Renzo Gracie, Twitter and self-defense: a case study of what not to do

Last night, Renzo Gracie was apparently involved in an attempted mugging. In and of itself, that’s not such a big deal; people get mugged all the time. What is special about this case is two things:

  • It’s Renzo Gracie, an MMA legend.
  • He posted live updates on his Twitter account before, during and after the whole thing.

As far as I can tell from Renzo’s account, here’s what happened:

  • He was in New York, walking to his car at night, when two guys follow him.
  • He spots them following him and confronts them.
  • He knocks one of those guys down with two punches and the other one runs. Renzo chases him for half a block.
  • Then Renzo goes back to the first guy and hits him a few more times.
  • Renzo gets his car and decides to go looking for the runner.
  • He spots him, drives a bit further to park his car and then ambushes the runner by jumping on his back and choking him out.
  • Then he punches the unconscious guy in the eyes to make sure he has two black eyes.
  • He repeats the process two more times: he chokes him out and punches him, speaking to the guy in between chokes to scare him.
  • He takes off and goes home.

I’ll get to the finer points of how stupid Renzo acted in a bit but first, here’s the whole twitter feed he posted about the mugging:

“22nd street and 10th ave right now two guys following me, can’t help but have a big smile upon my face Im talking about a happy one ;-)

Waiting for them… Are they really thinking I’m drunk??? They have to be kidding. Hahahaha

25th and 10ave ;-) they are getting closer lol ;-)

I just stop to take a pic, they pretend they are looking at the window, can’t lie… My blood runs in a different speed, man I miss Brazil

JiuJitsu ;-) never leave home without it ;-)

Renzo Gracie, Twitter self-defense, new your, mugger, choke


Please hold there for just a couple minutes ;-) be right back

They are coming closer, asking for a cigaret ;-) lol can’t help but have a smile in my face. I don’t smoke. Pretend to wobble. They smile

My hands hurt… Can’t help but look at him the other one took off running, not much of a friend. Chicken :-/ I can still see him, he looks

Back as he runs, no chance to catch him… Even though I began to try to run after him, I realize How slow I was. [F***] it :-///

This one asks me why did I do that, pretending to be stupid, one little kick to the ribs makes him whine and apologize, as I’m writing this.

I ask him if he was planing to rob me, he says no. All he wanted was a cigarette, lol I can’t help but have a big smile upon my face, and ..

The certainty that if it was an ordinary man he would be sad about his stolen goods. [F****** c***] cries like a bitch when the tide turns…

I can’t help but take a pic as his nose bleeds and he wines and asks why did I do that… Like he doesn’t know the reason…

My [f*******] hands hurt, hurt like hell…

Renzo Gracie Twitter self-defense, new your, mugger, choke

Drove around two blocks… The other fellow disappear, I’m heading home… Angry for not finding the second one. Guess no sleeping tonight

I knew it ;-) yessss

There is basic things like you don’t come back to where the problem was.. You just don’t, I knew he would, just going around the block would

Be enough… Dumb f%#^ I just gave him the old style Raccoon, it has been a while since the last time I did.. Choke him out 3 times…

And before he woke up I did hit each eye socket at least twice, tomorrow he will wake up like a raccoon, and every time he woke up I was…

Whispering at his ears.. That’s what death feels like it.. Don’t do that again. My [f*******] hand hurts, :-/ a lot

Next time I will use only the elbows, damn I miss that feeling, sometimes I wonder if the easy life has been making me

Renzo Gracie Twitter self-defense, new your, mugger, choke, hand

Soft.. All those years in Brazil, without knowing if I would make it home had to count for something, I can’t lie I could have jump in a cab

But I could not help, I could spot them from a mile away, walking was my option, thank you mayor Giuliani, nobody carries a gun in our…

Beautiful state, my lucky day, their bad day… My hand hurts and @FrankieEdgar is here at 9:30am for some training, shoot damn little guy

Could not take a second pic guys sorry, believe I try, as I reach for my iPhone he almost took off :-/ fast mofo”


As always, I wasn’t there and neither were you. So we can never be sure if we’re looking at this accurately or not. That said, I’ll believe Renzo on his word and assume that it all happened the way he described it. I have no reason to doubt his words. If you’d like to hear it all from the man himself, listen to this interview he did:


First some thoughts on all this:

  • Renzo is a legend in MMA. There’s no doubt about his skills in the Octagon.
  • I’m glad he’s fine. It would have been a shame had he died in something as stupid as a street mugging.
  • Renzo acted, in my humble opinion, in a stupid way here. Not in his choice of techniques, but in how he handled the problem as a whole.
  • The biggest mistakes he makes are:
    • Not trying to flee but choosing to fight and actually looking forward to it (his words, not mine.)
    • Going beyond reasonable and legal self-defense. Once the attacker is down and the other one runs away, Renzo no longer has any legal grounds to claim self-defense. He in fact becomes the aggressor. That’s not my opinion, that’s the law.
    • Making incriminating public statements about the incident. If you do act in a criminal way, why on earth would you let the whole world know about it? 

I repeat, I’m not questioning the man’s skill. I’m questioning his judgement.


Let’s take a look at all this from an objective point of view, namely the legal side of it:

  • Renzo claims to be attacked by the muggers but at this point, that’s only his side of the story. There are always two sides to an incident like this and (as we weren’t there and there were no witnesses as Renzo says) the testimony of those two guys will be critical information in an eventual law suit.  Wanna bet those two will claim Renzo attacked them first?
  • At that point, given the lack of witnesses, the prosecutor has to rely on the facts as they are available to him. And this is where Renzo screws the pooch: he does all the work for the prosecution already. I’m sure a good prosecutor or a good criminal lawyer can find even more goodies but basically, Renzo admits to a whole bunch of things that are not self-defense and are in fact illegal:
    • He admits to having spotted the attackers first.
    • He admits to waiting for them to get to him.
    • He admits to making no effort to flee, which is a critical part of legal self-defense.
    • He admits to being of calm and rational mind by tweeting about the whole thing and taking pictures.
    • He admits to premeditation by getting his car to look for the other guy.
    • He admits to an act of assault and possibly torture by ambushing the second guy and repeatedly choking him out and punching him.

All this from tweeting about the incident and giving interviews on air…

And that’s the biggest mistake he made.

The US is a litigious society, to put it mildly. People sue each other for a whole lot less. Who is right and who is wrong doesn’t even enter into it. If people think they can get some money out of you, they sue your ass. Wanna bet those two muggers think Renzo Gracie has enough cash to make it worth their while to sue? Especially as he has already given their lawyer all the ammo he needs for an excellent case?


What if the case went to court? Well, here’s what a lawyer could say to use Renzo’s words against him:

  • My clients were walking peacefully on the street and kindly asked for a cigarette when Mr. Gracie assaulted them. There is no proof against their words. However, Mr. Gracie admits to his violence in both his Twitter messages and in interviews.
  • Mr. Gracie clearly states he was uninjured after the incident, except for the damage to his hand form repeatedly punching my clients.  My clients clearly have multiple lacerations and other wounds from Mr. Gracie’s violent attack. If my clients attacked him, then how is it Mr. Gracie has no defensive injuries and my clients needed to be hospitalized? Mr. Gracie is clearly the aggressor here.
  • Mr. Gracie habitually engages in these criminal acts as he has admitted his involvement in several other incidents in interviews. Mr. Gracie is a recidivist.
  • If Mr. Gracie were acting in self-defense, he should have fled, as required by law. He did not. Instead, he admits to happily confronting my clients which de facto negates any claims of self-defense.
  • Mr. Gracie was clearly not fearing for his life or grievous bodily harm as he joked about the incident both on his Twitter messages and in subsequent interviews. So this cannot be self-defense as defined by the law.
  • When my client ran away from Mr. Gracie’s attack, Mr Gracie deliberately ambushed him and tortured him, as he admitted to in writing and in interviews. He is clearly an aggressive criminal as these acts are in no way self-defense as defined by the law.
Again, I’m sure a good lawyer could twist Renzo’s words a whole lot better than I can. And Renzo’s lawyer wouldn’t have a foot to stand on because Renzo admitted to all this in the interviews and by tweeting about it.
There is a reason why lawyers tell you to shut up and not speak until they get there. Can you imagine any lawyer saying to Renzo “Hey, that was really smart how you tweeted about it while the whole thing went down and then went on live radio to incriminate yourself.

In case you think I’m exaggerating, go to your closest college and ask a professor of Law if he thinks Renzo was right in the eyes of the law, both in how he handled the incident and by making public statements. Wanna bet they tell you he is wrong on all counts?

If you don’t buy that, take this case to a criminal lawyer or a police officer and ask their opinion. I’m pretty sure they’ll say the same thing.


I think Renzo is a great MMA  fighter but he didn’t handle this in a smart way:

  • If the two guys decide to press charges, they have a very strong case to sue his pants off.
  • If the DA decides to make an example of him, he can hang Renzo out to dry.

Now before you get all upset:

  • I didn’t say the muggers were right and Renzo wrong. I said it’s their word against his if there’s a court case. Had Renzo kept his mouth shut, his side of the story would have been more believable.
  • I didn’t say the muggers were poor innocent victims. I have no doubt Renzo is honest in his account and those two were up to no good. As far as I’m concerned, turn about is fair play. If you mug people, don’t complain when they beat the crap out of you.
  • I didn’t say Renzo should have rolled over and died. He was there, I wasn’t and I’m sure he handled it the way he thought best. What I did say is that in the eyes of the law (which is the only opinion that matters in court), he was wrong.
  • I didn’t say Renzo was stupid. I said he acted stupid in how he handled it all. From his words, from his past experience and from how things are done in Brasil, I get it. But as far as the legal system is concerned, all that is irrelevant when you’re in New York. He’s a grown man of 45, he should know that.

I hope Renzo doesn’t get taken to court over this. It would be a shame for an athlete of his stature to be taken to the cleaners by what are probably just a bunch of thugs. But if this happens, he only has himself to blame. He should have just said nothing. No tweeting, no interviews nothing.

That’s what any decent lawyer would tell him to do.


UPDATE: Apparently, I didn’t make myself clear enough for all the haters who are missing the point I’m making here. So here’s an update about the whole Renzo Gracie, Twitter and Self-defense thing.

UPDATE 2: It’s a few years later now and Renzo got in trouble again, getting arrested this time. Here’s a report. If it goes to court, everything he said and tweeted in this incident can be used against him, like I explained. Even worse, it looks like he hasn’t learned anything because he talks about the whole thing on the MMA hour here. Again, if you get arrested and are due in court: I don’t know of one lawyer who would say that a radio interview is a good idea…


Become a Patron and get access to unique content: my newsletter, instructional videos, violence analysis and much more!


  1. One word: EGO.

  2. Well said, bro.

  3. Great post Wim! I was thinking about writing about this, but you already did a great job. I’ve tweeted and shared on Facebook. I will probably make a short blog post and link to yours. As an attorney, I’d rather be the prosecutor than defending Gracie with those tweets out there.

    • Thanks Alain. Please add the link to your blog post in the comments section here. It would be nice to get the perspective from somebody like you who is both a lawyer and a self-defense specialist.

  4. Renzo acted remarkably stupid on so many levels it’s nearly unbelievable to me.

    He did nearly every single possible thing wrong in regards to “self defense,” and through all of those ridiculous chest-beating tweets, he’s left himself open to all kinds of lawsuits.

    A good lawyer will have a field day with this dude.

    Christ, trying to show how tough you are is one thing, but if you’re doing something very illegal, DON’T EVER ANNOUNCE IT!

  5. I didn’t add much Wim, you did a great job here. But I did include that funny picture of us at the A-List BBQ with the knife. :-)

  6. You got it exactly right.Even if he had been engaged in percetly legitimate self defense the moment he went chasing after the mugger in order to beat hm some more he became the criminal.

    If his account is correct he belongs in jail.

  7. He handled it badly.

    A karate trained friend of mine was in a bar a couple of years ago. He went to the restroom and while in there some guy tried to pick a fight with him. My friend noticed that this guy had a couple of buddies hanging around the corner and figured they were going to jump in if he mixed it up.

    The guy went to shove my friend who unloaded a big time foot sweep on him. He though that he injured they guy’s leg because he heard a crack and the guy was screaming in pain.

    My friend readied himself for the other two, but they ran away.

    Now this is where I think my friend did the smart thing. He quickly walked out of the restroom. He didn’t run and draw attention to himself.

    He left the bar and kept going. He didn’t want to be around with the bouncer showed up and eventually the police.

    He phoned his friends to let them know what happened and that he was not only not going back in there, but he was going nowhere near the place. He didn’t want someone to identify him, and he didn’t want to present himself as a target to his attacker’s friends.

  8. mike Williams says

    You Nailed it Wim !
    How many ways could that have gone bad..introduce a knife at any stage..

  9. I think Renzie should go to a Rusian Bar and make some trouble overthere …. i am wondering if he ever gets back toooohhhhh…. NY.
    The whole story confirms my mindset about a lot off MMA practioners.
    Your last story about the bouncers and the reply was about (some kind of) professionalism.
    This story is about cruelty.
    Some day back in Neurenberg they tright to cure it ….
    In my opinion it is very sad he boosts about it and get away with it.

  10. Well put Wim. Bang on commentary too.


  11. “If this goes to court” hahaha

    Agreed IF it goes to court; however that is not gonna happen, muggers generally don’t only mug one person, why would two muggers want to appear in the most dangerous place for them not to mention I don’t think he dropped off a business card, he beat them in a dark alley.

    • Matt,

      You’re missing the point in spectacular fashion… Renzo is the only one claiming they were mugging him, nobody else is and he has no proof so far. The two guys will claim otherwise and say they are the victims of Renzo’s aggression. It’s word against word and Renzo already undermined his own credibility. So for the court, they are not thugs until proven otherwise. “Innocent until proven guilty”, remember?

      Also, think about it. They have two choices:
      1) Keep on mugging people to get money, and risk getting beat up again (or worse).
      2) Drag Renzo into court with a lawyer who gets a percentage of the damages they sue Renzo for.

      Option one has been proven to be pretty dangerous to their health… Option 2 is easy, poses no risk to them (they can’t be sued for other incidents unless somebody sues them), costs them nothing and with the wealth Renzo has it offers to be a much bigger payday than they can ever get on the street.

      Option 1 = risky and low pay.
      Option 2 = no risk, no cost, potential huge payday.

      You do the math…

    • Here’s the problem: He can’t PROVE they were mugging him. His statements certainly make it hard to prove any fear on his part.

      Did it have the hallmarks of a classic ambush? Absolutely. I give Renzo full credit for picking up on it. But he reacted before anything reached that point. The guy asked for a cigarette — and Renzo assaulted him. Renzo is a highly trained fighter. He clearly recognized and failed to take any action to prevent the possible mugging as it was developed — and nothing developed beyond a guy asking him for a smoke who then got jumped. And that’s only the first guy…

      Best case, Renzo really paints the set-up well, and sells it. “This is a common tactic, I’ve seen it time and again in the US and Brazil. They approached, one flanked me, and the other distracted me by asking for a cigarette. My movement was blocked, so I acted to protect myself.” OK… but Renzo went beyond self-defense. He dealt with the one guy, chased the other one, returned to the first, assaulted him when he posed no threat (and never thought to call the cops with his cell phone…), then stalked and hunted the second one. OK, you give him self defense on the first guy, first action. It falls apart after that…

  12. Matt it’s obvious you have no law enforcement experience. Criminals file suit and charges against people all the time. They just don’t say they were committing crimes. I know it’s hard to believe but criminals sometimes lie. They’ll say they were just asking directions or whatever and this guy went off. And, based upon moron Gracie’s own words, he’d be fucked.

    And he has enough money to make a lawsuit attractive. As well as criminal charges.

  13. I’ll add one thing: his apparent glee over beating up the muggers really bothered me. He seemed eager to get into a confrontation just so he could hurt them. Not saying they didn’t have it coming, but this didn’t make him sound like a person I would want to be around at all. :(

  14. This is madness: not only did he engage in what are basically criminal acts (chasing someone down to give him a beating, hitting a guy when he’s already defeated and harmless) but he actually had to nerve to publish them on the internet! I bet the public prosecutor’ll have a field day with this one… This just goes to show MMA really is about fostering ego and taking pleasure in hurting others. I don’t feel pity for those muggers (that’s if they were indeed muggers) but the law is there for a reason and if we as a society condone this kind of violence anarchy will ensue and violent acts will multiply. This man brought shame onto his family-name and while he has the money to avoid doing time some of his knuckledragging fans might take this as a hint to behave in the same way and will end up in jail for a lack of finances to buy off a lawsuit. And no: MMA will not work against 6 hardened thugs looking to rape you in the showers.

  15. Great post Wim.

    I really hope Renzo doesn’t get away with it as that will affirm every hot-headed “yoot’s” fantasies of facing down a mugger and beating them to a pulp, and that is not a good thing. The last thing impressionable people need right now is a high-profile example of how to get it all wrong in terms of self-defense and the law. I agree with Hannah as well, the pleasure he took in what he did was sickening.

    In my humble opinion, Renzo got really lucky. If weapons had been around the outcome for him might not have been so rosy, or even if the guy who ran off came back with friends.

    I really hope he doesn’t get away with it.

  16. Thanks for the post, Wim. I think you have a lot of valid points. However, I think it’s clear that Renzo approached this from a Brazilian self-defense perspective more than an American one. I think it’s interesting to examine the differences – in America, we’re concerned more about lawsuits while in Brazil it seems to be more about, for lack of a better term, “respect.” If someone in Brazil is used to being mugged – as Renzo clearly was, and now misses it – it might be more important to not just defeat and escape from attackers, but also to send a message with them (the two black eyes). I’d be interested in your reaction as to international differences in self-defense. For example, if I were living abroad in Brazil and I were about to be mugged, would my self-defense strategies be different in America? I’m not saying the smartest thing to do wouldn’t be to just get away, I’m just curious as to cultural differences in countries that aren’t quite as litigious (both criminally and civically) as ours.

    • Sam,

      I understand what you mean but have to disagree and don’t see it as a valid reason to justify what he did. If you follow your logic, then local laws are inferior to foreign laws. I don’t know of any legal system that would accept this. Besides, Renzo is a grown man. He is smart enough to know that he can’t act like he’s in Brazil when he’s living in New york. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand this concept.

      As for the differences between countries: of course there are differences. Both in the legislature and in the “laws of the land”. When you move to or visit a foreign country, it’s up to you to research those. The local legal system has no reason to adapt to you; it’s the other way around.

  17. Maybe he was about to be mugged, after all unless you’re in a serious nicotine withdrawl, you don’t follow someone late at night just to bum a cigarette. According to his tweets though, all they did was ask for a cigarette. How is that a crime? Considering his response he is the guilty party for going WAY overboard in his response.

    And remember they are “alleged muggers”…

  18. I’m an attorney and teach a martial arts club. I shall use Gracie’s conduct as a case study in my dojo of what not to do. Gracie is very fortunate that neither men was carrying or used a weapon, particularly a firearm. Gracie is undoubtedly a very tough guy and a talented martial artist. His conduct here, however, was contrary to every principle that responsible martial arts instructors teach about dealing with threats of violence. Your posts on this topic are spot-on. Well done, sir.

    • Thanks Mike, it’s great to hear your perspective as an attorney. Glad to hear I didn’t drop the ball on the legal issues. :-)

  19. Wow, what a psycho, lol. I don’t know if the lesson is. Don’t mess with a Brazilian MMA champion, clearly.

    I wonder if those two muggers will reconsider their career choice now. If so, then maybe something good comes out of this.

    I won’t address the legal aspect as everyone has done so, but speaking purely from a combat perspective, the condition of Renzo’s hand illustrates the problem with striking someone with a fist. It’s very easy to break your knuckles on someone’s face or head. This is one of the problems with MMA from a street fighting perspective, that it conditions the fighter with habits that are effective in the ring but dangerous in the street.

    If you look at some of the traditional martial arts that historically have focused on empty handed strikes, you’ll see lots of hammer fist strikes, palm strikes, blade hand, head butts, elbows, knees and kicks. These are all better tools than a closed fist.

    • Wael, it isn’t black and white. There are plenty of ways to hit the face with a closed fist and not damage your hands. However, it takes practice that is contrary to the typical MMA or boxing style of striking. One of the keys lies in the type of impact you use; there’s more than just one.

  20. Wim,

    Of all the odd things, last weekend I ended up training with someone who knows Renzo pretty well and has worked with him several times. This guy is also an attorney. His take? Renzo is an asshole and doubtless did it. He also has a boatload of money and a lot of high-end lawyers train in his or one of the other family dojos. The upshot is he’ll probably not get charged for anything and if he does, can throw money at the problem until it goes away. He will then use the whole incident as advertising and probably come out making even more money.

    The rest of us would end up in prison for this sort of a stunt though.

    • Hi Jeff,

      Yup, that was my guess but I didn’t want to write the post like that or people would miss the message that is isn’t about his money but his foolish actions. Or I’d get shit about being jealous of him or other such nonsense. That said, given the amount of hate mail I still received, maybe I should have added that anyway. :-)

Speak Your Mind