UFC Co-Founder: Rorion Gracie Accused Rickson Gracie of Stealing Students

UFC Co-Founder: Rorion Gracie Accused Rickson Gracie of Stealing Students

In 1993, Art Davie created and co-produced the tournament which became the televised Ultimate Fighting Championship. He is currently giving interviews to promote his book ‘Is this legal’.

I this recent interview, Davie explained why it was the younger Royce Gracie and not the family champion, Rickson Gracie who was chosen to represent the family to popularize Gracie Jiu-Jitsu around the world.

According to Davie, Rorion had accused Rickson of stealing students, as he was teaching them in his garage.

“Rickson was the family champion. Relson was more of a street fighter. Rorion had discovered that Rickson was stealing students and teaching them in his garage so it was going to be Royce.”

In an interview with SI’s Jeff Wagenheim he talked about the tension between UFC co-founder Rorion Gracie, and his younger half brother, the family champion Rickson:


Jeff Wagenheim: As much as the Gracies saw this as a showcase for their jiu-jitsu, they didn’t even utilize the family’s best fighter.

Art Davie: Yes, that’s right. Throughout the planning stages, I was sure that one of my contestants was going to be Rickson Gracie. He was the family champion, the jiu-jitsu scientist, a role he inherited from his cousin Rolles. He had had pro fights in Brazil.

But one day Rorion told me it was going to be Royce, not Rickson. I was shocked. Little Royce, all 170 pounds of him? But I learned that Rorion and Rickson had been having problems that revolved around control and money. Rorion was the older brother, but Rickson was the best fighter, so who was going to be the titular head of the family?

The family really did operate as a unit. All of the brothers would give Rorion their bills, and he would pay them. And at one point Rickson’s wife submitted a bill for therapeutic massage, and Rorion said no. So Rickson’s wife said to her husband, “Wait a minute, you’re letting your brother tell you that I can’t have a massage?”

On top of that, Rorion found out that Rickson had stolen two students from the Gracie academy and was teaching them over his garage. So it came down to money. And I think Rickson felt, on some level, that he had his own destiny.

JW: Yet Rickson did serve as coach for little brother Royce prior to the first UFC.

AD: Yes, and later on he almost got even more involved. This isn’t in the book, because the book focuses on UFC 1. But between UFCs 3 and 4, I had a meeting with Rickson, Rorion, Royce and their father, Helio. After Royce’s performance in UFC 3, where he ran out of gas emotionally and physically [and had to withdraw before the final], he had agreed to step down, at Helio and Rorion’s request. They turned to Rickson. They wanted him to come in for UFC 4.

So we all met in my office on a Saturday. And as we sat there around a big conference table, Rickson told us he wanted a million bucks. I knew he was going to ask for that. He and I had had dinner a couple of nights before, and he’d told me, ‘Mike Tyson is getting 10 million, so I want at least one million.’ I told him no one in the UFC was making a million bucks — I wasn’t, Rorion wasn’t, no fighter was.

‘You saw what your brother got,’ I told him.

JW: So what happened when Rickson came into the meeting and made his demand?

AD: Well, the old man, who was always quiet, finally spoke up.

‘In my day, this wasn’t about money, this was about putting forward the family art and defending it,’ he said. ‘Me and my brothers, we did this for the honor of defending Gracie jiu-jitsu.’ Helio looked at Rickson and said, “You’ve become too much of a Norte Americano.’

Rickson didn’t say anything to his father. He just nodded. He didn’t look at Rorion. Then he nodded to me and he left the room.

He ended up going over to Japan, where he fought mostly against men with losing records. He got his big bucks fighting guys a lot of purple belts could have beat.”