The Gracies of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fame are in town


The G & A Building along Pasong Tamo Extension in Makati City is an old, rundown three-story structure that has clearly seen better days. Its façade is straight out of the 80s, and a dark interior with poorly-lit hallways greets you when you enter.

It's the last place you'd expect to find a state-of-the-art fitness center, yet in the basement of this decrepit building that's exactly what you'll find. The Elite Fitness Gym 24/7 is at the very end of the otherwise abandoned basement, like an oasis in the middle of the desert.

As the name implies, the gym is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and offers specialized training and conditioning programs. It's partly owned by PBA players LA Tenorio and Paolo Bugia, and as such it boasts of some pretty high-profile clientele from the local sporting world.

Last Friday, though, the gym played host to three very, very high-profile visitors, that is, if you're a mixed martial arts (MMA) fan. The Gracie brothers of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fame are in town for a big MMA card on August 31, and they dropped by the Elite Fitness for an open workout for the local media.

A boost for local MMA

For those unfamiliar with Jiu-Jitsu and/or anyone named Gracie, understand that the Gracie family of Brazil practically invented Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. They are to Jiu-Jitsu what the Ayalas and Zobels are to Philippine high society. In other words, they are jiu-jitsu royalty.

Three scions of the Gracie clan — 34-year-old Rolles, his 32-year-old brother Igor, and their 25-year-old half-brother Gregor — showed off their moves for a select group of media people, who later got the chance to interview them.

The MMA card where they will appear is the ONE Fighting Championship: Pride of a Nation, which will be held at the Araneta Coliseum. ONE FC is a Singapore-based outfit that aims to promote MMA in Asia. Locally they have hooked up with Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC) whose president, Alvin Aguilar, is one of only a handful of Filipinos who are black belters in jiu-jitsu and who counts UFC legend Royce Gracie as one of his mentors. Several URCC fighters, most notably URCC welterweight champion and Southeast Asian Games wushu gold medalist Eduard Folayang of Team Lakay Wushu, have fought in previous ONE FC cards and will also see action on the August 31 card.

MMA's following in the Philippines has been growing steadily the past few years. For one thing, UFC fights are broadcast live, airing on Sunday mornings, and local restaurants and bars that air the fights always manage to attract good-sized crowds of MMA enthusiasts. Of course, the crowds and media attention aren't in the neighborhood of a Manny Pacquiao fight (in fairness, nothing is), but the events have managed to corner their own share of the TV audience.

Even Aguilar's URCC cards always play to full houses wherever they go, although admittedly the outfit still doesn't have that one superstar who can cross over to mainstream media and become a local sports icon. Which is why events like the ONE FC are important to sustain the growth in popularity of MMA, and which is also why bringing over MMA royalty like the Gracies is a major coup for the local MMA movement.

Carrying the Gracie name

Rolles and Igor are the sons of the legendary Rolls Gracie, whose uncle Helio is considered the father of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Rolls died in a tragic hang gliding accident in 1982 at the age of 31, when Rolles was just four. Gregor, who came along in 1986, was born Gregor Rangel and is their half-brother.

At the time of his death, Rolls was a black belter and was already beginning to make a name for himself. Helio, who reached 10th degree red belt in jiu-jitsu, personally trained Rolls and was a national sporting hero in Brazil. He was the father of Royce, and died in 2009 at the age of 95.

This is lineage of Rolles, Igor and Gregor. Talk about living up to a big family tradition.

Rolles is biggest of the three, with an official listed height of six-foot-four. He's a third degree black-belter in Jiu-Jitsu and a third dan black belt in judo. Not surprisingly, he competes in the heavyweight division and has an overall MMA record of six wins and one loss. When I shook his hand, it was so huge it felt like a baseball mitt.

Carrying the Gracie name and taking up Jiu-Jitsu, he said, has never come with any pressure. "It was my choice to take it up," he said. "My mother and my other relatives didn't force me."

He goes on to explain that Jiu-Jitsu is more than just another martial art. "It's different from other martial arts because we don't use kicks and punches to take down our opponent. We use more grappling. It's also a way of life."

Igor, shorter at five-eleven and a welterweight, is a second-degree black belter. Like his elder brother, he says he wasn't pressured into taking up the martial art while growing up. He has fought six times and totes a 4-2 win-loss record.

Gregor is a welterweight like Igor and a black belter. He has a 6-2 MMA record and will face URCC light-heavyweight champ Nicholas Mann on August 31.

All three of them teach Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at their cousin Renzo Gracie's academy in New Jersey.

'Pacquiao is a great fighter'

None of them has ever fought a Filipino, but all of them know and look up to Pacquiao.

"He's my idol," admitted Igor. "He's such a great fighter and such a humble person."

Rolles said he hopes to meet the Filipino boxing icon someday, adding he loves the way Pacquiao fights. He even extended an open invitation to the Pacman to come and watch him fight on the 31st.

Now, if that were to happen, that would be a major, major coup for local MMA.

Twitter: @Sid_Ventura