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Sherdog's Top 10: Greatest UFC Debuts

Number 9a



9. (Tie) Royce Gracie


The great pioneer and grandfather of modern MMA graces another list. As with everything else linked to Gracie, it's impossible to objectively evaluate his placing, as he was the first ever, setting the initial standard. I personally had him eighth on my list but can understand having him higher or lower. What were the expectations for the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Brazilian when he fought at UFC 1 in November 1993? For his brother Rorion, who co-owned the UFC and wanted it to be an infomercial for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, complete with a ceremony for family patriarch Helio in between fights, the hope was that Royce would smash through all his foes. Indeed, that's why Rorion was very careful not to allow any wrestlers into the inaugural tournament. And from a modern perspective, it's not too shocking that Royce triumphed, as he was at least a BJJ purple belt, and facing opponents whose submission grappling game ranged from very limited and primitive, such as Ken Shamrock, to nonexistent (Art Jimmerson, Gerard Gordeau). However, from the perspective of the 1993 viewing audience, what Gracie did was incredible and unprecedented, never to be matched again in MMA history. He made Jimmerson and his one boxing glove look silly and useless in taking him to the ground, where a confused Jimmerson tapped without even being submitted. Then, against the muscular and much larger 225-pound Shamrock, who actually had several no-holds-barred matches in Pancrase by the time of UFC 1, Gracie demonstrated how much better BJJ was than the early submission grappling style in Japan, needing just under a minute to tap Shamrock with a rear-naked choke. Lastly, he choked out 6-foot-5, 220-pound striker Gordeau, despite the dirty Dutchman—who would later gouge out Yuki Nakai's eye—biting Gracie's ear until it bled. (That is why Gracie refused to give up the choke at first and was visibly furious even as his hand was raised in victory.) It was a spectacular trio of victories that not only established the UFC, but MMA as a whole, and as such is a deserving inclusion.

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