Top 20 Debuts in UFC history

First impressions are important, especially in sports –
they can set the tone for how fans will remember you and identify
you for the remainder of your career.

While debuts can be memorable for all the wrong reasons –
like Greg “The Ranger” Stott stepping into the cage to
get mauled by Mark Kerr in what looked to be a pair of khaki golf
shorts or James Toney’s one-and-done foray into MMA –
this list is going to celebrate the initial appearances that stand
out for positive reasons.

Who shone brightest during their UFC debut? You’re about
to find out.

#20: Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson defeats Dan
Stittgen at UFC 143

Thompson is a shining example of how the media landscape around
MMA has shifted from the early years, and how powerful it can be
when it comes to generating interest and excitement about your
fights.

Normally, a fighter with a 5-0 professional record debuting in
the opening bout of a pay-per-view show against a short notice
opponent doesn’t get much coverage. In fact,
“much” is being generous. But that wasn’t the
case with “Wonderboy.”

Bolstered by a standout kickboxing career and an aggressive
approach to getting his name out there as much as possible from his
management team, Thompson’s debut at UFC 143 was preceded by
stories about the UFC newcomer running alongside features on Carlos
Condit and Nick Diaz, the welterweight tandem that headlined the
show. That media rush put more eyes than normal on the first duo to
grace the cage on February 4, 2012, and Thompson made the most of
it.

After showing off an assortment of kicks, but not doing any
major damage early in the opening round, “Wonderboy”
hit Stittgen with a three-strike combination his team calls
“The Moneymaker.” The left jab is followed by a right
cross, and then the front-leg round kick comes over the top, and if
executed properly, the opponent never sees it coming.

And that was the case in his debut. As soon as Thompson touched
Stittgen’s chin with the cross, his right leg came sweeping
up, over the shoulder, his foot connecting flush.

Thompson hastily returned to the cage two months later to face
veteran Matt Brown, and suffered the first loss of his MMA career,
but has since rebounded with consecutive wins over Nah-Shon Burrell
and Chris Clements.

#19: Rustam Khabilov tosses Vinc Pichel around the
cage

While Thompson’s arrival in the Octagon was heralded by
flurry of media activity, Khabilov’s came in completely under
the radar. Just 2:15 later and for the rest of the night (and the
next couple days), all anyone could talk about was the Dagestani
lightweight that just delivered one hell of a debut
performance.

Squaring off with TUF 15 cast member Vinc Pichel in a
preliminary card bout on the TUF 16 Finale event, Khabilov put on a
suplex exhibition, launching Pichel around the Octagon. The first
high amplitude slam made you sit up and take notice, and the second
one – the one where he bent underneath Pichel while he had
him elevated and dropped him on his head – sent all kinds of
people scurrying to social media to talk about what they had just
witnessed.

Landing a brilliant suplex is one of those things that never
gets old; every time you see someone do it, you still react like
you’ve never seen someone propel another man through the air
like that before. That’s what made Jon Jones’ suplex of
Stephan Bonnar so awesome, and that’s why Khabilov’s
debut win over Pichel stands out as one of the best in UFC
history.

The Team Jackson-Winkeljohn fighter earned a win in his
sophomore appearance in the cage at UFC 159, when Yancy Medeiros
was unable to continue after dislocating his thumb. He was bracing
himself for impact from a suplex. Khabilov returns to action
against Jorge Masvidal on the main card of the
UFC Fight For The Troops event at Fort
Campbell on November 6 and live on FOX Sports 1.

#18: Lee Murray channels Hannibal Lecter, taps Jorge Rivera
at UFC 46

It really says something when you have one fight in the UFC and
people still remember you nearly a decade later. Admittedly, there
are other mitigating circumstances that factor into Lee
Murray’s cult status and familiarity to fight fans, but in
addition to his extracurricular activities outside the cage,
Murray’s one and only appearance in side the Octagon was a
memorable one as well.

The legend of Lee Murray started to take shape after the
UFC’s first event in London, when – as the story goes
– a brawl broke out and Murray put a beating on then-light
heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz. Less than a year later, the man
known as “Lightning” walked to the cage dressed in an
orange jumpsuit and that creepy face shield like Hannibal Lecter to
take on Jorge Rivera. Less than two minutes later, Murray had
forced Rivera to tap to a triangle choke.

After an impressive debut and bolstered by the whispered stories
of a curbside victory over Ortiz, Murray appeared to be a fighter
to reckon with in the UFC middleweight division, but his first
appearance in the Octagon also proved to be his last.

After being hit with felony road rage charges, Murray
couldn’t get a passport, thereby dashing his dreams of a
lengthy UFC career. He was then linked to the biggest cash robbery
in British history, the February 21, 2006 Securitas depot robbery,
where the thieves made off with more than £53m. He was
convicted of being the mastermind behind the robbery in June 2010,
and is currently serving out a 25-year sentence in a Moroccan
jail.

#17: Conor McGregor wins “The People’s Main
Event” in 64 seconds

Capturing one title on the regional circuit is generally enough
to get you noticed, but capturing two in different weight classes
will certainly put you on the map.

With his seventh and eighth consecutive victories since a
November 2010 loss at Cage Warriors 39, Conor McGregor claimed the
organization’s featherweight and lightweight championships,
respectively. That made “The Notorious” one of the most
promising fighters competing outside of the UFC, and when it was
announced that the Straight Blast Gym representative had signed
with the biggest company in the sport, it made his debut a must-see
attraction.

Scheduled to face Marcus Brimage, a TUF 14 alum who had knocked
off prospects Maximo Blanco and Jimy Hettes in back-to-back bouts,
on the preliminary portion of the UFC’s second event in
Sweden, the buzz around McGregor started to get louder and louder,
with features popping up around the Internet, and an MTV UK
documentary about his rise in the sport was put together.

McGregor’s meteoric rise to recognition before his debut
was not unlike Thompson’s, except that where the soft-spoken
South Carolina native was humble and respectful, the Dubliner was
loud and brash with a penchant for cursing at an impressive
pace.

By the time his fight with Brimage rolled around, everyone was
curious to see if the verbose featherweight could back up all the
talk, and they got their answer in just 67 seconds.

After slipping a few early strikes – and not being fazed
by a couple that landed – McGregor rocked Brimage with a pair
of uppercuts, dropping him to the floor, where he finished him off
with expert precision.

Following his win, McGregor was everywhere, and hungry for
another chance to prove himself in the cage. It eventually came at
UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs. Sonnen in Boston, Massachusetts, where
the Irishman earned a unanimous decision win over Max Holloway.
Unfortunately, the 25-year-old up-and-comer suffered a torn ACL
during the bout, and the subsequent surgery will leave him on the
sidelines until the summer.

#16: Ryan Jimmo knocks out Anthony Perosh in record
time

When your first bout in the UFC puts you in the record books,
you automatically have to be included on this list. What makes this
initial appearance even more memorable is that it was one of the
most unexpected knockouts in quite some time.

Jimmo carried an incredible 16-fight winning streak into his
bout with Perosh at UFC 149. While his first nine victories
featured seven finishes, the sculpted light heavyweight known as
“Big Deal” had collected six of his last seven wins by
way of decision. He had fought conservatively for the better part
of three years, but was anything but when he hit the Octgaon in
Calgary.

As soon as the fight began, Jimmo charged across the cage at the
40-year-old Australia veteran, blasting him with an overhand right.
Perosh crashed to the mat, unconscious with an awkward look on his
face — one that rival’s Rashad Evans’ knockout face
from his loss to Lyoto Machida — while Jimmo celebrated by doing
“The Robot” in the center of the Octagon.

The official time was seven seconds, equaling the record for the
fastest knockout in UFC history. Though many had tabbed the
Canadian to win the bout, few – if any – expected him
to do so in such spectacular fashion.

Speaking of record-tying knockouts…

#15: Todd Duffee drops Tim Hague at UFC 102

Duffee looked like he was going to be a force to be reckoned
with in the heavyweight division. Sporting a 5-0 record, the
23-year-old was a 6’3” tall mass of rippling muscle and
untapped potential – a can’t-miss prospect in a
division that was just starting to experience a return to
prominence.

Coming out of the same Athens, Georgia gym where Forrest Griffin
got his start – Adam and Rory Singer’s Hardcore Gym,
which also served as home base for new WEC bantamweight champ Brian
Bowles – Duffee garnered all kinds of advanced praise and
hype into his bout with Canadian Tim Hague at UFC 102 in Portland,
Oregon.

Hague was coming off a first-round submission win over Pat Barry
three months earlier, and came out looking to trade with Duffee. In
hindsight, getting into a quick fistfight with a guy that has
cinder blocks for hands and all kinds of power was probably a bad
idea. A stiff jab dropped Hague to the canvas, where several
lunchbox-sized rights followed, before the only left hand Duffee
threw in the sequence proved to be the finisher.

At the time, it was the fastest knockout in UFC history, since
equaled by both Jimmo and Chan Sung Jung, while Duane
Ludwig’s January 2006 win over Jonathan Goulet has since been
confirmed as the quickest finish in the cage, even if the Nevada
State Athletic Commission refuses to edit their 11-second result
officially.

Duffee would flame out immediately following his record-setting
win over Hague. After more than three years away from the
organization – and a brief sabbatical from competing –
Duffee returned to the Octagon at UFC 155, earning a first-round
knockout win over Phil De Fries in a comparatively pedestrian
2:04.

#14: Michael Chiesa wins Season 15 of
The Ultimate Fighter

Season 15 is kind of like the Saved By The Bell episodes with
Tori, the leather jacket-wearing replacement to Kelly Kapowski and
Jessie Spano who vanished into thin air without a mention when the
long-time regulars return for the graduation episode.

This was the one and (so far) only “live” season of
The Ultimate Fighter, where the standard training and day-to-day
activities were filled and edited that that week, and the fights
took place live on Friday nights. But that isn’t the reason
Chiesa is on this list.

After earning his way into the house with a submission win over
Johnaven Vistante and being selected as the fifth pick to join Team
Faber, the Spokane, Washington native found out that his father,
Mark, lost his battle with leukemia. He went home to attend his
dad’s services, but opted to return to the competition.

He advanced to the finals with wins over Jeremy Larsen and early
favorite Justin Lawrence, and captured the six-figure contract with
a first-round submission win over fellow Team Faber member Al
Iaquinta.

Hollywood couldn’t write it any better, and anyone that
thinks this wasn’t a Herculean effort for a young man dealing
with grief and loss while confined to a house and trying to win a
competition is grossly mistaken.

Chiesa has since split a pair of appearances in the Octagon,
earning a submission win over Anton Kuivanen before being tapped by
Jorge Masvidal. He returns to action against fellow TUF winner
Colton Smith as part of the UFC Fight For The Troops event at Fort
Campbell on November 6.

#13: Chan Sung Jung gets revenge against Leonard
Garcia

At WEC 48, Chan Sung Jung and Leonard Garcia engaged in a wildly
entertaining back-and-forth brawl that not only won Fight Of The
Night, but would go on to be named Fight Of The Year for 2010 by
numerous outlets. That night, Garcia earned the nod in what
everyone outside of his close friends and family believed was a
questionable decision.

The two would meet again 11 months later, but this time, they
were fighting in the UFC Octagon, and Jung made sure the judges
couldn’t get the scoring wrong.

Rather than brawl with Garcia, “The Korean Zombie”
took a more technical approach, picking his spots, and putting his
rival on the canvas when the opportunity present itself to take the
first round. They started getting a little messier in the second,
but Jung once again seized the opportunity to bring the fight to
the floor.

From there, the South Korean featherweight made history, locking
Garcia in a twister – a hold where you turn your
opponent’s head and neck one way, and torque their body in
the opposite direction, twisting their spine. Garcia tapped with a
single second remaining in the second round, giving Jung a measure
of revenge, a victory in his UFC debut, and a spot in the history
books.

#12: Don Frye wastes no time dispatching Thomas
Ramirez

Don Frye’s UFC debut lasted just eight seconds, as he sent
massive Thomas Ramirez crashing to the canvas in a heap with a
couple right hands to the jaw in the opening round of the UFC 8
tournament.

In those eight seconds, however, several things became
apparent:

(1) Frye had a terrific duster, and looked like a more athletic,
chiseled version of Tom Selleck

(2) The former Arizona State wrestler had some power in his
hands, and

(3) “The Predator” was going to be a force in
the early days of the UFC.

Frye would go on to beat Sam Adkins and Gary Goodridge in a
combined 3:02 to win the UFC 8 tournament. He earned a win over
Amaury Bitetti at UFC 9 – the first event without a
tournament – and advanced to the finals at UFC 10 when the
original format was brought back. There, he would suffer the only
loss of his UFC career to future heavyweight champion and Hall Of
Famer Mark Coleman.

He’d rebound with wins over Mark Hall, and a tournament
title at Ultimate Ultimate 96 where he beat Tank Abbott in the
finals before going on to a successful pro wrestling and MMA career
in Japan.

To this day, Frye’s mustache remains the greatest in UFC
history, and his crushing debut win in Puerto Rico stands as a
memorable start to a under-appreciated career in the Octagon.

#11: Tank Abbott arrives at UFC 6

Tank Abbott was one of the icons of the early days of the
UFC.

Despite never winning more than two consecutive fights in the
Octagon and ending with a career record of 8-10 with the company
(10-15 overall at last count), the man who described his style as
“pit fighting” was one of the biggest names in the
sport during its formative years.

With his bald head, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart goatee,
Roy Nelson physique, and surly attitude, Abbott was an immediate
fan favorite. It also helped that he genuinely looked like he
enjoyed hurting people inside the cage.

You can measure Abbott’s impact not by his wins and
losses, but by what followed after his first departure from the
UFC.

In 1997, he, referee “Big” John McCarthy, and
announcer Bruce Buffer were featured in an episode of Friends where
Monica’s boyfriend Pete wants to become “The Ultimate
Fighting Champion.” From there, he went on to have an
abbreviated run with World Championship Wrestling during the sad
final days of the once dominant company before returning to the UFC
in the mid-2000s.

While plenty of others found more success in the cage, few had
as great an impact as Abbott, and it all started with an 18-second
beating of 400-pound Hawaiian, John Matua at UFC 6 in Casper,
Wyoming.

#10: Joe Lauzon shocks Jens Pulver at UFC 63

Pulver, the inaugural UFC lightweight champion, left the
organization due to a contract dispute after defending his title
against B.J. Penn at UFC 35.

After four-plus years away from the Octagon, Pulver returned,
and was given was seemed to be a tune-up fight with a little-known
kid with big ears from Brockton, Massachusetts named Joe
Lauzon.

Right out of the gate, it was clear that the newcomer would be
trouble for the former champion, taking down Pulver almost
immediately. Shortly after the two got back to their feet, Lauzon
caught the 7-to-1 favorite with a left hand on the jaw that sent
Pulver crashing to the canvas.

During the broadcast, the cut to a shot of noted UFC superfan
and all around babe Jamie Pressly sitting in the audience with a
look of complete and utter disbelief on her face that summed up the
bout nicely.

In a weird, “well this is awkward” twist, Pulver
would be tabbed to coach Season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter with
former rival B.J. Penn, and guess who was one of the hopefuls? Not
surprisingly, Lauzon ended up on Team Penn.

#9: Frank Shamrock wins gold, sets record in UFC
debut

Don’t let the 14-7-1 record at the time fool you –
Frank Shamrock was already one of the best fighters on the planet
when he made his debut at UFC Japan in December 1997.

Arriving in the UFC on a three-fight winning streak, Shamrock
walked right into a championship bout with Olympic gold medalist
Kevin Jackson, who was 3-0 at the time and coming off a victory in
the UFC 14 middleweight (that’s what they called light
heavyweight at the time) tournament.

This one lasted just 16 seconds, with Shamrock connecting on an
armbar to earn the victory and the title. To this day, this remains
the fastest submission in a championship fight in UFC history.

Shamrock would go on to defend the title four times, announcing
his retirement following his comeback win over Tito Ortiz at UFC
22, eventually returning to be the first face of Strikeforce when
the company made a concerted push into MMA in the mid 2000s.

His tenuous relationship with UFC President Dana White has kept
Shamrock outside of the UFC, and that has limited the amount of
praise and recognition he receives for his achievements in the
Octagon, but make no mistake about it – “The
Legend” was an absolute force, and ended his UFC career as
the reigning, undefeated, undisputed middleweight champion.

#8: Junior Dos Santos upsets Fabricio Werdum at UFC
90

When the line-up for UFC 90 was announced, veteran heavyweight
contender Fabricio Werdum was matched with a 7-1 UFC newcomer
purported to be Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s
protégé.

It seemed like a crazy booking — after all, Werdum was coming
off consecutive TKO wins over Gabriel Gonzaga and Brandon Vera, and
seemed to be within striking distance of a shot at the heavyweight
title. Why was he facing a guy no one had really heard of
before?

Just 81 seconds and one blistering uppercut later, everyone was
scrambling to find out whatever they could about Junior Dos Santos,
as the shy Brazilian heavyweight has laid waste to “Vai
Cavalo” and announced his presence in the division.

“Cigano” would another six wins to his record inside
the Octagon, earning a shot at heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez
following his UFC 131 drubbing of Shane Carwin. The bout would
serve as the first UFC fight aired live on FOX, and Dos Santos made
the most of the moment, capturing the heavyweight title by
first-round knockout.

Not bad for someone that next to no one thought was going to win
his initial bout in the organization.

#7: Anderson Silva starts “The Streak” by
beating Chris Leben

Here’s how you know the rest of this list is awesome: the
starting point for the greatest winning streak in UFC history only
clocks in at No. 7.

From the outset of this bout, it was clear not only that Silva
was a great striker, but that he was something special. He stuck
two jabs in Leben’s mush and then tossed him to the ground
like Pedro Martinez chucking old man Don Zimmer aside, and then
continued to pick “The Crippler” apart. Not long after,
he rocked Leben with more hands, tried to put him away with strikes
on the ground, and ended the bout with a knee to the head.

All of this took 48 seconds.

As impressive as this showing was, you couldn’t have
foretold what was to come. Silva would win the middleweight title
from Rich Franklin in his next appearance, holding onto the
championship strap through a record 10 consecutive successful title
defense (with one non-title win and three additional victories at
light heavyweight) before losing the belt to Chris Weidman this
past summer.

He is without question the greatest fighter in the history of
the UFC, but his debut doesn’t even crack the Top 5.

#6: Enter “The Reem”

There are going to be people that hate seeing Alistair
Overeem’s UFC debut ranked ahead of Anderson Silva’s,
but when you look at the hype and coverage that surrounded his
migration from Strikeforce to the UFC and eventually into a main
event pairing with Brock Lesnar at UFC 141, it’s clear that
“The Reem” deserves the higher ranking.

Overeem was the one elite heavyweight competing outside of the
UFC at the time. He’d been steamrolling the competition
(mainly overseas) and when it was announced that not only had he
signed with the UFC, but also that he would square off with Lesnar
on the annual “New Year’s Eve” show, the MMA
world went bonkers.

What elevated Overeem’s debut to next level status and the
brink of breaking into the Top 5 was the circus that surrounded him
leading up to the fight.

There were the two drug tests that didn’t meet the Nevada
State Athletic Commission’s standards and his subsequent
flight home to the Netherlands just a couple weeks before the
biggest fight of his career. His eventual hearing with the NSAC was
must-see TV for fight fans, even if “must-see TV”
translated to live tweets and uStream videos from media members
that were in attendance.

In the end, Overeem got his license and steamrolled Lesnar, the
former champion announcing his retirement following the bout. The
win was supposed to put “The Reem” into a championship
bout with Junior Dos Santos at UFC 146, but everyone knows what
happened there.

Despite everything that has transpired since, there is no
denying that Overeem’s arrival in the UFC was a major event,
and one of the most memorable debuts in the company’s
history.

#5: Kimo Leopoldo ‘crosses’ the line

No list of the top debuts in UFC history could be complete
without Kimo’s first appearance at UFC 3.

Scheduled to face returning, undefeated champion Royce Gracie in
the opening round, the mononymous fighter made a slow and
deliberate walk to the Octagon with a gigantic wooden cross on his
back. Even in the “you never know what you’re going to
see” early days of the UFC, this stood out.

But his debut was memorable for more than just his entrance.

After Gracie had dominated the competition in the first two UFC
tournaments, Kimo became the first fighter to truly push the
Brazilian. Though not the longest fight Gracie had endured to that
point – that honor was held by UFC 2 opening round opponent
Minoki Ichihara – this was the most demanding, as Kimo had a
significant size advantage, and never backed down.

As was the case in each of his first 11 appearances in the
Octagon, Gracie would eventually find a finish, submitted Kimo with
an armlock 4:40 into their bout, but his winning streak would have
to be put on hold for the time being, as Gracie was exhausted and
couldn’t continue.

Kimo would return to face Ken Shamrock for the Superfight title
at UFC 8, ultimately closing out his career in the UFC with a loss
to Shamrock at UFC 48, leaving his record in the Octagon at 2-4.
While he never managed much success in the UFC, there is no denying
that his debut was one of the most memorable in UFC history.

#4: Brock Lesnar makes his super-sized debut against Frank
Mir

No one may have had a greater impact on the UFC in such as short
time as Brock Lesnar, the former professional wrestler who became a
force of nature and massive star for the organization from the
minute it was announced he had signed with the company during an
awkward interview in the seats with Joe Rogan at UFC 77.

Lesnar wasn’t just some gimmick either – he was the
NCAA Division I national champion in 2000 and a freak athlete, with
hands so big the UFC had to make special gloves for him.

The impact of his arrival in the UFC was bolstered by two
things: (1) it stoked the fires of the “fake fighting versus
real fighting” debate, prompting a ton of loyal, passionate
professional wrestling fans to take an interest in the UFC, and (2)
he didn’t come in fighting cans to build his record and keep
him protected.

Lesnar debuted in the Octagon at UFC 81 against former
heavyweight champion Frank Mir, and showed right away that he had
potential. Though he’d lose the fight, a star (and a rivalry)
was born, and two fights later, Lesnar was the UFC heavyweight
champion.

His career was cut short by repeated battles with
diverticulitis, and ultimately ended on consecutive losses, but for
a fighter that competed seven times in a little less than four
years, there is no question that Lesnar made an indelible impact on
the UFC from the minute he arrived.

#3: Ronda Rousey introduces the women at UFC
157

For years Dana White said women would never compete in the UFC,
but Ronda Rousey changed all that.

An Olympic bronze medalist in judo at the 2008 Summer Games in
Beijing, Rousey went from making her professional debut to standing
atop the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight division in less
than a year. She was a dominant force in the cage and unfiltered
with her opinions and comments outside of competition, the perfect
blend of skill, drive, and marketability, and after earning her
first title defense and sixth straight first-round submission win
over Sarah Kaufman, there was only one place left for Rousey to
go.

She was announced as the first female fighter to ever sign with
the UFC in November 2012, and introduced as the champion of the
newly created women’s bantamweight division at a press
conference in Seattle a month later. From that point until the day
she stepped into the cage against Liz Carmouche in the main event
of UFC 157, she was everywhere.

And not just everywhere in the MMA sense either.

She was one of the cover athletes for
ESPN the Magazine’s annual Body Issue,
was a guest on the Jim Rome and Conan O’Brien Shows, and
starred in what was easily the best installment of the UFC
Primetime series to date.

In the cage, she survived an early scare to earn her seventh
straight first-round win via armbar, and was positioned as one of
the coaches on
The Ultimate Fighter, ending up opposite her
nemesis Miesha Tate in the first season to feature both men and
women competing.

Downplay her impact if you’d like, but the truth of the
matter is that the UFC stopped being a “Boys Only”
establishment because of Rousey, and it hasn’t been the same
since she arrived on the scene.

#2: The Ultimate Fighter showcases Griffin and
Bonnar

The debut season of
The Ultimate Fighter not only saved the UFC,
but served as the catalyst for the organizations massive growth and
the launching pad for the careers of fighters like Forrest Griffin,
Kenny Florian, Josh Koscheck, Chris Leben, and Stephan Bonnar.

TUF 1 was an immediate hit and became the Trojan Horse that
carried mixed martial arts into homes throughout North American
that might not have explored the pay-per-view-based sport at the
time.

What sealed the deal was the light heavyweight finale between
Griffin and Bonnar. It couldn’t have played out any more
perfectly. After weeks of getting to know the fighters and
following them through the competition, these two likeable,
hard-nosed hopefuls pretty much went toe-to-toe for 15 minutes
straight on live television, beating the bejesus out of each other
for a chance to earn a UFC contract.

It was such an iconic fight that Griffin became known as
“The Original Ultimate Fighter,” even though Diego
Sanchez won the middleweight competition before his fight with
Bonnar. People also tend to forget that Griffin-Bonnar wasn’t
the main event – the show was actually headlined by a bout
between Rich Franklin and Ken Shamrock that Franklin won a little
more than halfway through the opening round.

Simply put – without TUF 1, we wouldn’t be here
counting down to the 20th Anniversary show.

#1: Royce Gracie shows the world the power of
jiu-jitsu

That first event changed everything, and Gracie was the
unexpected star, even if he didn’t look the part.

Make no mistake about it – UFC 1 was more spectacle than
sporting competition, but it spoke to the legions of martial arts
fans that saw it, with Gracie’s quiet, stealth dominance
standing out greater than everything else that transpired inside
the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado.

While his actual first fight wasn’t much of anything
– he won by moving to mount against professional boxer Art
Jimmerson, who famously wore a single boxing glove on his left hand
– the totality of his performance on November 12, 1993 taught
a lot of people that Brazilians pronounce their “Rs” as
“Hs” and that you didn’t have to be the bigger,
strongest, most muscular fighter in the competition to be the
best.

Ken Shamrock went on to eclipse Gracie’s impact on the
mainstream, transitioning to the WWE (which was still the WWF at
the time) where he used his “World’s Most Dangerous
Man” persona, but it was Gracie that started this ball
rolling.