In order to establish itself as the pinnacle of combat sports, the Ultimate Fighting Championship had to compete directly with a sport that already held rank as the most popular fighting art and was widely regarded as the best fighting style—boxing.
For Rorion Gracie, co founder of the UFC, there was but one purpose for this style vs. style matchup: to showcase the superiority of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu over all other fighting styles. The gestating promotion would premiere a direct assault on the sweet science.
And so it was arranged. At the first Ultimate Fighting Championship event ever—held November 12, 1993, at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado—a boxer would be included in this one-night, eight-man, single-elimination tournament, in which he would be mindful of some supplementary rules—to the old boxing set—in this “no rules” competition. No small joint manipulation. No eye-gouging.
Now, most top-level boxers either cost a pretty penny or refused to be caught making a mockery of their square sport, and so 30-year-old Art Jimmerson, a light heavyweight and cruiser weight with a respectable record of 29-5 and 16 KOs, was guinea pigged into the promotion. While he held a 15-fight winning streak at the time, Jimmerson was a journeyman who had never won any major titles. Nevertheless, he was still a fringe contender and a real pro boxer.
Jimmerson’s first-round opponent, in his first-ever UFC fight, was Royce Gracie.
In a fight billed as boxing vs. jiu-jitsu, Jimmerson wore one boxing glove on his left hand—his right hand was only taped—boxing trunks, and shoes. Gracie donned a gi, no gloves, no shoes. By today’s standards, this fight was a bizarre spectacle. But, then, as co-executive producer of the early UFC Campbell McLaren told us, “We also didn’t really know the fighters back then.” And apart from Royce, next to none of the fighters had ever even seen Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
In the first minute, a tentative Jimmerson, in an orthodox stance, feinted a few times, but threw no punches. Gracie, in a south paw stance, threw front kicks, mainly to keep Jimmerson out of punching range. Just as the crowd began to boo after a minute of non action, Gracie hit a double-leg takedown. He quickly got full mount, put the hooks in on Jimmerson’s legs, and then flattened him out.
Before Gracie could even attempt any number of submissions he was setting up, and to the disbelief of the fans and even the referee, the helpless Jimmerson tapped out. Minute 2:18 marked the end of round one, although Jimmerson had tapped a few seconds earlier.
Jiu-Jitsu had destroyed boxing, or, rather, Royce Gracie had defeated Art Jimmerson, and the boxer had thrown not one single punch. The bewildered Jimmerson had managed to escape relatively unscathed, and still with a paycheck.
“Jimmerson,” recalls McLaren, “wore the one glove so that his other hand would be free to pry himself loose if he was taken down. Wearing two boxing gloves would have been a real obstacle to escaping holds or locks. Remember, back then, everyone was using best guesses to prepare.” He adds, “I think another reason was, he wanted to be sure when he tapped, that it was obvious – so he kept one hand uncovered for most effective tapping.”
This fight, which is still fascinating to watch, was the first of Royce Gracie’s three victories that night, en route to the first of his three UFC tournament wins and 11 total wins.