The Weight of a Name

By Jason Burgos Nov 14, 2018

Not every career begins perfectly, not even when your last name is Gracie. Khonry Gracie discovered that reality in his professional debut at Bellator 192, where he lost a unanimous decision to Devon Brock. The 21-year-old son of mixed martial arts pioneer Royce Gracie aims to rectify his disappointment in his next appearance under the Bellator MMA banner.

“I just wanted to get back in the gym the next day and just go spar,” Gracie told Sherdog.com.

However, he did not return to the gym the following day. Instead, he heeded the advice of his father and took a few weeks off to reflect, reenergize and refocus.

“He wanted me to just clear my head,” Gracie said. “He didn’t want me to put pressure on myself, even though I don’t ever really think I did.”

The Gracie name will always be revered in grappling and MMA circles. It has become a brand, symbolizing a style taught the world over. For the grandchildren of Helio and Carlos Gracie, going into the “family business” is always an option but not an expectation.

“You can always say, ‘I don’t want to do this as my life career. I don’t want to teach. I don’t want to fight,’” Gracie said. “You don’t have to do it. It’s not mandatory that every Gracie does it. It’s almost like a skill you have in your back pocket.”

Although Gracie played soccer throughout his childhood and pondered the possibility of taking his abilities to the collegiate level, something from within called him to the sport his father and family helped create.

“I had to make a decision going into my senior year [of high school] whether I wanted to play soccer for a college [and] get a degree, or if I wanted to carry on the name, carry on the legacy that my [family has] been doing for a very long time,” he said. “One day, it just hit me: ‘I’ve got to fight at least once.’”

The Californian has now fought twice, once as an amateur and once as a professional. Gracie had trouble taking down Brock in January -- a fact which led to their fight being contested mostly on the feet. Under those circumstances, the experience gap proved too much for him to overcome in a unanimous decision defeat.

“I would say experience had a little bit to do with [the loss], but I’m not going to make excuses,” Gracie said. “We went over why I lost -- what I did wrong, what I did right -- and now it’s just [about] learning from here on.”

Gracie’s training regimen differs from the majority of his contemporaries. He does not sharpen his skills at one gym that has various trainers in different disciplines with a singular coaching looking to blend it all together.

“My father is my head coach,” Gracie said. “He most of the time calls the shots, unless I’m not satisfied somewhere; and I’ll let him know. He’s the one that dictates where I go.”

The developing fighter frequents several gyms that specialize in specific spheres. For example, he trains his Brazilian jiu-jitsu at home, works his muay Thai at Kings MMA with Rafael Cordeiro and handles his boxing at Wild Card West. Gracie prefers this style of training over the one-stop appeal of gyms like the American Kickboxing Academy or American Top Team.

“I like mixing, because if I’m under one roof, it’s that way or no way, or I’ve got to leave,” Gracie said. “I don’t have to mix it according to some coach.”

He believes his own body and instinct should dictate how he integrates everything he learns. To that end, Gracie sees himself evolving into a full-fledged fighter. The sport has also evolved, yet many fighters who carry the Gracie name have remained specialists, leaning heavily on their Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills. Does he plan to mirror multi-dimensional threats like Brian Ortega, Ronaldo Souza and Fabricio Werdum?

“We will see, won’t we?” Gracie said. “Am I confident going into this next fight standing up or being on the ground? Yeah, absolutely, but jiu-jitsu is instinct, so it’ll always be there. Whereas boxing and muay Thai I have to learn [and have] been learning for a while now, jiu-jitsu is home.”

In his next assignment, Gracie will confront Avi Baron at Bellator 209 this Thursday in Tel Aviv, Israel. Baron, 35, made his pro debut at Bellator 164 in November 2016, succumbing to punches from Alexander Nikulin in just 54 seconds. Still, Gracie expects a test.

“He’s going to be a tough opponent,” he said. “He’s definitely not one to back down, but I’ve been training pretty hard for this fight.”

After a sitdown with his father and other coaches following his loss to Brock, the common opinion was that Gracie did not exude the self-assurance he needed to be an emotionally poised fighter.

“We did have to work on the attitude of coming into [a fight],” he said. “I wasn’t nervous, but I also wasn’t projecting confidence.”

On a technical level, the team looked to shore up the deficiencies in Gracie’s game.

“I would say the biggest thing we worked [on] is closing the distance off the start of the bout,” he said. “We worked a lot in this camp on using many more kicks, just because I’m so lengthy. My legs are so long. That is a tool that needs to be utilized.”

Along with preparing for Baron, Gracie needed to be ready for an 11-hour time jump once he arrives in Israel. As the son of an Ultimate Fighting Championship hall of famer, he has grown accustomed to traveling.

“It’s not the time that I wanted, but it’ll have to do, I guess,” said Gracie, who planned to arrive five days to a week in advance of Bellator 209. “I know for every hour of time zone difference, it’s about a day to recover, and a week doesn’t give me the exact 11 hours to Israel. I feel like I have been traveling long enough that the jet lag won’t affect me a week in.”

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