With UFC 202 on the horizon the sporting world will once again turn its gaze towards the best Irish fighter out there in Conor McGregor as he takes on Nate Diaz for the second time having suffered his first UFC defeat to the man from Stockton at UFC 196. That event and the huge UFC 200 event which is not long past aside, the overall support that the UFC has is now at an all time high and it’s all down to fighters such as Conor and Nate as well as Ronda Rousey, Donald Cerrone, Jon Jones and even the man from WWE, Brock Lesnar. In Ireland Conor McGregor is the sole reason many young and old people alike even know what the UFC is. All of a sudden those who dismissed MMA don’t see it as a purely violent event anymore and it is now more freely accepted as a highly skilled sport (of course some still believe it is nothing more than a bunch of thugs inside a cage). The use of the term “Cage Fighter” has slowly changed to “UFC Fighter” throughout Ireland and indeed the world. However the UFC started off as a totally different animal way back in 1993 and whether you are a champion for the cause of MMA as a sport or not you can’t deny it was a far more primal and violent beast in the early days . The strict and fair rules we see within the sport now had not yet been decided and it took years before the UFC became the well established and respected promotion that it is today.
Basically the UFC and indeed the sport of MMA started off without knowing exactly what it wanted to be. MMA has been around for a lot longer than people may realise, ancient Greeks actually had a version of the sport and mixing two styles of combat is fairly commonplace (just look at Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki in 1976).Before the UFC there were many MMA organisations out there with various rules such as PRIDE and Pancrase. MMA as it is today is a style of fighting that really began in UFC 1 thanks to Royce Gracie of the Legendary Gracie family. UFC 1 was a one night tournament, there were 8 fighters with no weight classes and there were no judges grading the rounds. Fights would end either by knockout, submission, or if a fighters corner decided to throw in the towel. The rules the UFC uses tends to carry over to other promotions now but in UFC 1 the rules were a lot more relaxed. In fact there were really only two rules, no biting and no eye gouging. Rounds lasted 5 minutes but they were unlimited, so there was a potential for fights to last for 20/30minutes.
UFC 1 occurred on November 12, 1993 in Denver Colorado with an attendance of roughly 7,800 and it had a Buyrate of 86,000 viewers. The overall winner would receive $50,000 however anyone who broke the no biting or no gouging rules would be fined $1,500 for each infringement. An alternate bout was had in case a fighter pulled out and needed replacement, this was won by Jason DeLuca however he was not needed during the tournament. The first fight of the night and thusly the first official UFC fight in its history would go to Gerard Gordeau and Teila Tuli with Gordeau taking victory via TKO. This fight set the tone of what the UFC was initially about, Gordeau stood at 6ft 5in and weighed 98kg but he was dwarfed by Tuli who stood at a shorter 6ft 1in but who weighed far more at 210kg. The shock coming almost immediately when Gordeau knocked Tuli out with a head kick as he lay on the ground. Illegal now but at the time perfectly fine and Gordeau took the win leaving viewers in awe of what they had just witnessed. The next fights then were Kevin Rosier defeating Zane Frazier via corner stoppage, Royce Gracie defeating Art Jimmerson via submission and Ken Shamrock (yes WWF fans the same Ken Shamrock who once held the Tag Team Titles alongside The Big Boss Man) defeating Patrick Smith also via submission. Gracie fought Jimmerson in his first UFC fight and the contrast to today’s rules are blatant as Jimmerson wore one boxing glove in the fight (Today’s UFC fighters of course all wear the same style of padded gloves). Gordeau would then beat Rosier due to corner stoppage and Gracie would shock those initial viewers by choking Ken Shamrock out in their Semi-Finals fight. The finals would then be Royce Gracie vs. Gerard Gordeau and again using his advanced grappling skills Gracie took Gordeau to the ground and finished him with a choke submission.
Most MMA fans will agree that the rules and high level fighters that exist within the UFC today make it far better to watch than when it first started. Some diehard fans who have followed from 1993 or those early years of UFC may say it was actually better in the past. Either way both can at least agree that the integrity of the UFC has been elevated in the last few years making it the best MMA promotion in the world today. Thanks to Royce Gracie winning in that specific manner in UFC 1 fighters soon realised that they had to be well versed in all aspects of fighting to progress within the UFC. Ground work as well as striking had to be respected and over the years this style has lead to many amazing and historic fights. UFC 2 would again be won by Royce Gracie although this time it was a 16 man tournament, Gracie being the only UFC fighter to win 4 fights in one night. The tournament style died down in the UFC after UFC 12 introduced weight ranges and the last tournament took place in UFC 23:Ultimate Japan 2.
If you are interested in seeing what those early days of the UFC looked like you can find fights online as well as on UFC.com. There have also been many documentaries and DVDs on the beginning of the UFC that you can find in store and online. Tell us if you’re a UFC or MMA fan and how you predict UFC 202 will pan out but if you’re interested in those early days here is a clip of one of those documentaries from YouTube: