Where were you on November 12, 1993? Only 2800 were in Denver to watch the inaugural Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Truthfully, I have no idea where I was – likely outside throwing the football around with neighbourhood kids or finding a way to scam some money to buy cheeseburgers. What I do remember is sometime early in 1994 I wandered into my local video store with a few friends, looking for something stupid kids would find interesting. The result: Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Having no idea what it was, we hoped amongst hope that it was something similar to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s “Bloodsport” – at least it looked to be judging by the images on the packaging. And that, senseless violence, screams “15-year old male”. Could it be?
For those of us who were “there” for the early days of UFC when it was more a quarterly event (with UFC II in March of 1994), you will undoubtedly remember the very different nature of the beast. As most avid fans, whether old or new to the sport, already know, UFC was first in a tournament format, with eight fighters competing in a bracketed event. It was bloody. It was grueling. It was exactly what was needed to “shake things up”.
Speaking of shaking things up, that’s exactly what Royce Gracie, and to a lesser extent Ken Shamrock, did. While many others were steeped in more traditional, well known martial arts (kickboxing, karate, tae kwon do, etc), Royce brought something no one was ready for – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Let’s take a very quick look at who the fighters were, and how each fared.
Gerrard Gordeau – Gordeau will be remembered as the guy who bit Royce Gracie in the final match. Having defeated Teila Tuli by literally kicking his teeth in (less than 30 seconds in!). Records also indicate he broke his hand in that fight. Whereas today fighters would be finished, Gordeau fought and won his next fight against Kevin Rosier before he fought the legend, Royce Gracie. As said at the hop, Gordeau was in Gracie’s guard and bit his ear. Karma hit right back and Royce tapped him out.
Teila Tuli – Remember, there were no weight divisions in the earliest UFC tournaments. So, the gargantuan sumo Teila Tuli was able to fight opponents literally less than half his size. Tuli hit the scale at over four bills. His UFC career was short lived, as the sumo lost a few chicklets at the hands, err feet, of Gordeau.
Kevin Rosier – Rosier’s first appearance in UFC had mixed results. In the first bout he took out Zane Frazier by TKO when the latter’s corner threw the towel in the fourth minute. Rosier then fought Gordeau, losing to the Dutchman via TKO. He next fought in UFC IV where he lost in, get this, 14 seconds. Jeez, that sucks! Not stopping there, he fought several more times before packing it in with a 2-6 record in UFC. Rosier was a very accomplished kickboxer, earning top honours numerous times in his long career. Unfortunately, kickboxing skills alone were not enough to succeed in the UFC.
Zane Frazier – Frazier came in with huge expectations as he was the four-time kenpo karate champion, as well as international kickboxing champion. However, he was involved in one of the bloodiest battles of the tournament against Kevin Rosier. Rosier gave him some power shots to the back of his head, then stomped on his face – I told you, bloody and brutal. Frazier was rushed to the hospital with very serious breathing problems. This was one of the fights that provided a lot of bad press. Surprisingly, Zane fought until less than five years ago, though not well. He had much greater success with kickboxing…
Royce Gracie – Not sure I even need to tell you about him, but I suppose a few details wouldn’t hurt. Royce is remembered as the guy who turned fighting around entirely. Coming in as a BJJ practitioner, which was new to most fighters and particularly the fans, Gracie felt particularly comfortable on his back, which was something much different than other fighters. The winner of UFC I, II, IV and fighting to a draw in a Superfight with with Shamrock at UFC V, Gracie was known for his calm, cool demeanor, even when fighting guys much, much larger. Gracie spent some time bouncing around some other fighting outfits, most notably Pride, he made his return to UFC a shadow of his former self.
Art Jimmerson – Jimmerson will be remembered for his first and last UFC fight against Royce Gracie. Being a boxer, he was completely outmatched by the much better MMA style of Gracie. Interestingly, he fought Gracie while wearing one boxing glove to protect his jab hand. Though he retired from MMA, he returned to boxing. He is still involved in MMA as a boxing coach.
Ken Shamrock – Ken Shamrock vs. Royce Gracie catapulted UFC in its early days. Shamrock began the tournament against Patrick Smith, whom he completely outmatched by forcing a tap-out in the first round. The interesting thing is that Shamrock fought only four days prior in Japan. Perhaps some fatigue was a factor in the next round where he came up against Royce Gracie in the first of their legendary showdowns. If you ask Shamrock, he believes he lost to Royce because his arm got caught in Gracie’s gi – in all fairness, you can actually see him struggle with it just a bit. Whether that’s the case or not, Royce forced the tap via rear naked choke. Shamrock’s career only got bigger, especially after drawing against Royce at UFC Superfight V and beating Dan Severn in Superfight VI. Shamrock went on to a long storied career in WWF Wrestling, Pride and again in UFC. Now he runs a phone chat line where people can pay to talk to him – a sad ending. To learn more about what some fighters are doing now, check out Mark Modeski’s article.
Patrick Smith – Smith came into UFC I with all the credentials; Black belts in karate, tae kwon do, and was the #1 ranked kickboxer in the US, and #5 in International rankings. Despite fighting a fatigued Ken Shamrock, Smith’s tournament was ended early after he attacked Shamrock at the beginning of the fight, only to be taken down and grounded and pounded, then tapped. Not good. He did better in UFC II, making it all the way to the final, but lost out to Royce Gracie. Smith went on to fight in K1 with good early success, but it wasn’t lasting. He did defeat Butterbean in 2008, but…. you know…
I hope you enjoyed the stroll down memory lane. Whether you watched the fights back in the early 90’s, or more recently took them in, you will undoubtedly agree that it was really a violent, bloody affair. The rise of Gracie, and beginning of the Shamrock-Gracie rivalry is exactly what was needed to catapult UFC. Of course it wasn’t considered “mainstream” until much later after Zuffa and Dana White took over, its pioneers are what gave it the chance to grow.
Thanks for reading!
Follow us on Twitter: @lastwordmark and @lastwordonsport
While you’re at it, why not give the guys from Hammer MMA Radio a follow too: @SteveJeffery
Interested in writing for LastWordOnSports? Find more info at our “Join Our Team” page and be heard.