two could spend the majority of the duration in the middle of the cage trading strikes.
Gracie says that possibility is one for which he's well prepared. Though he primarily trains at his home base in London, he also occasionally works with UFC
welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre
, and recently spent time sharpening his Muay Thai with GSP's coach Firas Zahabi. Because of that, Gracie has no qualms about trading with Lawal.
"To be honest, I'm pretty comfortable with my striking," he said. "Because of my height (he's 6-foot-4), I have the reach advantage against most of guys I will face. So that gives me some advantage. Even though Mo's standup is good, it's not great. He's very explosive and very strong. That makes him very dangerous. But he's not the kind of guy that if I'm on my feet, I'm just going to get lit up. I've been training a lot. I'm sure I can survive and take my time. All I need is one opportunity to put him on his back. Him on top is too dangerous, because he's strong and things get slippery. But I'm sure once he's on his back, these things fall out the window."
A win would allow Gracie to surge up the list of contenders and put him in position to angle himself for a title shot. That would make him a very busy fighter, and despite his two bustling academies, that would be just fine with him.
"If I have to spend the whole year dedicated just to fighting, I will do that," he said. "I'm not going to jeopardize fighting. I'm going to be 30 this month. I have what, maybe another 10 years? After that, I can dedicate as much time as I want to my school, business or anything else. But the next 10 years is my fighting career. That's my priority."