UFC 1 & 2 Review: Royce Gracie Takes Over The World

Joel AbrahamContributor IIINovember 16, 2010

I know nothing about MMA.

For the uninitiated, the excellent TVTropes is a perfect place to start.

"Mixed Martial Arts (often referred to as "cage fighting") is a combat sport that incorporates techniques from a wide range of other combat sports and martial arts styles, with the three basic pillars of the sport being striking, wrestling and submission grappling. Thus, the name "mixed martial arts" refers to the mix of techniques used in competition."

This story begins at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado, on November 12, 1993. The Ultimate Fighting Championship, live on pay-per-view! The story:

"Modern mixed martial arts began with the creation of the Ultimate Fighting Championship by Rorion Gracie and Art Davie in 1993. The event was billed as a no-holds-barred tournament straight out of Bloodsport to determine which martial art style was 'the best.' Could Kung Fu beat Karate? Could boxing beat wrestling? These questions would be answered inside a chain-link enclosed "Octagon"."

Bloodsport is clearly the best film ever made, so this is bound to be awesome. When this is the opening gambit, you know you're onto a winner. 

This event is straight out of a terrible 90s Neo Geo beat em up, complete with stupid names like Pat Smith and Johnny Rhodes, ridiculous outfits (Art Jimmerson in full boxing garb, except with only one glove) and terrible stereotypes. This picture says it all.

To illustrate this, the first fight pits Gerard Gordeau, a tall, blonde, emotionless Dutch savate champion against Teila Tuli, a big fat Hawaiian sumo, who looks just about ready to fill his pants. The fight begins: Tuli charges, E. Honda style. Gordeau dodges. Tuli hits the fence, and falls flat on his arse. Gordeau kicks Tuli square in the face. And it is all over. Tuli sacks off MMA and ends up appearing in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Eventually, when I stop laughing, I am able to appreciate just how brilliant this whole idea is. Tuli looks genuinely shocked and upset about this turn of events, like he's just been betrayed by a close friend. He wanders around looking confused for a few minutes, possibly wondering where his tooth is, until Gordeau is eventually declared the winner.

The beauty of UFC 1 is that nobody really seems to know what's going on. This is highlighted by an incident whereby a fighter is tapping out while the referee watches, completely oblivious. His opponent actually has to explain to the referee that the guy is submitting. 

The referees aren't sure when to stop the fight, the fighters don't know when to stop fighting, and the main problem seems to be not the lack of rules, but the lack of basic protocol. Imagine a football match where nobody knows how long the match is, or what happens after you score a goal, and you're somewhere near the golden comedy that is UFC 1.

The most striking thing about this event is quite how brutal it is when compared to today's standards. All manner of now-illegal manoeuvres are not only allowed, but actively encouraged. Fighters grab each other's clothes, stomp on their downed opponents, pull their hair, elbow them in the spine and punch them in the back of the head which makes me wince in pain just watching it. Hell, Gordeau even has a broken hand after throwing one punch - by the next fight, it's swollen up to twice its size and looks like an inflated rubber glove. It's lucky that nobody ended up in a wheelchair, and an indication of just how far the sport has come today.

UFC 1 & 2 are notable for the debut of shootfighter Ken Shamrock in his pre-WWF days, and referee "Big" John McCarthy, who would be a staple in the UFC for years to come. I didn't know that, and I don't even know who "Big" John McCarthy is, having never seen or heard of him before in my life. But I copied it off Wikipedia, which means it must be true, and by definition it will become relevant as I watch more UFC, so it's worth including, right?

The star of the show is little Royce Gracie, a skinny Brazilian man who quite simply looks out of place amongst this roster of 90s caricatures. His first fight, against boxer Art Jimmerson, looks to be a fascinating clash of styles. What happens in this fight sets the tone for the next 17 years of MMA. Gracie takes down Jimmerson, lies on top of him for a while, and then Jimmerson inexplicably taps out. Hello, and allow me to introduce myself to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. 

BJJ is a bit like my sexual performances—the opponent is dragged to the floor, I lie on top of them for a minute, then it's all over, and everyone goes home disappointed (Just kidding. I don't usually last that long). Gracie's BJJ was the ace up the sleeve. Over to TVTropes:

"Behind the scenes, however, the event was masterminded by Rorion Gracie, part of a clan of martial artists who had developed a style of submission grappling called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) that they believed could defeat any style. The event was intended to showcase the effectiveness of BJJ. The Gracies entered their youngest adult member, 27 year old Royce, into the tournament. He was not the most decorated BJJ practitioner of the family, and was also the smallest fighter in the competition. The family intended to prove that BJJ techniques could be used to overpower physically stronger opponents. Royce won the competition easily by tackling his opponents and quickly rolling them into submission holds, forcing them to 'tap out' and concede defeat. Most of his opponents were ignorant of submission grappling and could not defend themselves when they were taken to the ground. Reactions to BJJ were mixed. Viewers who had expected a bare-knuckle bloodbath were disappointed by the decidedly non-violent style, which left both Royce and his opponent almost completely uninjured. Others were inspired by the style's effectiveness and giant-killing nature."

Put me in the 'inspired' column. BJJ laid a benchmark for MMA, and UFC 1 & 2 basically sees all opponents struggle to cope with Gracie, who wins both tournaments seemingly without breaking sweat. Gracie is awesome. From the pre-match Gracie chain towards the Octagon, to his post-victory interview, ("What are you gonna do with the money?" "I'm gonna go to Disneyland!") Royce is a true legend. None of the other fighters come close to beating him.

So, Gracie has set the standard for UFC. Who can beat this man?