I remember watching the first UFC in eighth grade with a few of my childhood friends on a “black box” owned by one of their fathers. We had been going back and forth about how it was sure to be fake. Guaranteed, it was going to be a cheap rip off of the WWF, we were convinced.
There’s no way that they were actually going to broadcast fully grown men trying to beat each other within an inch of their lives on live television.
Then Gerard Gordeau sent Teila Tuli’s tooth rocketing out of his head and into the crowd from a vicious soccer kick to the mouth….. I was hooked.
A lifelong fan of boxing since the day I could walk, this new sport offered something more. Something more real. Something I was a lot more familiar with growing up in some of the crappiest school districts in Tucson, Arizona. Pure, unfiltered violence.
Back in November of 1993 I never would have imagined that we would be here today, on the eve of UFC 100. I was honestly surprised that the promotion saw it’s second event. Surely as soon as the authorities were made aware of what was going on they would shut it down. We all know that wasn’t in the script.
Here we are today and mixed martial arts has come so far from it’s controversial bloodsport past. It almost brings a tear to my eye, when I think of how much this wonderful sport has grown.
There are plenty fans that weren’t around to remember the days when the UFC was nowhere to be found on television for years at a time. We’re not talking before it was on Spike, well we are, but I’m referring specifically to the days when the UFC was not being aired on PPV.
These were the days when you had to order the UFC’s you couldn’t see elsewhere either online or through a publication such as Ultimate Grappling Magazine. Oh yeah, and if you wanted to have them shipped, you had better be prepared to pay a little bit more for a British copy. And you better have a PAL format DVD player or the UFC 32 DVD that just arrived may as well be an expensive coaster.
Long story short, things used to be bad, real bad. You absolutely had to be fanatical about the sport to keep on top of what was going on in any type of respectable fashion.
Slowly but surely the UFC’s began to appear on Pay-Per-View again. This is when I began to train at one of the only mixed martial arts gyms in my area.
Fast forward about a year and I remember telling my trainer, Don Hinzman, how this new show that was coming out, The Ultimate Fighter, was going to be the biggest thing that ever happened to the sport. It was going to really let the masses know that the days of Tank Abbott in the UFC are long dead. It was going to show people that fighters were some of the hardest training athletes in the world and finally bring the respect to the sport that it had long deserved.
The first season got a good deal of attention, and everyone at the gym would watch it, but all I have to say is thank God for Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar and the legendary battle they waged in the season’s finale.
I remember my little brother calling me as the bout was happening. He was probably twelve at the time and knew nothing of MMA other than the fact that his big bro was obsessed with “cage fighting”.
“Dude! You have to turn on Spike,” his voice was nearing complete hysteria. “These two guys are covered in blood and they’re trying to kill each other.”
Of course, I was already watching it.
That fight left a lasting impression on a whole bunch of other people that tuned in as well.
The sport just exploded. You couldn’t go anywhere without running into someone with a TapouT hat, shirt, or huge decal stuck to the back of their truck.
To be quite honest, it was a hard pill for me to swallow for a little while. It’s kind of like when you have a favorite band you follow from their garage days, then they blow up and everyone is rocking their t-shirts and listening to their latest single.
Or when I was a huge Cowboys fan back in 1989, simply because I wanted a team to route for that nobody else did. A 1-15 record, they were the team it was trendy to hate on. In 1992 they won the Super Bowl and everyone was a lifelong Cowboys fan all of a sudden. It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Kind of like you lost that cool thing, that cool secret that nobody else knew about.
It didn’t take me long to realize that all of those TapouT shirts and decals meant more money going into the sport I loved, more visibility for the sport I loved, and more sponsorships for the fighters I had grown close to. I embraced everything that was MMA.
As it stands today, I love everything that loves the sport back. All of the media attention, the clothing companies, the fans, my fellow journalists, and the men and women that shed their blood and sweat in the cage or ring because of the same passion that drives you to read this article.
This is the greatest sport in the world and the sky is undoubtedly the limit for us.
I would love to jump in a time machine and fast forward ten or twenty years to see where mixed martial arts has gone, but quite honestly, I don’t want to miss a thing.