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Roger Gracie regrets fighting at middleweight: ‘I felt like I was going to die on fight week’

Esther Lin, Showtime

Roger Gracie returns to the cage Friday against fellow UFC veteran James McSweeney at One FC 23, but that wasn’t his original plans after getting cut from the UFC.

Following a unanimous decision loss to Tim Kennedy in 2013, the multiple-time jiu-jitsu and ADCC champion had decided to retire from MMA, but one of the legends in his family changed his mind.

"When I told my cousin Renzo (Gracie) I was going to retire, he called me and convinced me that I had to continue fighting. We spoke, and I decided to come back," Roger Gracie told "He said I was too young, that I still had several years in me. He said ‘no way, you can’t retire and stop fighting’. So I decided to fight."

Gracie then signed with Asia’s top MMA promotion One FC, and makes his promotional against McSweeney at One FC 23 in Pasay City, Philippines. After a 2-1 run as a middleweight, the Brazilian felt it was time to get back to light heavyweight.

"I feel great compared to when I was fighting at middleweight," Gracie said. "When I was fighting at middleweight, I felt like I was going to die on fight week. Making weight at 205 is way easier."

In fact, Gracie would do things differently if he could go back in time.

"I regret (fighting at 185 pounds) because I wasn’t physically 100 percent for any of my fights," he said. "I won the majority of my fights, but I didn’t feel well on that weight. I felt physically tired when the fight went the distance.

"If I feel better, that makes me confident so I don’t have to hold myself back to save energy, so my strategy changes (at 205) and I can fight more aggressively. I know I can do what I want and I won’t get tired. When you’re tired, the fight is over."

McSweeney enters the bout riding a three-fight finishing streak including one submission victory, but Gracie doesn’t think "The Hammer" believes in his jiu-jitsu enough to take him down.

"I know he’s strong, he likes to strike, but he doesn’t feel comfortable in the clinch and on the ground. I’m sure he trained to keep the fight standing and stay away from the ground," he said. "I don’t believe he has the illusion that he can win taking me to the ground, so I’m sure he’ll make everything he can to avoid it."

McSweeney is 14-11 in MMA with five submission victories, but that doesn’t mean much, especially when you’re fighting a 10-time jiu-jitsu world champion.

"The fighters he submitted have a poor level in jiu-jitsu," he said. "Maybe he can survive a little longer on the ground with me, but I have a history in jiu-jitsu and I don’t think he will try to grapple with me. I think he believes his striking is better than mine, so he will want to keep the fight there.

"(My BJJ credentials) makes my opponents think twice before risking fighting on the ground with me. I don’t expect him or basically anyone else wanting to take me down to beat me there."

Expecting McSweeney to try keeping it standing, Roger Gracie finished his camp at Evolve MMA in Singapore.

"This is the third time I come to Evolve MMA in Singapore, but my first time training for a fight. The level here is so high, especially in the striking area," he said. "They brought many Thai fighters, several world champions. The level here is great, even the coaches here compete, so you have great training every day."

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