November 12, 2011 will mark one of the most important dates in UFC history. The UFC will be on network television for the very first time, but that isn't the only reason the date of November 12 is important to the organization.
Everyone has a few significant dates in their lives. It could be a birthday, a wedding anniversary or the birth of a child. Whatever the occasion these are days that are embedded within our minds as well as our souls. More often than not these dates are different, but there are the rare events when one date represents more than one significant occasion.
For the UFC, November 12 represents two of the more historic events in the history of the organization. While the date may be the same, the significance of each event couldn't be further apart from one another. There is a separation of 18 years from the first time November 12 meant something and what will occur the second time around.
November 12, 1993 live from the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado, the UFC, then owned by WOW productions, a group of investors led by Art Davie and Rorion Gracie, held UFC 1. The theme behind the event was to determine which martial art form would rein supreme in a tournament style setting.
Both HBO and Showtime pay-per-view had no interest in televising the event. That opened the door for Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG) who partnered up with Jason Cusson, a film and art director who helped design the Octagon, a word that is now synonymous with the sport of mixed martial arts. The original idea was to run one show, but because of the success they had in the pay-per-view market, it was decided to do another show and the rest is history.
The participants in the eight man tournament were Shootfighter Ken Shamrock, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert Royce Gracie, who was hand picked by his older brother Rorion, Kickboxers Patrick Smith and Kevin Rosier, Savate fighter Gerard Gordeau, Karate fighter Zane, Frazier, Sumo Wrestler Teila Tula and Boxer Art Jimmerson, who of course is famous for wearing just one boxing glove in his fight with Gracie.
The winner would receive $50k and would have to defeat three different opponents in one night. There were no weight classes and the rules were limited to no biting and eye gouging. Although moves such as head butts, groin strikes, hair pulling and fish hooks were frowned upon, they were in a sense still legal. To say that this first show wasn't for the faint of heart is certainly putting it mildly.
Gracie would go on to defeat Jimmerson, Shamrock and Gordeau in a combined time of 4:59, which is just one second short of the length of the rounds we now see today. It was barbaric, it was crazy, but never the less it was highly entertaining. Who can forget Gordeau kicking Tula in the face and knocking his tooth?
Many of today's top MMA stars talk of how they would watch tapes of these old events and become enthralled with the sport. So while the sport is so much different today than it was back then, the influence it had is immeasurable. Former UFC Middleweight Champion, the late Evan Tanner self taught himself based off of old Gracie Jiu-Jitsu VHS tapes. So the sport was different then, but had a huge impact on many of the fighters who would make the sport great.
Fast forward 18 years and you will find the implementation of weight classes, a set of unified rules that are used throughout the sport and the abundance of MMA on pay-per-view and cable television. Zuffa purchased the UFC back in 2000 for just $2 million. Brothers Frank & Lorenzo Fertitta, owners of Station Casinos, were turned on to the organization by a childhood friend, UFC President Dana White.
What Zuffa has done for not only the UFC, but the sport as a whole is truly remarkable. White has put his heart and his soul into making the sport the best it can be and offering the fans the best entertainment for their dollar. They have fought with state athletic commissions all over the United States and the world for that matter, to get the sport sanctioned. The stigma of the old no-holds-barred, SEG run, UFC is still hard for some people to forget and while many roads have been traveled, there is still so much ground to cover.
The athletes of today are above and beyond the athletes of yesteryear. You will be hard-pressed to find a fighter who trains exclusively in just one discipline. A lot of people will say that wrestling is the discipline that will give a fighter the strongest base from which to work from. When you think of today's mixed martial artist, the man that pops into the minds of most is current UFC Welterweight Champion, Georges St. Pierre.
Its athletes like GSP and UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones, who by the way is a mere 23-years-old that will bring the sport even further into the future. Combining strength, speed, athleticism with a sincere dedication into learning the art of BJJ, Kickboxing, Wrestling and Muay Thai, helps make these fighters more competitive and more enjoyable to watch. Fighters, who concentrate on one art while spending very little time in the other areas, will soon be left behind and out in the cold.
November 12, 2011 the UFC for the first time in its history will broadcast a mixed martial arts event on network television and in primetime when UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez defends his title for the first time against Junior Dos Santos on the Fox Network. What a way to introduce the sport to mainstream television. White certainly knows how to throw a party and if this card is a success, then the sky is the limit for the sport.
Between UFC 1 and UFC on Fox 1, the UFC has had significant success on pay-per-view because they were able to land a deal on the cable television network, Spike TV. The relationship brought the sport into the realm of reality television with The Ultimate Fighter and into primetime with live UFC cards every few months usually coinciding with the beginning and the end of each TUF season. Spike TV took a chance on the UFC when no one else did and the relationship was truly a positive one for all parties involved.
The fact of the matter is the carrot dangling on the end of the stick has always been to land a network television deal. Along the way the UFC has negotiated with HBO, ESPN and a slew of other companies, but White held out for what looks like to be the best deal. The money the UFC will make from this relationship, which includes TUF, UFC Unleashed, UFC Fight Nights and The Ultimate Fighter Finales, being moved to the FX Network, will help White and Co. promote the sport to other areas of the globe and hopefully help the UFC get sanctioned in states like NY, who refuses to legalize the sport.
So when you turn your television to Fox on Saturday night, November 12, take a moment to think about the pioneers of the sport, who 18 years to the day, were fighting for relevance inside a cage called the Octagon, in the Mile High City of Denver. Think about the differences of the sport, the way it's presented and the athletes who now fight today. November 12 is a date that all UFC fans, fighters and executives should not and will not ever forget.