UFC 1: The Beginning
“I watched the first one, as it happened, as it was
broadcast. I was sold instantly,” says Amthony Kiedis, lead
singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, echoing a sentiment shared by
thousands of people who remember watching a non-threatening looking
Brazilian named Royce Gracie win the first ever UFC tournament on
November 12, 1993.
After years of being a hypothetical question, Art Davie, Rorion
Gracie, and the Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG) sought to
determine which martial art was the greatest through an eight-man,
no-holds-barred tournament that would come to be known as the
Ultimate Fighting Championship.
No one knew what to expect – not the promoters, not the
fighters, and not those tuning in to watch this spectacle –
but from the opening bout, it was clear this was, as SEG executive
producer Campbell McLaren puts it, “unlike anything you have
ever seen before.”
The first bout in UFC history made that point abundantly clear,
as sumo wrestler Teila Tuli faced off with Dutch kickboxer Gerard
Gordeau, and though the bout lasted just 26 seconds, it made a
Tuli charged at Gordeau, who backpedaled rapidly, keeping the
Hawaiian sumo at bay before tossing him to the ground along the
cage. As Tuli looked to stand, Gordeau unleashed a vicious
“And all of a sudden this tooth goes flying over my
head,” says UFC 1 commentator Bill Wallace.
While the initial bout set the stage for the brutality that
would come under fire from critics and politicians in the years to
come, Gracie’s performance turned the fight game on its ear,
as the smallest man in the tournament showed everyone the art of
Brazilian jiu-jitsu and how formidable it could be inside the
“Ken Shamrock thought it was going to be an easy
win,” says David Isaacs, the co-executive producer of those
early events under SEG. “He was in great shape, and when we
saw him, we were like, “ My god – that’s Captain
American. He’s going to knock his head off.”
“That’s what made Royce Gracie seem even more
sublime,” asserts veteran MMA journalist Jeff Wagenheim.
“Because on the one hand, you had this ultra-violent fight
where a guy gets his tooth knocked out of his face, and then this
little guy comes across, and within seconds, the bigger, stronger
guy is quitting.”
Fans were hooked and the ball was rolling. Little did we know
it, but combat sports changed forever that night in the McNichols
Arena in Denver, Colorado.
Go back to the night that started it all in this segment from
the captivating documentary Fighting for a Generation, and listen
as everyone from the promoters and eventual winner Royce Gracie to
current UFC fighter Chael Sonnen and “Iron” Mike Tyson
share their memories of UFC 1.