Season Two Episode 2

No Rules: The Birth Of UFC

In the early 1990s, salesman Art Davie and Brazilian jiu-jitsu master Rorion Gracie set out to answer a simple question: Who is the ultimate fighter? A wrestler? A boxer? A martial arts master? The result, the first-ever ‘Ultimate Fighting Championship’ (UFC), was more violent, chaotic, and electrifying than anything else on TV. In the aftermath, a multi-billion-dollar sport was born. Duration: 53mins

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Transcript

JODY AVIRGAN: From ESPN Films and ESPN Audio, you’re listening to 30 for 30 podcasts, presented by the Mini Countryman.

 

Mixed Martial Arts is the fastest growing sport in North America. And the Ultimate Fighting Championship is the biggest organization in the game. In 2016, the company was sold for a reported $4 billion. But the UFC didn’t even exist 25 years ago. Most fans assume it all started with Dana White, the promoter and the face of the sport. But the story begins way before Dana was involved, so this week, we go back to November 12th, 1993 when the UFC was born on a cold night in Denver, Colorado. Here is Chris Berube to tell the story of No Rules: The Birth of UFC.

 

 

[UFC 203,

 

ANNOUNCER: ‘This is the moment UFC fans have been waiting for.’

 

COMMENTATOR: ‘Five, five minute rounds.’

 

COMMENTATOR: ‘Here we go!’]

 

[ESPN REPORTER,

 

‘One person walks out of that Octagon.’]

 

[CBS 8,

 

REPORTER: ‘The largest deal in the history of sports will be officially revealed this morning by the UFC.’]

 

[ESPN REPORTER,

 

‘Good for the guys who sold it for four hundred, what is it 2 billion? 4 billion.’]

 

[CBS 8,

 

REPORTER: ‘$4 billion deal’]

 

[UFC 203,

 

‘Can he finish it right here, right now?’]

 

[ESPN REPORTER,

 

‘It’s really clear who really took command of the Octagon.’]

 

CHRIS BERUBE: The Ultimate Fighting Championship. A sport born in our lifetime, in the United States. When you think about it, pretty incredible. So how did it happen? It starts with this guy, Art Davie, a local car dealer in the 80s in San Diego.

 

ART DAVIE: You know I was 27 years old. I owned a car dealership in San Diego. You know I talked my way into getting lines of credit from people who probably thought, ‘Who the hell is this kid!? Why are giving him this money?’ Ya know? My job always was to come up with something and say ‘You know something, this is gonna be big!’

 

CHRIS BERUBE: But Art wasn’t just selling cars, at the time, he was selling himself.

 

ART DAVIE: I did all my own stunts… Jumped off a 10-story building… Got shot with a .357 Magnum… Got set on fire for my commercials…

 

[CAR COMMERCIAL,

 

ART DAVIE: AHHH. HURTLING 25 FEET THROUGH THE AIR IS A VERY BIG RISK. YOU WOULD NOT DO IT. WHY TAKE THE SAME RISK WHEN YOU BUY A NEW CAR?]

 

ART DAVIE: So I was a guy that knew how to get shit done.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: The car business was good. But Art had other plans. He says there’s one scheme he’s been thinking about for a long time. It started one day when he’s a kid. He’s on the beach, and his friend says, ‘Hey Art, you like boxing’, and this other guy, he’s a wrestler. And they start talking, ‘Who would win a fight? You or me?’

 

ART DAVIE: So before you know it, we’re sparring. And I end up on the sand. Man it was like 22 seconds. It was over. And I never forgot that.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: So this idea starts running through his head. Say you put all the toughest guys in one room. And you got them to fight each other. Who would win?

 

ART DAVIE: is it a boxer? Is it a sumo-wrestler? Is it a judo player? Who is it? Is it somebody you never heard of? Is it some kid from Brooklyn, NY? Is it a farmer from Boise, Idaho? That’s what I wanted to find out.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Art becomes obsessed. He thinks – this is more than just an idea. This taps into something big and ancient and primal.

 

ART DAVIE: You’re always looking for the one… The great white shark… The apex predator…

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Fast forward a couple of years. Now, Art’s working at an advertising agency. And he actually starts pitching this idea to clients. They all turn him down. But Art doesn’t care. He starts looking deeper into this idea. He reads every book at the library about the history of fighting. He finds actually there was something like this in Ancient Greece they had a sport like this called ‘Pankration.’ It’s like a boxing-wrestling hybrid.

 

ART DAVIE: I had history behind me. For 1,041 years, it had been in the Olympics. This was no fluke. I was simply bringing back the glory of the ancient world. How could I go wrong? C’mon.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Then he comes across an article from an old issue of Playboy. It’s about a family Jiu-Jitsu school in LA. The Gracie Academy, run by this guy Rorion Gracie.

 

RORION GRACIE: I came from Brazil to demonstrate effectiveness of the martial art that my father has perfected.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Art sees this and thinks these guys are too good to be true. Rorion Gracie, and his family — They’re fighting royalty. Just not in America.

 

 

RORION GRACIE: My father was the first sports icon in the history of brazil. My dad. Number 1, ever. Very famous.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Rorion’s dad, Helio Gracie, was only 140 pounds,  5’9, but he used Jiu-Jitsu to fight much taller guys in front of thousands of screaming fans. On top of this, Helio Gracie fathered 9 kids. But despite his legendary fighting, and his impressive fathering, nobody in America knew anything about the Gracie’s.

 

Rorion is athletic, like his dad. He’s slim, in ridiculously good shape, for a while, he had a Tom Selleck moustache. So Rorion’s in LA, and he sets up the first Gracie Jiu-Jitsu academy in America.

 

RORION GRACIE: It’s a two car garage in Hermosa Beach. I rented a house with a friend of mine. I took everything out, painted the walls white and put the green mats on the floor.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: In this garage, Rorion starts teaching the patented Gracie fighting style. It goes something like this. First, you close the distance with your opponent and get them on the ground. And you finish them with a chokehold.

 

RORION GRACIE: I grab a hold of the guys, put ’em on the ground, lovingly, squeeze their necks carefully, you know, slowly, and twist their arms a little bit. They tap out. If the person does it right it doesn’t even hurt the neck. You just feel like gradually start losing  out if you’re very light headed, then before you know it you’re in the twilight zone.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Within a year, martial artists started coming from all over LA to fight this guy. Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu, Karate… Rorion chokes them all out.

 

RORION GRACIE: And because I didn’t have to beat anybody to a pulp, The guys say ‘Well this is great. Can I learn?’ I say ‘Sure sign up.’

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Soon enough, Rorion opens a real studio. And word gets around:

 

The Gracies had a standing challenge: For $100,000, they would fight you, no holds barred… No rules… And whoever wins, it’s $100,000.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Never mind that Rorion Gracie does not have $100,000. He’s too good. Art realizes this dream he’s been carrying around. This guy can make it happen. So Art starts calling, he needs to meet Rorion. They set up a time at the brand new Gracie Academy.

 

ART DAVIE: It was all painted in, uh, you know, doctor office colors but upscale and bright.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: So here comes Art, neat hair… suit… tie… And Rorion… he’s a little skeptical.

 

RORION GRACIE: Art, he was like, see, what’s the name of the guy? Joe Pesci on Lethal Weapon, ya know?

 

CHRIS BERUBE: But Art wears him down. He comes in all the time for months. He helps Rorion market a videotape promoting the family, called ‘Gracie’s in Action.’ It makes a bunch of money, and Rorion realizes, this guy is pretty good at business. He can bring my family to a big audience.

 

RORION GRACIE: Art, you and I are gonna work together on this project. So, we partner up…

 

ART DAVIE: I said we’re gonna do a tournament. Single-elimination.

 

RORION GRACIE: The world of Karate against the world of Kung Fu, against the world of Jiu-Jitsu, against the world of Judo. That was the concept.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: This would be the tournament to end all tournaments. A prize fight to decide which discipline is the best. They’ll call it, ‘WAR OF THE WORLDS: A street fight to see who could beat up anybody. No-holds-barred.’

 

RORION GRACIE: And he said, ‘Hold on. Maybe the only way to go about this if you wanna reach the masses. You gotta go to television.’ Then I said, ‘Well let’s go to television then.’ You know?

 

CHRIS BERUBE: So Art starts cold calling TV people…

 

ART DAVIE: Lou Dibella at HBO said, ‘What else ya got?’ I said ‘Well this is it.’ He said ‘Well call me back when you have something marital arts as opposed to the martial arts.’

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Showtime? They were also a no. ESPN? Not interested. The networks? Yeah, don’t bother calling the networks. They get all the way down the list, to a new company called Semaphore. They’re an upstart, they put music and comedy on TV and they’re eager to take risks.

 

ART DAVIE: Mmm. Interesting… So I call them up and I get Campbell McLaren on the phone.

 

CAMPBELL MCLAREN: And this was Art’s pitch: ‘Aye Campbell, Campbell, Campbell, Campbell! Ah Campbell, Campbell! Ah. Showtime turned me down, HBO turned me down, NBC turned me-everybody turned me down. You’re my last hope!’  and I go ‘Ya know that’s the worst pitch I’ve ever heard. Tell me more.’

 

CHRIS BERUBE: They keep talking, Art gives the pitch, you know.

 

ART DAVIE: The great white shark… The Apex predator…

 

CHRIS BERUBE: And he starts winning Campbell over.

 

CAMPBELL MCLAREN: Art had a great sort of enthusiasm that you couldn’t help but catch. That, a little bit P.T. Barnum, and a little bit huckster, and a little bit used car salesman, but, he really was genuinely excited about it.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: So Art comes to New York and this is it, the only shot to get on TV. It’s not going to be easy. Here’s Campbell’s boss, Bob Meyrowitz.

 

BOB MEYROWITZ: Art and Rorion’s business plan wasn’t a… wasn’t a professional business plan.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Art walks into this fancy midtown New York office. And he knows, I have to win these people over, or else no TV, no tournament. And all he’s armed with is a VHS tape., ‘Gracie’s in Action.’

 

ART DAVIE: I showed the video…

 

[Gracies In Action

 

RORION GRACIE:  It is a fact that most street fights will end on the ground. Here is an example that by knowing Jiu-Jitsu you can subdue the opponent without having to hurt him.]

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Rorion does not sound the most enthusiastic in this video, but the moves on the tape, they are captivating.

 

David Isaacs was an executive at Semaphore and he saw that first presentation.

 

DAVID ISAACS: You hear Rorion’s voice over and then, ‘My brother’s gonna teach this guy a lesson,’ and then this little guy, you know, beats the crap out of this much bigger guy.

 

[Gracies In Action

 

RORION GRACIE: As the opponent turns his back it’s time for the choke.]

 

ART DAVIE: Their mouths open, they’re pointing, they’re elbowing each other, ‘Look at this. Look at this.’

 

DAVID ISAACS: And then we look around. I remember I looked around in the office. It was filled with people. I mean it was captivating… It was visceral… It was unbelievable.

 

ART DAVIE: And Bob’s office is on the corner. He’s got a corner office. And you walk into Bob’s office and he’s got CableACE awards on his credenza. And he’s got a gold putter there. And Bob’s wearing a $1000 suit, a $200 tie, and a $200 silk shirt…

 

CHRIS BERUBE: After that meeting, they had a deal.

 

From there, everything starts coming together. They manage to raise a couple hundred thousand dollars from Rorion’s students. Semaphore helps them pick a new name Because ‘War of the Worlds’ is too science fiction-y. Now, it’s going to be called ‘Ultimate Fighting Championship,’ because nothing is bigger than ultimate.

 

They decide to hold it in Denver, Colorado. One reason, Colorado doesn’t have a boxing commission, so fewer legal hurdles. And they can rent the local NBA arena for cheap.

 

There was one more thing they needed to pull it all together… Fighters.

 

ART DAVIE: I remember going to some of the most famous martial artists I could get to. Dennis Alexio, who was in the movie with Jean-Claude van Damme, kickboxing. And he said to me ‘You’re doing what? That’s a joke.’ He says – he hung up on me.

 

RORION GRACIE: So we go to number 2, number 3, number 4… We keep going down the ladder. The invitation was there to everyone.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: So Joe Pesci and Brazilian Tom Selleck set out to find the toughest guys on Earth. At first, martial arts people were skeptical. Boxing people were even more skeptical.

 

ART DAVIE: He said ‘You wanna get a ranked heavyweight boxer to fight one of these boys in karate pajamas?’ I said ‘Yes sir.’ ‘You chasing dreams.’ he said ‘You in a lotta trouble. You ain’t gonna find nobody in this business that’s gonna let you do that.’ He said, ‘But thanks for the call.’

 

All around the world, from Bangkok and Tokyo to Amsterdam. I sent everybody a letter. ‘Hello?? Come on! We’re having this thing. Join the party.’

 

CHRIS BERUBE: And they start getting results. A martial artist in Holland has this tip.

 

ART DAVIE: He said he provides the muscle on the street for the guys who run the raves, the brothels… He said he’s been over in Japan and Bangkok. He’s considered one of the toughest guys in Holland bar none.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: His name is Gerard Gordeau.

 

GERARD GORDEAU: ‘Do you wanna fight in America, in a cage without rules?’ and I say ‘Okay. Why not?! I’m in good shape.’ It is my profession to fight. And I say ‘Okay.’ When you have to fight you have to fight.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Gordeau is in.

 

ART DAVIE: Kevin Rosier calls me up reading one of my ads in the magazine. Kevin had held three different kickboxing titles. Sent me a picture of himself weighing 245. I said ‘Kevin you still weigh 245?’ He said ‘Yeah well I’m maybe gonna be about 265.’

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Turns out, Kevin Rozier was over 325 pounds.

 

ART DAVIE: He said ‘I’ve never not been able to knock somebody out with Maryanne.’ he called it Maryanne, his big right hand.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: So Rozier’s in. Then Art calls up a guy who knows a lot about sumo in Japan. And that guy has a tip on a Hawaiian wrestler living in Japan named Teila Tuli.

 

ART DAVIE: He’s a really thorny problem. He said ‘Got kicked outta sumo.’ I said ‘How high did he get in sumo?’ He said ‘Makushita.’ I said ‘That’s right below the top level.’ He said, ‘Yeah the guy’s good.’ he said ‘He’s 6’2′, weighs about 420.’ He said ‘He actually pushed a Japanese reporter into a plate glass window and the glass broke… and he said it was an accident… and he’s no longer fighting professionally in Japan.’ I said ‘I like this guy already.’

 

TEILA TULI: It sounds like Art Davie is trying to pump it up

 

CHRIS BERUBE: That’s Teila and he says, actually, he knocked a journalist over, but not through a window or a table. Whatever happened, he’s in. Then, a tip about an American in Japan. He’s a shootfighter, which is a hybrid of lots of styles. The fighter’s name is Ken Shamrock.

 

ART DAVIE: I said ‘Stop right there.’ I said ‘I’m loving that name.’ I said ‘Gimme some information on him.’ I did research and I’m looking at a guy who’s six feet tall. Good looking with a strong jaw. And a red speedo. Unbelievable. I’m loving this guy.

 

KEN SHAMROCK: I mean I was best in the world I fought people from all over the world. When this thing, the UFC, it was almost like ‘Well who could beat me?’

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Next, Art and Rorion get a call about Zane Frazier. Zane was a karate champ, and also, he’s been a bodyguard for people like Stevie Wonder. Recently he’s been working as a bouncer at a notorious LA nightclub. Just a really rough place.

 

ZANE FRAZIER: We would always have fights… Knife fights, and gun fights, and street fights…

 

CHRIS BERUBE: So Art decides to meet this guy at a karate show. When he arrives, it’s chaos. According to Zane, he got into a fight with famous American ninja Frank Dux.

 

ZANE FRAZIER: And I really took it to Frank Dux and really beat the snot outta him. LAPD came and put us both in handcuffs. Then Art Davie came up to me and said ‘Are you Zane Frazier?’ While I was in handcuffs and I said ‘Yeah.’

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Accounts from the time say it was actually security guards, not police. But Zane is in. They recruit a local fighter in Denver named Pat Smith. And finally, they get a boxer. Art Jimmerson, a ranked cruiserweight.

 

ART JIMMERSON: It’s like unfair you know I’m gonna kill these guys, ya know?

 

CHRIS BERUBE: So to recap… We have a Dutch tough guy, an overweight kickboxer, another kickboxer from Denver, a rogue sumo wrestler, a guy who looks like Captain America, Stevie Wonder’s bodyguard, and a ranked cruiserweight boxer… That’s seven. Only one left. Who was going to fight for The Gracies? Rorion was helping to organize, so it couldn’t be him. Art assumed it would be Rickson, the family champion. He’s undefeated.

 

ART DAVIE: Rickson was on another planet. He was a jaguar. He looked like a cross between Antonio Banderas and Marlon Brando… And Mike Tyson. He walked into a room and everyone stopped talking.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: But Rorion did not choose Rickson. Instead, he went with one of his smallest brothers, Royce.

 

ART DAVIE: I said ‘Royce? I don’t think he has a driver’s license. He lives in a room above the garage at your house. His roommates are two piranha in a 6 sided fish tank.’

 

ROYCE GRACIE: My piranhas were very fun during feeding time.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: That’s Royce, by the way. Royce loved going to the beach every Saturday, flirting with the girls. He didn’t fit the profile of a serious fighter.

 

ROYCE GRACIE: Life is good in my world.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Art had a lot of reservations.

 

ART DAVIE: I said ‘He’s 27 going on 17.’ He said ‘Yeah and..’ I said ‘Why are we doing Royce?’

 

RORION GRACIE: Putting Royce in there, you know, dressed in white like a little angel is almost like people feel sorry for him. Cause I’m trying to prove a point that Jiu-Jitsu is for anyone. If Jiu-Jitsu–, the little guy can do wonders with Jiu-Jitsu, Royce is the right example.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: And Royce, yeah, he seems like a slacker. But nobody’s ever taken him seriously.

 

ROYCE GRACIE: I had to prove to my family that I was a fighter. Cause I wanna do it, but there’s always a bro-, there’s so many brothers and cousins everybody’s always so good. That’s why I’ve been trying to prove to my family that I can do it. That I can fight.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: The week of the tournament, we’re in Denver. Everybody’s arriving. Art, Rorion, the TV guys, the fighters. And nobody knows what’s going to happen. They need to get two things in place. One, they need to set up the ring, or the cage or whatever it is they’re fighting in. And two, they need to bring all the fighters together. A group of random tough guys from around the world, and explain to them how it’s all going down.

 

Ok, the first thing, there had been a lot of debate about what the ring or the cage, or whatever it is should look like.

 

RORION GRACIE: It can’t be a boxing ring.. a traditional boxing ring. I been in enough fights and I’ve seen enough fights if the guy starts getting beat up it’s very easy for him to slip between the ropes and get out.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: They needed something different, something that said ‘This is not a traditional martial arts thing.’ Some really bad ideas were thrown out.

 

ART DAVIE: One was a giant circular mat with a copper ring at the outermost portion, which would be electrified.

 

CAMPBELL MCLAREN: Rorion was talking about a moat. A moat? What– a fucking mo– and I kept saying, he went ‘Well we don’t have to put alligators in. (laughs) Brazilian humor.’

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Nothing was clicking, eventually, they settle on an idea borrowed from an Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. It was actually directed by one of Rorion’s students. ‘Conan the Barbarian.’

 

CAMPBELL MCLAREN: Conan had fought in a stone octagon in those movies. I thought the Octagon was a very cool shape. Like some shapes are not cool. A hexagon is not cool.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Jason Cusson was the man who created the octagon. He realized a stone octagon… That wasn’t gonna work for TV, so he tried Plexiglass and some other materials.

 

JASON CUSSON: One day I was just walking down the street and ran my finger along the fence and I had thought about chain link fence but of course they didn’t want the guys to rip their skin off. And I came across this vinyl coated chain link fence. And I said, ‘Well this with some padding and you know we put that on the octagon and we pretty much got something that’ll contain them.’

 

CHRIS BERUBE: So Jason and his team don’t have much time to put together the Octagon. The day before the fight, they’re in the arena, setting everything up, all chain link and padding and metal.

 

CAMPBELL MCLAREN: And when you look at the Octagon in UFC 1 it’s literally like gaffing taped and zip tied together in the padding.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: But Art says, no, actually, it’s perfect.

 

ART DAVIE: It’s beautiful. It’s gorgeous.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Now, the second thing. It’s time for the fighters to see each other in person.

 

This has never happened before, so they need to have a meeting to go over the rules. But UFC, supposedly, has NO RULES, so it promises to be a short meeting. Still, there’s tension in the air. It’s eight fighters, in a tiny hotel conference room… Together for the first time. Here’s Kathy Kidd, she worked on logistics for UFC1.

 

KATHY KIDD: It was like classroom style setup with a whole bunch of overgrown kids, adults squeezed into these little chairs that were mostly too small for most of them. They were kinda close together after we’d been keeping them apart for so long. Now they’re all crammed in this one little room all next to each other, so, something was bound to happen.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Rorion and Art and Campbell are sitting up at the front. And Rorion stands up. He’s the commissioner of the first UFC.

 

ZANE FRAZIER: Then Rorion Gracie says, ‘Okay we gonna talk about the rules,’ and I says–, raised my hands and says ‘I gotta t-shirt that you have me that says there are no rules so why are we talking about rules?’

 

RORION GRACIE: I said, ‘You can go ahead and do anything you want… Head butts, elbow hits, anything you wanna do you can do.’ The only two restrictions we had: No biting and no eye gouging.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Everybody agrees on those. Oh, and one more thing. Fighters cannot tape their knuckles.

 

RORION GRACIE: It had to be bare knuckle fighting. You could put a tape on your wrist but you couldn’t tape the knuckles.

 

ART DAVIE: Because that made the hand more of an armored weapon.

 

ZANE FRAZIER: What is going on here because you changin’ rules, flip floppin’, flip-floppin’, flip-floppin’ back and forth?

 

KEN SHAMROCK: Thought this was no-holds-barred. I thought this anything goes.

 

ART JIMMERSON: My knuckles have to be wrapped so I won’t break my knuckles right. And that’s when Rorion said, ‘No you can’t wrap your knuckle.’ I said ‘What?’

 

GERARD GORDEAU: I sitting there for one half hour and they talk. What you have to talk if there’s no rules? No rules are no rules.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: They keep talking, and talking and then… Rorion brings up another rule. If you are planning to kick someone, you cannot wear shoes.

 

RORION GRACIE: Because you don’t want people kicking with shoes, you know, there was an element in there. If they have shoes on, then there’s an advantage. You can kick someone with shoes. That was the idea.

 

CAMPBELL MCLAREN: (acting out the conversation) ‘Can we wear the shoes?’ ‘No if you’re gonna kick you can’t wear the shoes.’ ‘But you said if this is like a real fight you can’t go home and get your hands taped. In a real fight you might be wearing shoes.’ ‘Yes I did say that.’

 

KEN SHAMROCK: They took away my shoes because they knew that if they could take away my balance that Royce have a better chance of beating me.

 

ART DAVIE: At one point Rickson Gracie stands up. And when Rickson stands up… He’s the kinda guy when he stands up, people are saying, ‘Is there gonna be a fight?’

 

ZANE FRAZIER: I says– and I says ‘If you gonna set us up to fight and to lose–, hey UFC could start right here right now I’ll take your punk ass brother on right now.’

 

RORION GRACIE: These guys are there to fight and if we have to fight before that we’ll just do it (laughs). I mean c’mon I have a little fight background myself.

 

ART DAVIE: I’ve lost control of this and I’m trying to figure a way–, what dramatic thing I could do at this point. Do I start yelling? Do I faint an attack? Maybe I could stop this meeting right here I could grab my chest and dramatically fall to the ground. Suddenly that would stop the meeting.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: This whole time…one fighter has been weirdly quiet. The sumo wrestler, Teila Tuli.

 

TEILA TULI: I didn’t really say too much. I just observed everybody. I just signed the paper. We left it on the table. We started walking out. Mr. Gracie, he said… You know he yelled at me… He said ‘Hey Tuli, where you going?’ and I said ‘I’m outta here.’ And then he said, ‘What about the contract?’ Ya know? ‘What about the signature?’ and I said ‘It’s on the table.’ ‘You sign it?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And then the whole room went quiet. And I just turned to all the other fighters and I says, ‘Hey man I came here to party. If any of you came here to party, I’ll see you in the arena tomorrow.’ And then I just walked out.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: After that, everybody got quiet. And then they signed the papers. Art, Rorion and Campbell, they all agree Teila Tuli saved the UFC.

 

It’s the next day, November 12th, 1993. All the fighters are backstage. Art Jimmerson, the boxer, is punching a heavy bag. Ken Shamrock is limbering up. Gerard Gordeau is smoking a cigarette and making terrifying eye contact. And one fighter looks surprisingly confident. The smallest guy in the tournament. Royce Gracie. He’s totally unflappable. And despite his size he’s telling people, you know, I’m going to win this thing tonight.

 

Things are normal backstage, the TV team… They’re becoming worried. They’ve tested the Octagon, just not for the sumo wrestler. If he hits the side of the cage, nobody is totally sure if it’s going to hold up… And the on-air team. They aren’t ready. At the last minute, a kickboxer Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace was chosen to do play-by-play, and he was a bit dishonest about his credentials. Here’s Mark Lucas, he directed the show.

 

MARK LUCAS: My only question was, ‘Bill have you done TV?’ ‘Tons of TV.’ ‘Are you okay with an IFB?’ And I should’ve known right then by the pause, probably not. He said ‘Uh. IFB. Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ and I said ‘Okay.’

 

CHRIS BERUBE: An IFB is the earpiece that lets a producer talk directly to someone while they’re on the air.

 

MARK LUCAS: So I notice too just before we go on the air, every time he hears me in the IFB, he stops everything he’s doing. In fact once his eyes kinda drift up to the ceiling and I go, ‘Bill? Bill?’ ‘Yeah Mark.’ and I go ‘Why are you lookin at the ceiling?’ he goes ‘Uh, no I’m just ya know listening to you.’ ‘You can’t listen while not looking at the camera.’ ‘Got it.’ So show starts, alright, Bill, five, four, three, boom…

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

BILL WALLACE: HELLO LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. YOU ARE ABOUT TO SEE SOMETHING THAT YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN BEFORE. THE ULTIMATE FIGHTING CHALLENGE.]

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Championship, Bill.

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

BILL WALLACE: HELLO I’M BILL WALLACE AND (burps), WELCOME TO MCNICHOLS ARENA.]

 

MARK LUCAS: He burps. He goes ‘Excuse me.’ and keeps talking. And that was the beginning of the show.

 

CAMPBELL MCLAREN:Probably the worst sports broadcast in history. And I think it’s awful to be the second worst or the third worst. If you’re gonna be bad you need to stink.

 

 

CHRIS BERUBE: So the TV broadcast is live on air and it’s a giant mess. But It’s finally happening. The tournament is real. Single elimination bracket-style. The first fight is between the sumo, Teila Tuli, and the Dutch guy, Gerard Gordeau or as Bill Superfoot Wallace called them..

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

BILL WALLACE: THE FIRST MATCH WILL BE GERARD JAR-DEAU AGAINST TALLY TULI]

 

TEILA TULI: We’re behind the curtains and then the rock music started. Then the smoke machine started and it just blew us away. We was like, ‘Oh no…’ and you’re seeing the whole crowd. Man it was a different spirit. It was jacked-up.

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

RING ANNOUNCER: THE 1992 WORLD CHAMPION, FRENCH SAVATE BOXER. HOLDER OF THE EUROPEAN FRENCH SAVATE BOXING CHAMPION TITLE FOR 3 YEARS IN A ROW, GERARD GORDEAU.]

 

CAMPBELL MCLAREN: I think Gerard Gordeau, his real job, I think he was an assassin, because he was about the scariest person I had ever met in my life. He was just so intense.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Gordeau comes out, and he does something more than just intense.

 

CAMPBELL MCLAREN: You know got into the Octagon and did this kinda “Heil Hitler” salute to the audience. It was very weird.

 

ART DAVIE: He’s saluting in–, in the style of French Savate, you salute the four corners of the fighting arena. They thought there was a neo-fascist or a neo-Nazi aspect to it.

 

GERARD GORDEAU: If you think that you are stupid. My grandparents are also Jewish. There’s a reason for the salute is also bullshit, because I’m Jewish too.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: So there’s Gordeau and Tuli on the canvas. Gerard is shirtless, with white drawstring pants. He looks totally calm. Tuli is wearing a colorful sarong. He gives the crowd the devil horns, he’s ready to go.

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

BILL WALLACE:  THEY’RE GETTING READY. THE REFEREE IS IN THE CENTER. THERE THEY GO.]

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Tuli immediately tries to get up close to Gordeau.

 

TEILA TULI: I wanted him to come in closer because I had very good boxing.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: He charges, and Gordeau ducks him like a matador.

 

TEILA TULI: I lost my footing and you know. I lost my footing.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Then, Gordeau pounces.

 

GERARD GORDEAU: I kick him one time. I gave him one punch and it was over.

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

BILL WALLACE:  KATHY WHAT DO YOU THINK… WHOA]

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Gordeau’s kick was brutal. He knocked out a pair of Tuli’s teeth, which go flying into the front row. And his punch leaves a big gash above Tuli’s right eye. The fight was 26 seconds long.

 

TEILA TULI: My world flipped upside down from the kick. Well that was the hardest hit I ever took right there. That’s why I’m happy that my brother threw the towel and the ref stopped the fight.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Gordeau was not doing much better.

 

GERARD GORDEAU: You look on the video you can see after the punch I wiped off my hand to my trousers.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Gerard thought there was something on his hand. But there wasn’t. His hand was broken. And that’s not all.

 

GERARD GORDEAU: Some of the pieces of his teeth is sitting in my feet and I break my little bone in my feet.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: The audience is totally shocked. Including Kathy Kidd.

 

KATHY KIDD: Blood splattering out, the head flying to the, to the side and then, it was almost like ‘Was that a tooth!?’ You don’t wanna believe that someone’s tooth was actually kicked out of their mouth.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Back in New York, Bob Meyrowitz is watching on TV, and he is horrified.

 

BOB MEYROWITZ: I thought we would get to see the beauty of karate, we would get to see the beauty of the different art forms and instead I see this terribly violent thing going on.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Now, the TV crew is scrambling.

 

MARK LUCAS: I said ‘How much time do we have to fill?’ And they’re going, ‘Just fill as much as you can.’ I go, ’26 second fight? I can’t, you know, make a one and a half hour feature film of it.’ It’s like we’re sad here.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: They had to get creative, with the 26 seconds of footage they had. So they kept replaying the whole fight.

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

BILL WALLACE: BAMM THAT’S A RIGHT LEG ROUNDHOUSE KICK –THAT’S WHERE THE TOOTH CAME OUT.]

 

CHRIS BERUBE: There were a few silver linings. For one thing, the Octagon did not collapse. Here’s Jason.

 

JASON CUSSON: The crew, we decided we were gonna call that the moment of tooth as far as the Octagon was concerned.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: And even though Kathy and Bob are disgusted, and the TV crew is running around… Rorion and Art? They’re fine. It was hyper-violent, but that’s the point.

 

RORION GRACIE: The world didn’t know what to expect, that was the thing. And then they see people getting kicked on the face and, ‘Oh my god. What is this?’ That was the shock effect.

 

ART DAVIE: That was the shot was heard around the world.

 

RORION GRACIE: You know I’m accustomed to that. I’ve seen that before and I know what to expect. So I had the impact that I wanna have.

 

ART DAVIE: Holy shit this isn’t wrestling… This isn’t fake wrestling. This is real. Did you see what happened to that guy’s teeth?

 

 

CHRIS BERUBE: In the Octagon, Rorion’s nephews are trying to clean blood off the canvas, but there’s a thick stain. It has to stay there for the next fight, the debut of Zane Frazier, who was once Stevie Wonder’s bodyguard. His opponent is the heavy kickboxer, Kevin Rosier.

 

CAMPBELL MCLAREN: I don’t think spanks had been invented but he was wearing like these white bicycle spanks pants to try to hold back this enormous belly.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: By contrast, Zane is cut, and Art says he has that champion look. He’s tall and mean.

 

But there’s one thing working against Zane… He has asthma. And Denver is of course the Mile High City, a place with very thin air. And by accident, Campbell makes it even worse for him.

 

CAMPBELL MCLAREN: I wanted a lot of drama. Like a lotta fucking smoke. So he comes out through this smog. Smog–, artificial fog. It looked like San Francisco in there, right? It was not an effect. It looked like a layer of fog had come into McNichols arena. So Zane comes out he’s sucking in artificial smoke. He’s got asthma and he’s at 5,200 ft. So he hits the Octagon and he’s like *loud gasping sound*.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Zane gets in the ring, and his wife, Jolee, she’s in the corner.

 

ZANE FRAZIER: So when you hear that cage close, clink clink, there was no escape. And I remember her saying, I remember my wife saying ‘Holy shit this is for real.’

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

BILL WALLACE: AND THEY’VE STARTED HERE WE GO.]

 

CAMPBELL MCLAREN: He starts attacking Kevin. And he beats the crap out of Kevin. But Kevin is big and rollie-pollie.

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

KATHY LONG: CLEAR GROIN SHOT AND THE REFEREE DOESN’T SEEM TO NOTICE.]

 

ART DAVIE: He’s breathing through his mouth. And here’s–here’s big-–big silly kevin, big awkward Kevin, still coming at him throwing looping punches.

 

ZANE FRAZIER: Now right here is where I start to realize ‘Okay something’s wrong because I can’t catch my breathe.’

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

BILL WALLACE: THIS IS GONNA TAKE A LOT OF ENERGY CAUSE AS YOU CAN SEE IT’S ONLY BEEN A MINUTE OR SO INTO THE MATCH AND THEY’RE BREATHING A LITTLE BIT.]

 

ZANE FRAZIER: I’m starting to wheeze. Here I’m starting to wheeze and I’m thinking ‘Okay what’s going on?’

 

CAMPBELL MCLAREN: And finally Zane just kinda runs outta gas, runs outta oxygen and kinda collapses and Kevin Rosier stops him.

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

BILL WALLACE: I THINK FATIGUE GOT TO HIM. TOO HARD, TOO SOON, TOO OFTEN.]

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Zane is bleeding from a cut right above his eye. He’s gasping for air. His hands are up to fend off Rozier’s kicks. It’s at this point that Jolee throws in the towel.

 

ZANE FRAZIER: I can actually say my wife, Jolee Frazier, she saved my life that day. Cause I’d be dead if she didn’t throw in the towel.

 

JOLEE: Then we’re in the hospital room and…

 

ZANE FRAZIER: They had to intubate me at the hospital. That was the only way they could save my life. The ambulance got me in the hospital in the nick of time.

 

JOLEE: It’s… I mean it was… It was serious.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Kathy Kidd is in charge of fighter safety, and things backstage are starting to get out of hand.

 

KATHY KIDD: Three ambulances at the arena in Denver that first night. Had them lined up ready to go. Didn’t know if I would use them all. But I thought three… Three should be enough.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: After the first two fights, she’s already sent two people to the hospital. With serious injuries.

 

KATHY KIDD: I truly thought every single fighter is going to need an ambulance.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: She calls the ambulance company for backup.

 

KATHY KIDD: They’re telling me ‘Well it’s gonna take some time.’ You know ‘We’ll get them there as soon as we can.’ And I’m like ‘No, no. I don’t have any time. We have fights. You’ve gotta get the ambulance here.’ And they’re like, ‘Ma’am, we’ll get them there as fast as we can.’

 

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Back in the Octagon, Royce Gracie is about to make his debut. His opponent is the boxer, Art Jimmerson. Who confusingly decides to only wear one glove, so he can grapple with the other hand.

 

ART JIMMERSON: I’m the first one out there right. I look up here comes Royce with like a chain–brothers and coaches all with their hands on the back of each other’s shoulders like the Jacksons. I’m like ‘Oh man.’

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

KATHY LONG: ROYCE CERTAINLY LOOKS THE MOST CONFIDENT.]

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Once the fight starts, it becomes the Royce Gracie show. He gives a few tentative kicks and then he darts in, and knocks Jimmerson over.

 

ART JIMMERSON: He shot up and came down and got my legs. When he got my legs he sweeped me under. I’m like ‘Wow,’ so I’m thinking to myself ‘Alright referee.. I’m down on the ground.’

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Within seconds, he’s climbed on top. On TV, it just looks like Royce is giving the boxer this tight bear hug. But what’s actually happening – he’s trying to get his forearm over Jimmerson’s trachea.

 

ROYCE GRACIE: He doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know how to escape. He doesn’t know what to do. I’ll take him to the ground and he doesn’t–, totally hopeless. All his boxing training is hopeless.

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

BILL WALLACE: ‘ART IS A LITTLE BIT WORRIED HERE–EXACTLY WHERE JIU-JITSU WANTS TO BE—ON TOP…’]

 

ART JIMMERSON: I’m on the ground, on the ground with him. I’m thinking you know, ‘Why isn’t this referee breaking us up, right?’ so I said referee ‘Can we be broken up?’ the referee said ‘Keep fighting.’ Then Royce headbutts me like four times.

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

ROD MACHADO & KATHY LONG: HE JUST TAPPED OUT. DID HE? THAT’S AMAZING. IT DOESN’T TAKE MUCH. IT IS JUST A FRIGHTENING EXPERIENCE]

 

CHRIS BERUBE: The boxer gives up. He never had a chance to throw a punch. But the Gracie family, they’re ecstatic. There are more fights – Ken Shamrock, Captain America, he beats the local Denver fighter, Pat Smith. The crowd pelts Ken with garbage, because, you know, he beat the local guy. And now we’re in the semi-finals, four people left. Gerard Gordeau, the Dutch fighter,  even with a broken hand, he makes quick work of the heavy kickboxer Kevin Rosier. In the other bracket, Royce is fighting Captain America himself, Ken Shamrock.

 

KEN SHAMROCK: I’m walking in there and I’m gonna tear him apart. As soon as I looked at him man, I just looked at him like ‘I wanna kill you.’

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

ROD MACHADO &  BILL WALLACE: NOTICE THE REFEREE IS TRYING TO KEEP ‘EM FAR AWAY FROM EACH OTHER. I THINK IT’S VERY INTELLIGENT. PREMATURE FIGHTING. VERY LIKELY EVENT HERE. READY TO START. VERY EXCITING BOUT.]

 

CHRIS BERUBE: They’re going at it. Royce trips up Ken, and gets on top. Ken starts trying to pry himself loose, but he just can’t pull himself out.

 

KEN SHAMROCK: As I’m trying to push his feet away, I can’t get that grip. Now with shoes on I can get it. So now I end up on the bottom. And this is where he’s good at. On top.

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

BILL WALLACE: EXACTLY WHERE ROYCE WANTS TO BE….]

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Royce starts positioning Ken for the chokehold. We see Royce in his white Jiu-Jitsu Gi, he’s flat on top of Ken, who is wriggling underneath, trying to get loose. Royce wraps his arms around Ken’s neck.

 

ROYCE GRACIE: My father used to choke all his opponents. That was standard move because if you break somebody’s arm they could continue fighting. If you choke them out unconscious, fight is over.

 

KEN SHAMROCK: So now I end up flat again and now he’s got the Gi around my throat. And he’s choking me. So instead of an arm where I’m trying to break it, it’s a rope going across my neck and I can’t get my fingers on it.

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

ROD MACHADO &  BILL WALLACE: HERE’S THE TAP. HERE’S THE TAP. HOYCE ACTUALLY HAD HIM IN A CHOKE FROM THE BACK AND HE TAPPED. HE TAPPED FOUR TIMES. –I SAW IT FOUR TIMES.]

 

KEN SHAMROCK: And it’s just like the–, the arrogance that I had going into this fight. That’s something that I learned from from this. I never let that happen again.

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

SHAMROCK: I’LL BE A LITTLE MORE PREPARED FOR IT NEXT TIME. HOPEFULLY I CAN – I’LL GIVE HIM A BETTER FIGHT, YA KNOW. I’M SORRY THAT, UH, THAT I DIDN’T GIVE HIM A GOOD ENOUGH FIGHT YA KNOW.]

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Ken says this fight, it’s stayed with him his entire life. Ken maintains, if he’d been allowed to wear the shoes, it would have turned out differently.

 

KEN SHAMROCK: The think that they’d changed and done so many things to try to stack the card when they didn’t have to. Just my opinion. They cheated.

 

RORION GRACIE: C’mon Ken give me a break. Don’t joke about that, man. You’re a tough guy no matter what. It just happens that ya know? Royce knew a couple more tricks than you did. But Royce used very basic A-B-C of Jiu-Jitsu.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: The finals – are Royce versus Gerard Gordeau, the Dutch tough guy. When Royce steps into the ring, he looks pretty much unscathed. He hasn’t taken a punch. But Gerard, his hand is swelling, he’s bleeding from his foot. He looks beat up.

 

GERARD GORDEAU: You cannot make a choice ‘Oh I stop’. We are fighters we have to win. And I make a trip for 5000 kilometers to do there and then say stop? No. Not in my heart.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: The winner will walk away with $50,000. He also gets to say he is the toughest fighter in the world. It’s an exciting match on paper. But Royce gets him on the ground right away.

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

COMMENTATORS MACHADO, WALLACE & LONG: BILL HE’S GOING TO HIS BACK. THERE’S THAT LEFT HAND. ROYCE IS UNDERNEATH GERARD’S NECK–GERARD HAS HIS CHIN DOWN–ANACONDAS–IT’S OVER. THAT WAS JUST. HOYCE–LET HIM GO. HE WANTS TO MAKE SURE THE REFEREE SEES THAT THIS IS OVER THOUGH. THAT IS THE POWER OF JIU-JITSU IN ACTION. SIMPLY INCREDIBLE.]

 

ART DAVIE: You can see. Look at the expression on Royce’s face. There’s a look now of satisfaction. I did it! I did it! And he deserves that. That moment. They hoist him up. He deserves it. Remember all before this, he’s got everyone watching him to perform. He can’t let the family down.

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

ROYCE GRACIE: I’M NOT HERE FOR THE MONEY. I’M HERE FOR THE HONOR OF THE FAMILY. FOR THE NAME, THAT THE FAMILY’S BEEN PUTTING OUT FOR THE LAST 65 YEARS.]

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Here he is the ultimate fighting champion validated in front of his entire family. But in this moment he’s still Royce.

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

BRIAN KILMEADE: WHAT YOU GONNA DO WITH THE MONEY?

 

ROYCE GRACIE: I’M GONNA GO TO DISNEYLAND

 

BRIAN KILMEADE: YOU’RE GONNA GO TO DISNEYLAND? THERE’S A PROMO. OKAY!]

 

ROYCE GRACIE: Disneyland is fun because you become a kid again.

 

[UFC 1, NOVEMBER 12, 1993,

 

BRIAN KILMEADE: A SPECIAL DAY FOR YOU. A SPECIAL DAY FOR YOUR DAD AND YOUR WHOLE FAMILY. CONGRATULATIONS ON THE $50,000 AND BEING THE ULTIMATE FIGHTING CHAMPION. WITH THAT LET’S GO TO BILL]

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Despite the rocky start, the TV broadcast, well, it’s runs nearly two hours. It was long enough. The Octagon didn’t collapse. Nobody died. It’s a qualified success.

 

But was it a good show? UFC1 was super violent. Five of the fighters ended up in hospital. The canvas was covered in blood. Art says the hyper-violence… That was the whole point. But other people were having a much harder time with it. Like Bob Meyrowitz back in New York. And Kathy Kidd, who was working backstage.

 

KATHY KIDD: I’ve had a man’s tooth go flying over my head, I put people in ambulances. What am I doing? And honest to God I threw up. I’m in the bathroom I threw up I’m sick, I’m questioning myself. One of my team members came in and said ‘What’s wrong?’ I said ‘Oh my gosh these people beat the crap out of each other.’ she’s like ‘Oh come on. Everybody’s in the bar.’ I’m like ‘What?’ like ‘They’re all in the bar?’ she goes, ‘Kathy. They’re in the bar. Their drinking. They’re having fun. You have to see this. You won’t believe it.’

 

CHRIS BERUBE: She walks down to the bar at the arena, and opens the door. Most of the fighters were discharged from the hospital, and they came back.

 

KATHY KIDD: And there they are. They’re laughing. They’re talking. They’re together. It was amazing to see that.

 

KEN SHAMROCK: Being involved in the first UFC I feel lucky. And even through all the things that we talked about, an shoes, and all the stuff that happened, I still feel lucky to be a part of it.

 

GERARD GORDEAU: We are sportsmans. After the fight you are sportsman. And normal human beings.

 

RORION GRACIE: There’s a sense of respect for each other, the guy who won won, the guy who lost lost and life goes on.

 

TEILA TULI: You know that thing bonded us.

 

ART DAVIE: You’ve gone to where nobody has gone before. And you will do it again. And everyone who follows you will remember that you were the pioneer. And you’ll show your kids and your grandkids what you did. And you’ll be proud of it because what you did nobody else had the courage to do.

 

And Campbell and I bumped into each other finally, Campbell McLaren. And Campbell was already half-drunk on single malt scotch. I had a cigar in my hand. I said ‘What’d you think?’ he said ‘This is gonna be fuckin’ huge.’

 

 

CHRIS BERUBE: If they picked up 50,000 people on Pay-Per-View, it would be a big hit. Totally beyond expectations. Turns out… They did 86,000.

 

ART DAVIE: Everybody was startled. Suddenly now people are calling me. ‘Hey we saw that thing.’ I said ‘Oh didn’t I call you 3 months ago.’ ‘Maybe…’

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Semaphore and Bob Meyrowitz are all in. The fighters start getting recognized. The biggest winners of all are the Gracies. Suddenly, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was on the map. Here’s Dave Meltzer, a writer who’s been covering the UFC since the beginning.

 

DAVE MELTZER: It changed the whole martial arts world, the first UFC and the first couple UFC’s because of this and you used to have–, every corner would have the karate studio. And it really switched because people wanted to study Jiu-Jitsu.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: The UFC became a pop culture phenomenon. But as it took off – there was a backlash.

 

The New York Times published an article with the headline ‘Death is Cheap: Maybe Just 14.95.’ That was the cost of the UFC on Pay-Per-View. John McCain, Senator from Arizona, tried to get it banned in all 50 states.

 

It became hard to book shows. And Art realizes – this isn’t going to last much longer.

 

ART DAVIE: I don’t think the NYT is going away. I don’t think John McCain is going away. I said I wouldn’t be surprised if–, at some point Bill Clinton comes out against this. I mean it’s possible.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: They try to make the UFC more mainstream, to appease the boxing commissions and politicians. They started adding rules, like weight classes, and time limits and judges. Rorion hates this new direction, he wants it to be more raw.

 

So Art and Rorion make a really tough call. They agree to sell their half of the company to Bob Meyrowitz. The sum was never disclosed, but Art did tell a reporter ‘I had a million reasons to sell.’

 

Art actually stayed with the company, as an employee. But he was fired. For secretly trying to start another league.

 

Bob held onto the company for a couple of years, but he was losing money, millions of dollars, and he spent a lot of time in court.

 

So then he sold the UFC in 2001, for a bargain price, $2 million, to a group led by millionaire investors the Fertitta brothers, and their friend. Dana White. From that moment on, the sport would never be the same. The Fertittas sunk in about $40 or $50 million dollars. They got it approved across North America. And the UFC became profitable and really popular. Today, Dana White is the face the of MMA. Most fans assume he started the whole thing.

 

There’s an MMA style now. It’s not Jiu-Jitsu versus sumo versus boxing. Here’s Dave Meltzler…

 

DAVE MELTZER: The fights that you watched in UFC 1, as compared to what MMA has turned into today. IT’s so far–, I mean it’s probably like watching a basketball game in the 1920’s, you know, and watching an NBA game today.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: The first tournament, it’s totally different from the fights today.

 

DAVE MELTZER: It just feels like guys doing a streetfight.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: Now, Rorion is still running Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, he built a new headquarters, and a Gracie museum in Los Angeles. Campbell started his own league, called Combate Americas, focused on Latino fighters. Of the original UFC organizers, Bob Meyrowitz is the only one in the UFC Hall of Fame.

 

As for Art, well he got married to Kathy Kidd!

 

KATHY KIDD: I pursued him. I chased him and then finally he let me catch him.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: It lasted a year. But they’re still friends. Art tried a lot of things after the UFC. He worked for a kickboxing league but that job didn’t last.

 

ART DAVIE: I had the idea for a video-dating business that was connected through the internet, but it was too soon.I developed a show called ‘Magic: Making a Great Inner-City,’ for Magic Johnson. It was Apprentice goes to the ghetto.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: None of Art’s big ideas were hits like the UFC, because how could they be?

 

ART DAVIE: I guess I never found that one horse. I never found that one woman either.

 

CHRIS BERUBE: As for the 4 Billion dollars? Art says, eh, I could have never made it a 4 Billion dollar company. I’ve got my health, I made some money selling to Bob, who cares.

 

Art lives in a one-story house. It’s away from the Las Vegas strip and the new sprawling UFC headquarters. He’s got a cigar in his hand. The sun is setting on his backyard which is this long flat bit of desert. Sometimes he goes out there to walk around, shoots at coyotes. He likes it out there.

 

Art refuses to spend much time thinking about regret.

 

ART DAVIE: I was driving down Sunset Boulevard one day and I had a convertible–, I was driving a convertible at the time and somebody from Sports Illustrated wanted to know what I thought if I ever saw a UFC billboard. I said ‘There was one at Sunset and La Brea or wherever I was.’ ‘What was it like? What was your feelings at that moment?’ I said, ‘In a way it’s like, ya know, if you’re a divorced father and somebody else is raising your kid, but they’re doing a good job of it. You think, eh everything’s okay.’ I said, ‘The light changed. I drove on and didn’t think anymore about it. That’s how I look at it.’

 

 

— 30 —