Fight Notes: UFC 1 — The Beginning
Going back to this event was a trip. When I originally signed up for the UFC's Fight Pass service, I immediately binged my way through the first ~12 years of the company's existence. This was in early 2014, and coming back to UFC 1 a little over half a decade later still delivered a strong hit of nostalgia. I don't recall exactly when I first saw this event, but it absolutely was not even close to when it originally aired. The first time I saw a UFC fight was by accident, flipping through channels on my best friend's black box. We were looking for a WCW pay-per-view and came across a very early UFC show; all I remember is the first MMA fight I ever saw, rabbit punches were legal.
Revisiting UFC 1 is a journey back in time. Even the video quality is throwback, as the source material was obviously not recorded in HD — that wasn't a thing in 1993. Even watching the show on Fight Pass feels the same as throwing on a VHS tape. The fights are brutal and very quick, so despite the fact there was an unlimited number of 5-minute rounds allowed, most went less-than 1 minute, and the longest was only 4:20.
The intention for this show was to present brutal fights in as sensationalistic a manner as possible. According to the book Beast: Blood, Struggle And Dreams At The Heart Of Mixed Martial Arts (link), promoter Art Davie wanted the cage to be topped with razor wire but this was (rightly) rejected. The show was intentionally patterned after the Mortal Kombat franchise, which helped influence the decision to go with a tournament format.
The event also served as a promotional tool for the Gracie family and their grappling system and schools. There was absolutely an expectation that Royce would win the whole tournament, with a soft first-round pairing and the reality that Ken Shamrock was the only other competitor with MMA experience.
Gerard Gordeau versus Teila Tuli
This did not take long. Tuli, while much heavier and bulkier than his opponent, did little more than circle on the outside before haphazardly rushing Gordeau and attempting a takedown. Gordeau just side-stepped, Tuli fell to his knees and ate a kick to the face and an uppercut. A tooth went flying, the referee intervened and the fight was over. There was a bit of confusion over the stoppage, as it seemed like something you'd see in a modern MMA fight — with the referee inspecting a cut around Tuli's right eye. This would be typical of many early UFC fights, often one fighter would be completely overmatched and get demolished almost immediately.
Kevin Rosier versus Zane Frazier
This was a match up between a big athletic, conditioned guy (Frazier) and a gigantic, Baby Huey type fighter in Kevin Rosier. These two large men put on a very primitive brawl, with a lengthy period of dirty boxing — with some hair pulling as a flourish. Both fighters were exhausted after a few minutes, Rosier was able to press Frazier against the cage, wilt him with punches and force his corner to throw in the towel after a series of unanswered stomps.
Royce Gracie versus Art Jimmerson
The one thing people remember about this fight — if they even know about it at all — is the visual of Art Jimmerson wearing a single boxing glove. The fight consisted of exactly what you'd expect from a hapless stand-up fighter thrown into an MMA bout with a world class grappler. Royce kept Jimmerson at bay with kicks the inside knee, the same ones Jon Jones uses, before securing a textbook double-leg takedown, immediately moving to mount and graplevined Jimmersons legs. After some frantic flailing, Jimmerson suddenly tapped. He wasn't in a submission hold, he either exhausted himself and panicked or simply knew he had no chance to win the fight.
Ken Shamrock versus Patrick Smith
Introduced with a record of 250-0, Patrick Smith got his first taste of defeat at the hands of Ken Shamrock. After a tentative first few seconds, Shamrock took Smith down but was kept in full guard. Shamrock was effectively neutralised from throwing any meaningful ground-and-pound. Shamrock dropped down for an ankle-lock, almost pro-wrestling style, and managed to secure a tap after only a bit of work. Smith was irate afterward, which the commentary team speculated may be due to the insulting nature of tapping to foot holds.
- Ken Shamrock def. Patrick Smith by Submission (heel hook) @ 1:49 of Round 1
- Royce Gracie def. Art Jimmerson by Submission (mount) @ 2:18 of Round 1
- Kevin Rosier def. Zane Frazierby TKO (corner stoppage) @ 4:20 of Round 1
- Gerard Gordeau def. Teila Tuli by TKO (head kick and punches) @ 0:26 of Round 1
Gerard Gordeau versus Kevin Rosier
Both men came into this fight damaged; Gordeau's right hand was visibly broken and very swollen, while Kevin Rosier had a badly damaged left eye. Gordeau smashed Rosier with a couple of hard leg kicks, backed him against the cage and just beat him down. Rosier wilted fast, slumping against the cage and eventually tapping to stomps to his ribs. They ended up interviewing Kevin Rosier after the fight, who stated "I trained 3 weeks for this [...], it's the altitude," but also expressed interest in competing in MMA again. I look forward to sea-level Rosier.
Royce Gracie versus Ken Shamrock
One of the legendary first fights, Ken Shamrock was just a far too green to the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game. After a brief ground battle, Gracie swept Shamrock and tried to move to full mount. Shamrock made a move for a leg lock, but Gracie took his back and locked up a rear-naked choke. Shamrock tapped 5 times, but the referee didn't acknowledge it. There was a bit of confusion over the finish, but Gracie was correctly awarded the win once the ref understood what was going on. It seemed bizarre to me, but the commentary team wasn't even sure how the choke happened, so I guess it makes sense that the ref didn't comprehend the situation either.
- Royce Gracie def. Ken Shamrock by Submission (sleeve choke) @ 1:49 of Round 1
- Gerard Gordeau def. Kevin Rosier by TKO (corner stoppage) @ 0:59 of Round 1
Royce Gracie versus Gerard Gordeau
The finals were a quick affair, like all the fights on this card. Gracie closed distance quickly, secured a body lock and worked Gordeau against the cage. It didn't take long for Gracie to trip Gordeau, and mount him. The kickboxer quickly gave his back and Gracie didn't need long to lock up a rear-naked choke. Gordeau tapped quickly, but Gracie retained the hold until the referee physically separated them. Another easy win for Royce, who the tournament was very obviously built around. Still, he rose to the occasion and demonstrated clear superiority over all of his opponents.
- Royce Gracie def. Gerard Gordeau by Submission (rear-naked choke) @ 1:44 of Round 1
The whole event was really fun and an amazing relic of its time. The whole show runs just under an hour-and-a-half, including the production credits and copyright warning at the beginning. The fights are quick, there is no filler, as even the hokey pre-fight video packages give us valuable information considering no one knows who any of these people are. The roster of the first UFC consisted of Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie on a showcase event for the latter's family and their grappling system. Shamrock wasn't really known outside of Japan, competing in Pancrase at the time, but would go on to become one of the sport's first huge stars — and successful pro-wrestling crossover.
This event is a must-see for anyone interested in the short history of MMA. While there were shoot fights, vale tudo and luta livre matches — and various other hybrid fighting contests — before UFC 1, this event is the inception of the North American form of MMA. The sub-title "the beginning" was added to the show after the fact, but it is extremely apt; this is where the UFC was birthed and set in motion what would eventually become a the dominant force in the combat sports world.
Published: April 4th, 2020.