Rickson Gracie claims to have won over 450 matches in combat sports. In fact, he said it’s fair to double that figure. But more than two decades over his last official night at the office, the legendary fighter’s record continues to be disputed.
Gracie first entered a vale tudo ring in 1980, submitting Casemiro Nascimento Martins, a.k.a. “Rei Zulu,” with a rear-naked choke in Brasilia, Brazil. They met again four years later, with Gracie emerging victorious with the same technique, this time in his native Rio de Janeiro. The Brazilian star then flew across the globe to beat three opponents in one night at Vale Tudo Japan before repeating the feat a year later.
PRIDE was created in 1997 so Gracie could face Nobuhiko Takada, who went on to lose twice to the jiu-jitsu representative. Gracie’s official record stands at 11-0 following his final victory over Masakatsu Funaki in 2000, another rear-naked choke finish, but Rickson said it’s unfair to leave out many of other unofficial battles. In the end, he’d be happy with “at least” 450 victories to his credit, and zero defeats.
“Every seminar I did at the time, 100, 50, 40, 30, 20 seminars, at the end of the six-hour seminars, I’d submit everybody,” Gracie said on a recent episode of Trocação Franca. “I did a training [session]. ‘Who wants to train?’ Everybody wanted to. I submitted everybody, one after the other. And every tournament I entered after I turned 18, weight class or openweight division, I submitted every match I had and never lost. I entered luta livre tournaments back when Rolles was excited about it, I never lost either.
“Sambo tournaments in Brazil and in the United States, I also never lost. Street fights against guys that were really tough, professionals, or street fights with surfers … fights with luta livre guys, jiu-jitsu tournaments, seminars, any other situation — every time I faced an opponent, he was submitted. I never won by points. And counting very superficially, it’s at least 450 fights, so I set that as my record.”
“I never fought MMA in my life,” he continued. “I fought vale tudo. All my MMA fights had rounds, sometimes 10-minute, sometimes 15-minute, sometimes five-minute rounds, but an undetermined number of rounds until someone lost. There was no other rule to determine the winner. There was no judge to raise someone’s hand after a certain point. Someone would win a fight. And that’s not the MMA rule.
“That  number, I think it’s at least that. You can double that and it’s hard for people to deny. If you saw it, you saw it. If you haven’t, there’s no YouTube that goes back that much, unfortunately.”
If you’re one that doesn’t take into consideration any of the alleged fights that aren’t listed on Gracie’s official 11-0 MMA record, the jiu-jitsu legend say it’s disrespectful to other veterans of the game, namely Hugo Duarte, a luta livre pioneer who competed once under the UFC and PRIDE banners with an official record of 6-3. Gracie and Duarte had two historic encounters in Rio de Janeiro, but neither is listed on their records.
“I can’t leave out the two fights I had with Hugo Duarte, for example, a great fighter I fought once at the beach and another time in the gym,” Gracie said. “That’s not [an official fight] but I can’t leave out such a tough professional like him as one of the times I put myself as a test out there. I’ve successfully shown my jiu-jitsu several times. And as for the exact number, on paper, I think I’d be satisfied with at least 450 [fights]. However, you can say 1,000, no problem. I’d be more satisfied.”
At 63 years of age and more than two decades removed from his last bout, Gracie currently runs a gym in California and isn’t considering returning to cages, rings, or mats to compete because of the “chronic injuries” he suffered over the years, mainly to his spine and lower back, which prevent him from any hard training today.
“I don’t need it anymore, right? I’m past this competition phase,” he said. “Those 11 fights pretty much tell the story of my career, because my first fight with ‘Zulu,’ even thought it wasn’t MMA, it was vale tudo, I was 19 years old. And my last fight with Funaki, I was 40, so it’s pretty much 20 years of a high-performance career included in that run. It was a lot of successful, pressure, stress, emotional control and breathing. At the end of the day we’re here, smiling.”
Rickson Gracie wasn’t planning on retiring from competition after his win over Funaki, though. In fact, he recalls beginning talks with Japanese promoters to set up a highly-anticipated MMA fight against Kazushi Sakuraba, who at the time had already stopped Renzo Gracie, Royler Gracie, and Royce Gracie in a span of 13 months in PRIDE. Sakuraba went on to improve to 4-0 against the Gracie clan in December 2000 when he won a decision over Ryan Gracie, however Rickson may have stopped that run years earlier if he hadn’t been hit with tragic news weeks before PRIDE 12 about the death of his son Rockson.
“In chronological terms, the only that fight that should have happened and didn’t, was the Sakuraba one,” Gracie said, “because he was on a great run and I had just won at the Colosseum, it was a millionaire offer from a Japanese TV to do this fight, Sakuraba and I. It was Sakuraba’s best moment, when he was the Gracie killer and I had just beaten Funaki. It would have been an epic fight.
“Sadly, a month after we started the negotiations, my son was gone and things started to walk backwards and fighting wasn’t a priority for me anymore. It would have been good for me emotionally speaking, to keep me focused, etc., but it would have been a tragedy for my family, who would feel helpless, it would feel bad. So I decided to cancel the fight and stay as the [leader] for my kids, as the nanny, as the father, a friend, going through the pain together to overcome this crisis.
“And then Sakuraba lost to Wanderlei [Silva] and it started to lose that momentum. And when my personal tragedy got better, they weren’t willing to pay a third of they initially did to make this fight.”
In the end, that’s the one opponent Gracie feels got away from him. Sakuraba went on to lose seven of his next 12 bouts against the elite of PRIDE, from Mirko Cro Cop to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira to Ricardo Arona. He did score notable wins in between, submitting foes like Quinton Jackson and Kevin Randleman.
“He’s the only guy that I really felt stuck [in my throat] that I couldn’t fight, and it lost [meaning] before it happened,” Gracie said. “But it would have been a good fight because I was very confident about defeating him and he was very tough, very important at that moment, so it would have been a really interesting fight to watch, but it stayed for other dimensions.”