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Drug tests, brain scans and weight variances: How Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock 3 came together

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It took Ken Shamrock all of 60 seconds to ask for a fight with Royce Gracie.

After about one minute exchanging pleasantries with Bellator MMA president Scott Coker, whom he had not seen in a decade, Shamrock got down to business.

"I want to fight that guy," Shamrock told Coker, pointing to a group of people a few feet away.

Coker wasn't sure what Shamrock was talking about. As far as he knew, Shamrock was retired. This was a fan event before Bellator 131 in November 2014. Shamrock, a 50-something MMA legend, was brought in as a brand ambassador -- not a fighter.

"I look over and I thought was talking about Randy Couture," Coker said. "Randy was signing autographs. 'No, no I want to fight Royce Gracie.' I was like, 'Are you serious?' He said, 'I want to fight Royce Gracie' and he was saying it really aggressively."

Shamrock will get his wish in the main event of Bellator 149 on Feb. 19 in Houston: a third fight against Gracie, the man he famously fell to by submission at UFC 1 in 1993. The two fought again at UFC 5, but it finished in a draw after 36 minutes. Shamrock, who believes he was the rightful victor of that second fight, has craved a win over Gracie for more than two decades.

"The World's Dangerous Man" hasn't been shy about it, either. Every few weeks, either he or his manager Des Woodruff would call Coker with the request. Coker didn't think Gracie had any interest in fighting again. But there was someone who wanted to fight Shamrock: Kimbo Slice.

Bellator did that fight last June. Shamrock had a chance to win, getting in position for a choke. But Slice didn't tap, got up and knocked Shamrock out. The whole thing was over in 2:22.

Afterward, Shamrock was singing the same tune to Coker. He wanted Gracie. So the promoter brought it up to the Brazilian jiu-jitsu pioneer last fall backstage at a Bellator fight card. The two were in the production room and Gracie got heated.

"He got pissed off," Coker said. "He's like, 'F*ck I'll fight him right now. Clear the tables. Let's do it right here.' He said, 'A street fight, a phone booth, wherever. I'll teach that guy a lesson. I'm tired of him. I beat his ass 20 years ago.'"

Gracie didn't agree contractually right away, but he obviously tipped his hand. A few weeks later, the deal was done and the fight was announced at Bellator 145 in November, a card coincidentally entitled "Vengeance."

In order for everything to come together, Bellator had to first reach out to the Texas Department of Licensing and Registration (TDLR) and also the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC).

The initial issue had to do with weight. Shamrock and Gracie would not be in the same weight class. When they fought in the early UFCs, weight classes didn't exist, so it didn't matter. But Texas has some leeway in their rules with regards to "weight variances." If a fighter comes in between 176 and 200 pounds, his opponent can be up to 15 pounds heavier. Texas Combative Sports Program director Greg Alvarez said Gracie is expected to weigh-in somewhere in the 180s and Shamrock should be within 15 pounds of that mark. Shamrock weighed in at 204.4 pounds against Slice.

"That's the first thing they asked me about was their weight," Alvarez said. "I told them what the weight variances were. That's what they're going to shoot for."

Gracie has never been a believer in weight classes anyway.

"A lot of fighters complain, 'Man he's five pounds heavier than me,'" Gracie said. "Really? It doesn't matter, man. The art of Gracie jiu-jitsu is to learn how to defend yourself in any situation, not to score points, not for tournament style. It's for a street-fight situation."

The next thing was age. Shamrock is 52 years and Gracie is 49. The typical cut off for most athletic commissions before they request additional testing is 35 or 37 years old. Alvarez said he asked Gracie and Shamrock to both provide EKG and EEG tests. An EKG tests the health of the heart and an EEG does the same for the brain. Bellator was happy to oblige.

"These sports are regulated at the state level and each state athletic commission has the right to set their licensing standards," Bellator's director of regulatory affairs Cory Schafer said. "Fighting is not a right, it's a privilege and you require a license. Although they don't practice age discrimination, the qualification in most states the bar is raised in terms of the evaluative process in order to best ensure that it's relatively safe."

Shamrock cleared and licensed after submitting all of his paperwork Tuesday afternoon. There was one additional hurdle for Gracie. He was still under a suspension by CSAC for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug after his last fight in 2007. Likely thinking he'd never fight again, Gracie never paid the $2,500 fine or attempted to reinstate his license.

The fine was paid and Gracie submitted a negative drug test per rules, according to CSAC executive officer Andy Foster. The TDLR cleared Gracie as of Tuesday.

"Health and safety is first," Coker said. "We're not going to put these guys in a situation where they're gonna be in harms way if they're not healthy. Royce's resting heart rate is 35. It's crazy.

"They're still in great shape. They've never gotten out of shape. They never stopped running. It says a lot about them as martial artists. They chose not to be stagnant."

Bellator has received some criticism for booking a fight between two men past middle-age, but the Texas commission had no problem with the bout.

"[Alvarez has] welcomed the fight and we're proceeding according to plan," Schafer said. "We're excited to be presenting a fight that fans want to see ... We believe in that process. We're there to present the best possible fight sports for our fans and the commission is there to determine how to make it the highest safety standard and the most fair. That balance works great. Bellator will always be in compliance and in support.

"We're gonna see two great athletes in the latter part of their career put on a great fight."

The bad news for Shamrock is that, although he's getting the fight he's wanted for two decades, he might be at a perceived disadvantage.

Shamrock has been vocal leading up to the bout about how he disagreed with Gracie being allowed to wear a gi at UFC 1 when Shamrock was not allowed to wear his wrestling shoes. Well, Gracie will be allowed to wear a gi Friday night. The Texas commission allows them for MMA.

"It's still in the rules," Alvarez said of a gi. "There's no rule against it."

Shoes, though, are prohibited.

Gracie has been mum on whether or not he'll wear the gi. Coker doesn't know, either.

Maybe all of this will go toward a fourth edition of the legendary rivalry.

"They still have this heat," Coker said.