OTHER: Caged Animals – Mixed Martial Arts
Featured in Freestyle Volume 08 2009. Story by Nathan Luck. Photography by UFC.
It’s the fastest growing sport in America and the new poster child for professional fighting. Mixed Martial Arts has come out swinging, and the world is catching on fast…
“Gordeau’s foot was broken in two with teeth lodged in the side of it. He fought the next two fights with teeth in his foot.” Veteran brawler Jason DeLucia is getting sentimental over his “colourful” inauguration to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, at the maiden event staged in Colorado in 1993.
Evidently, Gerard Gordeau’s mangled hoof wasn’t his only concern “The doctor comes in (to the ring) and he says you break your hand and it’s better you stop. But I don’t fly twenty hours to go there and stop. I’m not a quitter.”
Gordeau and DeLucia were two of eight indecently dangerous mofos from widely varying fighting disciplines selected to sacrifice limb and possibly life in an auspicious event that would ultimately give birth to the corporate monolith known around the world today as the UFC. Some real hard cats as it turns out.
Now a global tour-de-force with its own long-running reality TV series (plans are in place for the tenth series of The Ultimate Fighter) and events that are broadcast on pay-per-view around the world, UFC1 was the less than formal introduction to an organisation that can legitimately lay claim to almost single-handedly re-inventing the sport of MMA, and spoon-feeding it to the insatiable appetite of western civilization.
While isolated cells of no-holds barred competition have existed around the world since man discovered how to bash man’s head in, it wasn’t until that single event fifteen years ago that MMA experienced its most pivotal incarnation. It was now packing a formula that would enable a comeback on a grand, corporate scale.
The active agent in that magic formula was Gracie Jui Jitsu and its chief proponent – the winner of the first two UFC tournaments - Royce Gracie. Finally MMA had a true ground game and a technical, definitive fight-ender at that.
It was an era when the creators of the UFC believed, and rightly so, that spilled claret and grotesque injuries were the ticket to making the big time. But the UFC’s major drawcard was to almost prove its undoing.
In 1997, Government bureaucracy targeting the “blood sport” would all but force the UFC to tap out. The righteous efforts of Senator John McCain (yep, that John McCain) threatened to de-rail the modern MMA movement when the pay-per-view channels were effectively forced to drop MMA events altogether.
It wasn’t until the franchise was purchased by Zuffa and remodelled into a palatable format that it was sanctioned and deemed acceptable for public consumption on pay-per-view in 2001. It was the second coming, one critical moment that would telegraph MMA from an antiquated form of underground cockfighting to an internationally recognised and respected combat sport. This time it would stick.
Caught By The Tale
In a celebration of the coming of age for MMA, Real Fighter Magazine recently gathered the original cast of UFC1 for a little reflection on that history-making gig. Battles that are now the stuff of legend were romantically recited.
Ken Shamrock, UFC Hall-of-Famer: “Tuli goes down to his knees and Gerard kicks him in the mouth and his teeth go flying into the front row”
“Big” John McCarthy, legendary UFC referee: “A tooth went flying right past my wife. She said “That’s it!” She got up and left”
Zane Frazier, competitor: “I had broken Kevin Rosier’s jaw, he couldn’t talk… They carried me out of the ring. They put me on a gurney and I went right into respiratory failure. I woke up in the hospital with a tube in my throat”
There was never any question the first UFC tournament was going to be a brutal affair, as so eloquently hinted to Zane Frazier by Rorion Gracie before the tournament. “If you kill your opponent, it’s legal”
At this stage the combatants were completely oblivious to the powers of Brazilian Jui Jitsu (BJJ), as revealed by the bravado of boxing champ Art Jimmerson in a pre-fight pow-wow with Big John McCarthy. “How in the world do you think Royce Gracie is going to beat me when I’m flicking out a jab?”
McCarthy put Jimmerson through a condensed clinic in BJJ via a double leg throw, Jimmerson whimpering, “He’s going to break my arms and legs, isn’t he?” The Gracies were masters of effect.
Rorion Gracie: “I thought it would be a good idea to get kids to mop up the blood between rounds”. But the Gracies were primarily the supreme masters in the craft of Jui Jitsu, a fighting style custom-designed to bridge the size and weight gap between smaller and larger fighters. Early UFC tournaments had no weight divisions and Royce was often punching, or submitting as it turned out, well above his weight.
Gordeau: “When I feel Royce choking me… I have to bite him.”
Royce Gracie: “I’m talking to Gordeau, looking down on him from the mount position, saying, “You cheated!” (Biting was one of scarce few rules at UFC1, along with fish hooking and eye-gouging) He gave me a look like “so what?” So what? How about I hold the choke a little longer?”
In the end it was one blood-shedding and bone-snapping tournament that forever changed the dynamic of no-rules fighting, complete with the Hollywood outcome. The events legacy would ultimately signal the arrival of BJJ as the undisputed pound-for-pound champion of hand-to-hand combat and catapult the Gracie family to hero status amongst fighting fraternities.
Like an over-head right from Mike, the UFC had solely projected a primal, intense spectacle into a commodity with huge potential, but it hadn’t yet realised the flourishing commercial prosperity. That would come later.
The Gracie Legend
Throughout history, the Gracie’s possessed a special knack for getting themselves into a stink. In fact, they paid for the “privilege”. In order to attract some attention and make a statement after arriving in the US from Brazil in the early 80s, Rorion Gracie offered $100,000 to anyone who could beat him or his brothers in a vale tudo (no rules) match. It was all part of an ingenious marketing offensive that saw the Gracie technique elevated to one of the most respected schools of martial arts in the world, and ultimately facilitated a genuinely re-modelled version of the ancient art of no rules fighting.
Seems the Gracies had a special ability for problem solving too. Art Davie, UFC1 Promoter: “We hired Barry Fey, a well-known rock promoter. Fey guaranteed a certain amount of money… a $25,000 advance. By Thursday at noon, I don’t have the money. Rorion (Gracie) got Rickson (Gracie) and two other Brazilians to go over and see him. I get a phone call from Fey screaming that I was a mobster. But he gave Rickson the cheque.”
The sport has come a long way since those days, but that’s not to say it has entirely shaken its barbaric origins. Fast forward to UFC 48 in 2004, where the six-foot-eight behemoth Tim Silvia is “imposing his will” over the youngest ever UFC Heavyweight Champion, then 23-year old Frank Mir. With the toe-to-toe not really going his way, Mir resorted to his ground game where his decimating arm bar gave Silvia but two choices – tap or snap. Silvia refused to acknowledge the grizzly reality, and was probably still claiming he was fine to continue as the surgeon inserted the metal plates into his forearm.
UFC 74 and Brazilian hard nut Renato “Babulou” Sobral takes offence to some good old fashioned pre-match sledging from David heath, subsequently ignoring Heath’s tap-out and holding a rear-naked choke a little longer than medically recommended. Actually, it restricted the airwaves just watching it. “He has to learn respect” Babulou said after the fight.
Sure Sobral could have killed the guy, but in a symbol of the “maturity” of the sport to a “civilised” form of combat, even the crowd was unimpressed (“You’re a fucking asshole Babulou”) and he hasn’t fought in the UFC since. Any references to the fight have been officially stricken from the UFC records.
That’s not to say the modern game is immune to the occasional broken arm or leg. Or dislocated shoulder, or torn ACL joint. But the more common injuries are crater-size head gashes, broken jaws and noses, and bruised organs, generally considered just occupational hazards in this sport.
While it’s taking America by storm with massive pay-per-view numbers and million-dollar pay checks for fighters, the sport has proved a lot harder to slip by Government bodies in Australia. Up until five years ago, cage-fights weren’t even sanctioned in NSW, with promoters forced to tweak the format resulting in impractical solutions like Kumite-style slabs with no ropes or cage to contain the fighters.
Ironic, when you consider that it was Government who promoted the sport in the first place.
In The Beginning
Modern government, though can’t really be credited with the conception of MMA - it was over 2500 years ago that the higher powers of ancient Greece learnt how to exploit the sport for a bit of ghoulish entertainment.
History suggests in was mid-600BC when the Greeks introduced the sport of Pankration to the Olympic Games, “pan” translating to “all’ and “kratos” to “powers.” It was essentially a no-holds-barred combination of Hellenic boxing and wrestling, with the only rules being no biting and no eye gouging. The Spartans however, didn’t much care for rules like no biting, which may explain where the eunuch draws its origins from.
Suffice to say, plenty of homie Gs got seriously fucked-up in this primitive form of MMA, with some matches lasting for hours and often ending with one, or even both of the fighters permanently erased from the population pool. On the other hand, if they survived they were looking the goods for plenty of quality harem pussy.
Despite its brutality, or more likely as a result of it, the sport became the most popular attraction of the Games and the Pankratiasts were elevated to God status. Word around the traps suggests the legendary Hercules was a pankratiast.
Even old mate Alexander the Great had a posse of pankratiast warriors, chosen for their superior game in hand-to-hand combat. Ideal for those often crowded battle fields where theres not enough space to swing your sword, so to speak.
It’s believed to be Alexander who inadvertently took the sport global when he had a hankering for some Rogan Josh and Pappadums and decided to invade India in 326BC. It’s also believed that most traditional Japanese martial arts trace their roots to this region in this era.
The rise of the Roman Empire effectively threw a sleeper hold on pankration fighting in Greece, with wrestling and boxing making a gallant comeback and dominating combat sports for centuries to come.
During this time martial arts (Karate and Sumo in Japan, Hapkido and Tae-kwon-do in Korea) ruled the East, but in the early 1900s a new style of martial art paved the way for a global resurgence in mixed martial arts.
In Brazil in the 1920s, the grandson of a Scottish expat, Gastao Gracie, hooked up with a Japanese dude called Mitsuyo Maeda, helping him establish a Japanese colony in the area. In return Maeda, a champion of the martial arts, spent five years teaching Gracie’s son Carlos the art of Judo, before returning to Japan.
Carlos taught Judo to all his brothers, including the legendary Helio, but in the absence of Maeda the Gracie boys soon pioneered their own advanced interpretation of Judo, creating what is now known as Gracie Jui Jitsu.
Carlos took Helio to Rio de Janeiro to set-up a jiu-jitsu academy, and years later his son Rorion Gracie got down with a dude called Art Davie and the President of a pay-per-view network, Bob Meyrowitz, in America, to create the first UFC event. They would eventually sell the franchise to Zuffa, and the rest is submission-making history.
While Zuffa and its UFC conglomerate have cinched an anaconda choke on the mainstream commercial prosperities of MMA through fortune, vision and shrewd business acumen, the organisation cannot forever hold the wolves at bay. Ever-escalating public interest in the sport has attracted lucrative support from the corporate world, and there’s always going to be someone after the piece of the pie that keeps on giving.
Of the dozens of active MMA organisations promoting fight cards around the world today, there is really only one that threatens to give the top brass at the UFC any sleepless nights.
Japan’s Pride Fighting Championship was the premier competitor to the UFC before Zuffa effectively pulled it under its own umbrella (which also includes the World Extreme Cage fighting organisation), but it’s the Affliction brand of MMA that is currently shaking up the establishment.
While the smaller organisations are effectively just feeder categories for the main game - featuring up-and-comers and on-the-way-outers - Affliction is paying the big bucks to get the big names to jump the fence.
The power of the UFC’s promotional machine is evident in the purses being paid to former UFC stars by the new-kid Affliction. UFC superstar Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is said to have banked just under $400K for his handiwork in UFC 92 late last year, with perennial crowd favourite Forrest Griffin signing for $100K plus a $65K win bonus and undefeated and now light heavyweight champ Rashad Evans bagging $130K plus a $65K bonus. Clearly, someone is making a shit load, and it may not be the guys with the black eyes.
On the other side of the block, Former UFC heavyweight champ Andre Arlovski pocketed $1.5 million for his fight against Fedor Emalienko at Affliction in January this year (he would be lucky to make half that in the UFC, in his prime), for around four minutes work. When fighters start earning over $7,500 a second, business is good. Should Arlovski have gone on to victory instead of being knocked unconscious, he would have taken an additional win bonus of $250K. Fedor, who has never fought in the UFC, made $300K for the fight, but he made a rumoured $2 million on top of that in sponsorship endorsements. For one fight.
A fighter’s lifespan is limited, and each is out for the best deal. Make hay while the sun shines. Time will tell whether the UFC suffers for testing its fighters’ loyalty while the enemy dangles a far more financially-enticing carrot.
Dawning Of A New Era
The last ten years have seen the sport experience another all-important phase in its development. For the uninitiated, the most effective modern-day MMA practitioner uses a devastatingly-effective synergy of Boxing, Kick-boxing, Wrestling and Brazilian Jui Jitsu.
Elements of martial arts as diverse as Karate, Taekwondo and Hapkido have been utilised in the cage, but the combination of the power strikes possessed by boxing and Muay Thai kick boxing, the neutralising nature of grappling and the decommissioning submissions of BJJ, holds the key to current day cage glory.
Today’s MMA fighters are amongst the fittest athletes in the world. The elite spend up to six hours a day on training and conditioning programs for all the key fighting disciplines, and have dieticians and even psychologists to improve their game.
Possibly the most significant indicator to the dynamic development of MMA post Gracie-BJJ dominance, was reflected in Royce Gracie’s return for UFC 60 in 2006.
Granted, the Brazilian legend was essentially past-it and probably not in ideal condition, but he got well-and-truly dusted by long-time UFC Welterweight champ Matt Hughes - not only a proficient practitioner of BJJ but a first grade wrestler with solid striking capability. Unlike the good ol’ days, Hughes was in the same weight division too.
The bout highlighted another pivotal point for the sport, a testament to effectively the most important stage in the metamorphosis of 21st century MMA. Moreover, it provided an insight to the blueprint for the sport’s success in the future - the modern game ain’t the same - now only the genuine proponent of mixed martial arts can commandeer the belt. Being a freak of any singular discipline no longer cuts the mustard, so if you haven’t got the striking, the grappling and the submissions, don’t bother showing up. Not that you were thinking of it…
To find out more about UFC and Mixed Martial Arts visit www.ufc.com
© COPYRIGHT FREESTYLE MAGAZINE