Twenty years ago today a bunch of dudes – big dudes, scary dudes, martial arts dudes – climbed into a cage, and in a never-before-seen pay-per-view competition that was more “fall of the Roman Empire” than real athletic endeavor, they beat the ever-loving crap out of each other. That’s right, on November 12, 1993, in Denver, C.O., the Ultimate Fighting Championship was born. And sure, if you were to go into your closet, dust off your old VHS tape of that seminal event, and watch it, what you’d see would be a stark contrast to the evolved and polished product we enjoy today. But dammit, that’s where it all started, this whole billion-dollar industry complete with superstar athletes and TV shows and endless permutations of lifestyle apparel. It all was born on that night.
So in honor of this historic date, Team Rebellion is going to describe their first experiences watching a UFC. As for me, well, on this day 20 years ago, I was in a kempo karate school in Queens, N.Y., being told that this “Ultimate Fighting Challenge crap” was bullshit, because if it was real, the karate guys would literally kill the other competitors. And sadly, I believed it. It wasn’t until I rented the event months later that I realized a few truths: 1) I was an idiot; 2) the kempo karate guys were idiots; and, 3) that I would never miss another UFC again.
John Petit, Fighters.com
My friend Dave would always buy the wrestling pay per views and throw parties for his friends to come over. Dave’s parents didn’t care what we did in the basement, so some of us spent the time smoking cigarettes and playing pool and not even stopping to watch any of the wrestling. One night Dave was having a party, and although it wasn’t for a wrestling pay per view, I really didn’t give a shit. Randomly, everyone stopped messing about and decided to watch the main event. This was my first glimpse at the octagon, and some man in his karate pajamas was marching toward the cage in a conga line. Two minutes later he jumped on the back of his opponent and his opponent quit, and I was convinced more than ever that it was as real as the Muppet Show. Dave and I shared the same birthday, and a few months later we would celebrate it together at his house on the night of UFC 2. That’s when I realized I was a fucking jerk for grouping it with wrestling, and watched every fight besides the opening bout. The Buyrate for UFC 1 was 68,000 people but at least 68,001 claim to have bought it, watched it and fell in love from the first moments. I have no problem saying I wasn’t one of them.
Jorge Hernandez, MMALinker
“I caught a glimpse of The Ultimate Fighter season 2 way back in the day and thought it was the dumbest thing anyone could watch. Growing up as big fan of the WWF and getting into PRIDE FC a little later, the horrid season of TUF left much to be desired, so it took until UFC Fight Night: Florian vs Lauzon for it to really bring some raw emotion out of me.
It was Nate Diaz vs Kurt Pellegrino. I didn’t have any idea how effective submissions could be in a fight before he came back from being bludgeoned for the entire first round, then he finished with a triangle in round two.
To me, the younger Diaz bro is something like Royce Gracie is to people who have been watching since the beginning.”
Mike Prosia, FightLine
UFC 1 was the first event I watched, albeit in 2005. I bought the Gracie Kool-Aid immediately, and truly believed ‘Gracie Jiu Jitsu’ was an unstoppable force. It actually took close to a year before I realized that the guy on the bottom of the closed guard wasn’t in a great position.
I remember this time vividly. I was in my room when my older brother told me I had to come see what was on TV. It was UFC: Wired, a TV show much like UFC: Unleashed. The fight that was on was Martin Kampmann vs. Drew McFedries. I remember hearing Kampmann’s nickname, “The Hitman”, and thinking how awesome of a name that was; especially since he does resemble the actual character from the video-games and movie. Kampmann finished McFedries with an arm-triangle in an impressive comeback. I had no idea how the arm-triangle worked, but it sparked my curiosity which would then lead me to learn more about MMA.
My first UFC experience wasn’t one to really write home about, but it hooked me in. It was The Ultimate Fighter Finale 7 featuring a main event between Kendall Grove and Evan Tanner. We were visiting family out of state and they put it on, having followed the UFC for several years. As a die-hard sports fan, I just never really gave it much attention. Well, by the end of that card, myself and my wife were hooked and we threw a party later that year for UFC 92: The Ultimate!
Michael Hutchinson, FightLine
Ashamed to admit it, but I was a huge fan of pro-wrestling, and for me, my introduction to MMA was when I heard that Brock Lesner had become UFC Champion, and that he was defending his belt against Shane Carwin. I had heard this news the night of the fight, and asked people in a pro-wrestling forum to give me a stream link to the fights. I saw Brock Lesner get the shit kicked out of him for the first round, just to survive and submit Carwin in the second round. It was more real than pro-wrestling, more entertaining in my eyes, and something that I could be proud to call myself a fan of. I then watched the entire first season of TUF, which Spike was showing re-runs at the time for, which taught me all about the sport, and gave me an introduction to some of the stars, the nature of the sport and how athletically gifted these fighters are. I have been hooked ever since, and now I make sure to never miss an event, no matter how big or small.
Zach Arnold, FightLine
I had been writing about the Japanese side of MMA with UWF-International & Pancrase. I was an avid VHS collector & trader. I spent tons of money trying to network on this front and also buy Japanese magazines Weekly Gong & Weekly Pro-Wrestling. When I saw the first UFC events, I was renting the VHS tapes at my local video store. I had no idea what the hell to make of it. It looked so different than the Japanese fights which were in a ring. The cage made it seem bloodlusting. I bought some of the UFC tapes that I had rented and then I watched the Ultimate Japan show from Yokohama Arena. This was when Kazushi Sakuraba was a young man who had left UWF-International after it fell apart and went into an offshoot group named Kingdom. Sakuraba had been treated as a midcard jobber in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. To see a Japanese guy like Sakuraba fight against the foreigners and stand out blew me away. At that point, there was no going back. I started focusing on the US side of MMA as well as what was happening in Japan. Ultimate Japan was right around the time that the plans for PRIDE were being formulated. When I saw the highlights of the early UFCs on the Fox Sports special celebrating 20 years of UFC, I couldn’t help but smile every time I saw the highlights from the older UFCs. It brought back a lot of memories. I appreciated UFC for the freak show that it was.
Miguel Barragan, FightLine
The very first UFC event I saw was UFC III “The American Dream” in September of 1994, I was 10 years old. I was invited to a neighbors birthday party and his uncle ordered the PPV. I was a huge pro wrestling fan at the time but even as a kid, I knew that was staged. Because of my father, I also followed boxing, so I knew what real punches looked like and the superficial damage they leave, even with gloves. I had heard of this kind of fighting from the first UFC and I knew from then, this was the real deal. Neither gloved boxing, nor choreographed acrobatics, this was a bare knuckle scrap to the bone with as few rules as possible. I recall literally trembling as I watched what I had never witnessed before, two glove-less grown men with martial arts experience duking it out full power. It was like watching those old “Faces of Death” videos because I believed in all of the mystique of the martial arts so blindly, that I thought someone was literally was going to die in that octagon in front of my eyes, and the anticipation of seeing that was not allowing me to turn away. I just had to see it. My heart was pounding as I fully believed one Kung Fu death punch would bring a fatal end to one of these fights. I remember watching Kimo carry that huge cross to octagon to face Royce Gracie and being completely in awe thinking, this guy is going to fucking kill Gracie!! And that was allowed!! After watching that fight end with Royce submitting Kimo with an armbar, I was hooked for life.
Michael Wellman, FightLine
The first UFC I saw was UFC 34: High Voltage. I was 13 years old and was a huge WWE(F?) fan at the time, but I wasn’t really interested in UFC. My parents’ friend Nick brought over his magical cable box one night and was telling me how I needed to quit watching “the fake shit” and check out, you guessed it, “the real shit”. The BJ Penn vs. Caol Uno fight made me really start paying attention. Uno tried this crazy leaping spinning kick, and Penn knocked him out cold in all of eleven seconds. Hughes vs. Newton was up next. Hughes picked up Newton and slammed him from the top of the fence, knocking him out cold and winning the fight. Finally, a maneuver I could recognize, the powerbomb. I remember my parents’ friend Nick immediately started yelling that Hughes got choked out and his falling to the mat was what caused the slam. Controversy erupted in my living room. After that fight I was hooked like Tank Abbott’s finger inside the mouth of Oleg Taktarov.
Chris Leslie, MMAFrenzy
I actually got into MMA because of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Seeing a man who looked and sounded like a monster from the pit of Hell make other big men turn into bawling babies left an impression, so I started to read up on wrestling and eventually MMA. Subsequently I came across tapes of UFC 6 and saw Oleg Taktarov. The way he made these guys give up without punches was so awesome I had to see more and thus my UFC connection began with the old MMA tapes. I even had to hide the tapes from my parents to keep them from thinking I was a total sadistic bastard. It all led me to continue watching in my HS wrestling days, but by that I point I was watching a chubby Russian abuse more athletic looking guys.
Michael Midiri, MMFrenzy
Now I know everyone and their mother claims to have been in on this thing since the jump and likes to call everyone else a “TUF Noob” but this is my story and I’m sticking to it. I was 9 or 10 years old, me and a buddy were watching “Kickboxer” and in walks his uncle who told us, “You wana see some real martial arts, come by on Friday and watch this PPV event i am ordering…..”. He was a lifelong Kempo guy but he had heard of this Royce Gracie (emphasis on the R) who was supposed to be all kinds of awesome but he couldn’t really explain to us what this guy Royce did. “He doesn’t throw those jumping split kicks like JCVD? He can’t break a flaming pile of bricks? No death touch? What the hell is the big deal then?”. After watching the event I, like everyone else, was pretty shocked that this little Brazilian guy had won it all but I wasn’t overly excited after seeing what real life fighting looked like. This experience planted the seed though and years later when I happened to catch Ken vs. Tito 1 at a party I was much more entertained. A few years after that was a box of PRIDE VHS tapes I got from a girlfriends brother, it was… enlightening….and scary….and awesome. I had many questions, and among the answers I got were “He’s a cop from Croatia”, “…the W is pronounced as a V”, “…he would kill Chuck”, and “yes, they allow that shit in Japan..” A few years after that came TUF 1 and the “ZUFFA Boom” and now here I am. Good times!
Tommy Hackett, CagedInsider
I can’t even remember which UFC I watched first! What’s clear in my memory was that dangerous feeling about those first shows. I rented them, which no one does anymore, from a video store, which barely exist, back in the mid 90’s — wondering what I was in for. Credit where it’s due: I want to say Ken Shamrock was on the cover. I was a martial arts fan and a pro wrestling fan — you could say the pro wrestling pageantry was an attraction but the interplay of martial art styles was what eventually got me hooked.
Brendhan Conlan, FiveOuncesofPain
Though I saw some early UFC action via VHS, the first event I genuinely remember sitting down for and watching in its entirety was UFC 44. At the time, my knowledge of the sport was lacking to say the least, so in my mind it was a given Tito Ortiz had Randy Couture’s number based on age and the way each was marketed. Watching Couture overcome the odds and outclass Ortiz was eye-opening to say the least. By the time Couture was clowning the former “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” by delivering a few spanks to his backside, “The Natural” had a new fan and I had a new appreciation for not only the technique involved in MMA but the showmanship as well.
Front-Page Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports