Kron Gracie never intended to go more than three years between appearances inside the Octagon.
“It wasn’t me who shut the world down, you know?” the returning featherweight said earlier in the week, when asked about the large gap between his October 2019 meeting with Cub Swanson and this weekend’s clash with Charles Jourdain that kicks of the UFC 288 pay-per-view main card.
“I was gonna fight right before they shut the NBA down, and they shut my gym down,” continued the 34-year-old, offering a cursory overview of the events that led to his extended absence from the UFC. “I had to move to a different state and restart my life somewhere else, but now I’m back.
“I was just waiting for my ducks to all get in line.”
There will be some that look at Gracie’s time away coming on the heels of his first setback in mixed martial arts and question whether he simply opted to press pause after being faced with his first loss, but such questions ignore not only his own decorated past as a competitor, but the lineage the former Brazilian jiu jitsu world champion comes from, as well.
“I’ve always been a competitor, since I was kid, and every competition, there are different motivations, different reasons,” began Gracie when asked his motivations for returning to action following such a long absence. “As a life-long competitor and being from the lineage that I come from, I always take different things to motivate me, take different reasons why I would want to fight.
“As the phases of my life pass, there are different reasons for different things, and that continues until I cannot fight anymore.”
The guarded featherweight declined to expand on his current motivations but was willing to indulge me a little on a more weighty subject: the pressure and weight that comes with being a Gracie.
Having the last name Gracie in combat sports or being a member of the first family of Brazilian jiu jitsu automatically brings a certain amount of attention and pressure, as even casual observers have a vague understanding of the storied lineage of the family and have heard the tales of their exploits.
But being the son of the legendary Rickson Gracie and grandson of the great Helio Gracie, that pressure and focus was surely more intense as Gracie tried to find his own way as a competitor, first in Brazilian jiu jitsu and grappling, and now in mixed martial arts.
Family dynamics are a complex thing to navigate for anyone, and that includes Gracie.
“Different phases of my life, I have different pressures and different feelings about my family and how that affects me,” he said. “These days, I don’t really feel the pressure of having to represent for my family. I represent no matter what I do.
“Everything I accomplish, no matter what, will be attached to the Gracie family, and everything I don’t do will be attached (as well), but it doesn’t move me the same way it used to when I was younger.
“I think I feel more pressure now for my dog,” he added. “I have to give her a raw food diet, and that’s expensive, so I feel pressure to feed her.”
As the owner of a 75-pound American pit bull terrier on a raw food diet, I understand where Gracie is coming from, and empathize with him given how much it costs to feed my dog, knowing his girl is nearly twice the size.
As a fight fan, I’m excited to see the standout grappler make his return to the Octagon, and am heartened by the fact that he views this weekend’s matchup with Jourdain as the start of a full-fledged return, and not a one-off appearance.
“I’m trying to get this fight s*** poppin’ again,” Gracie said, his voice carrying a tinge of excitement for the first time. “This fight was, you know — you’ve got to get your feet in there in order to make moves.
“This fight would need to be done at whatever cost in order to get my foot back into the fight game. I’m always trying to fight the best guy I can fight, and this was the best guy the UFC would give me.”
Although he enters on a two-fight slide, the 27-year-old Jourdain has proven himself to be an all-action competitor and dangerous threat for anyone that shares the Octagon with him, as evident in his entertaining and competitive battles with Dooho Choi, Marcelo Rojo, Andre Ewell, Shane Burgos, and Nathaniel Wood.
After losing to Swanson last time out in a bout where Gracie spent the majority of the contest happily engaging with the veteran on the feet, he’s now ready to put into practice the things that he’s been working on since that performance, and get things moving in the right direction again.
“I think overall, it was a good experience, and I don’t know — I think (it showed me I needed to) switch things up, you know?” offered Gracie, reflecting on his clash with Swanson, where he dropped a unanimous decision with scores of 30-27 across the board. “I had a lot of success in the way I was training for fights, in my competition for fights, so there was no real reason to change anything. That fight was a product of my training for the years before.
"Any time you lose — even though I don’t feel like I lost — any time you have any kind of challenges or setbacks, you’ve got to re-evaluate things and adapt.”
But re-evaluating and adapting doesn’t mean straying from the mindset and approach that has carried you throughout your competitive career, which means Gracie will be bringing a familiar focus into the Octagon this weekend in New Jersey.
“I’ve always trained to kill. Anybody who knows my competition history knows I come to kill and I’m always ready to die, and nothing has changed.”
UFC 288: Sterling vs Cejudo took place live from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on May 6, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass