Whether it takes one year or ten, Khonry Gracie believes he will become champion eventually. The next step in his journey comes this week at Bellator 209.
When Khonry Gracie, son of MMA pioneer Royce Gracie, made his professional debut in the sport earlier this year, needless to say all eyes were on him. Gracie made the walk to the Bellator cage at the L.A. Forum, part of Bellator 192 in January. Taking on a fellow debuting fighter, Devon Brock, at welterweight, Gracie went the distance. The decision, however, did not go in his favor.
This Thursday night in Tel Aviv, Israel (the event will air Friday on Paramount Network, with prelims streaming online), Gracie will make his sophomore appearance at Bellator 209. His opponent, like himself, is 0-1 as a pro (Gracie won his lone amateur fight). Also like himself, Baron’s lone loss came under the Bellator banner.
However Gracie, of course, is the man MMA fans will be tuning in for on the Bellator 209 preliminary card. His lineage demands that. While Neiman Gracie has put together a spectacular run in Bellator, Khonry is the son of the legend. Royce Gracie won it all at UFC 1, after all. Not to mention UFC 2 and UFC 4, the only man to win three UFC tournaments.
Yet Khonry is ready to forge his own path, in a journey that, as a professional anyway, began with Brock last January. From that fight, albeit a loss, he was able to gain something. “Experience. Absolutely. I had no clue,” he told Cageside Press ahead of Bellator 209.
“I only fought one amateur fight before going into my first professional Bellator fight. An amateur setting is much, much smaller than an arena, especially the L.A. Forum,” he explained. “So I think that was the biggest shock. It’s like, ‘okay, you’re ready to go out, you’re ready to go out.’ As soon as you start walking down the runway, you’re like, ‘wow! This is huge!’ The stadium is massive.”
Despite the shock of debuting in such a large venue, it’s not a fight Gracie regrets taking. “I’m not a guy who lives life in regrets, so no. I made the decision to come to Bellator, and I’m sticking with that decision.”
Gracie feels he didn’t push the pace enough in that debut fight, noting his endurance is excellent, a credit to his strength and conditioning coach. “When I got back in the locker room, I was like ‘shoot. I should have pushed the fight harder. I should have pressed him.'”
“I can run a marathon, but when I got in the cage, I don’t know what it was. Maybe I just froze or something, I’m not sure,” Khonry continued. “I didn’t move as well as I thought I should have.”
“I think for the next one, we’re going to be pushing that endurance pace a little more.”
If there was any surprise in that first fight, it was seeing Khonry stand with Brock as much as he did. However, “jiu-jitsu is always going to be home for me,” he told us. Make no mistake, he’s a BJJ fighter through and through. “There’s never going to be a close second. I’ve been doing jiu-jitsu since I could walk, since I was born.”
“Every Gracie who will step in the cage whether it’s past, present, or future, every Gracie in the new, newer mixed martial arts — if you fight a Gracie, what’s your strategy? What’s my strategy? My strategy is to take you down,” he laid out. “What’s your strategy? You strategy is to sprawl on me.”
That was Khonry Gracie’s main concern heading into Bellator 192. “This guy’s probably drilling sprawls a thousand times a day,” was his thought. “So that when I shoot in on him, his hips are way away from me. I was more feeling it out, if that’s a good word for it. I was more testing the waters. I wasn’t trying to just shoot in right off the starting bell.”
Looking ahead, Gracie’s next trip to the cage is about as far from The Forum as you can get. From L.A. to Tel Aviv. Asked whether fewer distractions might benefit him in such a far away locale, Gracie wasn’t certain. “I don’t know, I couldn’t really tell you. Fighting at home or fighting abroad, I’ll let you know after the fight.”
Royce does have a black belt in Israel, and friends will be in attendance in Tel Aviv, but “in a sense, it’s not home turf, so I don’t have to preoccupy myself with all that stuff. With friends coming, with family coming, this and that.”
As to how he got to Tel Aviv, it was just a matter of Bellator offering him a fight. He didn’t even know who he’d be fighting. “Done. Send me my opponent,” was Gracie’s response when his manager informed him of the Tel Aviv fight.
Gracie changed things up this camp, working on mixing everything together. More Mauy Thai, more kickboxing. Working on leg kicks, given he’s got the legs for it, and can use them to keep distance. “We’ll see some of that in the fight I’m sure.”
It’s been a bit of a layoff for Gracie, but it had nothing to do with struggling with that debut loss. Rather, “I fight when they call,” he said. “I’m in no rush to get to the top. It could take me a year, or ten years, to become champion. But I’ll get there eventually.”
“Deep down, it was always there. That urge to get in the cage, it’s more instinct than anything.”
Nor was there pressure from family. “My father always told me growing up, as long as you step in the cage, win or lose, it doesn’t matter. You carried on the legacy, you did your job, all you need is one fight, that’s it.”
“It’s my choice to continue to keep going,” Gracie said. “It’s always been my choice. I want to do this. I like doing it.”
An admitted adrenaline junkie, Khonry later told us that “I do love the adrenaline, I love the rush. It’s more of if it comes along, or when it comes along. I don’t go looking for it.”
That means he’s not sitting on the couch and jumping up, saying “I gotta go jump out of a helicopter, I gotta go jump out of an airplane and skydive and wingsuit and do whatever.” Instead, Khrony is more about taking advantage of opportunities. “It’s more like hey, I’m traveling, I’m going over to the east coast, and we have a friend there who flies planes and does skydiving, ‘you wanna go?’ Of course I wanna go, I’m not going to say no to it.”
Yet in this case, the urge to get in the cage has been with him a long time. “I want to say deep down, it was always there. That urge to get in the cage, it’s more instinct than anything,” he revealed. “Growing up, I did play soccer for many years, and I could have gone to college for it, got a degree and all this and that.”
Instead, he’s now joined what amounts to the family business. “I think there’s, deep down, like an urge that most Gracies have that makes you [go] ‘I gotta go do it, I wanna do it,'” he said of getting in the cage and fighting. “I live for this kind of stuff.”