As UFC marks the 25th anniversary of its inception, it seems an appropriate time to revisit the legacy of the man who had more to do with the success of the company in its formative years than anyone else.
The Brazilian born Gracie is the younger brother of Rorion Gracie who co-founded the UFC with Art Davie.
Gracie competed in the inaugural UFC event and was the smallest man in the eight-man field but demonstrated the power of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as he defeated three larger opponents, including the legendary Ken Shamrock to win the first UFC tournament.
Gracie's legend was furthered when he matched the feat at UFC 2: No Way Out. Gracie spent less than four minutes inside the Octagon as he bested three more opponents to win his second consecutive UFC tournament.
Shamrock was absent from UFC 2 due to injury, but was fit enough to partake in UFC 3 and the hype around the card was around the two fighters potentially meeting in the final.
The planned final didn't occur. Despite both men being placed in opposite sides of the draw, Gracie was overpowered and mauled by the powerful Hawaiian fighter, Kimo Leopoldo. Gracie managed to submit the giant but not before absorbing tremendous punishment.
Gracie emerged for his Semi-Final bout with Harold Howard but had to withdraw due to exhaustion. When Gracie pulled out, so did Shamrock who was not interested in fighting anyone else other than Gracie in a UFC Final.
Gracie redeemed himself at UFC 4 when he won the tournament for an incredible third time. He was paired with the massively powerful and skilful Dan Severn in the final and showed incredible guile to submit Severn with a triangle choke after 15 minutes of impressive action.
The highly anticipated Gracie/Shamrock re-match took place at UFC 5 in a "Superfight". The attraction was an addition to the UFC tournament format and was intended for a "Superfight" Champion to be crowned who would clash with the previous UFC tournament winner.
The bout is still the longest in UFC history at 36 minutes. Neither man was able to force a win and in the absence of judges, the fight was ruled a draw.
However, the Gracie aura was diminished when the more powerful Shamrock punched his opponent at will and Gracie's bruised and bloody face post-match told the story of the contest.
Gracie retired from MMA competition following the show and would not be tempted to return until Japanese upstart company, Pride FC made him a huge money offer to compete in the Openweight Grand Prix tournament.
Gracie looked extremely rusty in his opening round fight versus the unheralded Nobuhiko Takada. Gracie was fed a victory and almost didn't achieve it.
His next round bout was and remains by far the longest in MMA history. Gracie fought with Japanese legend, Kazushi Sakuraba in a 90-minute contest.
The rules were modified in the match only, at the Gracie family's request. Instead of the 15-minute time limit, there were unlimited rounds and no referee stoppages.
If the Gracie family thought this would be in Gracie's favour they were sorely mistaken. After four years away from the sport, Gracie struggled against the more match-fit Sakuraba who showboated to his hometown crowd before Gracie's corner finally threw in the towel after six rounds of exhausting action.
Gracie disappeared from MMA once more before he agreed to return to Pride three years later at Shockwave.
Gracie once more was unable to win in another fight where the rules were modified again, with two rounds of action but no referee stoppages allowed.
Gracie courted controversy when he landed three consecutive low blows on his opponent Hidehiko Yoshida which stopped the fight but due to the rules did not yield a disqualification. The bout was ruled a Draw by the judges.
The Brazilian, in failing to put away a journeyman opponent, looked a shadow of the fighter he was a decade earlier.
Gracie earned just his second win in a decade when he overcame sumo fighter Akebono in a fight for K-1. In yet another fight wherein the rules were modified at his request, he drew his next contest for K-1 versus no-name Hideo Tokoro.
There could be no Judge's decision. When Gracie could not finish his foe, he had yet another tie added to his record.
Despite his unimpressive comeback, UFC invited Gracie back to the promotion to face Welterweight legend Matt Hughes in a Catchweight fight at UFC 60 in May 2006. The veteran was outmatched and overpowered and suffered a decisive loss in just four minutes.
Gracie still had the box office magic though and the card pulled a massive 620,000 buys which was at the time, a company record.
Gracie's final two MMA fights have been shrouded in controversy also. His 2007 re-match with Sakuraba was heavily hyped and Gracie on the night won decisively via Unanimous Decision.
However, post-fight he tested positive for steroids, however, curiously the result was not overturned.
That seemed to be the end of Gracie's fighting career but he returned in February 2016 to fight Shamrock one more in a trilogy fight which was supposed to settle their two-decade feud.
However, controversy reigned once more when Gracie nailed Shamrock with an unintended but clear low blow. While Shamrock clutched his groin on the mat, waiting for the referee to break the action, Gracie jumped on him and threw unanswered punches to Shamrock's head.
The referee apparently missed the low blow and thought Shamrock was unable to defend himself and awarded Gracie the fight by TKO. The first knockout win of his entire career.
Shamrock was livid and appealed to Gracie to give him a re-match and the Texas state athletic commission to rule the bout a No Contest. To his chagrin, neither happened.
Gracie has remained elusively silent on the fight ever since as he has stepped away from the limelight, seemingly permanently.
Despite the controversy and less than impressive performances that have mired Gracie's legend ever since his 2000 return, the legacy from his performances in the early UFC events is assured.
Gracie successfully challenged the view that size matters in legitimate fighting as he routinely used his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu nous to overcome much larger opponents.
His UFC records of most wins on a single event and most tournament wins will likely never be broken.
The Gracie name will forever be intrinsically linked with UFC and the sport of MMA.Published 16 Nov 2018, 17:03 IST