ADCC Flashback: Renzo Gracie and the birth of ADCC

With ADCC 2019 fast approaching, has decided to chronicle the most iconic paths to the championship. In this week’s edition, we will look at Renzo Gracie’s route to gold in 1998.

Sheikh Tahnoon and the creation of an empire.

Before the allure of ADCC captivated the grappling world, the tournament was nothing but an idea. Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan had been exposed to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu while studying in America and, like so many of us, was immediately transfixed by the sport. Tahnoon, however, wasn’t the typical white belt.

When Sheikh Tahnoon stepped into Gracie Barra San Diego in 1995, it is hard to believe what an impact he would have on our sport. Unbeknownst to Nelson Monteiro, his instructor, Tahnoon was part of one of the most wealthy families in the world. Despite his great wealth, Tahnoon kept his heritage under wraps and beneath the veil of anonymity began his jiu jitsu journey.

Eventually Sheikh Tahnoon would inform his team of his true identity, but it wasn’t until he returned to the United Arab Emirates that the story of the Abu Dhabi Combat Club would begin.

Motivated by the impact grappling had on his life, Sheikh Tahnoon decided upon a two-pronged plan to ensure the growth of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the UAE. Firstly, Tahnoon would fly the greatest grapplers in the world to train with him and his close confidants, slowly cultivating his skills, which would eventually lead him to earning his black belt. It was the second part of this plan however that would change the world of submission fighting forever.

A disused arena that once played host to horse shows would be repurposed by Sheikh Tahnoon and act as the venue for a grappling tournament for the best submission artists in the world across multiple disciplines. With the help of his former coach, Nelson Monteiro, Sheikh Tahnoon organised the rules and the invitees for the first ADCC World Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Wrestling.

Enter the Gracies

When you think of grappling, one family name immediately comes to mind: Gracie. By 1998, the Gracie legacy in mixed martial arts had already been established. Royce Gracie had dominated early UFC shows and Rickson Gracie’s PRIDE tenure had already begun. The next Gracie scheduled for his breakout moment was Renzo Gracie.

Renzo, son of Robson and Grandson of Carlos Gracie, showed an affinity for pugilism from an early age. Renzo’s path towards vale tudo stardom had been smooth and as ADCC 1998 approached, Renzo was unbeaten in MMA.

Like his cousin Rickson, Renzo was making a name for himself under the bright lights of the PRIDE Fighting Championship. Just 5 days before the inaugural ADCC, Renzo found himself in the ring opposite catch wrestler Sanae Kikuta in a bout that would last over an hour before Gracie locked in his patented guillotine choke. For most athletes, the last thing on their mind after a hour-long fight is competing again the following weekend, but Renzo Gracie isn’t like most people.

On March 20, 1998, Sheik Tahnoon’s vision came to fruition as the best grapplers and MMA fighters in the world arrived onto the mats of the ADCC championship. The tournament field was star studded. With $70,000 in prize money available, ADCC attracted the biggest names in grappling and MMA. UFC heavyweight stars and future hall of famers filled the brackets, but for this edition of the ADCC flash back, our eyes are placed firmly on Renzo Gracie and the -77KG bracket.

With the surname of Gracie, all eyes are going to be on you when you step foot on the mats, and such was the case for Renzo’s first match. While many can be intimidated by the legend of the Gracie family, the man standing opposite Renzo was ready to come forward and attack.

Frank Trigg would later become a UFC title contender, but on that night he was simply a wrestler with a burgeoning MMA career. From the word go he came forward and initiated a collar tie, but after a few failed throw attempts, Renzo would pull guard and threaten with attacks of his back before ultimately being declared the winner. The quarter finals brought a more dominant performance for Gracie who won 3×0.

In the semi finals, Renzo faced “The King of the Armbar”, Fabiano Iha, in what would turn out to be another points win for the Gracie. Renzo, while dominant, was visually suffering from fatigue due to his fight just a few days prior and on the other side of the bracket, an American phenom was dominating his opponents.

Matt Hume is now synonymous with the world of mixed martial arts and is lauded as perhaps one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport. Hume has been the head coach to Demetrious Johnson and cornered him to pound-for-pound stardom. On that night in 1998, it looked like Hume and Renzo Gracie were destined to meet in the final, but unfortunately Hume tore his ACL and had to withdraw, leaving Luis Brito to step in.

The final was vintage Renzo Gracie. Gracie looked rejuvenated by the prospect of gold and attacked Brito relentlessly with arm-in guillotine attempts throughout the match. Eventually Renzo locked in a deep choke and Brito appeared to tap with his feet as unconsciousness seemed an inevitably. When the referee stopped the match, Brito protested the stoppage. The video, however, shows Brito motioning to tap with his feet.

On that night in the United Arab Emirates, the magic of the ADCC was born and Renzo Gracie began his path to becoming one of the most loved grapplers in the tournament’s illustrious history.


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