UFC 1 Review: The first Ultimate Fighting Championship PPV was in 1993. I’ll spare you the history lesson of fighting, but I will set the tone of 1993: in the early 1990s Americans craved blood and fighting, and previous attempts to make one-on-one fights without boxing gloves never reached mainstream status until UFC.
In 1993, the boxing world had tough guys like Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, and a showman like Prince Naseem; it was still good to watch. Although the post-Tyson era in heavyweight boxing was the beginning of the end, boxing was still popular, whereas today it’s pretty much all about Pac Man vs Mayweather, and the heavyweight division is shot.
The WWF’s 1993 pro wrestling product was so cartoony that it paved the way for ECW in Philadelphia to start a true hardcore revolution by 1994. WCW had a decent product in 1993, but was seriously downgraded compared to the 1980s, and tried to copy WWF’s kid-gimmicks.
There was also another revolution for Generation X back in 1993: Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, which both debuted before UFC 1, spawned numerous clones and the younger crowd seriously craved to see a real life Jean Claude Van Damme Bloodsport.
The combatants were handpicked by the Gracie family, who were represented by Royce Gracie, who comes from a Brazilian family of jiu-jitsu experts. The fighters had no idea what they were getting into, what the rules were (none), or that the PPV was a jiu-jitsu and Gracie family lovefest.
This was NOT MMA (mixed martial arts) because each fighter had one style and were not well rounded. The fighters looked like walking stereotypes from Bloodsport or a fighting video game: a Hawaiian Sumo, a tall thin ice cold Dutch, a black boxer, kickboxers, well you get the idea.
The referee and fans had no idea what tapping out was, in fact some fighters didn’t either. This was as close as Kimbo Slice backyard fighting as you can get. The only rules were no eye gouging, groin shots, or biting. I saw hair pulling, stomps to the back of the head, and barefisted punches. Oh, and I saw a groin shot. It truly felt like some underground unrelated and illegal mortal combat event. No judges, no weight classes (!), no pads, no time limit, no breaks, no holds barred. Fighters could wear whatever they wanted. It was sick. This was NOT amateur wrestling or those boring kickboxing exhibition matches you see at a park. And this was definitely NOT a worked sport (like pro wrestling) but some things were worked (like fighter’s history and Gracie running the show).
The PPV production, organization, and announcers were pretty bad, but UFC 1 really established itself as being the “real deal” for bloodthirsty fans who were tired of boxing politics, its slow pace, failed wrestler vs boxer events, and scripted pro wrestling. This was a good “first attempt” and the matches and concept were the selling points, not interviews, ring announcers, or music. The fighters were total unknowns to the Colorado fans, but the Brazilian fans knew all about the Gracie family.
The original goal of UFC was to find out which fighting style was the best, so an 8-man tournament was created. The Gracie family pretty much did this whole thing to push their style. They lied about the skills, win/loss records (in what?), championships, experience, and weights of the fighters. Granted, any of these guys could probably beat you up in a bar, but against a trained professional, they had no chance.
Round 1 (and the first match in UFC history):
Gerard Gordeau (tall thin rugged Dutch kickboxer) vs. Teila Tuli (fat Hawaiian Sumo wrestler): Tuli charged Gordeau, missed, fell down, and got his face punched and kicked in. His teeth landed in the front row and he was a bloody mess. It felt like 30 seconds total. The referee had no idea what to do. Neither did Tuli. Neither did the fans. It was a very auspicious way to start UFC. Gordeau broke his hand or wrist on the punch and maybe his foot.
Kevin Rosier (out of shape white kickboxer) vs. Zane Frazier (muscular black karate guy): This was a wild bloody brawl and I was rooting for Frazier who seemed like a nice guy in his prerecorded interview. Frazier was winning but totally ran out of gas (no rest holds) after four minutes, just like if you tried doing this stuff. Entertaining fight, not from the MMA technical stance, but from the man vs man point of view. Neither man seemed to know about submissions and just wanted a KO. Rosier was killing Frazier after Frazier became fatigued and prone and the matched was stopped.
Royce Gracie (small Brazilian jiu-jitsu) vs.Art Jimmerson (black pro boxer): Jimmerson has sneakers and ONE boxing glove. He also sounded kinda fruity in the pre-recorded interview. Gracie chose him to fight to show the supremacy of jiu-jitsu against American boxing. Fans get confused with Gracie’s ground and submission style and don’t even know Jimmerson tapped out because he was going to get be in a world of pain. The fans booed the ground style and chokehold submission. It may seem like a cheap style, but the bottom line is that it was the better style and it revolutionized MMA. Pretty cool to see a non-scripted boxer vs martial artist fight.
Ken Shamrock (White shoot fighter wrestler) vs. Patrick Smith (black local Tae Kwon Do): Ken Shamrock has the look and intensity of a winner, and it’s no wonder he made millions of dollars in MMA and pro wrestling. He looks like Al Pacino on steroids and has the temper to match. Smith was a good trash talker, but Shamrock knew shoot wrestling and got him in the heel lock for the tap out. Pretty intense fight, and afterwards they wanted to brawl more. Shamrock’s eye socket was bleeding. The fans treated Shamrock as a wrestling heel because Patrick Smith was from Colorado and they though Shamrock was fighting cheap with the foot hold.
Now that the fighters knew the rules, the semi-finals were a little more smooth.
Gordeau vs Rosier: Gordeau has at least a broken hand and Rosier should be in the hospital after going 4 non-stop minutes of tough action the last time. Gordeau showed no ill-effects and easily beat the snot out-of-shape retired kickboxing champ in a minute.
Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock: On paper this was the best match of the PPV. Both men were technically skilled, but Shamrock didn’t have the experience against a jiu-jitsu fighter. His only chance was to get the heel lock on, but he couldn’t do it, and Gracie got him to submit with the choke hold in a minute. Shamrock still came out looking good during the interview and was even offered a movie role by someone in the audience, but he rejected and wanted to focus on fighting. Anyway, at this point the fans are realizing that ground styles are superior to standing up and trying to KO each other.
UFC 1 Main Event
Gordeau vs Gracie: Pretty anti-climatic, as Gracie was too fast, took Gordeau down, and wrapped the rear naked choke on the tall fighter for the easy victory.
UFC 1 Review Conclusion:
Innovative, bloody, and unique, UFC 1 was a good start. It came out at the right place and the right time. UFC delivered as promised: a no-holds barred street fighting tournament with different styles. The major flaws were that the competition was weak for Gracie, the lack of rules caused a backlash against UFC (it was pretty much cock fighting with humans), and the announcers were bad. Like all things, UFC has evolved and is marketed differently now. UFC 1 is a good historic PPV to watch if you get the chance. Modern fans will be amazed at the lack of rules, out of shape fighters, and fighters without mixed martial arts experience competing in the cage. Pretty funny to watch with a friend.
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