Gracie gained fame for his success in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Between 1993 and 1994, he was the tournament winner of UFC 1, UFC 2, UFC 4, and fought to a draw with Ken Shamrock in the championship match in the Superfight at UFC 5. Gracie popularized Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and revolutionized mixed martial arts with his results contributing to the movement towards grappling and ground fighting in the sport.
In his first match, Gracie defeated journeyman boxer Art Jimmerson. He tackled him to the ground using a baiana (morote-gari or double-leg) and obtained the dominant "mounted" position, also pinning Jimmerson's left arm around the boxer's own neck. Mounted and with only one free arm Jimmerson conceded defeat.
In the semi-finals, Gracie defeated Ken Shamrock and went on to defeat a Karate and Savate practitioner Gerard Gordeau, taking his opponent to the ground and securing a rear choke.
In the next tournament, Gracie began his defense of the title by submitting Japanese fighter Minoki Ichihara - a second degree black belt in Karatedo Daido Juku and Kyokushin karate, who was billed by the UFC at the time as a "living legend" in Tokyo, who had won over 60 full-contact fights. The fight had gone 5:08, which was longer than Royce's 3 bouts in the first event (totaling 4:59). Advancing into the quarterfinals, Royce Gracie defeated future Pancrase veteran Jason DeLucia, submitting him via armbar just over a minute into the bout. Gracie then submitted 250-lb Judo and Taekwondo black belt Remco Pardoel with a lapel choke, and finally won the final bout against Patrick Smith, when his opponent submitted to punches from the top position.
At UFC 3, Royce was matched up in the first round against Kimo Leopoldo and won via submission after 4 minutes and 40 seconds. However, he then withdrew from his next fight with Harold Howard before it began due to dehydration. Royce entered into the ring and threw in the towel. This was the first event which Gracie did not win.
Gracie submitted 51-year-old Ron van Clief in the opening round with a rear naked choke, and then submitted Keith Hackney in the semi-finals. Gracie's final UFC victory was in a match that lasted for 16 minutes (there were no rounds or time limits at the time), during which he was continuously pinned underneath 260 pound (118 kg) wrestler Dan Severn. To end the match, Royce locked his legs in a triangle choke for a submission victory. The match extended beyond the pay-per-view time-slot and viewers, who missed the end of the fight, demanded their money back.
Time limits were re-introduced into the sport in 1995 and Ken Shamrock would become the first fighter to survive Royce Gracie's submission attack and earn a draw. The match lasted for 30 minutes and a 6-minute overtime. The draw sparked much debate and controversy as to who would have won the fight had judges determined the outcome, or had there been no time limits, as by the end of the fight Gracie's right eye was swollen shut. However, the swollen eye was a result of a standing punch due to a sudden change of the rules in which both of the fighters were restarted on the feet. After this fight Gracie left the UFC.
At UFC 45 in November 2003, at the ten-year anniversary of the UFC, Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie became the first inductees into the UFC Hall of Fame. UFC President Dana White said;
Kazushi Sakuraba, a professional wrestler who derived his foundation in submissions not from jiu jitsu but rather from catch wrestling and shoot wrestling, rose up in the year's stablemate and master Nobuhiko Takada, before finding himself matched up with Gracie. The two battled for an hour and a half. Early in the fight, Sakuraba nearly ended things with a kneebar towards the end of the first round. Later on, Royce returned the favor with a guillotine choke. Indeed, the Gracie's own no time-limit rules began to work against Royce when Sakuraba, displaying much better conditioning, kept punishing Royce instead of going for submissions, prolonging the match.
As the fight wore on however, Sakuraba's wrestling skills and balance nullified Royce's ability to score a takedown and—in some instances—even pull guard. Royce's ever-present jiu-jitsu gi became a weapon for the wrestler to use against him as Sakuraba used it to help him control Gracie on the instances the fight did come to the ground. However, with Sakuraba's control of the takedown, these instances of ground warfare became increasingly sporadic. After the 90 minute battle of punishing low kicks, Royce's brother threw in the towel. Gracie could no longer stand and suffered a broken femur from accumulated damage. Sakuraba would go on to defeat other members of the Gracie family including Renzo Gracie and Ryan Gracie earning him the nickname "Gracie Hunter."
Gracie returned to PRIDE in 2002 to fight Japanese gold-medalist judoka Hidehiko Yoshida in a special "Judo vs. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu" limited rules MMA match. Royce started the fight pulling guard and attempting a heel hook and an armbar, with Hidehiko blocking them and coming back with a gi choke and an ankle lock attempt. Gracie pulled guard again, but Yoshida turned it into a daki age and sought the Kimura lock; then, when the Brazilian blocked the technique, Yoshida passed his guard and performed a mounted sode guruma jime. After a moment of inactivity, the referee Yuji Shimada stopped the match in the belief Royce was unconscious and gave victory to Yoshida.
Gracie immediately protested, claiming he had not passed out and that the referee had not authority to stop the match. Footage of the fight was revised, and it was found that while Royce did get up right after the stoppage, his visible arm during the execution of the choke was limp and motionless. Later backstage, the Gracies demanded it be turned into a no contest, and an immediate rematch be booked (with different rules for the next time). If not, the Gracie family would pull themselves from PRIDE FC, and never fight for them again. PRIDE, wanting to keep the Gracie family with them, accepted their demands.
Afterward, Royce took Rickson's advice and started fighting without a gi so that his opponents could not stall by holding onto the gi. The grudge match between Yoshida and Gracie had rules more like the standard PRIDE MMA rules. This match took place at PRIDE's Shockwave 2003 event on December 31, 2003. Gracie dominated Yoshida by sweeping him and hitting ground and pound on a turtled up Hidehiko. However, as the match had no judge per Gracie's request, the official decision was a draw after two 10-minute rounds.
In September 2004 Pride had a disagreement with Gracie about his participation in the 2005 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix. Gracie had issues with the proposed opponents and rules (Grand Prix fights must have a winner and cannot end in a draw). He jumped to the competing K-1 organization. Pride sued Gracie for breaching his contract with them. The case was settled in December 2005, with Gracie issuing a public apology, blaming his actions on a misinterpretation of the contract by his manager.
On December 31, 2004 Gracie entered the K-1 scene at the "Dynamite!" card inside the Osaka Dome, facing off against former sumo wrestler and MMA newcomer Akebono Tarō aka. Chad Rowan under special MMA rules (Two 10-minute rounds; the match would end as a draw if there was no winner after the two rounds). Gracie made quick work of his heavy opponent, forcing Akebono to submit to a shoulder lock at 2:13 of the first round. The match was refereed by renowned MMA ref John McCarthy.
Exactly one year later, on the "Dynamite!" card of December 31, 2005, Gracie fought Japan's Hideo Tokoro, a 143-pound fighter, in a fight ending in a draw after 20 minutes. Gracie's original opponent was scheduled to be the tall Korean fighter Choi Hong-man, another MMA newcomer.
On January 16, 2006, UFC President Dana White announced that Royce Gracie would return to the UFC to fight UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes on May 27, 2006, at UFC 60. This was a non-title bout at a catchweight of 175 lb. under UFC/California State Athletic Commission rules. To prepare, Gracie cross-trained in Muay Thai and was frequently shown in publicity materials from Fairtex. In round one, Hughes hyperextended Gracie's arm in a straight armbar, but Gracie refused to tap and held on with a calm expression on his face.
Hughes has stated, in past interviews, that Gracie would have let his arm break rather than submit. Hughes went on to win the fight by TKO due to strikes at 4:39 of the first round.
Royce said later after the fight with Hughes that he wanted a rematch and that he wasn't surprised by Hughes' performance, "No, we knew what he was planning to do. We worked out his gameplan before the fight, and he did exactly what we expected. I over-trained for the fight. That was all. I started training too much, too hard, for too long. He did exactly what we expected."
On May 8, 2007, EliteXC announced that Gracie's opponent for the June 2 K-1 Dynamite!! USA event in Los Angeles, California, would be Japanese fighter Kazushi Sakuraba.
Gracie defeated Sakuraba by a unanimous decision. The drug test revealed that Royce had traces of Nandrolone in his system. “Use of steroids is simply cheating,” said Armando Garcia, California State Athletic Commission executive director. “It won’t be tolerated in this state.”
On June 14, 2007, the California State Athletic Commission declared that Gracie had tested positive for Nandrolone, an anabolic steroid, after his fight with Sakuraba. According to the California State Athletic Commission, the average person could produce about 2 ng/ml of Nandrolone, while an athlete following "rigorous physical exercise" could have a level of around 6 ng/ml. Both "A" and "B" test samples provided by Gracie "had a level of over 50 ng/ml and we were informed that the level itself was so elevated that it would not register on the laboratory's calibrator," said the CSAC. Gracie was fined $2,500 (the maximum penalty the Commission can impose) and suspended for the remainder of his license, which ended on May 30, 2008. Gracie paid the fine. The California State Athletic Commission's Bill Douglas told MMAWeekly, "Currently, our rules do not support overturning a decision based off the drug test results. However, Armando Garcia and I are meeting with the Attorney General next month to begin the process of modifying the existing laws to incorporate those rules for the future. Should everything move along like I anticipate, I would expect to see the changes in place by the end of the year."
Royce Gracie decided to dispute the allegations during an online video interview on May 2009, more than two years after the fact, saying that his weight in the first UFC event was 178 lb and claiming his weight during his Sakuraba fight was 180 lb, thus only gaining 2 pounds. This was widely disputed by experts as his weight was actually 188 lb for the Sakuraba fight. According to ESPN "Gracie is hardly possessed of an exaggerated physique, but he was clearly more sculpted for his June 2 fight with Kazushi Sakuraba than he was for a May 2006 match with Matt Hughes. In the former contest, he weighed in at 175 pounds; for Sakuraba, he was 188. One may not need to be nutritionist to observe that a muscle gain of 13 pounds in one year at the age of 40 is a strikingly accomplished feat. Athletes nearing the half-century mark are often happy to maintain functional mass, let alone pack it on".
On December 15, 2010 the UFC held a press conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil announcing an event August 27, 2011 at the HSBC Arena. During the press conference Royce stated: "This return of UFC to Brazil touched me, made me feel the wish of coming back to the Octagon. Everything is being negotiated with Dana White. Let's wait". On March 11, 2011 Royce Gracie's profile was added back to ufc.com active fighters list as a middleweight. His manager stated that they were actively negotiating with the UFC for a return to the octagon and said it was just a matter of "getting it nailed down" and that there was plenty of time for it. On November 15, 2013 at UFC 167 on the 20th Anniversary of the UFC, Royce Gracie with MMA journalist Ariel Helwani confirmed he had retired from competing in Mixed Martial Arts.
At Bellator 145, it was announced that Gracie would return from retirement to face rival Ken Shamrock in a trilogy fight, taking place on February 19, 2016 at Bellator 149. Gracie won the fight in the first round after taking Shamrock down and ending the contest with hammerfists. The win was not without controversy, however, as replays showed that Gracie landed a knee strike to the groin of Shamrock prior to the finish. Shamrock protested the stoppage, however the bout was officially ruled a TKO victory for Gracie, the first of his MMA career.Ultimate Fighting Championship
UFC 1 Tournament Winner
UFC 2 Tournament Winner
UFC 4 Tournament Winner
UFC 3 Tournament Semifinalist
UFC Viewer's Choice Award
UFC Hall of Fame (First inductee)
First ever tournament champion in UFC history
Most tournaments won in UFC history (Three)
Most wins by submission in UFC history (Eleven)
Tied for fifth most consecutive wins in UFC history (Eleven)
Most tournament wins in UFC history (Eleven)
Tied (Patrick Smith) for most fights fought in one night (Four)
Longest fight in UFC (UFC 5) at 36 minutes with Ken Shamrock
Pride Fighting Championships
Longest fight in Pride (Pride Grand Prix 2000 Finals) at 90 minutes
1993 Fighter of the Year
Black Belt Magazine
1994 Competitor of the Year
Wrestling Observer Newsletter
Fight of the Year (2000) vs. Kazushi Sakuraba on May 1
Gracie filed for divorce in 2016. He and his former wife Marianne have three sons, Khonry, Khor, and Kheydon and a daughter named Kharianna, all of them were born in the United States. He starred in the music video for "Attitude" by Brazilian band Sepultura. He appears on the film "Vale Todo" of Ecuadorian director Roberto Estrella. Royce Gracie has engaged in multiple disputes with other martial artists including his nephews Rener Gracie and Ryron Gracie, and Eddie Bravo. On April 1, 2015, the IRS sent Royce Gracie and his wife a Notice of Deficiency claiming they owe $657,114 in back taxes and $492,835.25 in penalties for Civil Fraud, based on IRC 6663(a).