TORONTO – On hand at the UFC 165 media day was Rener Gracie, who’ll corner Brendan Schaub for his heavyweight bout on Saturday night against Matt Mitrione. It was Gracie that, alongside Ed O’Neill, commentated Schaub’s eccentric jiu-jitsu match with Roberto "Cyborg" Abreu at Metamoris back in June.
Most who saw the match (including a ringside Mitrione) remember one thing about it: Schaub retreating for 20 minutes, refusing to engage with "Cyborg." For a pay-per-view event it was too much of a game plan (or too little of one, depending how you slice it). From a live visual, it agitated the crowd into anger at the Pauley Pavilion in Westwood, California. As for Schaub, the UFC fighter who many thought was brought in to help bolster awareness of the event?
Hey, he walked away with his limbs. And that’s where Rener, the grandson of Helio and a fourth degree black belt, has mixed emotions about that whole thing.
"I think Brendan was wrong from an entertainment perspective," he told MMA Fighting during the media day at the Shangri-La Hotel. "We have to remember that at the end of the day it’s an entertainment spectacle. And it’s comparable to when we see some of the top fighters in the UFC go in there and they don’t really defeat the person, they just kind of do anything they can to shut them down and not let them do what they need to do. And Georges St-Pierre, for example, gets a lot of flak for his strategy. He’s very good at what he does, which is hold you down and neutralize you, and I think it’s genius. If I was in GSP’s position, I would do the same thing, because it’s the most guaranteed way to be successful.
"I think for Schaub, knowing who he was up against, his only concern was don’t get tapped out. Because he knew, as a brown belt in jiu-jitsu, he was supposed to get tapped out, and victory for him would be not getting tapped out. And I think that people felt a little bit let down. They wanted to see him get tapped out in his attempt to beat "Cyborg," which for sure would have happened if he’d went for the kill. That’s the game plan he chose, so even though it wasn’t the most entertaining, it was the most important for him to reach his own objective."
With Gracie operating as one of Schaub’s coaches this weekend, obviously he sees both sides of it coin. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t just as flummoxed and frustrated as everybody else, though.
"I was frustrating trying to call the fight," he said. "I was like, jump in the tornado bro, get in the tornado guard, get submitted and let’s go home. But of course the other side of me was like, man, this is my friend, I want him to do well, and by doing well that means don’t get caught. Definitely from an entertainment perspective people felt robbed, and I think rightfully so."
Rener’s uncle Royce Gracie, who was honored at that Metamoris event this summer and is one of the iconic figures in MMA for putting the Gracie name on the North American map, recently made waves by criticizing the new generation of Gracies for, essentially, trying to adapt today’s MMA.
"Jiu-jitsu is enough," Royce told MMA Fighting recently. "I’ve trained boxing in the past to learn the distance, trained wrestling to understand how he would take me down, but I won’t get there to fight my opponent’s game. The [new] guys [from the Gracie] family want to complement their game, like if jiu-jitsu was incomplete. I guess they forgot a little about history.
"I’ve done jiu-jitsu my whole life, so why would I try to stand and bang with Mike Tyson?" he continued. "I’m going to learn boxing in six months because my opponent is good in boxing? That makes no sense."
Asked about his uncle’s comments, once again Rener -- always even-keel -- saw both sides of it.
"The funny part is Royce is right, and Royce is wrong," he said. "He’s right in that, jiu-jitsu by itself is a complete martial art. It addresses a standing strategy, and it addresses a ground strategy. We teach our students in the back of the [Gracie Jiu-Jitsu] Academy to get ready to use self-defense in a street fight, and they’re not incomplete. They can close the distance, they can neutralize strikes and effectively neutralize the opponent. And in that sense, Royce is right, all you need in jiu-jitsu. Going back to the roots, if I had to fight some beast of a man in a street fight, I wouldn’t need amazing wrestling and amazing striking to do well against him. I would need jiu-jitsu and to manage the distance so I didn’t get knocked out.
"But if I had to fight that same beast in three five-minute rounds, with judges who don’t train martial arts watching me, I cannot pull guard and defend for 20 minutes? When Royce fought Dan Severn, which was an amazing battle, Royce lost in the judge’s minds until the very last second when Royce run (at the 15:49 mark of the fight). In MMA rules today Royce would have lost to Dan Severn. So, in that sense, you have train the striking aggressively. You have to train the wrestling -- not because it might be the most energy efficient way to fight, but because the judges will only score in your favor if you fight according to that game plan. It’s part of the newly accepted ideal way to fight a fight. As long as the game is being judged under those circumstances? Guess what, you better train in those arts, otherwise you’re asking for trouble in the eyes of the judges.
"I think that Royce and my dad [Rorion] and my uncles, all those guys, being the generation two -- old school, proving it against every other martial art, as they did so perfectly -- they get a little emotional sometimes seeing how things are evolving now. And I think their viewpoints are…they’re right, but they’re wrong, because you have to play the game."