World Jiu-Jitsu Expo Notes: Renzo Gracie Hints at Return; 'Babalu' Sobral Is Back

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- At 45, the legendary Renzo Gracie has no real reason left to fight. His reputation as one of mixed martial arts' founding fathers is secure. He has well-earned status as jiu-jitsu's ever-smiling ambassador, and his various business concerns, his famed Manhattan gym chief among them, keep him busy and active.

But Gracie is, at heart, still a fighter. And in between posing for pictures with fans out on the floor of the Long Beach Convention Center at the World Jiu-Jitsu Expo on Saturday, Gracie said he won't rule out a return to MMA competition.

"Of course," Gracie said. "I'm just waiting for the right opportunity."

Gracie, who began as a Vale Tudo fighter before modern MMA came into existence, has a documented MMA record of 13-7-1. He's two years removed from his last fight, a TKO loss to Matt Hughes at UFC 112. But when pressed for specifics on whom he might like to meet, Gracie was coy.

"I'm just waiting to see what comes," Gracie said. "Whatever is yours is coming your way."

It's been a long road from MMA's primitive days to the juggernaut the sport has become, with jiu-jitsu as its soul for the nearly two-decade journey. As the masses fanned across the convention center floor, checking out sponsor booths, participating in seminars, or watching the day's grappling tournament, even Gracie himself seemed in a bit of disbelief at how big it's become.

"The turnout here's incredible," Gracie said. "Look around, look at all the people. I didn't expect this, but it's like they say, it's a big family, jiu-jitsu's a big family, we're all brothers in a community."

‘Babalu' resurfaces after year out of limelight

It's been awhile since we've heard from one of MMA's most enduring characters. But with an upcoming fight and a coaching role on "The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil," Renato "Babalu" Sobral is back and ready for action.

The 36-year-old Sobral (36-9), who is from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but now lives in Southern California, last fought in Dec. 2010, when he lost to Dan Henderson. He was also sidelined for a spell after a snowboarding accident.

"It was kind of rough for awhile," Sobral said. "I wasn't able to train, that's not a good thing. But now things are better, I'm healthy and I can't wait for my chance to fight again."

Sobral returns to action in the main event of OneFC 4 on June 23. He'll meet Tatsuya Mizuno as the Singapore-based promotion puts on an event in Kalua Lampur, Malaysia. Mizuno, a submission specialist, is 11-7, a former DREAM light heavyweight Grand Prix finalist, and has won his past two fights.

"I think this is a good fight for me," Sobral said. "Don't go by his record. He made it to the Grand Prix finals and he has fought some strong fighters. I'm looking forward to a challenging fight."

The bout with Mizuno isn't the only thing "Babalu" has on his plate. He also served as a coach on Wanderlei Silva's team during "TUF: Brazil," alongside Andre Amade, Rafael Cordeiro, and Fabricio Werdum.

The first thing that struck Sobral, as he returned to Brazil to shoot the show, was how big MMA has become in his homeland.

"It's as big as everyone says," Sobral said. "Not me personally, I'm not some big star, but the sport of MMA is bigger than it ever has been in Brazil. I'm very happy to see how big the sport has grown."

And he's not afraid to predict what those MMA fans in Brazil will see when Silva meets Vitor Belfort in Rio on June 23.

"Wanderlei looks great," Sobral said. "He'll win. First-round knockout. Believe me."

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