-Kenny Rice

Royce Gracie’s world appears to be as close to perfect as most will ever experience. He’s synonymous with his sport, a doting family man, successful in business, loved, dare say even worshiped by thousands.

And if he can make magic happen one more time, in what possibly could be the most perfect of  an MMA world, the UFC Hall of Famer will make his return to fighting when the organization goes to Gracie’s native Brazil in August.

“One way or the other I should be there,” he says this week on Inside MMA, the ever calm but effective smile on the face that would be perfect in another world, that of high stakes poker.

Gracie is laying all his cards on the table for what could be his last major stand. He confirms that he has spoken with the Zuffa brass about his wish and will meet with UFC president Dana White in Toronto in two weeks at UFC 129 to further discuss his first fight since a June 2, 2007 victory over Kazushi Sakuraba. A significant win it was, avenging Gracie’s first loss in MMA.

The opponent he would like, no make that the opponent he must have is Matt Hughes, the only other man to defeat him with a first round TKO in 2006 in UFC 60 marking Gracie’s return to the UFC Octagon after an eleven year absence.

“It’s home, where it all started. It’s family,” Gracie talks of his desire to be in action in Brazil. It was as a boy growing up in Rio de Janeiro under the tutelage of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu master, his father Helio, that his legacy began to soar, culminating with an 11-0 record in just over a year from 1993-94 in UFC 1,2 and 4. The hand chosen flag bearer for the fledgling and controversial sport by his older brother and UFC co-founder Rorion.

This family invented what North Americans know of MMA, and the pride swells with Gracie as he still speaks of reverence for his father. “He did it all, there would not be anything like it is now without him.”

And to be in the land of his birth, before family and friends who knew the legends of Helio and his uncle Carlos before that of the next Gracie generation, is beyond appropriate. Royce will definitely be there but could he just be sitting in the stands? At 44 years old, even with a physique belying that of almost all men his age, could he watch another chance pass by?

“I had to step out of the house, couldn’t turn on the TV to watch a match after my brother first sold the UFC. I couldn’t just sit and watch. But that has changed with time. I like the basics of fighting. I like to watch the new guys coming up, I relearn the basics watching them. I always like to learn.”

He appreciates the comet like growth of the sport, understands the needs for time limits and weight classes, something not even considered in the opening events 18 years ago. But he reminisces about those days when defeating men 150 to 200 pounds more than he was exactly how he, his father and brothers envisioned it.

“It was pure, two men against each other with little rules. Who wins determined by desire, skills. I know it had to change to grow but that heart is still there.”

His heart beats to a different drummer in many regards such as his stoic demeanor as Hughes almost snapped his arm in their first meeting, but Royce would never tap. It was after a series of strikes the referee stopped it.

The more he talks about a return, the eyes twinkle, that special look on his face. He coyly deflects a question about being in contact with Hughes for a rematch. “Yes, we talk all the time,” he laughs waiting for the punch line, his own. “I don’t talk to my enemies, you know that.”

In an mmajunkie.com poll for HDNet, 39% of viewers stated they wanted to see Gracie fight B.J. Penn if he did participate in the Brazilian event compared to only 14% wanting to watch him fight Hughes again. When he looked at the numbers of five choices offered, he again wryly grinned, “There’s only one name up there that I want to fight.” He extended his index finger for emphasis. “Only one.”

That Hughes has victories over him and another famous Gracie, Renzo in UFC 112, adds to the tunnel vision Royce is using as he prepares for the other and in all likely hood final round of talks with the UFC leaders in two weeks. Perhaps the deal will be done before he leaves Canada so he can intensify his training for Brazil this summer.

It would just be like almost everything else Royce Gracie, perfect.

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