SAN DIEGO - LeBron James is an extraordinary talent, but he didn't invent basketball. Likewise with Tom Brady in football and Sidney Crosby in hockey.
Royce Gracie, however, has a stature in his sport that few athletes will ever experience in their lifetimes. Not only was Gracie his chosen field's greatest competitor during his prime, but his prime actually help create the sport which developed in his wake.
In retirement, the 47-year old-resident of Torrance, Calif., watches mixed martial arts' progression more than two decades on from the vantage point of someone who played an integral role in building the foundation.
When asked which current fighters best represent his family's famed fighting style, Gracie, who now works as a brand ambassador for Bellator MMA, had an answer that might surprise you: Nick and Nate Diaz.
"I like their attitude," said Gracie, who was at Bellator's recent media day event promoting Bellator 131 on Nov. 15 at San Diego's Valley View Casino Center. "Their attitude. Their style. If they stand you up, they can exchange fists with you. If you go to the ground they are super dangerous. They respect jiu-jitsu. They know how to fight from the bottom. They know how to fight from the top. They are finishers. They go for the finish, they don't go to score points. Their fights are what this sport should be."
While the Diazes employ jiu-jitsu as one aspect of an aggressive all-around game, Gracie also expressed his appreciation for several fellow Brazilians who are more straightforward jiu-jitsu players.
"[Fabricio] Werdum is up there," Gracie said. "Pitbull [Freire] is up there. Damian Maia, I love the way he fights. He was off-track for a little while, trying to do some standup, he ties them up just like Gracie jiu-jitsu, what it is."