2007-08-01 / Front Page

Gracie under pressure

Holmdel man earns living in violent world of mixed martial arts, and loves it
BY DAN NEWMAN Staff Writer

BY DAN NEWMAN
Staff Writer

Photos by Brian Bahr/Getty Images for IFL
Below right, Holmdel resident Renzo Gracie is a member of the New York Pitbulls of the International Fight League, who will be in action tomorrow night at the Continental Airlines Arena. Above, Renzo Gracie is shown in action in September. Photos by Brian Bahr/Getty Images for IFL Below right, Holmdel resident Renzo Gracie is a member of the New York Pitbulls of the International Fight League, who will be in action tomorrow night at the Continental Airlines Arena. Above, Renzo Gracie is shown in action in September. HOLMDEL - What the Von Erichs were to pro wrestling or the Mannings are to the NFL is about equivalent to what the Gracies are in the world of mixed martial arts. For years, the Gracies, from Brazil, have ruled the landscape, and now it's Renzo Gracie's turn to enjoy the spotlight.

Gracie, a Holmdel resident, is one of the top fighters in the International Fight League (IFL), the world's first team-based mixed martial arts league, which combines disciplines such as wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, karate, judo and muay thai. Tomorrow night, Renzo (pronounced Henzo) and his New York Pitbulls take on the Tokyo Sabres in an IFL semifinal at the Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford.

The Pitbulls made it this far by competing in a nine-event regular season schedule, which started six months ago. In the other semifinal, the top-seeded and undefeated Los Angeles Anacondas will take on the Quad City Silverbacks, with the semifinal winners meeting at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Fla., on Sept. 20. Gracie believes his squad has a good chance of advancing.

"We're always working hard to get better and we feel like we'll be ready," Gracie said. "I know that Tokyo is a very strong team, and so they'll also be ready and they'll be at their best."

Gracie comes from a long line of fighters, starting nearly a century ago. Renzo, 40, started in the field when he was just 5 years old, having seen his grandfather, Carlos, and father, Robson, become entrenched in the sport. Renzo's brothers, Ralph and Ryan, and his cousins, Royce and Rickson, are well-known as MMA champions.

"I grew up in this business, and so I really knew early on in my life that I'd be involved in something like this," Gracie said. "I've been all over the world and now to have an opportunity still at age 40 to be doing what I really love to do, it's a great feeling. I do think the IFL will take off and then everybody will know about is."

Gracie said he was always accustomed to fighting without a team to support and surround him. Then, nearly two years ago, the IFL was formed, changing his perception of MMA fighting.

"I started to realize that, really, I have been on a team my whole life, having my family around me. Now being a part of the IFL, this is a good thing for me. We train six days per week and I still have the time to train other fighters as well," he said.

Gracie said he has about 900 students where he teaches in New York City, and very soon he hopes to have even more, once he opens up the Renzo Gracie Training Academy in Holmdel on Route 35 near Union Avenue.

"I should be able to sign the paperwork this week, and we will go from there," Gracie said. "Once the academy opens, I will be staying in New Jersey a lot more. I think the people in the area will get into it."

But how did a mixed martial arts fighter from South America end up on the quiet streets of bucolic Holmdel?

Gracie, an 11-year resident of the township, said that the schools were important to him when researching where to move his family, which includes his wife of 17 years, Cristina, and his children, ages 13 and 12.

"I really did love the area when I first saw it. Plus, depending on when you travel, the drive is not bad at all into the city," Gracie explained.

Jerry Milani, public relations manager for the IFL, said that Gracie is clearly one of the top draws in the league, and he also feels that Gracie's past is why the league has a bright future.

"Once people saw that Renzo was going to be involved, that's when they decided to get involved," Milani said. "A guy like Renzo is a legend in mixed martial arts, and so to have his name associated with the league, it gives it a huge lift."

Tickets for tomorrow night's event can be purchased through the Continental Airlines Arena box office, Ticketmaster or at ifl.tv.

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