UFC doc chronicles birth, near death and resurrection of MMA

‘Fighting for a Generation: 20 Years in the UFC’ debuts on FOX Sports 1 Tuesday night, November 5 at 9/6p ET/PT.

For sports fans there are always those moments that stand out in a more personal way than any other iconic time in competition. In 1994 as a junior in high school, I wasn’t worried too much about what professional team did on any given weekend or who hit a homerun in the big game. I liked sports like most guys my age, but I think real ‘fandom’ is developed a little later in life for almost everybody.

That all changed for me when a friend invited me over to his house to watch a VHS tape of an event he had rented from the local video store featuring ‘no holds barred’ fights where there were no rules, no time limits and only one man could be left standing.

The event was UFC 1 held at McNichols Arena in Denver, Colorado and it was a spectacle like I had never witnessed before. From the moment Gerard Gordeau punted Teila Tuli’s teeth into the front row, I was hooked and there was no going back to football, baseball or basketball after watching this kind of competition on TV. My love of the UFC was entrenched even further when I saw a skinny kid named Royce Gracie absolutely decimate the field with his takedowns and submissions, which at the time were unheard of in the martial arts world. Outside of Jean Claude Van Damme making Chong Li say uncle in ‘Bloodsport’ this was a foreign concept to a lot of people.

Ultimate Fighting Championship creators Art Davie and Rorion Gracie reveal in the new documentary ‘Fighting for a Generation: 20 Years of the UFC’ that their plan to hook in viewers was exactly what caught my eye. They were all about spectacle as sport. This was a brutal, unfiltered look at what happens when a karate master meets a street fighter. This was a showcase of tae kwon do against sumo wrestling. And what we all ultimately learned through the first few UFC shows is this was a platform for the world to discover Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.

The new two hour documentary delves into the history of the UFC with interviews, behind the scenes footage and a real look into how this event that started out as platform for pay-per-view producers to make some money turned into one of the biggest sports in the world.

For most fans the interviews and the look at how the UFC was created will be an eye opening experience. The first 60 minutes alone will engage anyone that’s ever watched the UFC because the narrative behind how this event was created and marketed is fascinating.

For instance did you know that the original concept for the cage that would be used in the UFC was going to be surrounded be a moat with alligators filling the water? One producer even suggested razor wire surround the top of the cage. You then learn how the Octagon eventually came to be with a little inspirational help from Conan the Barbarian.

Now some of these ideas that the creators of the UFC had might sound crazy, but crazy is just what they were looking for and wanted to exploit. It’s how the UFC found footing in the early days by promoting itself as a bloodbath of human carnage like nothing that had ever before been produced on television.

Some revelations in the documentary are somewhat disturbing,€” for instance the methods of victory and how a fight could be stopped came back to haunt the promoters in a big way as they looked to expand the brand on a national level. The idea of the UFC from the very first day was promoting the event as ‘no holds barred’ where anything could happen including a fighter literally dying on national television. That flew for a few events, but eventually lawmakers like Senator John McCain got involved and as state after state started to shut their doors on the UFC, the sport was barely hanging on via life support and the plug was almost pulled.

And that’s where MMA’s white knights, the Fertitta brothers, along with an old pal named Dana White step in to try and revive the sport. That revival didn’t come without a cost, however, and hearing White and the Fertittas talk about those early losses should really let everyone know just how close this sport was to the funeral pyre instead of a future on FOX.

Even as a journalist that’s covered MMA for the better part of nine years now, there were still nuggets of information revealed during the Zuffa era that I had never been privy to before now. The look behind the scenes of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter was an especially fun experience with no better moment being shown that Dana White’s infamous ‘do you want to be a f*king fighter?’ speech. The greatest part about that moment is why it actually happened, and that’s a little bit of Ultimate Fighter mythology that’s revealed in this special.

As the modern era begins to unfold the story is a little more familiar, but the documentary definitely acknowledges that with the bulk of the time being spent on interviews from the early days, the outlaw days of the UFC. One of the best parts may be watching Joe Silva, who does not grant interviews to journalists (a little known fact about the UFC’s matchmaker) travel from his days as a ‘consultant’ when he started with the promotion in 1994 all the way to his days as vice president in the current era of the UFC.

How did Joe Rogan get involved with the UFC? How did gloves get introduced? Why was the fight between Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn at UFC 9 so god awful? All of these questions are answered and much more.

After all these years, I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about the genesis of the UFC, but there were more than just a few surprises along the way. ‘Fighting for a Generation: 20 Years of the UFC’ is definitely a documentary showcasing how the UFC became one of the biggest promotions in the world today, but more than anything it’s a history lesson on the birth, near death, even nearer death and resurrection of the sport of mixed martial arts.

‘Fighting for a Generation: 20 Years in the UFC’ debuts on FOX Sports 1 Tuesday night, November 5.