Many people want to know what it was like back during the early days of the UFC. What were the fighters like? What did they think about the competition and how they were going to fare during the tournament?
I can tell you there are many untold stories, some humorous and some sad. The fighters really had no idea what they were up against because the show, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, was completely new. There was no introduction, nothing for you to preview, no pay-per-view to watch and then decide if your skills were up to the challenge. If you were a part of the first UFC, they took you, put you into the middle of an Octagonal cage, and gave you the right to use any technique you knew other than eye gouging and biting.
The rules meeting for the first show was a comedy. All of the fighters, each with one representative, were brought into a room to discuss the rules. Now you would think that since there were only three rules the meeting wouldn’t take long, but you would be sorely mistaken. It really wasn’t the rules that were being questioned, but all of the ancillary parts of the event. There was no eye gouging, no biting, and in the first show, no groin shots allowed. Everything else was good. The fights had unlimited five minute rounds, although not one of the eight fights that took place that night lasted the full five minutes. Many of the fighters were not happy with hand wrap limitations; they wanted their hands wrapped, and were told that they could have their hands wrapped up to one inch from the knuckles, but that nothing could go over the knuckles. This caused a huge uproar from some of the fighters. Zane Frazier, Kevin Rosier, and Art Jimmerson were upset because they felt that the rules favored grapplers. They felt that the inability to tape was a safety issue, and that they would not punch as hard for fear that they may cause injury to their hands. I clearly remember Rorion Gracie asking if they would have time to tape their hands in a street fight if someone tried to attack them. The obvious answer was no; he reasoned that since they would still attempt to hit the attacker on the street with an unwrapped hand, then they could do the same here.
One of the biggest sticking points of the meeting was a liability release form all of the fighters were asked to sign. WOW promotions had a form that released them from any responsibility should a fighter be injured or killed. Many of the fighters said they would not sign the form. There were arguments going on back and forth, until Tella Tulli stood up, signed the form, and said, “Anybody here that wants to fight tomorrow night, I’ll see you there.” He then dropped the signed paper on the table and walked out of the room. From that point, all of the other fighters followed suit. All of the arguing over wraps and legal forms seemed to melt away after the big sumo wrestler from
I personally take the blame for screwing up one of the fights at UFC 1. I didn’t start refereeing until UFC 2, but I was at the first show, helping with the training and setup, and I definitely had a negative effect on the outcome of one of the fights. Many people claim that opponents were hand selected for Royce Gracie for the first five UFC events.
Nothing could be further from the truth. After UFC 1, all of the matchups were done with a lottery machine that would spit out a ping-pong ball with a number on it. All of the fighters picked a number from a bowl, and would show what number they had before the lottery machine was turned on. Then, as the balls popped from the lottery machine, the matchups were determined. While this system was not used for UFC 1, only one fighter was hand-picked for Royce. Rorion Gracie picked his brother to face Art Jimmerson in the first round because Jimmerson was a boxer and he wanted to show how effective Gracie Jiu-Jitsu could be against a stand-up striking art. He wanted his style of martial arts to be the victorious style over the most famous Western martial art, boxing.
The problem started the day of the fights. I was sitting in the lobby with my wife, who was dealing with periphery details such as tickets for the event and the party the next day. Art Jimmerson walked up with his wife and started talking with me about the fights. He pointed to me and stated, “You are working out with my opponent, aren’t you?” I told him I was, and he started talking to me about how my man (Royce) never had to deal with a man that could throw real punches, a man who knew how to snap back your head with a hard jab. I just sat there and listened to him talk, until I finally opened my mouth and said, “I have one question for you.” He retorted “What’s your question?” I asked him, “How many times in a ten round fight do you end up in a clinch with your opponent?” He looked at me and stated, “I don’t know, a lot.” So I asked him, “If you can’t stay out of a clinch when your opponent isn’t really trying to hold you, how are you going to avoid it when he does want to hold you?”
After a little more time talking about the complexity of what it took to fight in this type of event, Art and I moved into an empty ballroom. Art started to show me the speed of his jab. I told him he had a great jab, but that his desire to hit me with it is what sets up my ability to clinch with him, so I can take him to the ground. For him to be effective with his jab, he has to get close enough to hit me. When he is close enough to hit me, it means that he is close enough for me to take him to the ground.
He stated, “Well show me then.” I moved in and grabbed a hold of Art with double underhooks, picked him up and put him on the ground. He tried to push me off, so I moved into an arm bar. Art was not very pleased about what had just occurred. However, he wasn’t mad at me; on the contrary it seemed like I just became his best friend. He started asking me all kinds of questions about Jiu-Jitsu, and what could happen in the fight.
The one thing I remember today as clearly as that day back on November 12, 1993 was Art Jimmerson having a panicked look on his face when he said, “Oh my god, he is going to break my arms and legs, isn’t he?” I told him that all he had to do if he felt pain or discomfort was to tap out. If he tapped out, the fight would be over. If he was put into a submission and he did not tap, then yes, Royce would go until the arm or leg broke or dislocated.
The fight between Royce and Art was not what Rorion or many other people expected. Art came out wearing one boxing glove, and never hit Royce with anything. Royce took Art to the ground with a Moro-te-Gari (double leg) and mounted him. Art held onto Royce, while Royce started hitting Art with little shots to loosen him up and hopefully get him to turn his back for the choke. Art had other ideas. Art felt the pressure from the mount with grapevined legs, and decided he had had enough of this, so he tapped. As soon as he tapped I knew I was the reason he tapped so quickly. I must have had a look on my face like the cat that just swallowed the canary, because Rorion was looking at me like I knew something. Rorion walked over to me and asked, “Why the hell did he tap out to nothing?” I just looked at him and gave a shrug like I had no idea, but I was wishing at that moment that I had kept my big mouth shut.
Unfortunately for Art Jimmerson, the Ultimate Fighting Championship had a devastating impact on his career. Art came into the UFC sporting a competitive record of 29 wins against only 5 losses. After his fight with Royce Gracie, Art continued his boxing career with very little success, compiling a record of 4 wins against 13 losses. Royce went on to legendary status, winning three of the first four UFC tournaments. I went on to become a referee at UFC 2 and
have held that position ever since. Did I learn anything from my experience at UFC 1? Absolutely, but that story needs to be told on another day.