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Book Review: UFC Founder Art Davie’s “Is This Legal?”

Book Review: UFC Founder Art Davie’s “Is This Legal?”

UFC founder Art Davie burst onto the martial arts scene, along with his partner Rorion Gracie, as a complete mystery. Davie had no experience as a fight promoter, and his new “Ultimate Fighting Championship” event? It broke every rule – even boasting in its marketing, “There Are No Rules!”

No one knew if it was even real.

But those days are gone, forever. After some lean times, fans in the US (and beyond) have flocked in huge numbers in recent years to UFC events, and there’s no end in sight.

It’s a multi-billion dollar business, this growing sport of mixed martial arts — accepted by the states’ athletic commissions (increasingly), and the mainstream media outlets (even more increasingly); featured on cable and even network television, with live bouts and season after season of UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter reality show.

But do fans know how it all began, more than 20 years ago?

Do they know what an outlaw movement it once was, in the US?

It was real, and the $14.95 pay-per-view broadcast (yep, those days are gone forever too — this weekend’s UFC 175 will set you back $54.95) that night in 1993 would change the martial arts world, and later change the worldwide sport landscape.

Davie tells his side of the story of that first UFC in a new book, Is This Legal? The Inside Story of the First UFC From The Man Who Created It.

No matter who you are – one of the new fans from the recent boom, or one of us who enjoyed the first UFC Pay-Per-View broadcasts and VHS releases in the 1990’s – Mr. Davie has a new story or two for you.

Davie’s own story offers a few surprises. Per Mr. Davie, the research which went into the first UFC was much more expansive than one might expect. Davie even touches on the differences between the Gracie family style and the Fadda tradition of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and his efforts to attract the likes of kickboxer Peter Aerts and wrestler Dan Gable to that first UFC event.

Davie reveals how tumultuous relationships in the Gracie family, and the very different motivations of his partner Rorion, would affect the product. We enjoy visits with almost everyone who’s anyone in the martial arts game, including Chuck Norris — in fact, a conversation between Norris and Davie is the origin of the book’s title.

After all the twists and turns, the show itself, now known as UFC 1, serves as climax. Last minute maneuvering with the UFC’s first television partner, SEG, continued to the very last minute. It seems nothing comes easy for the rogue band Davie led.

“Is This Legal?” has a breezy, conversational style and its 260 pages just fly right by. Sure, that’s partly because of that limited length (and a huge font besides). You might say it feels more like one great conversation. A reader should have no problem getting drawn in by Davie, who came to the fight game from the advertising world, selling his wares here. It’s easy to imagine the Brooklyn native telling this unique success story in his gravelly promoter’s voice, in between sips of single malt Scotch and long puffs from his cigar.

It’s a story that is told well, but is most enjoyable because it really hadn’t been told yet. Here’s a guy who you just can’t write out of the history books, offering a chance to enjoy – essentially — his part in the genesis of North American MMA.

Recommendation here? Pick it up today. You’ll snap right through it and have at least one frame of reference (with an index) for how this great sport came to be.

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