When Bellator president Scott Coker first approached Royce Gracie about returning to the cage, the MMA legend said he wasn't sure. When Coker said it would be against longtime rival Ken Shamrock, Gracie still "played hard to get."
But when Gracie returned home to his family after the discussion, he was beaming.
"I was like, yes!" Gracie told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour.
And so the trilogy bout -- 20 years after their last fight -- was booked about a month ago, Gracie said. Coker announced the fight as the main event of Bellator 149 on Feb. 19 in Houston on Friday. Gracie told Helwani that Shamrock being his opponent made the decision to return after almost nine years away from fighting easy.
"Because it's Ken," Gracie said. "It's simple. I can't stand the guy, sorry. He's not my friend. He's not my enemy. I just don't like the guy."
Gracie, 48, and Shamrock, 51, famously fought in the semifinals of the UFC 1 openweight tournament on Nov. 12, 1993 with Gracie winning by submission in just 57 seconds. That bout -- a lean, lanky Gracie against the hulking Shamrock -- was the first rock-solid proof of Gracie jiu-jitsu's excellence in the United States.
The two fought again to a draw at UFC 5 on April 7, 1995. The bout lasted 36 minutes, still the longest in promotion history. There were no judges at the time; a finish was the only way to win.
"For the last 22 years, the guy has been losing sleep," Gracie said. "I don't know if it's because he doesn't like me. I don't like him. But for me, it's just an opponent. Because I beat him before, he's had that stuck in his throat."
Shamrock has been very vocal over the years that he believes he won the second matchup. And he has longed for a trilogy fight -- for decades. Gracie is ready to end the conversation once and for all.
"I said sure," he said. "Let's finish this, man, I'm gonna beat him up one more time just to show the first time wasn't a fluke. The second time he just sit on me for 30 minutes and put the crowd to sleep."
Gracie and Shamrock have both worked as ambassadors for Bellator over the last year or so. Shamrock returned to the cage after five years when he lost to Kimbo Slice by first-round knockout at Bellator 138 in June. Gracie has not competed since a unanimous decision win over Kazushi Sakuraba at Dynamite!! USA in June 2007. The MMA pioneer tested positive for steroids after that bout and was fined and suspended by the California State Athletic Commission.
Though the two men have encountered each other backstage at multiple Bellator events, Gracie said he tries to avoid his former -- and now future -- foe at all costs.
"There's no friendship," Gracie said. "I'm not a friend of yours, man. I avoid talking to him every time. I don't want to talk to him.
"He talks a lot. He talks like he's the best fighter ever in the history of MMA. He lost to me in less than a minute. Second fight, he laid down on top of me, held me down for 30 minutes, 36 minutes. And he claims he's the best fighter ever. 'The World's most Dangerous Man.' The most deadliest man? Yeah, right."
Gracie said he has already started training camp, which is being run by his brother Royler in California. He is not sure whether or not he'll be allowed to wear a gi in Texas like he did in the early days of the UFC. However, it will definitely be an openweight fight. Gracie said he'll come in around 180 pounds and he expects Shamrock to be well over 200 pounds. Shamrock weighed 204.4 before his bout with Slice.
The size difference is not a problem for Gracie, just like it wasn't back then.
"Nope," he said. "Not at all, man. I've got plenty of heavyweights to train with."
As for his advanced age, Gracie is not worried about that, either. He said he's walking around at about the same weight, still trains and teaches regularly and as fit as ever.
"I think the Royce today would have beat the Royce 20 years ago," he said. "I've been thinking about that. More experience. Back then, I was using a lot of talent. Now, I've got the talent and experience. I've got more endurance today and I'm the same weight."
Gracie vs. Shamrock 3 is going to be a ratings draw and that's exactly why Bellator is doing it despite the ages of both men. Gracie does not care about numbers. But he does agree that people will want to watch it.
"Wouldn't you love to watch Mike Tyson fight Holyfield again?" he said. "As long as the guys can do it, man. As long as we can do it, as long as we're both healthy, we're both ready to do it. They make it sound like we're 100 years old, man. They make it sound like, 'Oh the guys are so old.' Hey, any given day, man. Let's go for a run."
Gracie left the door open for fighting again past this bout with Shamrock. But he's focused on this rivalry matchup first. He wants to put a stamp on his and his family's legacy 23 years later.
"He's chasing that win and I'm chasing to put an end to this," Gracie said. "Maybe I'll retire him now.
"If I can do it in 30 seconds, I'll do it. But I don't think it'll be in 30 seconds. I'll torture him first."