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After almost leaving BJJ for soccer, Royce Gracie’s son Khonry talks victorious MMA debut

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Khonry Gracie won his first amateur bout via decision.
Jeremy Lehmann

Royce Gracie’s son was victorious in his mixed martial arts debut as an amateur, and can't wait to step back inside a cage one more time.

With the UFC Hall of Famer in his corner, Khonry Gracie, 20, scored a decision victory over welterweight Ben Clark at the Attitude MMA Fights 10 in Memphis on Sept. 22. He was hoping to get a submission victory, but says that going three rounds was good for many reasons.

"I am glad, looking back at the fight, that I went all three rounds,” Gracie told MMA Fighting. "It was good to get the experience, it was good to get a feel for what it’s gonna be like, you know, but my gameplan going in was trying to get him down. He did a very good job of blocking the takedowns."

"I would say my opponent was very tough. It wasn’t an easy fight, it wasn’t a walk in the park,” he added. "I didn’t take it likely, if that’s what you’re asking. I expected everything that was basically coming, and it was a great first fight. It was good to get my foot wet. It was a good first fight. I’m glad about the win and I’m glad my dad was in my corner. It felt great. It just feels good to carry on the family name.”

Unlike a few members of the traditional family, Khonry Gracie didn’t compete in any jiu-jitsu tournaments prior to making his amateur mixed martial arts debut "because tournaments are all about points,” he explains. "Today it’s maybe some of the best guys in the world finish in submissions, but most people in tournaments today don’t submit, they win by point system. It does nothing to do with what i wanna do, which is MMA.”

And there’s a reason why he decided to test himself in an amateur bout instead of taking a professional fight right away.

"If I went pro right away, I had no experience,” Gracie said. "What I wanted was the experience. What I wanted was to start at the bottom and work my way up to the top. If I started at the top I wouldn’t know what it felt like to come from the bottom."

Khonry grew up with his family in the United States, and would only visit Brazil once a year to visit his grandfather Helio Gracie — or ‘vovô Helio, as he calls him. The young Gracie looked up to Helio and Royce as a kid, and just wants to continue the legacy of the family in the cage.

In fact, he almost left the martial arts world for another traditional sport in Brazil.

"When I grew up I played soccer for almost 10 years,” Gracie said. "I played soccer, I was very focused on soccer. Jiu-jitsu was a hobby. I learned jiu-jitsu and I taught jiu-jitsu, but I didn’t actually need to fight until three years ago I made a decision. 'Look, when I turn 20, when I turn 21, I’m gonna fight, I’m gonna start my career.’ It wasn’t until three years ago when I officially focused on MMA, but I’ve been training jiu-jitsu my whole life."

He insists he was never forced by his father to choose jiu-jitsu or MMA over soccer. The moment of truth was three years ago, when he had to make a choice for his future.

"I had an offer to go play soccer for an university here in California, or I could focus on jiu-jitsu and focus on MMA and try to go pro in that,” he said. "That day came when I had to pick one or the other, so I picked jiu-jitsu. It was all my decision. (Royce) never forced, which I appreciate now looking back at it. I’m glad of the decision I made. No regrets.”

Royce fought for the last time in Feb. 2016, stopping Ken Shamrock in the main event of Bellator 149, and that night helped Khonry decide it was time to start training for his own fight.

"I've been training jiu-jitsu my whole life,” he said. "When my dad fought his last fight, in February against Ken Shamrock, I was already starting slowly to train with him then, but officially I would say four months after my dad’s fight. Maybe after summer last year I officially started training.

"Being in his lockerroom before his fight, that was by far one of the coolest experiences I had. For his fight, being there with his team, with his corner, with him before the fight. Watching him just focus on the fight, sleep before the fight. I thought all that was absolutely amazing.”

Being backstage at Bellator 149 also showed the young Gracie how to behave moments before a MMA bout, and he used those important lessons last month in Memphis.

"My dad would always sleep, he would always take a nap right before he was about to fight, and when I was about to fight my fight he told me to do the exact same thing,” Gracie said. "I always follow his guidance. He never told me something that was bad for me. So I always follow his guidance. I mean, he’s been in this sport for a long time, so he knows what to do. He’s not an amateur in this stuff."

Khonry Gracie with his father Royce at Bellator 149.
Bellator

"I wasn’t nervous at all,” he said of his amateur bout. "I stayed very calm, relaxed. I tried not to think about the fight too much because that’s what sets the nerves off. I tried to focus, I put headphones in, I listed to some music, I took a nap, I got up, I warmed up, I trained. I wasn’t thinking of going in and fighting the fight. Before the fight I was clearing my mind, let the instinct kick in and you’ll do fine."

With his father being a UFC legend currently signed by Bellator, Khonry could have a faster run into one of the two biggest MMA promotions in the world if he wants. Would Royce’s influence lead him to Bellator cage instead of the Octagon?

"That’s not up to me,” he said, "that’s up to them and whoever wants to pick me up. First come, first serve."

Fighting in the UFC "would be fun, I think it would have some kind of meaning,” he continued, "but, like you said, my dad is with Bellator now, so… Again, it’s first come first serve. I’ll go anywhere. I just want to fight, I just want to represent my last night, my grandfather's jiu-jitsu. I’m here for the family, I’m not here to see what promotion I fight for. That has nothing to do with it.

"What's my biggest goal (in MMA)? Represent my family. Represent jiu-jitsu as best as I can. I didn’t come here and join MMA to do boxing, muay thai. I came here to represent jiu-jitsu, represent ‘vovô’ Helio’s jiu-jitsu."