SANTA ANA (CNS) - A 49-year-old mixed-martial arts fighter was sentenced today to six months in jail for assaulting another MMA competitor at a gathering at the Anaheim Convention Center two years ago.
Ralph Gracie of Danville was also ordered to take part in an anger management program and was placed on three years of formal probation.
Gracie accepted a plea deal from Orange County Superior Court Judge Andre Manssourian, in which the defendant pleaded guilty to a felony count of assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury with a sentencing enhancement for inflicting great bodily injury.
Orange County prosecutors objected to the plea deal, according to court records, which indicate that Gracie had been poised to enter into another plea deal in 2019 in which defense attorney Harley Breite asked Orange County Superior Court Judge Roger B. Robbins to sentence his client to no jail time in exchange for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor.
Deputy District Attorney Matthew Plunkett argued for a felony conviction for Gracie and a year in jail, court records show.
A fugitive warrant was issued for Gracie in August 2019 when he failed to show for a court hearing, but his attorney said his client was in Rio De Janeiro at the time caring for his 84-year-old father, who had lapsed into a coma after falling and striking his head.
Gracie was indicted on Sept. 18, 2019, two days after he appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury and denied a sentencing enhancement for inflicting great bodily injury.
Co-defendant Lincoln Pereira, a student of Gracie's, accepted a plea deal from Robbins in July 2019 over the objections of prosecutors. Robbins reduced a felony assault count to a misdemeanor and sentenced Pereira to the time he had credit for serving in jail -- 80 days.
Gracie and Pereira attacked Flavio Almeida, a five-time world champion in the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation, while they were at an industry event at the Anaheim Convention Center on Dec. 15, 2018.
“It is undisputed that my client, without lawful excuse or justification, struck the victim, knocking him to the ground and causing him injury,'' Breite wrote in the 2019 memorandum to Robbins. “My client fully acknowledges that he should never have struck Mr. Almeida and he accepts full responsibility for doing so.''
He said then that Gracie felt “tremendous remorse'' for attacking Almeida, a longtime friend, adding that the conflict had become a source of “great embarrassment'' to Gracie within his industry and within his extended family and friends.
Gracie, who has been indefinitely suspended by the federation, lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and three children and has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Brazil.
He's the half-brother of Renzo Gracie, another renowned Jiu-Jitsu fighter. Renzo Gracie mentored Almeida's brother since he was 16, according to Breite. He also trained Flavio Almeida when he was 12.
Tension between Gracie and Almeida stemmed from Almeida's decision to open a training academy near one operated by Gracie in Northern California, Breite said earlier.
Almeida did not respond to Gracie's messages, and when Gracie attempted to discuss it with him at the federation's world championship fights in Anaheim, Almeida rebuffed him, Breite said.
An infuriated Gracie elbowed Almeida in the face, and as he fell unconscious, kicked the victim in the head, prosecutors said. Pereira then joined the fight.
At a 2019 hearing, the victim told the judge that he declined to retaliate and trusted the justice system instead.
“I resolved to trust the justice system to hold these individuals accountable for their premeditated and coordinated act of terrorism,'' he said. “Qualifying this vicious attack as a misdemeanor means the bad guys win. They will once again get away with their threats and violent behavior, pounding on their chests for being above the law.''
Almeida said it would send a “very confusing message'' to Jiu-Jitsu students.
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