SPORTS

UFC creator writes inside story on four-year mission to get UFC 1 off the ground

03/20/2015 02:00 EDT | Updated 05/20/2015 05:59 EDT
Entrepreneur Art Davie spent nearly four years trying to create the first Ultimate Fighting Championship. He finally made it happen on an unforgettable night in November 1993.

Davie's goal was to create a pay-per-view tournament that pitted boxers, wrestlers and martial artists against each other. The plan came to fruition when eight fighters converged at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver for a one-of-a-kind card that put the UFC and mixed martial arts on the map.

As he writes in his book, "Is This Legal? The Inside Story of the First UFC From the Man who Created It," the event nearly went off the rails at the fighters meeting on the eve of the tournament.

Some fighters disagreed on the three core rules: no eye gouging, no biting and no groin strikes. Others didn't like that shin guards and elbow pads were verboten or Davie's partner, Rorion Gracie, had a younger brother — the legendary Royce Gracie — in the field.

The various fighters and camps started arguing in the hotel conference room and things got heated. That's when sumo wrestler Teila Tuli — all 425 pounds of him — stood up and took control.

As Davie recalls, Tuli exclaimed in dramatic fashion he was there to party.

"If anyone else came here to party, I'll see you tomorrow night at the arena," he said.

With that, Tuli slammed his signed acceptance paper down on the table. Silence filled the room for a short time before everyone started to applaud.

The tension was gone, the meeting was adjourned and UFC 1 would soon be a go.

"I knew and I think a lot of the participants understood that we were really blazing a really new path in the stratosphere," Davie said in a recent interview. "This was going to be big."

The book offers a first-person account of the adventures leading up to that eight-man, single-night tournament. And there were several hurdles to clear along the way — financing, broadcasting, partnerships, not to mention booking a wide variety of fighters that viewers would want to pay to see.

Davie, who dabbled in boxing and jiu-jitsu and had an advertising background, essentially served as producer, booker, manager and commissioner.

"We were making up this thing as we were going along," he said. "Nobody had done anything like this really in the modern era."

The event was far from the slick, polished UFC that would eventually establish a spot in the mainstream sports world. UFC 1 was raw and brutal, with no weight classes and a real back alley feel.

Tuli was in the night's first bout and his party plan quickly turned into a nightmare. He lasted just 26 seconds against Dutch kickboxer Gerard Gordeau and took a head kick that sent part of his tooth flying into the crowd.

Gold's Gym was the main sponsor and Davie had seated the company's executives and their wives in the front row so they could be close to the action.

Tuli's tooth fragment flew right over their heads.

"Two of the wives got up and left, right then and there," Davie wrote. "The entire group was gone by the third fight. Goodbye Gold's Gym. I never saw them again. That was the end of our sponsorship. But I didn't even care.

"After that first fight, I knew. We had just spawned something truly special and unlike anything that anyone had ever seen before."

Gordeau, meanwhile, made it to the final before losing to Gracie. The pay-per-view numbers were solid and the UFC was in flight.

"Is This Legal? The Inside Story of the First UFC From the Man who Created It," by Davie and Sean Wheelock, is published by Ascend Books. It is 270 pages and has a retail price of $29.95.

———

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

MORE:cpSports