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Robson Gracie Jr. inspired by brother Renzo as he prepares for MMA debut in Bellator

Robson Gracie Jr. trains with his brother Renzo Gracie in New York
Robson Gracie Jr.'s Instagram

Brazilian jiu-jitsu red belt (9th degree) Robson Gracie has already produced some talents to the mixed martial arts world over the past decades through his sons Renzo, Ryan, and Ralph. Now another of his clan is about to set his foot in a cage for the first time.

Robson Gracie Jr. has signed an exclusive contact with Bellator MMA, and will make his professional debut as a welterweight later this year at Bellator 208, facing Peter Nascimento.

The 27-year-old newcomer is an uncle of Neiman Gracie, who currently holds a perfect 6-0 under the Bellator banner. Gracie Jr. has followed Neiman in some of his Bellator fights in 2017 and 2018, and met with promotion officials several times.

After some informal talks about making his pro debut, Gracie Jr. was approached with a legit offer to sign with the company and didn’t think twice.

The 6-foot-2, 187-pound jiu-jitsu black belt has competed in several jiu-jitsu and grappling tournaments since moving to New York to train with his older brother Renzo in New York in January 2015, but his desire to compete in MMA came long before.

Back in 2014, when he was still training under Murilo Bustamante at Brazilian Top Team, Gracie Jr. agreed to make his MMA debut in a new promotion in Rio de Janeiro. However, the event got postponed three times and his opponent was changed four times, so he eventually listened to his brother’s advice.

“I talked to Renzo and he said, ‘Get out of that, they are not being professionals. Come to New York and I’ll get you a fight,’” Gracie Jr. explained.

Some personal issues prevented Gracie Jr. from making his MMA debut in 2015 like he was planning to, but that ended up being positive as it gave him more time to evolve as an athlete and ready himself for his first experience in a cage.

”It’s great that I have many people here to help me, from all weight classes and styles,” Gracie Jr. said. “It was really cool at BTT, I thank Murilo, but I feel great here with my family, my cousins. Neiman helps me a lot, and he was one of the responsible for getting me this contract because he’s doing great there, so they believe in me because they believe in him.”

Renzo Gracie, who recently made his return to MMA with a second-round victory over Yuki Kondo under the ONE Championship banner, fought professionally for the first time in 1992, when his younger brother had just been born.

“Every kid in Brazil wants to become a soccer player, but watching Renzo fight made me went to become a fighter,” Gracie Jr. said. “I remember watching his fight with (Oleg) Taktarov 50 times on VHS. Watching my brothers Renzo, Ryan, Ralph, and Charles, and my cousins fight, motivated me. It was natural. It didn’t seem like I had another path to go — I had no other option besides becoming a fighter. I love doing this.”

Being a Gracie, especially the younger brother of someone like Renzo, brings added pressure to perform at a higher level even if one has never entered a cage before. Gracie Jr. knows that a famous surname won’t help him win.

”I think it’s a bit tough, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I ended up postponing my debut a little longer,” Gracie Jr. said. “When I was younger, my idea was to debut at 25, or even sooner, but that’s something I can’t escape. I try to shut that [pressure of the name] down, but it will always exist. I train harder because of that pressure. I’m 0-0 but there’s a lot of people waiting for it. ‘Will he take it to the ground? You have to submit him, you have to do this.’ And being Renzo’s brother, too, but I try to shut that down. I try to focus on the fight and doing my part.

”I’m a Gracie, but Renzo won’t be in the cage with me. I’ll be there by myself, and being a Gracie won’t make a difference in the fight. It might make a difference before or after the fight, Renzo and my father teach me a lot. It’s not about winning, it’s about going there and fighting. I look up to Renzo because he doesn’t pick opponents, he’s not scared, and that’s what I want to be. If I’m half of what he was, if I have half of his spirit of not being afraid and facing anyone, I’m already happy no matter the result.”

Another member of the young generation of Gracies made his professional debut under the Bellator banner earlier this year, but it didn’t go his way. Khonry Gracie, son of UFC legend Royce Gracie, fought at Bellator 192 after going 1-0 as an amateur MMA fighter, but lost a decision to Devon Brock.

One of the differences, Gracie Jr. agrees, is the mentality of training with Renzo’s team compared to Royce’s.

”The sport has changed,” Gracie Jr. said. “Jiu-jitsu will always be the best martial art. Royce focuses a lot on pure jiu-jitsu, but people have adapted to that, the sport has changed. There’s something Renzo tells me, ‘You’re not a jiu-jitsu fighter, you’re a fighter. Jiu-jitsu is your background, jiu-jitsu is your No. 1 art, but you have to know everything. You have to have a bit of everything.’ I’ve been training boxing for a while. Not that I’ll try to knock someone out or stand with a striker, but I want to learn it as well. I won’t ignore this part of the sport.

”The sport has evolved like every sport does, and we have a bunch of great fighters here at Renzo’s. We have people from all over the world. There’s a guy here in sparring that is really good standing and it’s hard take him down. It’s funny because I take him down sometimes and he says ‘no, no, let’s get back up, enough is enough,’ because he doesn’t have much jiu-jitsu. And I tell him ‘wait a second, man, you only want to beat me, don’t you want to get beat just a little bit? [laughs] I tell him ‘stay on the ground a little bit.’ We have many people with every fighting style, so I hope that makes me feel a bit more comfortable inside the cage.”

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