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“The Most Important UFC Was The First” — Caged Insider Talks With UFC Founder Art Davie (Part One)

“The Most Important UFC Was The First” — Caged Insider Talks With UFC Founder Art Davie (Part One)

Art Davie is one man that no one can write out of the MMA history books.

Along with Rorion Gracie and with the help of media group SEG, Brooklyn native Davie promoted the very first edition of the Ultimate Fighting Championship; back in 1993 in Denver, Colorado. Now known as UFC 1, the event featured Rorion’s brother Royce Gracie, whose tournament victory would change martial arts forever.

Davie would continue promoting and matchmaking for another fifteen UFC events; his final show with the UFC, Ultimate Japan,, came in December of 1997. The UFC would eventually secure its place today at the heart of a multi-billion dollar MMA industry.

This story has been told before, in bits and pieces anyway, from authors like Clyde Gentry and Jonathon Snowden.

But now, Art Davie is writing his own history.

Next month, Davie’s book chronicling those wild early years, Is This Legal?, will be released — offering his side of the story of MMA’s genesis.

Caged Insider enjoyed a talk with Davie yesterday via telephone from his Nevada home, where he began by clarifying his role in the original Ultimate Fighting Championship:

Cover for the VHS release of UFC 1, which Art Davie promoted in 1993.

Cover for the VHS release of UFC 1, which Art Davie promoted in 1993.

“I actually had three jobs when I look back on it,” Davie begins. “Number one, it was my idea. I started this as ‘The World’s Best Fighter’ in October of 1989. I didn’t meet Rorion Gracie until August of 1990 and I didn’t meet Campbell McLaren (of Semaphore Entertainment Group) until April of 1993. I had to get everybody on board and convince everybody that this is a great idea. It wasn’t the Gracie Challenge, it wasn’t the “Kumite” that Frank Dux magically had been involved in. It was going to be a franchise and I had to find a TV partner. I approached HBO, Showtime, ESPN, and SEG.”

“Second of all,” he continues, “I had to keep everyone together. Not everybody liked each other, and they didn’t always play nice! I got along well with Rorion. Once I got on this campaign to sell his “Basics of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu” instructional video tapes, I had a lot of credibility with him. We got along really well.”

Another name that comes up in discussion of these early days is Bob Meyrowitz, who was the head of SEG, the group that broadcast the original UFC events on Pay-Per-View TV. “Bob and I are from the same neighborhood in Brooklyn,” Davie explains. “He felt at least some kinship with me. But you couldn’t get Rorion Gracie and him in the same room.”

“The first time I brought Rorion to New York,” Davie continues, “Bob meets Rorion, and he says: ‘Look, I don’t know anything about this martial arts, but I know fighting.’ Rorion shoots me a look that says, This guy’s a TV guy. What the hell is he talking about? Bob goes on, ‘There were people who thought I could have been the world’s first Jewish heavyweight champion boxer.’ I thought to myself, he forgot about Max Baer?”

The cover for Art Davie's book "Is This Legal?", to be released next month

The cover for Art Davie’s book “Is This Legal?”, to be released next month

Davie laughs at the memory. “Rorion was convinced Bob was on “Planet Mongo” – just nuts. There was just no way he could understand him, and Bob always thought of Rorion as either a thug or some martial arts strip-mall guru. You couldn’t get those guys to talk, really. I would talk to one and go over and explain it to the other, and vice versa. Campbell McLaren (also of SEG) and I got along very well. He was a very bright and creative guy and he was looking desperately for a franchise.”

“The third job I had,” Davie explains, “was as the booker and matchmaker. Early on, I told Rorion if you’re the matchmaker we’re going to have problems, because you’ve got a horse in this race! We still had problems at the first fighter’s meeting (for UFC 1) because Rorion was listed as the commissioner and that was the last time we did that. It created friction. People thought, is this a Gracie family event? I talk about that in the book. We used the Gracie Challenge as a reference, but we also used vale tudo, pankration… and some of the previous mixed (boxer vs. wrestler) matches that had taken place, like Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki and Gene LeBell vs. Milo Savage.”

Asked what motivated him to pen the book, Davie responds:

“Part of my motivation was that I want people to know that the most important UFC was the first UFC. I was involved for five years, all the way through UFC Japan in 1997, but the most important UFC was the first. If it never took place, or if it would have flopped, there would probably be no MMA today. If you love MMA, you’ll want to understand the roots and where it came from.”

Join us for Part Two tomorrow, where Davie outlines his experiences with the likes of Chuck Norris, Ken Shamrock, Rickson Gracie, and much more.

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