Editor’s Note: With the UFC’s 20th anniversary approaching, The MMA Corner presents “An Ultimate History,” a series of features where each part in the series looks at a single year in the promotion’s history. This is the first of the 20-part series, which will run through November, and it focuses on the UFC’s inaugural year.

The year 1993 marked a number of beginnings in the MMA world, though MMA at the time did not exist as the sport we know and love today. Shooto looked towards a successful potential fifth year after four years in business, while pro wrestlers Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki launched the Pancrase brand, which looked to focus on pure shoot-style wrestling with limited use of gimmicks and no predetermined outcomes. Athletes looking to make a successful living in the sport initially turned to Pancrase and Shooto, but that all changed on Nov. 12, 1993.

That fateful day in November will go down in history as the night the sports world changed. Art Davie, Rorion Gracie and Bob Meyrowitz came together to form a competition in which martial artists tested their individual skills against one another so as to try to identify one dominant style. The end result came in the form of UFC 1, aptly titled “The Beginning,” which featured a one-night open-weight tournament consisting of single-round fights to the finish.

When fans nowadays think back to the event, Rorion’s younger brother Royce comes to mind. The winner of three UFC tournaments, Royce debuted professionally by beating Art Jimmerson, the boxer who infamously wore just one boxing glove when he entered the cage with Royce, via submission in two minutes and 18 seconds. Royce would eventually submit Gerard Gordeau in the finals to win the tournament, but his semifinal bout with Ken Shamrock stood out as the UFC’s landmark fight of 1993, as well as one of the UFC’s most iconic moments in history.

For all 57 seconds of that fight with Shamrock, the two vaunted submission grapplers intended to best each other on the ground. Royce initiated the ground battle first by shooting in on Shamrock unsuccessfully and then essentially pulling guard before landing some rapid-fire kicks to the back of “The World’s Most Dangerous Man.” An unsuccessful leglock attempt led to Royce getting a dominant position over Shamrock. The younger Gracie eventually found Shamrock’s back and locked up his neck, securing the win by his now-legendary variation of the rear-naked choke.

Today, we hear Rorion’s sons, Ryron and Rener, open up their “Gracie Breakdown” videos on YouTube with the mention of Rorion’s role in creating the original UFC with intentions of showcasing the effectiveness of the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu system to the modern world, but neither Rorion nor his partners, Davie or Meyrowitz, ever anticipated this competition of pure martial arts styles evolving into a sport where athletes blended styles in order to find success. In fact, Meyrowitz himself once expressed the opinion that he never intended for it to evolve into an actual sport.

Did Royce know of the plan he would set in motion when he submitted Shamrock? Back then, how could he? Few could claim bearing witness to anything akin to what UFC 1 demonstrated at the time, and even fewer thought they would see anything like it ever again. Needless to say, though, Royce did not stand alone in changing the course of mixed martial arts history, whether he expected to do so or not in taking the UFC 1 tournament.

Gordeau, the man Royce submitted to take the tournament, made an impact of his own on that night, despite coming up short against the clearly talented Brazilian. A Dutch striker with credentials as a Savate world champion, a decorated career in the art of Kyokushin karate and experience in kickboxing, Gordeau set out to showcase the effectiveness of his striking style to the world, most notably doing so against Teila Tuli. Some simply remember Gordeau vs. Tuli as the first in the UFC’s history and little else, but while it did not last more than 26 seconds, it still needs to get its share of credit to contributing to today’s incarnation of the sport. After all, the clash of Gordeau’s pure kickboxing style against Tuli’s pure sumo set the stage for both styles to eventually make their way to the sport of MMA.

Looking at the fight itself, few may see the kickboxing technique that Gordeau introduced to MMA, but note the kick Gordeau landed before getting in the final punch of the fight. Like most kickboxing-based artists of today, Gordeau found an opening and threw the kick with intentions of putting his foe down—and he did indeed put Tuli down and out with the kick—but the technique behind it showcased something beautiful as well. It also did not hurt that Gordeau saw Tuli charging at him and decided to utilize some brutal hand speed while retreating.

Outside of the obvious fact that the win put Gordeau through to the semifinals, where he would meet Kevin Rosier, few really comprehended the impact that Gordeau’s win over Tuli would make on the sport. Sure, fans of today may remember “One Glove” Jimmerson before they do Tuli (although some might recall the tooth that flew out of Tuli’s mouth), but after Gordeau’s win over the sumo wrestler, fans who wanted to stick with MMA until the bitter end enjoyed an eventual influx of strikers who looked to demonstrate why their art could dominate all others. Sumo would not prove its effectiveness in MMA for years, but at the time, it all proved irrelevant.

Fans on hand for UFC 1 witnessed this tremendous clash of styles without knowing what to expect from it, and those fans proved themselves as the right people in the right place at the right time to view it. Why would they prove as such a group? Aside from witnessing what would come of the strikers, they paid enough attention to know that “The Beginning” would prove itself as more than just a marketable tagline to an event of this caliber. In fact, if they thought that seeing something this special meant they had seen the absolute best martial arts showcase that they would ever see in these United States, those fans did not see anything yet because the best still laid in waiting.

Photo: UFC pioneer Royce Gracie (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.