Should Neiman Gracie complete his quest to become a Bellator champion, it could signal the start of a return to glory for martial arts’ most famous family.
The latest in a long line of Gracies attempting to translate Brazilian jiu-jitsu dominance into MMA success, the 30-year-old Gracie brings an 8-0 pro record into his welterweight championship bout against Rory MacDonald in the semifinals of the Bellator Welterweight World Grand Prix on June 14. Should he defeat MacDonald, Neiman will become the first Gracie to capture Bellator gold.
Appearing on a recent episode of The MMA Hour, Gracie predicted that his triumph in the MMA world will be one of many for his family in the future.
“We have other Gracies in Bellator too,” Gracie told host Luke Thomas. “We have my cousin Khonry, Royce’s son, and we have my cousin Robson, he trains here with me, he’s coming up too. So yeah man, we’re coming back and we’re coming back to take the gold.”
Khonry, 22, and Robson, 27, have both seen their hands raised in the Bellator cage, with Khonry outpointing Ron Becker at Bellator 209 to improve to 1-1, and Robson submitting Brysen Bolohao in the second round of his pro debut at Bellator 212. Robson will also be in action at Bellator 222 in June. Time will tell if either man evolves into a championship contender.
Further along in his development is Kron Gracie, who recently made his UFC debt with a first-round submission of bantamweight veteran Alex Caceres. Caceres entered that bout with 18 UFC appearances on his resume, but he is still lightly regarded by some due to his below-.500 record inside the Octagon. Neiman thinks that the unbeaten Kron (5-0) more than lived up to the hype.
“He’s doing great,” Neiman said. “He only had one fight and people are trying to talk bad things, like, ‘Oh, it’s Alex Caceres.’ Alex Caceres is damn tough. Who had beat him that easy like that in the first round? Who? Who did it?”
Though the Gracies have yet to produce a champion in a North American promotion since the pioneering Royce was running roughshod over the UFC’s competition in the ‘90s, Roger Gracie was able to win a 225-pound title with Singapore’s ONE Championship back in May 2016 before retiring the following year.
The thought of opening the championship floodgates for his family again has Gracie focused solely on knocking off MacDonald and then going on to defend his title against Douglas Lima in the Bellator Welterweight World Grand Prix finals. He’s been nothing but respectful towards MacDonald, and unlike some of the other Gracies (legendary Gracie family patriach Helio was said to have brought a coffin to his fight with Masahiko Kimura to symbolize Kimura’s death), he’s not the type to puff out his chest beforehand.
There are exceptions, of course.
“I think only, like, two guys,” Gracie answered when asked if any fighters had ever managed to get under his skin. “I fought [Javier Torres] in Bellator and he was kind of a dick. But I felt good, it gave me more power to try to finish him.
“I don’t dislike [trash talk], but it’s not something that I do,” he continued. “I’m usually a very calm guy and like I said before, I think about it as a business. At the end of the day I just want to go in there and compete and win. So I don’t hate the guy, I don’t want to kill the guy, I just want to be better than him. I want to finish him. But it’s not like I want to kill him.”
Asked for his thoughts on Colby Covington, who famously insulted Brazilian fans after defeating Demian Maia at UFC 225, Gracie offered a word of warning to the brash welterweight.
“I don’t like that, and knowing people try to fight him out of the cage, he pulls the phone, ‘Hey, he tried to hit me!’ Where I come from, I come from old school in Brazil,” Gracie said. “If you talk something bad about someone’s mom or anything, they go all the way in your house and they’re going to wait for you downstairs under your house to fight you. It’s different.
“In Brazil, if you do such a thing like that, expect when you come to your house the guy will be right there to fight you. That gets respect, people don’t do these things.”
Gracie doesn’t consider himself to be the type to seek street justice, even though he comes from a family known for having little tolerance for public disrespect. His uncle Renzo, who turned 52 in March, found himself in a nightclub brawl just five years ago.
That’s not the life for Neiman, though he’ll have an entirely different kind of target on his back should he become Bellator champion on June 14.
“I don’t think violence is the best thing, especially against people that are not fighters,” Gracie said. “They don’t know what they’re doing. So I’ve never had street fights, being different from the other guys from my family that had a lot of stories. I never had much, never fought much in the street.
“My thing is more, like I said, it’s a sport. I’m not a violent guy, so I think that’s better.”