Legendary MMA pioneer Royce Gracie has seen every spectrum of the sport, from the shunned “dark ages” of untimed fights to the lofty position the UFC enjoys today. When Gracie won UFCs 1,2, and 4, there were no weight classes, no time limit, and hardly any rules.

It was nearly outlawed in the United States before Zuffa stepped in and cleaned up the promotion, bringing it to the prominence of today’s MMA landscape. With MMA the world’s fastest-growing sport, Gracie has noticed a spike in the demand for his training services, telling Spencer Lazara of MMAInterviews.tv:

“I used to be busy, like four months traveling. Last year it was seven months. I was on the road travelling, just teaching everyday.”

When asked about what his father Helio, who brought the world the esteemed martial art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, thus paving the way for Gracies in the UFC, Royce responded:

“Oh, he would be proud of what he created.”

Indeed there is much to be proud about, as the sport was regarded as little more than a barbaric spectacle when it first debuted in 1993. Now the regulated athletic competition has recently expanded to feature women at the forefront of the sport, a far cry from the its brutish beginnings.

And most of this revolution was thanks to one woman, former Strikeforce and current UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda “Rowdy” Rousey. Gracie offered up his thoughts on the dominant judoka:

“Oh, she’s awesome. You kidding me? She’s awesome, man. She sticks to her game. That’s the most important thing. She learned boxing, kickboxing, more to know what’s coming, but she doesn’t walk out there and try to box with the opponents. She does what she knows best.”

Gracie has respect for the sport he helped create, and he was recently repaid for his contributions when he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at this weekend’s 2013 World MMA Awards. He saw the sport rise up from its infancy, and it sounds like he’s enjoying watch it evolve.

But no matter how far it goes, Royce Gracie will be remembered as the man who started it all.