Two weeks before his second fight under the ONE Championship banner, Roger Gracie received some news. He wouldn’t need to cut more weight, and his fight with Michal Pasternak would be for the vacant light heavyweight title.
Gracie, who stopped James McSweeney in his promotional debut in December 2014, faces the undefeated Pasternak at ONE Championship 41, which takes place Friday at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Gracie moved up to 205 pounds after leaving the UFC, but his upcoming clash will be for the 225-pound title. The promotion recently made some changes in their weight classes, and the 205-pound weight class is now called middleweight.
Eyeing to become the first ONE light heavyweight champion, the Brazilian is also interested in adding another belt to his collection right after.
“The opportunity came and I accepted it right away,” Gracie told MMA Fighting. “I’m feeling great, and I can’t let this opportunity pass by despite being a division above. If everything goes right, my plan is to call out the middleweight champion next and win two belts, but let’s focus on this fight first.”
More than adding a title on the line, Gracie’s clash with Pasternak is now a five-round fight, but the jiu-jitsu specialist expects to finish his opponent before the third round.
“It affects the strategy and the psychological aspect because I was training for three rounds, so you have to change your strategy a bit since it’s five rounds now,” he said. “It changes a lot. But I think it’s a great opportunity.
“If I had to predict, I’d say it won’t get past the second round. I’ve studied my opponent a lot and he’s super tough, but I’m very confident and believe in my game. If everything goes as I plan, I think I’ll defeat him in the second round. But it’s a tough fight. He’s undefeated, and anything can happen. We’ll see what happens.”
Pasternak enters the cage with a perfect 11-0 record including three submissions victories, and Gracie, the biggest champion in jiu-jitsu history, wouldn’t be surprised if his opponent tries to grapple.
“Among every opponent I’ve faced so far, he might come believing he can survive against me on the ground,” Gracie said. “He won an ADCC trial in Poland, so that shows he’s not a fool on the ground. Jiu-jitsu has grown a lot in Poland, so winning a trial shows that his level is above the average. It depends on how much he believes in his jiu-jitsu.
“His strategy is always the same in his previous fights: he likes to take his opponent down,” he continued. “He has done that in every fight, so he might have the confident to work against me on top, but I don’t think he wants to be on his back. However, no matter how much he wants to change his style, when you get tired you tend to do what is more natural to you, so he will try to take me to the ground.”
Gracie is one of the best grapplers in jiu-jitsu and submission history, and believes that being feared on the ground helps him no matter where the fight stays.
“It makes it easier sometimes because when you’re too worried about not being taken down, you don’t attack too much standing,” he explains. “How many times we see people getting taken down when they throw a punch or a kick? If he’s worried about going to the ground, since my jiu-jitsu is way higher than his, he won’t even want to attack me that much so I don’t have a chance to take him down, and that also gives me the opportunity to use my stand-up skills.
“I never had the chance to show my striking skills, and in my last fight I was able to get a knockout. People have to worry about my jiu-jitsu, and now they know I have evolved standing. That makes me twice as dangerous.”
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