In debut, Gracie aims to show UFC success runs in family

It’s not hard for Kron Gracie to pinpoint his least favorite thing about professional fighting. He’s felt this way for as long as he can remember.

“Media obligations are what I dislike most about fighting,” Gracie told ESPN.

“Answering the same question, over and over again, is draining. I like to talk about things that make sense and are good for people to know, but I’ve been doing interviews since I was a kid and it’s always the same question: ‘What does it feel like to be a Gracie?’ I have probably answered that question 10,000 times.”

Such is life when you’re a member of the most famous family in mixed martial arts history.

Gracie (4-0), who will make his UFC debut against Alex Caceres (14-11) at UFC Fight Night: Ngannou vs. Velasquez on Sunday in Phoenix (9 p.m. ET on ESPN, prelims starting at 5:30 on ESPN+), is the grandson of Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend Helio Gracie and the son of onetime MMA fighter Rickson Gracie. His uncle, Royce Gracie, was the first tournament winner in the UFC, which was co-founded by another uncle, Rorion Gracie.

Gracie, 30, is proud to represent his family’s name, but his journey into MMA doesn’t revolve around that. He has competed in grappling tournaments the majority of his life, but his end game was always MMA. He’s pursuing a UFC career for himself, not for the family’s legacy.

“I always practiced jiu-jitsu with the intention to fight,” said Gracie, who transitioned to MMA in 2013 after winning the prestigious ADCC grappling championship. “For me, there is greater value in a real fight than a grappling tournament. I’ve never wanted to be the jiu-jitsu guy who trained my whole life and would get beat up by a wrestler with a good punch.

“If I’m going to do a martial art my entire life, I better be able to beat everybody. I’ve always wanted to be the best fighter I can be, and I’ve placed no limitations on that.”

Fighting out of Los Angeles, Gracie made his MMA debut in 2014 in Japan but has managed only four appearances in his career. He submitted Japanese veteran Tatsuya Kawajiri in December 2016 and hasn’t fought since.

The reason behind Gracie’s inactivity is the Japanese promotion he fought for, Rizin Fighting Federation, couldn’t offer him an opponent that made sense. Once that became clear, Gracie turned his full attention to negotiating a contract with the UFC, which took a little longer than he expected.

“They were interested right away, but of course, I know what I’m valued,” Gracie said. “I know what I’m worth, and it just kind of took a long time to make an agreement. Ultimately, I’m still not being paid what I feel I’m worth, but I made a decision it’s not about the money, it’s about getting through these fights and getting experience.

“If I do well, the money will come in. The UFC wants to see success and see proof of why they’re going to pay me. I’ve never let anyone down with how I fight. I always fight to kill or die, all my fights. There’s not one you can find where that isn’t the case. I know what I bring to the table.”

Gracie trains alongside UFC lightweight Nate Diaz and will have Diaz in his corner on Sunday. He’s a bit of an unknown coming in. His grappling pedigree speaks for itself, and his name will always generate plenty of attention.

But is he a prospect? A title contender?

“I’ll let you guys be the critics. You do the judging,” Gracie said. “I’m on a stage where I can test myself against the best fighters in the world, and that’s all I want to do. We’ll see how far I can take this.”

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