Throughout his entire life, Khonry Gracie has known that his father was special, that he was someone instantly recognizable by a wide cross-section of people around the world. Once as a child, he was walking with his dad — the legendary Royce Gracie — to a show in Las Vegas. About 30 feet from a door they were about to reach, they were suddenly faced by a mass of humanity. The way he tells it, Khonry remembers it as something like watching a huge wave crashing toward them, and that only a quick-acting bodyguard who literally picked up Royce to remove him from the fray kept them from being swallowed up.
It’s a legacy that would have been easy to run away from, but Khonry says after growing up on the Brazilian jiu jitsu mats, the choice was hardly a choice at all. Mixed martial arts was calling him.
“My father did it, I want to do it too,” he told MMA Fighting. “There’s nothing really much more to it. A few years ago I came to realize that MMA and BJJ are my path. It’s in my blood.”
Now 20 years old, Khonry is set to make his professional mixed martial arts debut at Bellator 192, where he’ll face fellow rookie Devon Brock. The move comes just four months after his amateur debut, a unanimous decision win, yet it is the seemingly inescapable conclusion of his lineage.
Grandson of the founding father of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, son of the founding father of mixed martial arts, Khonry Gracie is something akin to royalty in combat sports. His last name will always precede his arrival and bring with it the burden of expectations. But to hear him tell it, those concerns are weightless in his world.
Showing the trademark calmness that his father illustrated even in the first days of the sport, Khonry is entering the pro ranks with a sense of tranquility. This was after all, a decision, not destiny. Even if this sport in his blood, Khonry took a side road into soccer for much of his youth, enjoying the teamwork and camaraderie of the game. But as he neared the completion of high school, all his years of Brazilian jiu-jitsu pulled at him.
“I loved it right from the beginning,” he said. “Jiu-jitsu was never forced on us. It was more playtime more than going there to train, sweat and draw blood. It was not like that. It was more fun growing up than anything.”
Growing up a Gracie was an enjoyable childhood, one that was bereft of any fighting.
“There are people who try to be funny, but it never crossed the serious line,” Khonry said. “They might throw a little joke in there, but never once did it cross the line.”
So when Khonry stepped into the cage to fight Ben Clark in his Sept. 2017 amateur debut, it marked his first-ever fight. And an interesting thing happened: It was mostly a standup affair. The scheduled three-round bout went the distance, and Gracie won the striking-heavy battle via unanimous decision. But even when it went to the ground, Gracie, who is now a brown belt, showed some interesting instincts, going for ground-and-pound strikes over hunting a submission.
He says in feeling out the moment, his opponent showed good submission defense, causing him to quickly shift to plan B.
The fact he didn’t force his jiu-jitsu is a good sign; many rookies fall back on their strengths as a matter of course.
“I’m comfortable,” Khonry said. “I adapt to every situation. If you want to stand up, let’s do it. If you want to go to the ground, let’s do that.”
That confidence is bred through time as well as the work put in by him and his coaches. In addition to his dad, he has his uncle Royler and his cousin Rodrigo in his corner. He also trains under former UFC middleweight title contender Mark Munoz in wrestling, Freddie Roach’s right-hand-man Marvin Somodio in boxing, and U.S. Blackbelt Academy founder Ivan Kravitz in kickboxing.
While Khonry has steeped himself into the latest techniques of the sport, he is still very much a Gracie; he makes no secret that he’s repping jiu-jitsu. Ask him if he agrees with the philosophy espoused by many of his relatives that knowing jiu-jitsu is enough to win at MMA, while he doesn’t outright agree with it, he makes it clear that his game will always be about playing to his strengths.
“I learn these other martial arts not to be the best at it. I learn them so that I know what’s coming,” Khonry said. “If I fight a boxer, I know he’s going to throw a jab, a cross, a hook, an uppercut. There’s four or five combinations he can throw. I learn it for that, not so I can be a world boxing champion.”
He also completely eschews weight-cutting, choosing to fight right at his walk-around weight of 170 pounds.
“How I look at it is back when my father was fighting, people never cut weight,” he said. “There was no weight limit, there were no weight classes. So why would I have to cut weight?”
On Jan. 20, the Gracie family adds another fighter to the pro ranks. According to best available research, Khonry will be the 24th member of the family to do so, the lineage now running directly from father to son. It is a proud and deep pedigree, but to Khonry, it is not a source for stress or a cause of anxiety. It is just part of who he is.
“As long as I fight, I believe my father will be proud,” he said. “Whether I win or not, as long as I step in that cage, I’m good. There’s no pressure on my back to carry the family name, to win, to get a championship. It’s nothing to do with that. As long as I step in the cage and compete, I’m good.”