A Brief Reflection on 15 Years of the UFC

15 Years

By Jordan Breen Nov 12, 2008
"Hello ladies and gentlemen. You are about to see something you have never seen before ... the Ultimate Fighting Challenge."

Uttered 15 years ago to this day, the introduction for the promotion that would bring mixed martial arts to the masses wasn't even competent, let alone stirring. More like taking forceps to the eyeball during delivery.

"Hello, I'm Bill Wallace, and welcome to McNichols Ar ... "

The birth moment went from awkwardly inept to outright ignominious as the man dubbed "Superfoot" quite literally belched through the foreword to fighting history. This was not "Call me Ishmael." More like dropping the newborn skull-first on the floor.

A difficult delivery, fortunately, didn't have any bearing on the spectacle of the evening's proceedings. With a thunderous kick to the face in less than 30 seconds, Gerard Gordeau liberated the teeth of hapless sumo Teila Tuli, freeing them to explore the thin Denver air. And that was just a prelude to the skinny Brazilian fellow in his pajamas.

Yes, every ardent MMA fan, whether they were watching live on pay-per-view from day one thanks to a Black Belt magazine subscription or whether they became smitten with the sport one Saturday night on Spike TV, can appreciate the milestone, the magic and the mockability of the first Ultimate Fighting Championship. By now, it is nothing short of cultural fact that Royce Gracie revolutionized fightsport with his early UFC dominance and fully held up his end of the bargain to his big brother Rorion in what began as an infomercial for Gracie jiu-jitsu. Today, the magnitude of that moment is a mandate to the point where it becomes almost drained and dull.

The real sense of wonder and amazement, as we continue to bear witness, is how extraordinarily far the UFC, and by some extension MMA, has come in the span of 15 years.

Today, the very spot where the iconic Octagon stood on Nov. 12, 1993, is much different. Denver's McNichols Arena has long since been razed, and the Octagon's figurative footprint now rests in the middle of a parking lot outside Invesco Field. Meanwhile, the UFC has become a cultural staple, a multimillion-dollar company and, for better or worse, virtually synonymous with the entire sport of MMA.

* * *

Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Royce Gracie was the
UFC's first true star.
Whether or not it is because I am a bandwagon bastard, or simply the fact I was six at the time (or both), I did not join the approximately 99.9952 percent of MMA fans who boldly claim to have watched the first UFC live on pay-per-view. My first genuine exposure to the sport came on a blustery December day in 1997. I was in a local convenience store -- strangely called Michael's Market, despite being run by an Iranian named Bill who only in my maturity did I realize was a dead ringer for Chemical Ali -- and was trying to be as 007 as possible in sneaking glances around the ever-adversarial shower curtain that acted as a force field for the adult entertainment section.

As luck, and perhaps fate, would have it, the sports-related videos happened to be an unexpected neighbor with the XXX genre, and my eye was caught by a host of UFC box covers. I decided to be an intrepid renter rather than a futile porno peeker, and I grabbed copies of UFC 6 and 7. It was truly a more beautiful time, before Blockbuster devoured the rental universe, when a precocious 10-year-old could acquire Tank Abbott's exploits without any form of scrutiny or certification.

The events were nothing short of a great afternoon killer. Between Oleg Taktarov's commingling of gore and science and Marco Ruas' marriage of surgery and hardwood logging, I thought that this whole ultimate fighting thing was "cool." Yet, for whatever inexplicable reason, not cool enough to launch myself into full-blown fandom.

Mania for MMA would not strike me until roughly two years later. Something, but seemingly nothing in particular, triggered my memories of the UFC videos years earlier and inspired me to take to the search engines in those days before Google's effective searching stranglehold. I was extremely dismayed to find out that the sport had been shoved into the shadows by John McCain's "human cockfighting" rhetoric and ties to Budweiser, still one of boxing's major sponsors at the time. Fortunately, trawling forums and newsgroups did allow me to get my hands on pirated copies of scores of MMA events.

In hindsight, the quality of the rips was so poor that I'm amazed I bothered watching. But I did. As I watched Carlos Newton and Dan Henderson get after it, with a bitrate so paltry the picture looked as though it was comprised of hundreds of scuttling roaches on the screen, I got the feeling this NHB stuff may be worth revisiting. A few weeks later, when I finally got to see the much-hyped, much-ballyhooed Frank Shamrock-Tito Ortiz bout, that feeling was reaffirmed.
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