by John Morgan on Apr 08, 2010 at 1:00 pm ET
While bookmakers have pegged MMA pioneer Renzo Gracie (13-6-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) is as a massive underdog in his UFC 112 matchup with fellow legend Matt Hughes (43-7 MMA, 16-5 UFC), the Brazilian welterweight is confident he'll bring pride back to his family's name.
After all, Gracie remembers well the night in 2006 when Hughes earned a dominating first-round TKO over Royce Gracie, Renzo's cousin.
Now Renzo believes it's time for a little payback.
"It's like my little brother," Gracie said. "My little brother pisses me off, I hit him. Somebody else hits him, I charge them. I said to Royce, 'Royce, I can talk about you as much as I want because I love you, and you can talk bad about me, too. But somebody else does, that really pisses me off.'
"I'm hungry now. I actually want to pay back Hughes for what he did."
Royce was well past his prime when he accepted the bout with Hughes. According to Renzo, Royce also failed to properly prepare for the fight and instead assumed his pedigree and past accomplishments would prove strong enough to carry him through to victory.
"I thought that was a very important moment," Renzo said. "I really believe that Royce should have been better prepared, but a lot of times people let themselves be carried by the things that they achieve.
"I couldn't make the event, so I pulled over in a sports bar and walked in, asked for a Diet Coke – actually, it was a Bud Light. Coors Light gets you sick. You know that, right? I watched, and I remember I had such a knot in my throat after I watched that fight. I couldn't eat. The food was in front of me, and I couldn't. I couldn't smile for the rest of the day. The next day my wife tried to talk to me, and I just growled."
Nearly four years later, Renzo will try to defend his family name. It's a moment that he believes he was destined to reach.
"I always knew I was going to fight Matt Hughes," Gracie said. "One time we were in Abu Dhabi after a competition, and he came to me and said, 'Renzo, if you want to train a little you can use me [as a partner].' I remember, I told him, 'I'll let you know,' But the reason why I didn't get him to train with me, and I'm going to be honest, is because I knew one day I was going to fight him. I said, 'One day fate is going to put us to cross paths.'"
While Gracie recently turned 43 years old and hasn't fought in more than two years, Hughes also is no longer the dominant force that once earned 19 wins in 20 trips to the cage. Gracie said he sees where his opponent has slipped.
"All those years, he was really flying," Gracie said. "He was able to get himself in a spot that was ahead of everybody else. Physically and emotionally he was very strong. Of course, every time a fighter suffers a defeat, he changes. When he gets tired to where he can't continue or when he gets knocked out, that plays with the head – especially with the confidence."
And it's that confidence, something Gracie isn't short on, that he believes will guide him to victory.
"A lot of times, this sport is all about confidence," Gracie said. "It's about believing that you're going to do it. I've seen guys that are very mediocre in terms of technique be able to beat very good guys because they believed they could do it."
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