After UFC 1, many questioned if they would see any competition akin to the UFC ever again. Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock and others helped craft that first event into a must-see show, but when Rorion Gracie teamed with Bob Meyrowitz and Art Davie to help put “The Beginning” together, they intended for the first event to stand as the only event. Fan demand increased over time, though, and while neither Rorion nor Davie or Meyrowitz knew it at the time, that fan demand served as the catalyst that would cause the trio to help shape a sport called mixed martial arts in only the UFC’s second year.

When UFC 2 emanated live from Mammoth Gardens in Denver, Colo., on March 11, 1994, fans of the first UFC already knew what to expect, but they did not know who to expect. Royce would return for UFC 2, which featured a 16-man tournament and kept in line with the previous “no time limits and no weight classes” format established just months earlier, as would Patrick Smith and Jason DeLucia, both of whom competed at UFC 1. Shamrock, who met Royce in the semifinals of the UFC 1 tournament, did not compete at UFC 2, but those who remembered his classic ground battle with Royce knew he would eventually return to the UFC.

Royce, meanwhile, went on to defeat Minoki Ichihara, as well as DeLucia and Renco Pardoel, to book his spot in the finals of the UFC’s only 16-man tourney to date. Smith defeated Ray Wizard, Scott Morris and Johnny Rhodes prior to standing across the cage from Royce. Smith’s encounter with Royce would not last long, as Royce would eventually get the trip takedown on Smith and look to capitalize by implementing the submission savvy that won him the first tournament. Royce earned a submission win over Smith, but only due to the punches Gracie threw from a modified version of the full mount.

Shamrock, meanwhile, made his UFC return at the promotion’s third event on Sept. 9, 1994, just eight days after losing to Masakatsu Funaki in Pancrase. Upon his entry in the UFC 3 tournament, “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” defeated Christophe Leninger en route to the semifinals. Keith Hackney, who defeated Emmanuel Yarborough in the quarterfinals, planned on seeing Shamrock in the semifinals before an injury prevented him from moving forward in the tournament. Shamrock booked his finals spot nonetheless, defeating replacement Felix Lee Mitchell in the semifinals. He planned on meeting Royce in the finals, but a number of things prevented that.

First, a combination of fatigue and a then-debuting Kimo Leopoldo exhausted Royce in the quarterfinals of that same UFC 3 card. Despite a size disadvantage, Royce won the bout in four minutes and 40 seconds. Royce planned on seeing Harold Howard in the semifinals. After witnessing Howard score a 46-second knockout of Roland Payne, Royce knew his grappling system would face a stern test. However, fatigue settled in and Royce’s corner threw in the towel before the bout even began, leading to Howard winning by forfeit and getting a bye into the finals, thus preparing to meet Shamrock.

Still, misfortune intervened. Shamrock suffered an injury which ultimately took him out of the tournament (though Gracie’s elimination also played a big part in Shamrock’s refusal to continue), and Howard met debuting Steve Jennum in the finals. While that fight may not seem all that significant, it stands as an unsung landmark fight in the UFC’s history because of the way it paved for today’s brand of unorthodox styles and techniques.

How unorthodox did Howard get? He only got unorthodox enough to deliver a flip kick that, had it landed, would’ve spelled the end for Jennum, but a look at the fight will point out another unorthodox method in the form of Howard’s stance. The Canadian-born karate practitioner, who also self-classified as a grappler with a number of credentials in both Japanese jujutsu and karate, also presented a style where a man could come forward and look to mount offense with their hands down, especially if they moved swiftly enough to where they could get in and out of their opponent’s range without taking significant damage.

While athletes of that era and its successor learned to keep their hands up, the “no hands” style carried on into the current generation. Athletes such as British MMA prospect Michael “Venom” Page, former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva and others exercise exciting combat styles by utilizing exemplary movement and keeping their hands low. By the standards of the norm, these styles should go down among the least effective in the sport, because keeping the hands at the waist invites opponents to the chin. But much like Howard, a number of these fighters make this style work effectively, as the movement utilized inevitably frustrates a number of foes and tires others out.

Granted, Howard still lost the fight when his own corner threw in the towel following hard shots from Jennum, but Howard’s contributions did not go unnoticed, and for that matter, neither did Jennum’s. In fact, Jennum’s win came by one of the earliest forms of the ground-and-pound technique that many appreciate today. While inaugural UFC heavyweight champion Mark Coleman deserves credit for developing ground-and-pound, Jennum gets credit for showing the world what can happen when one rains down on a foe with a few ferocious fists in order to make his adversary say “Uncle!” in a competitive bout.

As much as Jennum vs. Howard, though, another bout in 1994 deserves credit for helping the UFC get to where it stands right now. Jennum and Howard showcased a variety of never-before-seen techniques, and its aftermath led to the early UFC enforcing the rule of alternates qualifying for their spots as tournament replacements, but for a look at how the rules of today came about, one needs to only look as far as below the belt of Joe Son.

Son may be remembered more for his role as Random Task in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery than for his MMA career, especially since the man never won a single minute of action in mixed martial arts, let alone a fight. Still, when he showed up at UFC 4: Revenge of The Warriors that December, he made history in becoming the first man to take a series of unanswered groin shots in losing a professional bout.

Remember Hackney, the guy who got injured at UFC 3 and never got to fight Shamrock? He delivered the groin shots that led to the choke that put Son out. At the time, “no weight classes and no time limits” stood as the key elements for UFC competition, but the competition itself also fit a “no holds barred” billing. This meant that shots to the nether regions proved as legal as a heel hook. Only gouging another’s eyes or biting an opponent were forbidden.

That one instance, however, did create a cause for concern. When athletes take a shot downstairs, it gives a combat sports promotion all the motivation to create a code of in-cage conduct, so to speak, so that such instances cannot happen again. While groin shots still happen in MMA, things differ from how they transpired in 1994. Under today’s rules, had Hackney gotten a similar position of side control over Son and hit the groin instead of the body, even if accidentally, the ref would intervene, call time and allow Son to recollect his bearings while Hackney received a warning for the first groin shot.

Unquestionably, though, the legacy of UFC 4 did not end with Hackney and Son. Rorion’s always-game little brother, Royce, made yet another appearance in a UFC tournament and demonstrated yet another exciting array of submission skills. In fact, Royce met Hackney in the semifinals of the tournament after Hackney beat Son and Royce beat Ron Van Clef. Royce submitted Hackney and met touted wrestler Dan Severn in the finals.

“The Beast” submitted Anthony Macias and Marcus Bossett en route to his bout with the younger Gracie, which would go down as a fourth-round submission win for Royce under today’s rules, but again, the UFC did not exercise the enforcement of time limits in the early days. Nonetheless, both Royce and Severn submitted their respective foes to get to the finals, and so it seemed natural that, regardless of how long the bout lasted, the winner would submit his foe.

For the majority of the bout, Severn’s wrestling defined the action. Never before could anyone recall the younger Gracie submitting someone when they put him on his back, but in the past, Royce always worked for his takedowns and submitted his foes from the top, so nobody figured that the most well-known practitioner of the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu system would ever need to prove that the system could work if someone took him down.

The system proved that it worked in that way when Gracie threw his legs up, trapped Severn and forced a tapout due to a triangle choke. That come-from-behind submission win, another arguable landmark in a loaded year for the UFC, showed the other martial artists of that era that they would need to develop a system that, when blended with their own respective styles, created an impenetrable defense against the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu system.

Would anyone develop that kind of system in 1994? Many tried, but none succeeded. As things progressed in the UFC, Gracie stood tall as “The Ultimate Fighting Champion,” a title that seemed nearly impossible to dispute, as nobody else could claim three UFC tournament championship wins at the time. As the world of mixed martial arts entered into 1995, though, things would change in the game of combat sports competition. This change raised the stakes of the bouts themselves, and although the athletes did not know it at the time, that same change demanded that everyone, even the “Ultimate Fighting Champion,” step their games up just a little bit higher.

Photo: Ken Shamrock (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

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.