Every fighter in the UFC, whether champion, legend or debutant, has to start somewhere. That somewhere usually isn’t the big show. Occasionally, multiple future stars end up gathered on a single regional card. At the time, this card may not seem significant, but years down the road, we can look back in hindsight and marvel at how stacked that event turned out to be. That’s exactly what we’ll do in this series, called History Lessons.

So, let’s jump in the time machine and travel back. The date was Sept. 13, 2003, and the location was the Ariau Amazon Towers Convention Center in Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil. It was time for Jungle Fight 1.

As much as many MMA fans would like to deny it, mixed martial arts has a close relationship with professional wrestling. Even to this day, some Japanese events feature a mix of real and scripted contests. Never was this more prevalent than in the earliest era of the sport. UFC 9 competitor Mark Schultz is one illustration of the blurring of the lines between what was real and what was fake in that time period.

In 1996, Schultz had battled Gary Goodridge for 12 minutes inside the Octagon. He was awarded the TKO win when Goodridge sustained a cut that prevented him from continuing. Schultz didn’t return to the UFC for a second appearance, however, and he only has one other fight on his pro record. That encounter came against Leopoldo Montenegro at the very first Jungle Fight event.

As Schultz tells it, he was aspiring to make it big in Japan as a pro wrestler and had discussed the possibility with promoter Antonio Inoki. Inoki, Schultz says, offered him $25,000 for a pro-wrestling style match. Schultz, after accepting the deal, came to the realization that the Jungle Fight card, which Inoki was co-promoting, was a mix of real and scripted fights. He claims that he and Montenegro never could come to an agreement on how to work the fight, and he says Montenegro only won when the Brazilian wouldn’t let Schultz out of a triangle.

Given the early history of mixed martial arts, it’s completely plausible that the fight between Montenegro, who went on to a 3-3 official MMA record that includes a loss to Travis Wiuff, and Schultz was nothing more than a botched work. It also brings skepticism to the remainder of the outcomes from that night. One thing that cannot be denied, however, is the amount of talent that Jungle Fight gathered for its first show.

The evening’s headliner marked the professional debut of current UFC middleweight contender Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, who fights Francis Carmont at UFC Fight Night 36 on Feb. 15. Only 23 years old at the time, he already had an impressive set of gold medals from the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships, but he didn’t yet have his first mixed martial arts fight or his first MMA win. He’d emerge from Jungle Fight 1 with the former, but not the latter.

Jacare was being thrown into the deep waters in his first fight. His opponent was Jorge Patino. Patino had started his Vale Tudo career in 1995 and had gone 18-2 by the end of 1996. “Macaco” then hit a rough patch from 1997 through 2003 in which he won two fights, lost five (including a UFC title fight against Pat Miletich), fought to a draw and had a fight ruled a no-contest. From his 18-2 mark, Patino had moved to 18-5-1(1) by the time he clashed with Souza.

The two skilled Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners opted to stand for most of the brief fight. The striking was sloppy, but Patino eventually landed a pair of right hands that put Jacare on the canvas at just 3:13 of the first round. Patino has yet to reach the UFC again, but he has appeared in Pride, Strikeforce and the World Series of Fighting in the years since his victory over Souza.

Jacare only competed once more before 2006, when his commitment to MMA ramped up. In the years between, he collected several more gold medals at the Worlds and silver and gold at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships. Souza’s answer to the debut loss to Patino was a 10-fight winning streak that featured a Jungle Fight victory over Alexander Shlemenko. By 2008, he was fighting under the Dream banner in Japan, and by late 2009, he was in Strikeforce. Under the Strikeforce banner, Souza’s skills on his feet continued to develop as he posted seven wins, including a 41-second knockout of Derek Brunson. In May 2013, just four months shy of a decade removed from his fight with Patino, Jacare finally stepped into the Octagon, where he has now won fights against Chris Camozzi and Yushin Okami. The upcoming encounter with Carmont could put the winner on the short list for a title shot.

Before Jacare and Patino took to the ring at Jungle Fight’s inaugural show, fans were treated to 11 other contests, including the Schultz bout.

The evening opened with a 33-second guillotine choke finish for UFC and Pride veteran Ebenezer “Pitbull” Braga over Rodrigo Gripp de Sousa. Pitbull, who held a UFC victory over Jeremy Horn and had fought and lost to the likes of Dan Severn, Kevin Randleman and Forrest Griffin since debuting in 1995, only fought twice more after his Jungle Fight 1 victory. He ended his career in 2004 with a knockout loss to Fabricio Werdum.

Werdum was also present at Jungle Fight 1. Now a top UFC heavyweight contender who can boast the achievement of being the first fighter to score a clean finish of Fedor Emelianenko, the Brazilian was just 2-0-1 when he stepped into the ring that September night in 2003. His opponent was another heavyweight that fans would later come to recognize for his efforts inside the UFC Octagon. That man was Gabriel Gonzaga.

Gonzaga was 2-0 when he met Werdum in the Jungle Fight ring. The two heavyweights battled into the third round before Werdum, who has always been known for his submissions, scored the TKO victory.

Following his subsequent win over Braga, Werdum headed to Pride in 2005 and then made his UFC debut in 2007. In 2008, he rematched Gonzaga at UFC 80 and only needed until the second round to score another TKO win. After a four-fight detour to Strikeforce that included the upset win over Emelianenko, Werdum is now back in the UFC, where he is 5-2 overall and 3-0 in his current tenure.

Gonzaga managed to arrive in the UFC before Werdum. The heavyweight won his next two fights after Jungle Fight 1 and landed in the UFC by 2005. He scored four straight wins, including his highlight-reel upset of Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, and earned a crack at the UFC title. Randy Couture beat him up in the championship match and he lost his next outing in the rematch with Werdum. Gonzaga has been a mainstay in the UFC, outside of a 2011 departure in which he won one fight on the regional circuit and then returned to the Octagon. Gonzaga’s overall UFC mark is 11-7, but his losses have come almost exclusively against top-10 fighters.

If there was one fight on the card that could be viewed as a sign post on the road to the UFC’s future, it would have to be the showdown between Lyoto Machida and Stephan Bonnar. Bonnar was still more than a year and a half away from his epic Ultimate Fighter war with Forrest Griffin that would revitalize the sport and provide it with a fresh wave of fans, and Machida was more than four years away from his UFC debut and six years from his eventual run to the UFC light heavyweight title.

Machida had just one professional fight under his belt, and, keeping with the pro wrestling theme, it took place at a New Japan Pro Wrestling show. Meanwhile, Bonnar was undefeated through four fights. That would change after less than five minutes in the ring with Machida.

Machida opened a cut under Bonnar’s left eye early in the fight, then bloodied his nose. The referee, seemingly horrified at the sight of blood, halted the bout on both occasions to let Bonnar’s corner work on his face. Then, Machida opened a deep cut under Bonnar’s right eye. After efforts by Bonnar’s corner failed to stop the bleeding, the fight was stopped and Machida was awarded the TKO win.

Bonnar, whose first four wins had all come via first-round stoppage, rebounded with three more first-round finishes, then entered into the TUF house. The rest is history. His finale fight with Griffin transformed the sport. Bonnar lost the fight but became a fixture in the UFC. Despite a legacy tarnished by failed drug tests and steroid use, Bonnar went on to post an 8-7 record with the promotion.

Machida returned to action just three months later with a win over Rich Franklin and amassed an 8-0 record, including a victory over B.J. Penn, before he signed with the UFC. The Brazilian extended his undefeated mark to 16 fights, including a championship win over Rashad Evans and a successful, albeit controversial, defense against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, before relinquishing the belt to Shogun in a rematch. He went just 1-1 before making an unsuccessful bid to reclaim the title against Jon Jones. Machida, who stands at 12-4 inside the Octagon, shifted his sights to the middleweight division in late 2013 and picked up a win over Mark Munoz. His fight next weekend against Gegard Mousasi at UFC Fight Night 36 could put the Brazilian back in line for another crack at UFC gold.

One other future UFC competitor took part in Jungle Fight 1. Justin McCully was just a 4-3-2 fighter when he locked horns with Dario Amorim, a veteran who had suffered his only losses to Mike Van Arsdale and Renato “Babalu” Sobral. McCully earned a unanimous nod in the fight and picked up three more wins before his Octagon debut in 2007. “The Insane One” never found his rhythm inside the Octagon, where he alternated wins with losses to fellow Jungle Fight 1 participant Gonzaga and Mike Russow. By the end of 2009, McCully had washed out of the UFC. He returned to compete under the Resurrection Fighting Alliance banner in 2011 and won his lone fight with the promotion before slipping back into inactivity.

The line of notable UFC names ends there, but Jungle Fight also had a heavy Pride and Strikeforce presence. Pride veteran Kazunari Murakami needed just 69 seconds to secure an armbar victory in his fight against Lee Young Gun, Ricardo Morais rebounded from his Pride loss to Mark Coleman with a first-round TKO victory over Mestre Fumaca and future Pride fighter Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos notched a TKO win over fellow future Strikeforce combatant Lucas Lopes.

The line between real fights and worked contests may have been blurred in the earlier years of the sport. Schultz might have been expecting a work and an easy ticket to stardom as a pro wrestler in Japan, but there were plenty of fighters from Jungle Fight 1 that would take another path to the big stage. Their path would include UFC gold and the revolution of the sport. For that reason, the inaugural show from Jungle Fight holds a significant place in the history of mixed martial arts.

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