20th Anniversary of UFC 1: A young karateka's perspective

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Hammer of the Gods

Svartorm Avatar

Joined:Jan 2007
It's the UFC's B-day today and I wanted to share a bit about it and what it meant, not just for myself, but for members of the martial arts community in general. My father has a saying "History doesn't occur in a vacuum" and its very true of MMA and its humble beginnings as a blood sport. Those of you that weren't involved in martial arts at the time may look back at it and see UFC 1 as a spectacle, yet at the time, it was considered anything but.

Martial arts are a heavily traditional pastime, and the idea of mixing styles was in itself a taboo back in '93. If you took classes at one dojo or school, you didn't generally leave for another without a bit of bad blood left behind, and while I was too young to have experienced that bit of TMA culture at the time, there was a huge deal of pride involved in where you trained and what style you were learning.

Martial arts was primarily speculation back in this time. You were largely being trained in the post Karate Kid world of watered down techniques and limited actual contact. We *believed* what we learned would work and that any failure on our part wasn't due to faulty mechanics or teaching methods, but a failure within ourselves. The concept to question the validity of anything we were taught was highly insulting to teachers. It was tradition after all, and you didn't question the Why or How, but simply lived with it and believed.

At the time, myself and my older brother were taking classes in a, come to find out, fictional martial art called Iate at a local Boy's Club. He was, and is to this day, a voracious martial artist and had a subscription to every karate magazine in existence. Karate magazines are big business, with more advertising than substance, and there was a huge ad for something on PPV that sent us over the edge. In bold letters it stated such insane concepts as "Judo vs Tae Kwon Do" and "Boxing vs Sumo". It was every childhood karate fantasy come to life. I'm not even joking when I say it was more exciting of a concept than when I saw my first porno (which gives you an idea of how fucked up I am).

This was forbidden stuff, but someone was not only willing to pit style vs style for the entire world to see, but they were doing it right. You see, part of the Wizard of Oz routine with TMA at the time was that we couldn't actually practice most techniques, because they were simply too brutal. You would practice ripping a man's eyes out in the air, or driving a tiger's mouth strike into a man's throat all day, but would any of this even work? Sure, it's devastating, but could you consistently land something like that in the heat of battle? We'd find out!

Adding to the wild mystery of it all was the idea that it wasn't students fighting, but masters. If a world-ranked fighter in their discipline couldn't get this stuff to work against someone of equal status, that said A LOT about that art. Students were fallible, but a master? Never. Yet someone had to fail for there to be a winner, and the winner was representing a large scale attack on every other art. We'd have something to point to and say "See!?!? Kung Fu IS better than Karate!" The winner was going to reap incredible spoils.

So, fast forward to a month or so later and myself, my brother and a few select friends and family are huddled around my grandmother's giant projection TV to watch this insanity unfold. Once again, keep in mind this was well before most homes had internet and video streaming. The craziest thing you could see back then in this vein was the "Faces of Death" series, so unless you were from a rough neighborhood, this would be the first real combat between adults you may ever see.

The event started and I immediately declared Teila Tuli the eventual winner, just because he was 420lbs and it was open weight. How could anyone compete with this guy? Then Gerard Gordeau laced him with a punch and a roundhouse straight to the mouth and sent his tooth flying. I was dumbfounded. I had never seen someone get hit like that in my entire life, and the idea a martial arts master really COULD take out a behemoth like that in one shot was both frightening and joyous.

I had never considered the reality of someone taking real damage in a fight and how easy it was to lay someone's face open with a bare-knuckle shot. Sure, boxing had blood, and karate movies had blood, but both would occur over many minutes of actual fighting. To rip a guys face open in one punch? It was actually scary to consider, and childhood fantasies of karating burglars suddenly seemed even more ridiculous that I never considered that knocking someone out my facilitate breaking their face to bits. Thanks Gerard. At that point, I didn't know about Sumo, but Savate worked like a charm.

Then came Royce Gracie to ruin my life. Here's the funny thing about karate: Before MMA, there were almost no ground techniques outside of ground-based arts. The reasoning was sound in an odd way: In a self-defense situation, to hit the ground was to be killed by the people attacking you, so why make up techniques for ground fighting? In fact, the only technique I can remember from my early karate classes that had anything to do with stopping a ground fight was something where you dropped an elbow on a guys spine as he went for a tackle. Physics says this wouldn't really work, but karate had nothing to do with physics back then, just blind faith.

What Gracie was doing was almost cheating in my mind. I wanted to know what kind of karate would reign supreme, and this asshole was basically exploiting that fact there were no rules so he could avoid a fight all together. Later in life, I moved almost entirely towards grappling, but at the time I was bullshit about it. Aside from Tank Abbott in UFC 6, Gracie was the biggest boat-rocker in all of traditional martial arts.

In the aftermath of the event, in one night, UFC proved that karate could beat men of any size, but also that a small guy could beat any karate guy by making it about grappling. "Striker vs Grappler" was born, and for this reason and the ones stated above, the karate world was never the same.

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Post #1   11/12/13 2:06:13PM   


Heavyweight Champ

prozacnation1978 Avatar

Joined:Jul 2007
Camp: Dark Horse
They should have prohibited gi's in the octagon

Post #2   11/12/13 3:28:16PM   


Heavyweight Champ

FlashyG Avatar

Joined:Feb 2008

Posted by prozacnation1978

They should have prohibited gi's in the octagon

The first couple UFC's were showcases for Gracie Jiu Jitsu.

Royce wouldn't have competed if he couldn't wear a gi.

Post #3   11/12/13 7:22:44PM   


MMA Sensei

Webbie Avatar

Joined:Sep 2007
Easily the best post I've ever read on this forum

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Post #4   11/12/13 8:45:31PM   



jakewalters Avatar


Joined:Jan 2012
Excellent writeup...

There's a reason why I voted Hammersmith as most knowledgeable poster of 2013

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Post #5   11/13/13 6:11:02AM