My Time with Royce Gracie

Monday, May 28th, 2012 by Tony Reid

When I first realized that the legend, the icon of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, early NHB and MMA and specifically the UFC Mr. Royce Gracie was scheduled to make an appearance at a gym within a two hour drive from my home I knew I had to be there. I reached out to the guys at Gracie NEPA (short for Northeast Pennsylvania) and they were cool with me stopping in and getting some time with Royce. I am the type of person that plans, plans and plans again, so the initial communication happened about two months before the actual event. Fast forward to the day before the scheduled appearance. I reached out to the guys at Scranton MMA, hoping they didn’t forget about me. Well they didn’t so I was officially penciled in to sit down with the man himself.

As the time passed leading up to my meeting, I couldn’t help but think back to 1993 when we all (in the States) first became aware of who Royce Gracie was, the man, the myth, the legend. I am in the process of writing a book about the early days of MMA/NHB and specifically the UFC, so this interview had to happen at some point. I was just happy it was now and able to be done in person. I wanted to ask specific questions that tied into the theme of the book but there was also so many other topics I wanted to cover. I decided to stick to the script and just touch on the early days…for the most part.

I arrived about an hour and a half before my scheduled time with him (always prepared, always early.) I got there and met a few of the great guys at Scranton MMA in Tom McGuire and Jeff Reese. They gave me a tour, told me great stories about the history there and made me feel at home as I waited for Royce to finish his private lesson with local law enforcement. I got set up in the manager’s lounge area. (Sorry I couldn’t think of a better term for the room.)I grabbed a water, my camera, and my notes and waited for Royce.

After a few minutes he walks in. I shake his hand and tell him how appreciative I am that he took the time to talk to me. We have a seat and I realize I need to wait for one of the members of the staff to film the interview for me (my camerawoman couldn’t make the trip with me that particular day). So, here I am chillin’ on the couch with Royce Gracie. You know, just your everyday type of encounter. As we sit there I let him know what kind of piece I want to do and what I want to cover…the early days. But then I start talking about wanting to ask him about his history, The Garage Days, his father, his early memories of Gracie Jiu Jitsu, The Gracie Diet and as I’m saying all these things I realize the list is getting pretty long just then he says jokingly “Holy Shit! We only have about 15 minutes! How are we going to cover all that?” I told him I would speed read off my paper. (If you watch the video it feels that that is exactly what I did. I am an idiot from time to time. My bad.) I had a few magazines on hand and I showed him the latest issues, one that had my interview with Ken Shamrock and one that had my interview with Frank Shamrock, which felt a little odd. He thumbed through the issue with Ken and commented on a few different things he saw, which was pretty cool in and of itself. He seemed equal parts surprised and perplexed in looking at some of the products and advertisers in the magazines. I mentioned that over the past few years things have changed with the fitness industry getting so involved in the sport. Does Royce Gracie have any need for an Elevation Mask? I doubt it; he is the human embodiment of an Elevation Mask. He would be more than happy to make it more difficult for you to breathe during training or in a fight! But I digress, so there I am sitting on the couch, listening to the man that helped build the industry and sport we all love comment about the current state of affairs in said industry. Cool.

Our cameraman/videographer came through (Kevin Roginski, here is your shoutout brother) and we started the interview. If you want to take a look at it hit up my YouTube page…

After the interview was over we hung out for a few minutes just chatting and making small talk. He paged through the magazine a little more and I of course, got a picture with him before we left. Keep in mind he was in full gi the entire time and as I walked out of the dimly lit backroom area beside him toward the rest of the crowd for a split second it felt like we were walking out toward a cage or ring somewhere, me as his very under qualified cornerman. I quickly awoke from my dream and realized that was not the case. We made it back to the excited and adoring crowd waiting for him. He shook hands and hugged a number of the participants of the seminar that was to follow. He also had an autograph signing scheduled so there was a line of people waiting to see him. He signed pictures, belts, magazines, gis and the like for more people than I could count. All with a smile on his face and a kind word for everyone he encountered.

As I stood around, a number of people came up to me to share stories not so much about Royce but more about the gym and the people involved. One man told me how grateful he was that Scranton MMA exists because of how much of a positive influence it has been on so many people in the area looking for direction. This particular student traveled from New Jersey to see Royce but just as much to share in the moment with the rest of the family they have built there at the gym. He also mentioned that the guys are very involved in the community and donate time and money to The March of Dimes and other local charities. I know they didn’t want me to mention that but it deserves recognition. So, I hung around for the early part of the seminar and took a few pictures, too. I was trying to take everything in, not knowing if I would ever see Royce in person again. Shortly after that I hit the road, headed back home with a great interview, great story and an autograph that will make me the best dad in the world to my son, who loves Royce Gracie.

I really look forward to visiting Scranton MMA again very soon. They have an amazing 50,000 square foot facility, plenty of mat space, a ring, cage, an in house Cross Fit facility and most importantly an amazing and knowledgeable staff that is growing their business and more importantly, Gracie Jiu Jitsu in communities in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I want to send special thanks to Tom, Jeff, Kevin and everyone else that made me feel at home during my visit. Thank you to Royce of course but also the guys at the gym for allowing me to have this great experience there.