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Inside story of UFC 1: Reason no wrestlers were invited.

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The UFC is celebrating its 20th year as a promotion. This was taken from a Sherdog.com article on the development of UFC 1.

 

The Gracie family discussing with promoters who to invite to the first UFC tournament.

 

 

There was, however, one clandestine Gracie edict, according to Davie.

 

“No wrestlers; the Gracies didn't want anything to do with wrestlers,” he said. “That limited us a little more. We were trying to sell a bunch of guys on something they never heard of, with the exception of the Gracie name. I brought in guys from Japan that were considered to be national idols, but it was the wrestlers that freaked out Rorion a little. The Gracies knew they could beat anyone associated with mixed martial arts.”

 

They were not so sure about wrestlers, which is why two-time Olympic gold medalist Bruce Baumgartner, Olympians Mark Coleman and Dan Henderson and of pair of collegiate All-Americans, Mark Kerr and Randy Couture, were never asked to compete.

 

“Pro karate shaped the way I fought. I won several big tournaments; think about it,” Frazier said. “We were going to compete in Colorado, right near the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, and there were no wrestlers involved? I remember at the fighter meeting before the event, Rorion told me all the wrestlers declined to fight.

 

“My reality at that moment: wrestling was a key thing to learning, because no one had an answer in martial arts for a double-[leg] takedown,” he added. “It's why I believe the Gracies didn't ask any wrestlers to compete. You had some of the top wrestlers in the world right there in the backyard of where this thing was taking place. The Gracies wanted no part of them, not one bit. At the time, I believe it was a disservice to MMA.”

 

http://www.sherdog.com/news/articles/2/ ... ight-59271

 

At least they knew back then where to set their fighting limits to ensure the Gracie style of BJJ would reign supreme that night.

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To be fair they did put out something of an open challenge. I think part of it was no wrestlers really knew what to think of it or thought it was real. I used to train at the same place at Zane Frazier once in a while and he said that about half the guys who were fighting were acting pretty nervously, like they didn't know if the event would even happen. The early UFC events were a little bit cherry picked, but I think that after Severn arrived was when they decided that was the end for them. The guys named probably wouldn't have fought because they may have been afraid of injury as all were still poised to make a world/Olympic team. Part of the reason Severn agreed to participate was because he had moved on from competition and didn't have to worry about injury as much since he was doing a little pro wrestling by then. Even after wrestlers started showing up it took a while to gain a foothold. Mark Svhultz fought at UFC 9 as a late substitute for Canadian wrestler Dave Beneteau and never fought again because the college he was coaching at threatened to fire him if he fought while he was employed by them.

 

The reason a lot of the early pioneer wrestlers started in MMA was because they needed money and were either past their prime or close to it with wrestling. Coleman got in because he didn't make the 1996 team. Kerr started before that and was frustrated by his inability to make the 95 world team. Dan Henderson needed money. Same with Tom Erikson who was a college assistant coach. You also have to look at guys who started off and were terrible. Dennis Hall nearly got his arm taken off. Same with Royce Alger. Kenny Monday had 1 MMA fight but almost got his leg broken by Matt Hume at the Contenders event and never tried anything remotely like that again. Once guys started realizing they could make money then the floodgates really opened. But the early pioneers after Severn was the first were guys like Don Frye, Mark Coleman, the entire rAw team who recruited Vladimir Matyushenko away from wrestling at a D-I school essentially. Sean Bormet was involved then too. Mike Van Arsdale was a second generation guy basically, he came with the whole wave that rAw brought in.

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Trip,

 

If you go back and read the full article (which is an interesting read) it does talk more about many of the issue you brought up about guys being nervous about he initial event. Also, I would say the gentleman talking was just throwing some names out there, but in general it sounds like from this source (and a guy that wrote a book on the early UFC) that the Gracie's were admitted about having some say on the final roster of fighters, including not wanting any wrestlers in the event. So while this big names may not have shown, I'm sure a few other tough wrestlers would have been interested, but were shut out from the early competition to ensure the ground game of BJJ wouldn't be neutralized.

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The Gracie family did have final say so on a lot of those things. I know they tried to get a few wrestlers to participate but none accepted, either because they had no idea what it was or because they were afraid of being injured somehow. I'm going to guess the Gracie family wasn't exactly heartbroken about that either. The guy who pretty much got things moving was sumo wrestler Telia Tuli, he stood up ant a fighters meeting and declared he was there to fight and signed his contract and dared everybody else in the room.

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The Gracie family did have final say so on a lot of those things. I know they tried to get a few wrestlers to participate but none accepted, either because they had no idea what it was or because they were afraid of being injured somehow. I'm going to guess the Gracie family wasn't exactly heartbroken about that either. The guy who pretty much got things moving was sumo wrestler Telia Tuli, he stood up ant a fighters meeting and declared he was there to fight and signed his contract and dared everybody else in the room.

Then Tuli promptly got some of his front teeth kicked out in his opening match (on flew out of cage and one lodged in his opponents foot) and quickly realized what he got himself into. Welcome to Ultimate fighting buddy. I don't believe a true wrestler made it into the event until Severn in UFC 4. Which just by pure wrestling moves and open hand strikes destroyed the competition until he got tired after 16 min of pummeling Gracie and got caught in a choke hold. After that wrestlers became a staple of the finals and won several earl events.

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Tuli even though he got his teeth kicked in was still a warrior. In the sense he didn't really know what he was getting into but went ahead anyway. A few people thought he was one of the more dangerous fighters in that first event due to his size.

 

A few guys with wrestling backgrounds did actually fight, but you're right, it wasn't their primary strategy or basis once they stepped in there. Severn was the first true wrestler to set foot in there. A story that I don't think was touched on was when Severn agreed to participate in UFC 4, one of the people from the Gracie family who was involved with promoting was trying to get Severn to wear a wrestling singlet so people would know he was a wrestler. Which at the time under the rules meant anybody he fought could use it to try to choke him with it if they wanted. Which gave an advantage to Royce who was familiar with the gi. Another funny story about Severn at that event was when he arrived in Oklahoma to do PR, he wore a suit and tie and looked very professional. Part of his entourage and a training partner was professional wrestler Al Snow. Snow wore gym shorts and tank tops and is a pretty well built guy, so in the pre-Google days, nobody knew who Dan Severn actually was, so they just assumed it was Al Snow. Up until Severn corrected them quietly.

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I don't get this, and why someone would think that "Jui-Jitsu" black belt wouldn't know what to do about a double leg?

 

Jui-Jitsu is a wrestling art , it's not a striking art, they learn take downs and in fact you learn a million moves from guard, in fact, being on your back is a normal position in Jui-Jitsu?

 

I highly doubt that Rorion was afraid of fighting a "wrestler" other than "wrestlers" were likely be the toughest to deal with because unlike a boxer who gets taken to the ground likely getting pummeled , a wrestler grappling on the ground is par for the course.

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I don't get this, and why someone would think that "Jui-Jitsu" black belt wouldn't know what to do about a double leg?

 

Jui-Jitsu is a wrestling art , it's not a striking art, they learn take downs and in fact you learn a million moves from guard, in fact, being on your back is a normal position in Jui-Jitsu?

 

I highly doubt that Rorion was afraid of fighting a "wrestler" other than "wrestlers" were likely be the toughest to deal with because unlike a boxer who gets taken to the ground likely getting pummeled , a wrestler grappling on the ground is par for the course.

 

I think it was more the idea that they didn't feel they could easily neutralize a top level wrestlers takedown and ground game. Obviously they were aware of what a wrestler could bring if they were weary of letting a talent one being entered in the competition. I'm guessing they may have let a lower level wrestler into the competition, but they wouldn't have brought in the list of accomplishments the sound impressive and would have likely been a few years out of competition to look the part of a tough guy. What they may not have realized early on was how award most of the top wrestlers would be at the ground and pound game in the early UFC's? In that respect someone like Shamrock was probably a more dangerous opponent for them than most of the wrestlers they could have had in the early events. Even when Severn makes his debut a few UFC later,and had previous UFC to reference to understand the fight game, he still won all his fight by almost complete wrestling related grappling and open hand palm strikes. Aside from that some of it may also have been the need to prove that BBJ could neutralize a strikers attack and having a wrestler in the early event would have negated that point since the fight would have constantly went straight to the ground due to the wrestlers action rather than the BBJ fighter stopping the attack.

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