Starting A Fight
Itís the MMA version of Super Bowl Ióthe very first UFC, held in the winter of 1993 in all its raw, bare-knuckled glory. Hereís a blow-by-blow account of that epic event, in the words of the fighters and organizers who made it happen.
If you’re looking to birth an international phenomenon, there are probably more glamorous places than Denver in the winter. It’s cold—minus 20 below or worse is on record—the altitude constricts lungs, and the only culture to be found is in the parking lot of Mile High Stadium before a Broncos game.
But it was precisely Denver’s lack of polish—no athletic commission to intervene, plenty of limited-liability coverage—that led a group of nervous athletes and even more nervous financiers to convene there on November 12, 1993, for a bizarre pay-per-view curiosity with a sensationally overcooked title: the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Violent and raw, the UFC took eight practitioners of disparate martial arts and watched as they galvanized a skeptical stateside audience. Blood flowed, bones cracked, and the frailest-looking participant earned respect for his art in the most visceral way possible: by squeezing the wind out of not only his opponents, but also years of traditional beliefs about self-defense.
In honor of the promotion’s 15th anniversary, the participants and deal brokers of the inaugural UFC spoke to Real Fighter and in their own words remembered—oftentimes contentiously and with varying degrees of inconsistency—the jitters, the posturing and the flying teeth, all of which conspired to transform how American culture viewed martial arts forever.
Believing the American public would be infatuated with his family’s appendage-torquing martial art of jiu-jitsu, Rorion Gracie had imported himself to California in 1978. When he moved his teaching from his garage to a dojo in Torrance in the late 1980s, one of his first students was Art Davie, an ad man who was mesmerized by Gracie’s taped challenge matches and the idea of pitting contrasting styles against one another.
Art Davie: I was in the Marines with some friends who had taken an R&R in Thailand and they had seen a mixed match in a Thai night club. It was between a Thai boxer and an Indian wrestler. They told me about it. It was the type of topic we had often talked about—could Bruce Lee beat Sugar Ray Robinson?
Rorion Gracie: Over the years, I always had people coming to my garage to fight. That happened almost as soon as I got to America. I would invite my students to watch and they loved it. A real fight in a garage on a Friday night? Of course they want to see that.
“Big” John McCarthy (Gracie student and future UFC referee): It wasn’t as frequent as they make it out to be. I had a couple of them. Usually I’d take them everybody down and choke them and that was it.
I did one at the Los Angeles Police Academy. We had a martial arts review panel because of the Rodney King thing. A dorky dude was throwing this guy around and saying he could do all these things. He asked if we wanted to try. I mounted and slapped him in the face and said, “Now what are you going to do?”
Royce Gracie: I would fight the opponent, never hurt them, just submit them nicely. So they kind of get up and go, “Okay, let’s do it again. Can I do it again? I want another chance.” So we went two or three times.
McCarthy: If they wanted to try again, Rorion would go to you and say, “Hit him hard. Hurt him.” That was their way of looking at you and saying that you didn’t believe.
Davie: Rorion had done this videotape called “Gracies in Action,” which showed some of the mixed-style fights his family had done. I volunteered to do a direct-mail base for him. He didn’t know what it was, but I convinced him to do it. He had 25,000 names in a database he had collected over the months and years. We did a mailing list and grossed over $100,000. So then I had credibility with him.
Rorion Gracie: We talked about doing a show that we’d set up in a small school in Torrance, but we decided to go for something bigger that would touch everybody. I thought it would be a great idea to put it on TV. We’ve had shows like this in Brazil for thirty years. It’s nothing new.
Davie: I wrote up a 65-page business plan and made a presentation to Rorion’s students, family and friends. We were able to raise a quarter of a million dollars.
Flush with capital, Davie amalgamated himself with Gracie to create W.O.W. Promotions and took their idea for a sixteen-man (later pared down to eight) anything-goes tournament to HBO, Showtime, and content provider Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG). The former two dubbing the idea “crazy,” only SEG showed any valid interest. Davie and Gracie entered into a equitable partnership with the company, where W.O.W. would be responsible for the costs of the live event and SEG would foot the bill for the telecast.
Davie: Originally, the show was scheduled for October 31, Halloween, in a facility in Brazil, but there were tremendous logistical problems. I had done research and found out the only state that didn’t have a boxing commission and had no rules on the books prohibiting bare-knuckle fighting was Colorado. It was also one of the few states that had a limited liability structure. I had gone up to Denver, incorporated us, got an attorney, and the first fighter I actually signed was Pat Smith.
Patrick Smith: Davie came and watched me fight in one of the Sabake Challenges, bare-knuckle stand-up, in Denver. I wanted to go ahead and do it, but my girlfriend at the time was like, “No, no, we don’t want him doing that, that’s too dangerous.” I signed up three days later.
Me and Gerard Gordeau were pretty good friends. We fought in K-1 a lot over in Japan.
Davie: Gordeau came out of the same school that Ernesto Hoost came from—I couldn’t afford Hoost. But I knew who Gordeau was, and I knew he was going to be devastating.
Gerard Gordeau: I was a Savate champion in Europe. Because I am a high kicker, they take me. I don’t look for [street fights], but if the people want it, they get it.
Davie: I had recruited Ken Shamrock because [his student] Scott Bessac had sent in an application and in talking to him I realized that the guy I really wanted was his teacher.
Ken Shamrock: I never thought the event would happen. I thought somewhere along the line there was going to be a gimmick.
Zane Frazier: Pro karate tournaments in California are unlike anywhere else: it looks more like street fighting than it does karate or kickboxing. I was fighting in the Long Beach International, and there was a fighter I basically got into a street fight with. I wound up taking him to the ground with a sweep and stomping him. Rorion put his arm around me and said, “Hey, I like you, kid! You can fight!”
Taylor Wily (formerly Teila Tuli): They were looking to see if any Sumo wrestlers wanted to get into it. Four days before I left for Denver, I broke a knuckle in a street fight. It was 8 on 1.
Davie: The guy that was the biggest disappointment that I recruited off of videotapes was Kevin Rosier. I thought he was going to come in around 265 pounds. He showed up and weighed 320 pounds. He looked like two people inside of a fat suit.
Kevin Rosier: I was the ISKA kickboxing champ for 13 years and nobody would fight me. I was doing underground fights in San Francisco, Chinatown, bare-knuckle tournaments in New York City back in the ‘80s. It was a great chance to see my daughter in Colorado.
Davie: I approached Don Wilson, who turned us down. I approached Dennis Alexio. I had reached out to the people at WCW, talking to them about Meng, a big Samoan, who I understood could fight. All the other wrestlers were legitimately afraid of him. They didn’t want him to do this type of thing.
Jason DeLucia (alternate): I wanted to be in the tournament. But they said, “You need a title.” They wanted me to embellish a title, to come up with something. I said, “I won’t do it.” So they didn’t put me in the tournament.
Art Jimmerson: They needed a boxer [and] I was ranked in the top ten light-heavyweights in boxing. “Street Fighter” was one of the biggest video games out at the time, and my kids loved it. I did verbally commit, [but] came back after I found out what was happening and backed out. They said, “Well, you already verbally committed. Your name is on a poster, we’re promoting you. We’re going to sue you.”
Davie: Jimmerson was given a flat amount of money—$17,000. He had a pretty sharp attorney and we did a lot of negotiating.
Jimmerson: They gave me like quadruple what they gave everybody else. They told me I would have the lightest guy in the tournament.
Davie: Rorion had a falling out with his brother over teaching people privately at his house rather than over at the Academy. After that, Rorion and Rickson hardly ever talked. Rorion said he would put Royce in, but not Rickson. And we argued about that.
McCarthy: I had put in my application for it. Rorion said, “What are you doing? You can’t fight. You’re with us. When Royce is done, we’ll put you in there.”
Royce Gracie: We’re gonna get into a fight in a cage, a ring, or the street…man, doesn’t make a difference. A fight’s a fight.
McCarthy: Rickson was training Royce and was there for him. He was in a seriously pissed-off mood towards Rorion. Rorion took his thunder. Rorion took his ability to showcase who he was. Rickson was the best fighter by far of the brothers. There was no comparison. He had to step back and let Royce do it.
Davie: Rorion knew Chuck Norris well enough that he and I went over there one night and approached him about being a commentator. We’d talk to him for five or ten minutes, all excited about it. And all I remember was that Chuck Norris kept saying, “Is this legal? Is this legal?” We couldn’t even to get him to come and sit ringside.
With co-conspirator, film director and fellow student John Milius, Davie and Gracie searched for a ring construct that would contain the action.
Davie: We knew we weren’t going to do a boxing ring. Rorion had put some strong thoughts on paper about that, that people would roll out of the ring. He had seen that in Brazil.
Frazier: At the time, Rorion had said the surface was going to be gravel. Then it was going to be dirt, then it was going to be clay. Then he said mats, then grass. He said all these different things. We really didn’t know what it was going to be.
Rorion Gracie: We thought of a ring that had a moat and we could put alligators on the outside, [or] chariots running around the ring and dropping the fighters off. Then people with trumpets and Roman togas announcing them. This is Hollywood.
Davie: Semaphore and I found a company in L.A. We literally gave them a checklist and had an ongoing dialogue back and forth. Their people made, creatively, I would say 75% of the final design.
While the fencing company realized the more pragmatic Octagon schematic, fighters debated how best to survive in the ring with virtually no restriction. Gouging, groin strikes and biting were prohibited, but infractions would only result in a fine, not a disqualification.
Royce Gracie: That’s one of the things I brought up to my brothers, “What if the guy cheats? There’s no punishment.” If the guy bites, and I cannot continue, he wins.
Gordeau: No rules are no rules.
Frazier: Richard Norton, Howard Jackson, Chuck Norris, all of those guys were all friends. They had told me, “Hey, Zane, go train with the Machado brothers.” The Machados wouldn’t train me, but some of the students I had known who had trained with Gene LeBell gave a preview of what the Gracies were like and what they were going to try and do.
Rosier: I took the fight even though I was way overweight [and] way out of shape. I had a school next to a McDonald’s.
Jimmerson: I had fought Don “the Dragon” Wilson, karate vs. boxing rules. They said he was only allowed so many kicks per round. The way it went, he overdid it. They stopped the fight in the fifth round because my legs were done.
[PKA kickboxing champion] Earnest Hart had me trying to learn certain blocks, but I was like, “Man, I can’t learn this stuff in six weeks. I’m just going to go out there and do what I can do.”
Wily: Being retired from Sumo and not really in the best of shape, I just started running the beach. I started wrestling and got back into boxing. I did mostly a lot of running, stretching, and meditating. I dropped a lot of weight.
Trent Jenkins (alternate): I told my mother and told her not to tell anybody else. She was going to go to a funeral of her cousin. She actually canceled the trip in case I needed to go to the hospital or something like that.
Frazier: There’s a place in Los Angeles called Athens Park. This is where the Crips and all the different gangs get together. On Friday night, they have street fight night. That’s how I prepared for UFC 1. I fought guys on concrete with my shirt off. I didn’t know if we’d be on concrete. The big scratch on my left shoulder, that’s where it came from.
Davie: I remember picking up Tuli at the airport and driving him back myself. He was nervously asking me about the other fighters, the fighting surface and so on. Everybody felt like they were off in deep space.
The week of the show, fighters descended into Denver from all corners of the map. McCarthy’s wife, who was in charge of travel arrangements, was told to book them on separate floors of the hotel to avoid confrontations. It didn’t quite work.
Davie: There was a lot of posturing down in the lobby. I would get reports on the walkie-talkie from security down there that the Samoans with Tuli were having face-offs, staring matches with the Brazilians.
Frazier: I saw Ken Shamrock. He was all bundled up and I couldn’t see his physique or anything. He said, “My name’s Ken Shamrock.” I said, “So f-cking what? I’m going to kick your f-cking ass. You’re going to leave here in a body bag.” And that’s how I was to everybody.
Shamrock: Frazier would’ve never gotten in my face, because at that time, I would’ve knocked his ass out. I didn’t have the control I have now.
Frazier: I remember Ken taking off his shirt a couple days later and saw how buff and yoked he was. I said, “Oh, sh-t! This guy would’ve twisted me up!” My heart came through my throat.
Davie: Shamrock was nervous. He kept thinking up until that week that maybe it was going to be a partial “work.”
Shamrock: I went over to Japan and fought [in Pancrase] and then went to Denver four days later because I didn’t think it was going to be a real fight. I already had it set in my mind that I was going to break somebody’s leg [regardless]. They were going to tell me to go in there and put somebody over and I’d have said “yes” and then went in and broke the guy’s leg.
Frazier: Kevin Rosier made himself scarce in this big overcoat. He ate his way to up 300 pounds.
Rosier: I was about 340 pounds. I was having cake and ice cream.
Frazier: Rorion Gracie said, out of his own mouth to my ears, “If you kill your opponent, it’s legal.” That’s what he told us. And that’s what we went into. I didn’t have any care in the world. My wife had power of attorney. I put all my assets in her name. If I died in the ring, I didn’t care.
Wily: One of my older cousins had passed away that week. Rorion said, “You have to put this past you. When you cry, you lose a lot of energy.” I was like, “Man, it’s too late. I’ve been crying all week.”
Davie: Jimmerson was hearing his arm was going to get broken by a grappler. He appeared to be the most nervous of all.
McCarthy: Jimmerson said, “How in the world do you think Royce is going to beat me when I’m flicking out a jab? He can’t get past that.” We went into a back ballroom area and I grabbed him in a double leg and put him on the ground. He looked up at me and said, “Oh, my God. He’s going to break my arms and legs, isn’t he?”
Friday’s bouts almost began prematurely when Frazier and his handlers caused a stir at the rules meeting in the Brahms conference room of Denver’s Executive Tower Inn—they believed Rorion was stacking the deck in favor of his brother by not allowing strikers to wrap their knuckles.
Davie: Several people came up to me during that week in Denver and said that Zane was talking about conspiracies lurking everywhere. He made a big thing about groin shots and hand wraps.
Frazier: Rorion and I got into a huge, huge argument. I told him, “You’re changing the rules to set this up for your brother.” I said, “Guys, do you know he owns half of this? He owns half the show!” Everybody goes, “What?” I said, “He’s setting this up for his brother and changing the rules so we go on national TV and look like idiots.”
Rorion Gracie: If you’re in a fight on the street, are you going to go run home and wrap your hand?
Shamrock: Royce had preferential treatment, but if it was my brother putting it on, I’d expect the same. I didn’t care. It’s a fight. There’s nothing his brother can do for him when the fight is going on.
Jenkins: Jason and I were the only ones who understood. I guess we were the only ones who read the contract.
DeLucia: Rickson was saying something and he stood up when he said it. And all I thought was, “The next thing that happens is going to be either very good or very bad.”
Frazier: I charged Rorion and all the Gracies and Brazilians jumped up.
Rorion Gracie: What, like he was going to attack me? Give me a break. Never happened.
Frazier: I got in Rickson’s face. I said, “Me and you can go right now.”
Rosier: It was hilarious. All the guys were going over the tape and everything else. I was just sitting back, on my medication. I had a root canal that day. An abscess blew up.
McCarthy: They put papers down in front of them and it was basically a release of liability exempting W.O.W. and SEG from any responsibility if anyone got hurt. A lot of those guys didn’t want to sign that thing.
Wily: I just signed my paper. The whole room got quiet. I turned to them and said, “Hey, I don’t know about you guys, but I came here to fight. If anyone came here to party, I’ll see you tomorrow night at the arena.”
Jenkins: All the Gracies gave him a standing ovation.
Gordeau: I sign the paper and I go. The rest stayed there to explain what is allowed and what is not allowed. Real Americans, they talk a lot. But if you have no rules, you are finished explaining in two seconds.
The rules meeting wasn’t the only source of stress for organizers that week. Davie’s woes extended to the broadcast—football legend Jim Brown, who had been slotted in as play-by-play announcer, decided at the last minute he didn’t want to do it, forcing Bill “Superfoot” Wallace into the lead broadcast position—and the local promotion of the show.
Davie: We hired Barry Fey, a well-known rock promoter. Fey guaranteed us a certain amount of money based upon what he thought the event would do. It was a $25,000 advance. By Thursday at noon, I don’t have the money. I mentioned to Rorion I was having some trouble. Rorion said, “Should we send somebody over?” He got Rickson and two other Brazilians. I get a phone call from Fey screaming that I was a mobster.
He cursed me out, but he gave Rickson the check.
McCarthy: The only confrontations I remember were between Rorion and his family. [Laughs] Relatives, cousins, all kinds of threats. He owned Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Whenever anyone tried to do anything off of it, he sued them. And they wanted to get at him because of it.
Gordeau: They changed my opponent. The first match, I have to fight Gracie. And then they change the schedule because the Japanese told the people there that I was dangerous.
Davie: Gerard has been telling that story for years. It’s just not true. I was changing the matches up until a day before the show. I was thinking of matching him up with Shamrock. Rorion wasn’t involved in that at all. Later on, in order to eliminate any criticism about that, we went to a blind draw at the press conference with UFC II.
Frazier: They didn’t let us see the mat until the day of. It was literally as soft as a mattress.
DeLucia: It favored the wrestlers. For a stand-up fighter, it was like moving in sand. We made them tear it up. And they did.
Rorion Gracie: There was carpet padding so they don’t hit their head on the ground, and canvas on top. What, asphalt would be better?
Davie: Rorion wanted more of a padded surface. He wanted 3” of foam. We settled on 1.5”. Later, after the first UFC, we cut it down to an inch.
DeLucia: There was the kickpad drill [for the media]. We all got to get in there and hit this pad to see who hit hardest. I had the heaviest hit with a side kick. The second heaviest hit in the room was Ken Shamrock. He did it with a forearm.
Shamrock: He’s full of crap. I had the quickest and most powerful punch and I wasn’t even a boxer.
Frazier: Gordeau used a kick. I think he broke it.
McCarthy: I remember Royce walked up and said, “I don’t do that,” and walked away.
Davie: The first two UFCs, Royce had Rickson’s spine inside of him. There was a moment I didn’t observe, but that I heard about. Royce went out into the Octagon alone with Rickson. I guess Royce was having some last-minute flutters. Rickson and he stood together and I heard it was almost a tearful moment.
Royce Gracie: That’s every time I fight. I put all my feelings in that ring. From that day on, man, I’m numb.
Fight night, November 12, 1993. Nearly 5,000 tickets were sold for Denver’s McNichols Sports Arena; couch-bound spectators paid $14.95 for a cable broadcast. As commentator Bill Wallace burped through an introduction—proposed booth personalities Dolph Lundgren, Steven Seagal, and Sylvester Stallone never materialized—the fighters prepared themselves for whatever might lay ahead.
Davie: I had never felt anyone was going to be seriously injured. I had seen too many grapplers take too many guys down. I was concerned we would have broken bones. We had two ambulances standing by.
DeLucia: People were throwing sh-t, swearing at you, calling you names, spitting. It was horrible.
Wily: I knew nothing about Gordeau, but I could see in his eyes he was experienced. I just got so nervous. I knew he was going to chop me down.
Shamrock: Tuli goes down to his knees and Gerard kicks him in the mouth and his teeth go flying into the front row. Prior to that, everyone [backstage] was hitting pads and trying to hide their fear. It went dead silent. It was like the realism of the UFC set in.
McCarthy: The tooth went flying right by my wife. She said, “That’s it!” She got up and left.
Gordeau: I broke my hand and a little bone in my foot. If his head was farther away from the fence, I could kick with my shin. And then I think maybe he would be dead.
Wily: I’m glad that my brother threw in the towel, but I was angry at first. It was life or death to me at that point. I would’ve really embarrassed myself by going for his groin or his eyes or his throat. The dirtiest stuff came into my mind.
DeLucia: Gordeau’s foot was broken in two with teeth lodged in the side of it. He fought the next two fights with teeth in his foot.
Gordeau: You have to take medicines for six weeks because the teeth are very dirty.
Jenkins: Gordeau, he barely looked at me. After his first fight, I went up and congratulated him, “Good fight, dude.” He’s like, “eh.”
Wily: They took me straight to the hospital. I’m lying on the bed and I hear another fighter coming in. I think it was Frazier. We were separated by a curtain. He’s talking to my brother and he’s yelling out, “Hey, big man, we did it!” But I was trying to tell my brother to tell him to shut up. I didn’t come just to show I had heart. I really wanted to be the best in the world.
Frazier: I tried to get behind Kevin at one time to choke him, but he had a whole jar of Vaseline around his neck.
Rosier: [Frazier] hit me with that overhand right. He hurt me unbelievably. He got me in the groin, got me in the solar-plexus, cracked my ribs. He destroyed me for the first two and a half minutes. I had to snap a few things back into place.
Frazier: They carried me out of the ring. The paramedics listened to my chest and asked if I had asthma. My wife said, “Yes, he does.” They put me on a gurney and I went right into respiratory failure. I woke up in the hospital with a tube in my throat.
Jimmerson: My managers at the time, who were not really boxing people but lawyers, looked at that and said, “Listen, if you don’t want to do this, don’t do it.” What a confidence builder, to go backstage and have your guys say, “Don’t do it, man. You’ll get hurt.”
I wore a glove on one hand to protect my hand and also to sucker Royce in. They [the Gracies] were like, “You sure you don’t want to wear two of them?” They loved it.
Royce Gracie: He said he was going to hit me so many times that he didn’t want to break his hand.
Jimmerson: He kind of shocked me because he was in a southpaw stance. I thought I’d try to wear him in a bit and get him to come in to my punches. When he got me down, my whole thing was to just hold him. I knew it was a five-minute round.
Gracie: It surprised me that he didn’t even put up a fight, but it didn’t surprise me he quit because he didn’t know anything. I can see he was lost, out of his environment.
Jimmerson: It’s like a phobia, like you’re in a closet or scared of heights. I started getting nervous. I’m used to moving around the ring. All these things that were told to me about being on the ground, choked out, breaking a limb, were crossing my mind. Everyone was trying to tell me what to do and what not to do. I didn’t know how to react to it.
DeLucia: Pat Smith was a bit wily. He was young and untamed back in the day.
Smith: When I got in for the fight against Ken and they locked the gates, it was not a good feeling. I blocked it out.
Shamrock: I was first to enter the ring. Patrick Smith was standing in the hallway. All his guys were screaming, “He’s gonna kill you!” I had to hold my dad back because he was starting to run after them. My dad has never been in a fight in his life.
Smith: It was a psyche job, man. Ken wasn’t going to stand up with me. He said afterward, “Man, there’s no way I could beat you standing up.”
Shamrock: I applied the first submission hold on pay per view. Even though it was short, I got tired. I didn’t really get over my jet lag.
Gordeau: The doctor comes and he says, “You break your hand and it’s better you stop.” But I don’t fly 20 hours to go there and stop. I’m not a quitter.
Rosier: I thought Gerard was going to beat me a lot sooner than he did. His leg kicks were a lot better. I was exhausted. It was hard fighting Gerard because I had total respect for him.
Gordeau: I hit him a few times with my broken right hand. I felt it. That’s the reason I went with the elbow.
DeLucia: Royce has his own room with closed-circuit TV, that kind of thing. He had his own oxygen tank. We all had to share an oxygen tank.
Shamrock: I wasn’t interested in finding out who Royce Gracie was. We watched about ten minutes of his fights where he was throwing some armbars on guys, but I looked at it and went, “Pfft, I could stop that.” I had no idea how the Gi worked until I got in there.
Royce Gracie: He’s full of sh-t. Ken Shamrock knew how to grapple. With Gi, without the Gi, he’s in the business. He quit, but as soon as I let go [of the choke], he regretted that he quit, so he tried to continue.
Shamrock: I just wasn’t sharp, wasn’t clicking. I got beat and I knew it. There was no thought of changing my mind. There was just disgust with myself because I didn’t take the guy seriously.
Royce Gracie: He knew what was going to happen to him if I put my hands on his neck again.
Rorion Gracie: I thought it would be a great idea to have a couple of kids mopping the blood off the canvas. One was my kid and one was my nephew. We did it one time and people went, “Oh, my God!”
Jenkins: They said, “You know what, you guys might not end up fighting. We might decrease your pay or whatever.” The fights might go two hours, might go two minutes. If we went on, it was because someone got hurt or they needed to fill time. I thought we were going to go friendly because DeLucia said, “I’m not going to get my face messed up.” I don’t know if it was a mind game on his part.
DeLucia: We fought stand-up for about a minute. I took him down and I choked him out.
McCarthy: I remember Jason got a good cut on his eye from Trent Jenkins’ toenail. That was the start of cutting your toenails and fingernails.
DeLucia: I wasn’t looking forward to stepping into the tournament with some of those guys. Gordeau was a seasoned killer, hands down the most dangerous mentality.
Gordeau: When I feel Royce choking me, I say something to him, and then I have to bite him. You have to do something. Years from now, you still talk about it. And that’s the reason.
Royce Gracie: I’m talking to him, looking at him from the mount position, saying, “You cheated!” He gave me a look like, “So what?” That’s when I head-butted him a couple of times. So what? How about I hold on the choke a little longer?
Having conquered three other athletes to claim the $50,000 prize, Gracie was held aloft by his family while the other combatants nursed injuries and celebrated.
McCarthy: They had a black-tie affair. Rorion wanted it to be a Carnival in Brazil type of atmosphere. Kevin Rosier was telling me how many pizzas he could eat at one time. I think his record was 14 large pizzas.
Wily: It was a tuxedo thing, but me and my brother ended up going in t-shirts and shorts.
Frazier: Kevin Rosier, I had broken his jaw, he couldn’t talk. He had cotton in his mouth. Pat Smith was on crutches.
Smith: I was on crutches after the fight? Man, no way! Never, ever! I went right to the after-party in my three-piece suit.
Rosier: The Gracie women were taking care of their men, getting their plates and getting their dinners. It was great.
Frazier: Royce came in and we all congratulated him. I said, “Royce, what is that choke that you do?” He said, “That’s called a rear-naked choke.” He told us about the clinch, taking you down and getting top position, and so on. Rorion came in and whisked Royce away, like a “don’t tell him our secrets” kind of thing.
Shamrock: They gave a check to Royce and basically said there was a new sheriff in town. They put what a medallion around his neck, a gold coin or something. We didn’t stay long, just enough to get paid. I just had a horrible taste in my mouth.
McCarthy: That was part of my responsibility. I had to guard that stupid gold medal.
Davie: [SEG President] Bob Meyrowitz wasn’t at the first show. He didn’t think it was anything. Monday morning, I got a call from New York and they said, “We’re through the roof.” We started to get preliminary numbers in from the cable operators. We knew by Wednesday that we had done 86,000 buys.
McCarthy: At the time the UFC went off, Rorion probably had 120-150 students. After that show, he had to have 500 that month. It just exploded.
Rorion Gracie: The show confirmed what I had been claiming since I arrived in the United States. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is indeed the most effective form of self-defense in the world, hands down.
Jimmerson: My kids are grown. My son is in Michigan State. He’s one of the top running backs in the country. My daughters are in college. And they’re reading the Internet and some guy is calling me a pussy. These guys don’t even know me or know what happened. I want to knock on their door and say, “Do I know you?”
Frazier: It allowed us to discover what the truth was in fighting. For the first time in the history of American martial arts, it was okay to say your system didn’t have all the answers.
Davie: After the show, Rorion and I talked and he asked, “This is going to go on?” And I said, “Absolutely.” We didn’t build a $40,000 Octagon for nothing.
Royce Gracie (41) went on to win two of the next three UFC tournaments before exiting the promotion in 1995. He continues to travel for seminars and maintains an irregular fight schedule. His last fight was a victory over Gracie family rival Kazushi Sakuraba in June 2007.
Ken Shamrock (44) became the UFC’s first Superfight champion before making a move into professional wrestling. He followed his recent UFC comeback run with a loss in England to Robert Berry in March 2008. His son, Ryan Shamrock, is 1-1 in MMA.
Gerard Gordeau (52) fought professionally in a freestyle bout only once more—a loss to Yuki Nakai in 1995—and now runs a mixed martial arts school in Holland.
Art Jimmerson (45) retired from boxing in 2002, accumulating a 33-18 record. He co-owns a boxing/MMA gym in St. Louis and remains a longtime employee of Pepsi Cola.
Zane Frazier (42) continues to fight professionally—a loss to Richard Blake in January 2008 has his record standing at 4-11. He plans to open a health club in Phoenix, Arizona by 2010.
Kevin Rosier (46) amassed a 2-6 professional MMA record and a 66-8 kickboxing record before retiring in 2000. He now works with inner-city children in Buffalo, NY and has expressed interest in one last MMA fight.
Patrick Smith (45) faced Gracie in the finals of UFC II and submitted from strikes. He returned to pay per view television in April 2008 with a dramatic TKO victory over Eric “Butterbean” Esch.
Taylor Wily (40) works with youth groups and has started his own music and entertainment label, All Heart Productions. He can be seen in the recent Judd Apatow-produced film, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”
Jason DeLucia (39) went on to train with Ken Shamrock’s Lion’s Den and remains the most prolific of UFC 1 alumnus, having developed a 33-21-1 record. In addition to teaching, he is developing a hybrid system of karate with throws and submissions with the goal of submitting it to Olympic officials.
Trent Jenkins (40) has a 0-4 professional record. He currently works at Denver’s Pepsi Center, home to the Denver Nuggets.
“Big” John McCarthy officiated more than 1,000 bouts for the Ultimate Fighting Championship before retiring in 2007. He is currently an on-air personality for The Fight Network.
Rorion Gracie continues to spread the word of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Torrance, California. His son Ralek recently won his second MMA bout in Japan, submitting Alavutdin Gadzhiyev Shibata with an armbar.
Art Davie invited controversy when he made disparaging comments about MMA after leaving the UFC to work for K-1 in 1997. He is currently chair of Davie Communications, a developer of television and Web content.
The McNichols Arena in Denver, Colorado was demolished in 1999.