mma / Columns

History of the UFC: UFC I – The Beginning

April 2, 2007 | Posted by Matt McEwen

History of the UFC

With the emergence of MMA – and particularly the UFC – as one of the fastest growing mainstream sports in North America, there has been a huge influx of new fans. While new fans are imperative for the growth of the sport, by their very nature they don’t have a full understanding of the history and evolution of the UFC over the past 14 years.

Other fans – and I myself am included in this group – watched way back in the mid 90’s but last track of the sport, only to find themselves hooked by the better than ever shows over the past two years. While having some fond memories of the founding fathers of the sport, there are also a lot of gaps in our knowledge.

With this in mind, join me as I fill in the gaps I have, and take a look back at the history and growth of the UFC, show by show, all the way up to modern day.

UFC I: The Beginning

It’s November 12th 1993, and we are live from the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado for the first ever Ultimate Fighting Championship. The brain child of Art Davie – an advertising executive who has gone on to hold positions with K1 and Mandalay Sports – and Rorion Gracie, the tournament was devised as a way to show the dominance of Gracie jiu jitsu over other fighting disciplines. After forming WOW Entertainment with the help of various investors, they partnered with SEG – an early leader in PPV events – and here we are at the very first event.

We start of with an introduction to the rules – there are none (though several times throughout the night it is mentioned that there is no groin shots or eye gouging allowed). I remember the early advertising for the event playing up the No Holds Barred aspect and the danger and injury this should invariably cause. We are also told that there are no time limits and no judges either. Nowadays that would be a huge problem, but, as you will see, in 1993 it really did not matter that much.

Next up, we get introduced to the competitors who will be taking part in the eight man/discipline tournament. First up, we get our first glimpse of the now legendary Royce Gracie. In 1993, with a vast majority of the audience not having two clues about how actual fights went, to say that Royce looked un-intimidating would be an understatement. Of course, Royce was handpicked by his older brother Rorion to carry the banner for the Gracie family. Some people have suggested that Royce was picked exactly because he looked so unimpressive. It is believed the SEG would have preferred to have Rickson Gracie as the show piece of the event as he was a more traditional looking “bad ass”, but Rorion wanted to show the dominance of the discipline of jiu jitsu by selecting his smaller brother. The rest, as they say, is history. Of course, that is what I am here to tell you about, so on with intros.

Next up, we have Denver’s own Patrick Smith. We are told he is the 1993 Savake heavyweight champion. I have no clue what the Savake Championships are, but Smith is apparently a black belt in Tae Kwan Do, and is a skilled kick boxer.

Representing the world of western boxing is Art Jimmerson, apparently the IBF North American cruiserweight champion. A look over at Art’s record, however, suggests that he was the IBC Americas Light Heavyweight champ. Details, details……

From the world of savate – essentially kickboxing – we have Gerard Gordeau, the world heavyweight champion in his discipline. He also spices up the shadow boxing the others have done in their intros by throwing a few shadow kicks out there.

Zane Frasier is the WKF Super Heavyweight Kenpo Karate champion.

Really spicing up the intro’s by demonstrating a heel hook is future UFC Hall of Fame member Ken Shamrock. We’re told Ken is the number one ranked shoot fighter in the world.

The biggest man in the tournament is up next, as former professional Sumo wrestler Teila Tuli is shown attempting to do the splits. Lack of flexibility aside, Tuli was the real deal in Sumo, as he was a teammate of Akebono at one time. Maybe Akebono should have checked with Tuli before venturing into MMA some 10 years after this event.

Finally, we are introduced to big Kevin Rozier, who we are told is the WKA and ISKA Super Heavyweight kickboxing champion. Kevin stares down the camera in a mirror, before throwing a kick at the camera. He is a baaaaaaaaaaaaaad man.

By today’s standards, only Shamrock looked like a legitimate, in shape competitor. In 1993 however, this was uncharted territory for North American fight fans, so a lot of viewers would have probably given Tuli more of a chance than Gracie. Ahhhhh….ignorance is bliss. You will also notice that I mentioned each man’s discipline specifically. That is because the original idea was, as mentioned above, to pit specialized fighters in an equal environment and see which discipline was the best, as opposed to today’s UFC where well rounded competitors fight to see which man is better.

Next up, we get introduced to the original UFC broadcast crew. Our play by play man is Bill Wallace, who is the absolute worst announcer in history. I am not exaggerating. In his first ten seconds on camera, he calls the event by the wrong name and burps in the middle of naming the arena. Seriously.

Our color man is NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown. I have no idea what his qualifications are to be out there other than being slightly famous, but he does seem to have respect for the competitors and for the event. The same can not be said for Wallace, as he tells Jim that it would not be that hard to compete and seems to get annoyed that Jim does not agree with him. Great way to get the event over. Dumbass.

Five time kickboxing champion Kathy Long is also at ringside, so at least one member of the broadcast crew is actually qualified to be there. Rod Machado offers his views on the event from the entrance way (which is pretty much non-existent) and actually prepares us for thought that ground fighting might be the most important aspect displayed tonight, and that Royce might be the guy to watch. That is pretty intuitive on his part – it is not like the whole event was designed to show off Gracie jiu jitsu or anything.

Now that we know all the players, onto the fights.

Teila Tuli vs Gerard Goudreau

Tuli is a 6’2, 420lbs Hawaiian Sumo, and is a probably a 33DD. Goudreau is 6’5, but weighs half as much. He does have a record of 27-4 though. Not in MMA though….this is his first fight. 27-4 in what you ask? I do not know, but I will assume European savate matches.

After ring announcer Rich Goins has finished his hyperbolic introductions, the first ever UFC match is under way. Tuli circles for about 15 seconds before bull rushing Goudreau, who catches Tuli with a light uppercut and throws the off balance behemoth to his knees against the cage. Tuli is wary of getting up, and rightly so as Goudreau literally knocks some teeth out with a vicious front kick to his head, and follows it up with a right hand before the referee steps in and the fight is over in 30 seconds. Confusion abounds in the ring, but Tuli is done.

Wallace finds Tuli losing a tooth funny stuff. Douche.

Zane Frazier vs Kevin Rosier

Rosier tells us in his pretape that he is going to knock everyone out with his big right hand, while Frazier believes that God wants him to win.

Rosier is listed at 6’4 and 265, and let’s just say that it is not a ripped 265. He’s also 66-8 in what I assume are full contact karate fights. Frazier meanwhile, at 6’6 and 230, is the first guy who looks like he has actually trained for the event.

Rosier starts out with the big right that he just told us all about and is actually able to get Frazier down, but has neither the skills nor the desire to keep him there, and Frazier quickly scrambles up. A brutal knee to the groin by Frazier right in front of the ref goes unpunished, and Frazier takes advantage by land several knees to Rosier’s head. They end up clinched against the fence and brawl, with Frazier eventually getting the best of it. He lands a huge knee to Rosier’s head after getting down to his hands and knees. Nowadays, a skilled practioner would take Rosier’s back and lock in a submission, but Frazier allows him to get up. This proves to be a bad idea as Rosier beats him down against the fence, and makes the corner throw in the towel with two big stomps to the face. I can now see why they outlawed that move. Ouch. This took about five minutes in total and they are TIRED.

Post fight, Rosier says he regretted coming out of retirement as soon as he got hit. Hey….if he was retired how is the WKA & ISKA champ? Are we being misled?

Wallace points out during replays that the punches and stomps do not look like they hurt that much, and that Frazier got tired and quit. Jackass.

Royce Gracie vs Art Jimmerson

More pretapes before this fight, as Royce is going to win because his family created Gracie jiu jitsu. I’d say something, but he is right. Jimmerson believes he is going to win because he is a boxer, and is invisible in the ring. In a way, he would prove to be right too.

These are actually the two smallest guys in the tournament, at 178lbs and 196lbs respectively. Royce enters the ring in a gui, while Jimmerson is wearing a 12 ounce boxing glove on his left hand. Honestly….no joking.

In a good note, Rod Machado has joined the announce crew and cuts Wallace’s talk time by about 80%.

As for the match, Royce uses a front leg kick to keep Jimmerson off balance, and then shoots for a double leg after faking a kick. Royce quickly mounts him, and Jimmerson taps out seemingly out of frustration more than anything. The camera angle is from behind Royce, so you never get to see if he cinched anything in, but it didn’t really look like it. The referee, on the other hand, was staring right at the action, saw Jimmerson tap out, and did not know what to do. Royce had to tell him what the tap out meant.

Three fights in to UFC history and the importance of a good ground game is already apparent.

Ken Shamrock vs Patrick Smith

Shamrock is going to win because he is an all around fighter. Smith says he is going to win because he is the “most strongest, craziest, powerfullest” guy in the competition. He also resists all pain and grammar classes.

Wallace thinks that Shamrock looks fantastic in his “little tights.” You can hear Jim Brown getting uncomfortable.

As for the fight, Shamrock immediately shoots in, takes Smith down and ends up in his guard. Shamrock rises pretty far up trying to get free, and if Smith knew any submissions at all he would have tried – and probably secured – an arm bar or even a triangle. Shamrock rises up a second time, but this time he hooks Smith’s ankle and falls to his back. He eats a couple kicks from Smith, but eventually gets the tap out victory in about two minutes or so.

The crowd boos the finish as the honestly do not know that Smith slapping both hands on the mat means he is submitting. Apparently, neither did Smith, as he gets up and tries to go after Shamrock. What a good loser! If this was UFC 61 instead of UFC 1, this would probably win submission of the night.

Semi Final 1: Goudreau vs Rosier

Goudreau shows that he is one tough SOB by coming out with a broken hand suffered on Tuli’s massive head in the first fight. Rosier shows that he is no wuss either, as his left eye is pretty swollen.

The fight starts with Goudreau throwing some leg kicks, which he uses to set up a big right hand that puts Rosier down. Goudreau backs off just far enough to let Rosier start to get up, and then comes in raining down punches. He does this a couple of times until he finishes Rosier off with a big stomp to the ribs, and the fight is over in under a minute.

By today’s rules, the referee would have allowed Rosier to stand up, and Goudreau’s stomps would be questionable. In 1993, he gets a quick, dominant win.

Post fight, Rosier wants some pro kickboxing fights, says the altitude played a big role in his loss and that he lost 45 pounds in his 3 weeks training for the UFC. Okely dokely, Kevin.

Semi Final 2: Gracie vs Shamrock

Wallace believes this is going to be a long, strategic battle. Since he doesn’t know his ass from his elbows, that probably means it will be a quick fight.

Royce shoots immediately, and they roll, with Royce eventually ending up in Shamrock’s half guard. Shamrock gives up his back and Royce secures a choke and forces Shamrock to tap. For the second time tonight however, the referee does not know what that means and doesn’t stop the fight until Shamrock admits – with some coaxing from Royce – that he did indeed submit.

Post match, Shamrock feels certain that he will do better in a rematch with Royce.

Before the finals, we get a ceremony honoring Helio Gracie. Now, the Gracie’s are great and all, but when your family essentially creates an event, is it not just a bit egotistical to honor your family at said event?

Finals: Gracie vs Goudreau

Royce circles to start. He shoots, but has a hard time taking Goudreau down as he uses the cage to keep his balance. Eventually Royce takes him to the ground with a nice sweep and takes complete control of the fight. He takes Goudreau’s back and cinches in the joke in just under 2 minutes to become the winner of UFC 1.

Apparently, Goudreau is not the cleanest fighter in history as he channeled the spirit of Mike Tyson and actually bit Royce’s ear during the fight. You can’t actually see it, but this explains why Royce is pissed after the decision and why his ear is bleeding. Royce got off easy though, as Goudreau would later blind Yuki Nakai in a fight with an eye gouge.

The 411: Overall, the event is entertaining in a nostalgic way, and obviously has some historical importance, but you will not find and great fights here. It bears little resemblance to modern day UFC events, with the only thing they have in common would be the octagon, which isn't even referred to as such in this event. No Big John refereeing, this is obvious in the two tap outs which have to be explained to the ref that is here. And while it may be a minor thing, no Bruce Buffer introducing the fighters is pretty obvious as well. To top it off, Bill Wallace is the most atrocious announcer I have ever had the displeasure of hearing. As for the actual competitors, only Gracie and Shamrock even remotely resemble a modern day fighter who had different aspects to their game, while Goudreau was the only fighter who displayed legitimate stand up skills. Historically, this event was such a success – with a live crowd of almost 3000 and a PPV audience of 85 000 – that it cemented UFC as a viable PPV entity and also carved it a niche in pop culture. In later years, that niche would prove to be problematic, but in November 1993, this show was a rousing success.
Final Score:  6.0   [ Average ]  legend

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Matt McEwen
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