12th November, 1993, McNicolls Sports Arena, Denver, Colorado, USA.
Ok, so, we start at The Beginning. Eight of the deadliest fighters in the world (allegedly) face off to determine who is the Ultimate Fighting Champion. No Rules (well, almost), no judges and no time limits.
Bill ‘Super Foot’ Wallace welcomes us to the “Ultimate Fighting Challenge” and after battling with a bit of wind (blame the altitude) he introduces us to his commentary team. NFL hall of famer Jim Brown is quite clear he doesn’t think that either he, any of his NFL buddies, or even his boxing friends like Ali, Fraser or Tyson would last long in the cage. Bill tries to persuade Jim he’d do ok, but Bill’s having none of it. Kickboxing Champion Kathy Long does at least give strategising a try. Bit of a spoiler from Rod Machado who virtually tells us Royce Gracie is going to win, and we have our first look inside the cage with Brian Kilmeade.
We get the fights underway with 410lb Hawaiian Sumo fighter Teila Tuli taking on Dutch Savate player Gerard Gordeau. Despite weighing literally half what Tuli does, Gordeau actually has a decent height and reach advantage. Saying that, most of us have a height and reach advantage over our cars, but if the handbrake goes while we’re downhill from it, that’s not much help. After a little bit of circling, Tuli charges, Gordeau backs up, and Tuli hits the mat face first. As he rolls onto his butt, Gordeau unleashes a roundhouse kick square in the face, sending a tooth into the front row. The ref signals time out and a bloodied Tuli stands up. He’s keen to continue and a tuxedo wearing Rorion Gracie also tells the ref he can carry on, but some sort of consensus between the doctor, the ref and Tuli’s corner is reached and the fight is stopped. Gordeau progresses.
Next up is a relatively even match up on paper. 6’4”, 265lb kickboxer Kevin Rosier facing 6’6” 230lb American Kenpo fighter Zane Frazier. With both Ed Parker and God in his corner, how can Frazier lose? We’re told Rosier has an impressive 66-8 kickboxing record, with all 66 coming by way of KO. You have to see Kevin Rosier’s shorts to believe them, but it’s not a fashion show, so we’ll not dwell on it. Just picture a 265lb man in a nappy (diaper for any American readers). This is a ferocious scrap, at least for the first couple of minutes. Groin strikes, hair pulling, knees, elbows, clinching and dirty boxing. Four minutes in, and both fighters are totally gased. Frazier takes a huges breath and shakes his hand, probably damaged in the early exchanges, and Rosier empties the tanks. Frazier crumples to the canvas under a barrage of wild strikes and when a couple of heavy head stomps go in, Frazier’s corner has seen enough and throw in the towel. Kevin Rosier reveals in his post-fight interview that what was going through his mind in the cage was “what the hell am I doing out of retirement” and his primary strategy was to let Zane get exhausted punching him in the face before taking him out. Mission accomplished.
The third fight is our first look at Royce Gracie. 170-180lb depending who you listen to and 6’1”. He’s facing #10 ranked IBF Cruiserweight Art Jimmerson who has elected to wear a boxing glove on his left hand, but not his right. Royce leads with a few kicks, high and low, before dropping for a double leg and putting Jmmerson on his back and immediately mounting him. Before Royce gets anything going, Jimmerson taps. Easy game.
The last qualifying fight is the Ken Shamrock against Patrick Smith. Two dangerous and angry looking dudes. Ken gets his hands on Pat very quickly and throws him to the ground. After being stuck in Pat’s Guard for little while, Ken stands and drops back into a heel hook, and although Pat tries to kick and elbow his way out, it’s not long before he’s wearing his foot backwards and he’s forced to tap. There’s an attempt at some ‘afters’ by both fighters, but they’re successfully kept apart.
The first semi-final is Gordeau v Rosier. Although it was the big kick that won the first bout for him, Gordeau apparently broke his hand, but is fighting on. Rosier charges out as he did in his first fight, but a couple of wicked leg kicks from Gordeau soon slow him down. Gordeau throws a few broken right hands before switching to some devastating elbows. A stomp to the ribs of a downed Rosier is the final shot, and the towel comes in. Rosier is great in interview again after the loss. He’s apparently come out of retirement for this tournament only a few weeks earlier and is determined to get back in shape and challenging the various world Kickboxing champs. Sadly, looking at his post-UFC 1 record that never happened. He instead became a bit of a journeyman punching bag in both early MMA and professional boxing. He died in April 2015 from a heart attack, aged 53. Shame, seemed like a really nice guy in the interviews. RIP Kevin.
The second semi-final is the highly anticipated Gracie v Shamrock match up. Ken looks fired up, ready to kill someone. In contrast, Royce looks calm and stoic, but still deadly serious. As they approach, Royce fakes a leg kick and shoots in for a take down from a long way out. Ken sprawls and flips Royce onto his back. There’s a quick scramble back to their feet, then Royce pulls guard. Another scramble and Royce is on top, rolling Ken up in a ball. As Ken tries to escape, he shows Royce his back and in a flash, the choke is on and it’s over. There’s a little confusion as Royce lets the choke go before the ref acknowledges the tap, but Ken confirms he submitted straight away.
After an awkward attempt at a presentation to honour the Grand Master Helio Gracie, mostly drowned out by booing idiots, we’re on to the final. Royce uses the same faked low kick and shot he did on Ken, but this time there’s no sprawl. Gordeau manages to stay on his feet for a few seconds, but Royce is stuck to him and eventually drags him to the ground, quickly mounting him. A couple of head butts to soften him up, and as Gordeau rolls away, the choke goes in and it’s over. Royce holds on to the choke a long time after the tap, but after the confusion at the end of the semi-final, I guess he wanted to make sure.
So there it is. Royce Gracie is UFC 1 champion and is off to Disney Land with the $50,000 prize. At the time it seemed a lot more shocking that it does now. No serious injuries, not much blood, everyone walked out of the cage unaided.
Royce Gracie making it look easy, plus Kevin Rosier and Ken Shamrock’s post fight interviews. Both classy and funny in victory and defeat.