Sherdog Rewind: Clyde Gentry Discusses the UFC’s Beginning

By Staff Nov 12, 2013

With November and the UFC’s 20th anniversary drawing near, the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Rewind” show and host Jack Encarnacao are looking back on the promotion’s history.

To begin the series, “No Holds Barred: Evolution” author Clyde Gentry joined the program to discuss the UFC’s beginning.

Gentry on early forms of MMA: “I’ll never forget, in interviewing Ron van Clief, he often talked about having these types of mixed matches. I always heard a lot of these types of stories back and forth, but he was actually one of the very few that actually sent me something to back it up. While it wasn’t exactly mixed martial arts, it did really have some interesting concepts. I’m talking about the 1981 kung fu championships in Hong Kong, where Ron van Clief actually competed. It did have a mixture of styles. Of course most of them -- I think actually all of them -- were standup. They were allowed to do pretty much whatever they wanted to do, and of course just like anything that we’ve seen in a lot of the earlier UFCs, almost every fight went to the ground and they stood them back up. But what was interesting about that is at least there was something, some kind of record of an idea put forth to say let’s get muay Thai and put it against karate, and let’s get kung fu and let’s see what they would do against hapkido, and put it into a forum without rules really benefitting any specific type of standup style.”

On how Van Clief did in the event: “Ron lost his fight. I can’t remember exactly what he was trying to do, but when he went to the ground, his opponent basically soccer-ball kicked his head and completely knocked him out, which was legal. It was a very kind of strange event. It is really something to see.”

On Hugh Hefner’s role in growing MMA: “I really kind of credit Hugh Hefner as much as anything as being a big part of the growth of the UFC because if it weren’t for that September 1989 issue of Playboy, the one that Art Davie came across and found that article that was written about Rorion Gracie where he talked about these challenge matches. … They’d had some challenge-type matches before and dojo matches and that type of thing, and that’s really what got Art Davie, who was essentially a very entrepreneurial advertising man back at that point, to say look, this is really something interesting. When he went and met with Rorion, the two of them kind of hatched this idea. Then when it finally got back to SEG and Campbell McLaren, once again the Playboy article was one thing that just kind of summed everything up. I think that’s a very interesting footnote. That one article … you can see how the wheels would be spinning, so to speak, as far as what this thing could possibly be.”

On sport vs. spectacle: “This was something that Joe Silva almost from day one wanted to really vocalize, which was the fact that the UFC was never set up to be a sport. … It was supposed to be a spectacle. That’s certainly what it was supposed to be. They certainly didn’t treat it very much like a sport, especially in the earlier days, especially talking about a lot of the crazy things with having a possible moat around the Octagon or having an electrically charged fence. Both of those things are true, by the way. They talked about a lot of different things to really kind of gloss it up and give it a Hollywood type of look.”

On Royce Gracie’s participation in the UFC instead of Rickson Gracie: “Art [Davie] always naturally thought that Rickson was going to be the fighter representing the Gracie family. Of course there was a fallout between Rickson and Rorion. Most people know about that. … Art was really actually very surprised about Royce because he saw him as this kid who would kind of show up on Saturdays, get money from Rorion to go out and play with his friends on the beach. He never really saw him as being some kind of great fighter.”

Listen to the full interview (beginning at 2:13).