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Mario Sperry Vs. Renzo Gracie: ADCC 2011 Superfight Preview

Ben Thapa previews the ADCC 2011 submission grappling superfight between Renzo Gracie and Mario Sperry.

Photo via <a href="">Sherdog</a>
Photo via Sherdog

In Part One, the highly anticipated match between Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and Braulio "Carcara" Estima was broken down and a prediction made. You are now reading Part Two, in which the clash between Ze Mario Sperry and Renzo Gracies, two of the most famous combat sports competitors ever, will be analyzed and another prediction will be hazarded.

The Legends Superfight

In an unprecedented move, the Abu Dhabi Combat Club has decided to host two Superfights this year in Nottingham, England. The very last match of the tournament will have the current Superfight champion, Jacare Souza, grapple against Braulio Estima , the 2009 ADCC Absolute champion. The second Superfight will be held towards the end, just before the Absolute semifinals are contested. In the second Superfight, Jose "Ze" Mario Sperry, a two time ADCC champion and former holder of the ADCC Superfight title, will grapple with Renzo Gracie, scion of the famous Gracie family and two time ADCC divisional champion himself.

Why This Matters to Grappling Followers and MMA Fans

Renzo Gracie is one of the most famous faces in the world of combat sports and has fought numerous times in different MMA and Vale Tudo leagues, as well as competing in several ADCCs. Renzo’s organized MMA fight record stands at a not super-impressive 13-7-1, but that list of opponents include fighters like Dan Henderson, Matt Hughes, BJ Penn, Frank Shamrock and Kazushi Sakuraba.

Today he is perhaps most renowned for the extensive number of past, present and future MMA fighters he coaches and works with in his massive New York City gym. Renzo regularly trains UFC champions like Georges St. Pierre, Frankie Edgar and the mystical John Danaher, seen as a coach on Season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter, is an instructor at Renzo’s gym. If you care to follow Renzo’s career and past back into his early days, you will come across notorious stories like the Blackout Riot at his fight with Eugenio Tadeu and the refusal to tap to a kimura – even after Sakuraba broke his arm.

But be sure to note that Renzo himself is a massively popular figure worldwide for both his career and his buoyant personality, which is immediately obvious whenever he steps into a room. Just about everyone in the grappling and MMA worlds knows him, likes him and would accept an offer to train with him in a heartbeat. Renzo has also been teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu to Sheikh Tahnoon, the creator of the Abu Dhabi Combat Club, since 1993. Renzo won the 77 kg ADCC division twice in 1998 and 2000 (he did not compete in 1999, as he was focused on MMA pursuits).

The importance of Ze Mario Sperry is a bit more difficult to explain to a neophyte, but his profile in the sport of submission grappling is no less accomplished than Renzo’s. For those wondering, the "Ze" nickname is a shortening of "Jose" – his first name. Sperry rose to prominence in the mid-1990s as part of perhaps the greatest competition submission grappling team ever assembled - the Arrebentacao team that trained under Carlson Gracie.

During a run of considerable success, 1998 was a phenomenal year for Sperry. He had won the Mundials heavyweight division in 1996 and 1997 and looked to continue his success. That year, he won the Mundials Absolute bracket, the ADCC 99 kg divisional title and the ADCC Absolute title with his punishing top game and brilliant anticipation of advantageous grips and shifts of balance. In 2000, Sperry was part of a group of the Arrebentacao team that split off and formed Brazilian Top Team, which became famous for polishing the games of MMA fighters like the Nogueira brothers, Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort and Ricardo Arona.

Sperry later left BTT at around the same time many other prominent BTT figures split off to form their own groups. His submission grappling skills remained undiminished during this time and he became the first ADCC Superfight champion in 1999 by defeating Enson Inoue, defended his Superfight title in 2000 against Roberto Traven, the winner of the 1999 ADCC Absolute division. In 2001, Sperry lost his Superfight title by overtime decision to Mark Kerr, a world-level wrestler and greatly feared MMA fighter at that time. The past competition success of Ze Mario is enormous and outweighs Renzo’s own and Ze Mario’s students are highly competent and influential in their own right.

Both of these two have strong ties to the MMA community, have trained high-profile fighters we all cheer on TV and seeing these two legends grapple offers perhaps a hint to the future of Superfights in other tournaments that may feature prominent, but now retired MMA stars. If their fight turns out to be worth the time and effort, it could lead to other dream match-ups. Would you be averse to a hypothetical future in which you could watch BJ Penn grapple Georges St. Pierre in a no-strikes environment ten years from now?

The Superfightin' Styles

Renzo is known for grappling with abandon. He takes chances at unexpected times and moves in a manner that prevents easy anticipation. It’s a high risk and high reward style and his technical skills are usually up to the task of letting him exploit the openings in his opponent’s game for submissions, rather than points. Like a number of Helio Gracie’s other descendants, Renzo hates tapping or submitting and famously had his arm broken by Kazushi Sakuraba at PRIDE 10 before the referee stepped in to stop the fight.

In a great segue from the above sentence, Ze Mario choked Renzo’s cousin, Royler Gracie at a 1998 competition in Rio. Sperry is very much a punishing top game grappler, although his bottom game is certainly good. He will look to take Renzo down, keep him there and work his way towards a choke or submission, while never snubbing the points his top control yields.

Key Points and My Predictions

In his competitive grappling career, Ze Mario generally competed in the 99 kg divisions, which translates to roughly 220 pounds. From the training videos available online, it looks like Sperry has retained most of that mass and will probably walk on the mats at slightly less than his competitive weight. Renzo generally competed in the 77 kg range (about 170 lbs), but has now gotten a bit larger since his last MMA fight at UFC 112. Sheer eyeball speculation allows me to guesstimate that Renzo is now in the region of 90 to 93 kg (200 to 205 lbs). Many commentators are speculating that Sperry will have a significant size advantage, but I suspect that the actual difference will be not the decisive feature in their battle.

The biggest factor in this match-up is how well Ze Mario has retained his competitive edge. A prime Sperry very likely beats a prime Renzo due to the size difference, but both guys are in their early forties today. Sperry still trains regularly in Rio de Janeiro. Renzo has gyms all over the world, but spends most of his time in New York City. Both jet around the globe to give seminars and maintain strong connections with the MMA world. In the end, I suspect that Ze Mario is still a grappler to be feared, but that Renzo may have a more honed and aggressive game that will lead him to victory.

I risk looking like a fool for being specific, but I call Renzo by 4 points to 2. Watch the stream or the continuing SB Nation coverage and find out if I failed drastically in predicting the outcome or to hail me as a grappling version of Mistress Cleo if I am right.