MMA on the rise in Philly

Daniel Gracie owns a prominent gym that trains MMA fighters.

Austin Sampson (right) of Port Richmond trains Jiu-Jitsu at Renzo Gracie Philly on Oct. 26. Andrew Thayer |TTN
Austin Sampson (right) of Port Richmond trains Jiu-Jitsu at Renzo Gracie Philly on Oct. 26. Andrew Thayer |TTN

As soon as I moved to Philadelphia, I quickly realized it’s a fighting town – as did Daniel Gracie.

Gracie moved from Brazil to the United States when he was 30 years old.

After training for just three months, Gracie fought his first professional fight in front of 60,000 people in Japan during an international competition.

“I said, ‘I think it is time to jump into MMA,’” Gracie said. “I did everything I could do in Jiu-Jitsu. Now I want to try MMA. So, I called my cousin Renzo Gracie and asked him if he could get me a fight.”

Renzo Gracie, a world-renowned MMA fighter and Jiu-Jitsu competitor, set his cousin up a week later in a gym in New York.

Now, Daniel Gracie lives in Philadelphia and trains in his own gym, Renzo Gracie Philly.

Philadelphia has boxing written all over it. From the famous Rocky statue to the legendary Blue Horizon boxing venue  just a few blocks away from Main Campus, competitive fighting runs through the city.

Recently, MMA gyms are opening, whereas old boxing gyms and venues are closing, like Smokin’ Joe Frazier’s gym in 2008 and Blue Horizon in 2011.

“I know most of the people from Philadelphia have a background in boxing because it is a boxing city,” Daniel Gracie said. “The reality is that Philadelphia is a tough city and people love fighting.”

MMA is a sport that involves all different forms of martial arts. It includes different styles like judo, wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu, Muay-Thai, boxing, karate and kickboxing.

The variety of styles in MMA have excited fight fans and helped the sport overshadow boxing in recent years. This is causing historic boxing towns like Philadelphia to turn toward a new wave of MMA.

The sport is continuing to grow and it is hard to tell where it will stop, especially for an observer and practitioner like myself, a fan since 2008 and competitor since 2010.

Typically, people think MMA is only one form of competitive fighting, however it requires so many disciplines.

“MMA is always evolving,” Daniel Gracie said. “People are starting to realize what they are doing with their bodies; they are starting to take advantage of that.”

The Gracie family tree dates back to Helio and Carlos Gracie, who created the art of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and later helped form Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Daniel Gracie has followed the footsteps of his family members since he can remember.

“I started Jiu-Jitsu at 6 years old, but when I started training for real, I was 10,” Daniel Gracie said.

Because the sport has evolved, every fighter is looking to be better than the next guy, Daniel Gracie said.

“One person starts to learn something new and then everyone wants to learn it,” he said.

In just the past few years many MMA schools have opened all over Philadelphia. Renzo Gracie Philly, has had its doors open for less than two and a half years.

“I was hesitant to open my own gym because I didn’t know where the right place was,” Daniel Gracie said. “I realized when I was getting older, it is time to open my school.”

The school still has one UFC fighter and two Cage Fury Fighting Championship world champions that consistently train in the gym.

Jonavin Webb, the current CFFC welterweight champion, is an instructor at Gracies’ school.

“I have an apartment upstairs, so I get to train full time,” Webb said.

Webb runs the MMA program at the gym and teaches Jiu-Jitsu classes. He said that from his perspective as a fighter, Philadelphia has transformed into a MMA city.

“It’s a fight town,” he said. “Any kind of fighting style you bring here, you are going to get fighters. They breed tough people here.”

Webb said that the sport itself requires discipline, as well as mental and physical toughness.

“You have to sacrifice a lot of stuff like food, fun and relationships because you have to dedicate yourself 100 percent to this sport,” Webb said.

Although Webb is an accomplished young fighter at Renzo Gracie Philly, he said that the gym is always open to new fighters.

“In my school, I try to help however I can for everyone,” Daniel Gracie said. “I try to help professional fighters, I try to help a person who wants to get fit and I try to help anyone who just wants to do Jiu-Jitsu, to learn the art.”

Daniel Gracie feels that not all schools offer that to their students.

“Whatever the student wants to accomplish, that is what my school does,” Daniel Gracie said. “We build better people.”

Daniel Gracie said he has found a passion for martial arts and it is more than a job.

“It is not just a hobby for me,” he said. “I don’t do it because it is cool to be a Jiu-Jitsu teacher or cool to be a Jiu-Jitsu fighter. I do it because it is my family business and I been doing it my whole life.”

Connor Northrup can be reached at

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.