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The History of the UFC - Part 1

By Cliff Montgomery,
A modern variation of the Greco-Roman freestyle martial art called 'Pankration' thrives today. Now widely known as Ultimate Fighting, it is also named Vale Tudo, No-Holds-Barred, Shootfighting or Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). It's in fact a blending of the pankration and traditional Eastern martial arts.

Created in 1993 as a single pay-per-view spectacle by a number of people, including Robert Meyrowitz, Art Davie and Rorion Gracie, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has evolved into a popular sport bringing together the world's most accomplished Mixed Martial Artists.

Some of the best-remembered early fighters are Ken Shamrock (Japanese Submission fighting) and the incomparable Royce Gracie of Brazilian or Gracie Ju-Jutsu; his amazing groundfighting and grappling abilities stunned the other artists at the earliest competitions, allowing him to walk away with UFC's 1, 2, and 4.

Shamrock learned to confront the 'Gracie Guard' however, and his influential combination of submission holds, punching power and power kicks have helped make a 'Royce Gracie style' based solely on groundfighting a thing of the past.

Few rules existed for the earliest UFC events. The UFC apparently says this was "to allow fighters of many disciplines to compete fairly and freely, without inhibiting any particular style. This (initial) format existed to encourage competition, not injury," the UFC seems quick to add.

This may all be true; but the UFC was often its own worst enemy. Its initial lack of rules - only biting, 'fish-hooking' an opponent's face, eye gouging and throat strikes were illegal - and an advertising style which stressed the UFC's most violent possibilities while failing to mention that most bouts end with a few well-placed punches and a good grappling hold, initially hurt UFC's claim of being a legitimate sport.

Consider this gem from one reputable website:

"While original promoters wanted to include such sensationalistic side shows as alligator moats and electric fences surrounding the ring, UFC doctors warned against them due to the dangers fighters could face." (Italics added.)

But we should remember that boxing went through similar growing pains, and began achieving respectability when changes in both promotion and rules made it the 'sweet science' it is today.

The very first tournament for mixed martial arts, 'UFC 1: The Beginning' (Nov. 12, 1993), allowed a limitless number of five-minute rounds. Fights finished when someone either was knocked out or tapped out. Contests typically lasted no more than one or two rounds.

As for the famed 'Octagon', one source states that "Doctors and martial artists designed it to create an enclosure that would act as a neutral arena to showcase skills of many martial arts disciplines." But a few Internet sites, apparently copying one another, credit an unnamed "Hollywood producer" as its designer.

Rounds and time limits were removed for the second UFC on March 11, 1994. This caused a major problem for home viewers, as fighters were more evenly matched for UFC 2: 'main event' fights were still in progress as the allotted pay-per-view time block ended. Many viewers quite rightly received refunds.

This mix-up eventually led UFC officials to re-institute time limits for all fights.

In UFC 3 (Sept. 4, 1994) Royce Gracie, who many then considered unstoppable, was nearly beaten by Tae Kwon Do artist Kimo Leopoldo in one of the most infamous contests in UFC history.

Another fight which has gained notoriety was between White Tiger Kempo fighter Keith Hackney and American sumo Emmanuel Yarbrough. The biggest man to ever be inside the Octagon, Yarbrough measured 6'8" and weighed 668lbs.

Part of the UFC's early allure was that is allowed, say, a 600lbs+ sumo wrestler to compete against a well-toned kempo expert. It was still rather normal for a smaller fighter with greater skill like Hackney to defeat his much larger, lesser-skilled opponent.

At UFC 5 (March 7, 1995), the first "Superfight" took place. And scoring, judges to determine bouts and time limits were becoming necessities; the tourney of Dec. 16, 1995 was the first UFC event to feature judges.

The very first Ultimate Fighting Championship was ruled by the groundfighters - seven of the eight principal fights were won by locks, chokes, or crude stomps. Only one match resulted in a victory by decisive strikes against the opponent.

Much had changed by UFC 8 (Feb. 16, 1996). By that time, the strikers were all but kings of the castle: a full seven out of the eight matches fought were won by either punches, strikes, or - in one case - the Kuk Sool Won elbow work of Gary Goodridge. The exclamation point came when Don Frye won UFC 8, becoming the first Western-style Wrestler/Boxer to win the title.

If the first four years saw a change to a more direct style, the next four would see the UFC slowly create better rounded rules of both art and engagement.

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