Author Archives: art

Was Chuck Norris invited to the first UFC?

Chuck NorrisWas Chuck Norris invited to the first UFC?

Did you know that Rorion Gracie invited Chuck Norris to be a commentator at the first UFC? It’s true, as reported in IS THIS LEGAL?, Art Davie’s new book about the creation of the UFC in 1993. According to Art, he and Rorion went to Chuck Norris’ house to ask him to be a color commentator at UFC1. The way Art tells it, Rorion asked Art if he could go into Chuck’s house first to pitch him and if he ran into trouble, he would get Art, waiting in the car, to come inside and close Chuck on participating. Art had typed up a list of key points about the upcoming tournament and after every point Rorion made, reading from the index card, Chuck responded with, “is this legal?”

“I can understand his reluctance, given his A-list status as a martial artist and film star,” says Davie now. “He didn’t want to be cage side at an event where the cops might bust everybody. Years later, at Chuck Norris’ house, I was pitching him a TV pilot (Spear – about a busted rodeo cowboy who becomes a bounty hunter to avenge his brother’s death) and he made a point of saying in front of everybody in the room that he was wrong about the UFC when he was pitched back in`93. He showed he was a class guy. I respect him still,” says Davie. “But, given his refusal and what he said, I couldn’t resist using his words as the title of my book.”


Chuck Norris/UFC Story

The whole story of Chuck Norris and the first UFC is detailed in Chapter 9, Is this Legal? of the book IS THIS LEGAL?

Is This Legal? will be available in bookstores in July 2014. Available now for pre-order on Amazon:

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Rorion Gracie and the key role he played in the first UFC

Rorion Gracie - Photo credit Rorion GracieThe First UFC and the inspiration of Rorion Gracie and the Gracie family

Rorion Gracie… there is no doubt that the key inspiration for me for the first UFC was Rorion Gracie and the Gracie Challenge. As I discuss it in Chapter 3, The Boys from Brazil, in my book, IS THIS LEGAL? ????????????while I had researched Pankration and Vale Tudo in Brazil, among other developments, what Rorion Gracie was doing at his Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Torrance California was the “real deal.”

The history of matches between various martial martial artists had failed to produce a new sport. Bouts between “Judo” Gene LeBell and Milo Savage and Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki, while interesting, had not “clicked” with the public. Inoki vs. Ali 1976

The key problems with these early efforts was twofold: money and the agreed upon rules. But, I was deeply impressed with the willingness that the whole Gracie family displayed when it came to putting their art to the test in actual matches with other martial arts stylists.

Admittedly, the Gracie Challenge had not solved the problem of the money and wrangles over the rules. This is what sabotaged a match between Rorion Gracie and the legendary kickboxer Benny “The Jet” Urquidez. But, the Gracies were purists and the impromptu bouts I saw in the back room of the Gracie Academy from 1990 thru 1992 weren’t about money, despite Rorion’s public announcement of a $100,000 challenge. They were, in the spirit of Helio Gracie, about testing yourself for real.

And, no one in the martial arts in those days seemed to have $100,000 cash to wager, but if you were a black belt and wanted to test out your skills the Gracies graciously accommodated you. No money changed hands during the contests I witnessed and everyone left on friendly terms. Such was the respect the Gracies commanded. It was something to see.

Grandmaster Helio Gracie - Photo credit Rorion GracieHelio Gracie, the first ultimate fighter

And, in a way, that was a tribute to the pioneering efforts of Rorion’s father, Helio. The “old man” as Rorion called him, had been a true innovator and pioneer in his native Brazil. He once put an ad in a Rio de Janeiro newspaper saying in effect, “if you want a broken arm, call me.” Helio was a knight of old in the modern world who put competition and honor before money; and I look back with reverence and fondness whenever I think of him. He was an incredibly unique individual. A giant lived among us for a time.

When I wrote the business plan for W.O.W. Promotions, the company Rorion Gracie and I founded, I proposed the tournament format and the bare minimum of rules with a total purse of $100,000. By getting close to the Gracies, I began to see that it might be possible to create a tournament, a franchise, to bring together martial artists from all the disciplines. I figured that if I had one group of willing, brave souls, we could find others. The Gracies were the linchpin of my efforts to recruit the 10 men needed to compete in the first UFC. That solved the two basic problems that had defeated others in trying to create a popular “kumite.”

Rorion Gracie selected his younger brother Royce and turned me on to Zane Frazier and Jason DeLucia (who had competed in a Gracie Academy match with Royce and lost). Next, I found us a TV partner (Semaphore Entertainment Group) as I knew this venture had to be on Pay-Per-View TV and not a video sold thru mail order. I then recruited the other 7 fighters from ads I placed in martial arts magazines and by calling on 38 different dojos, gym and organizations from Japan to the Netherlands. And the rest, as they say, is history. The Gracies were my main “inspiration” for the event which became the UFC.

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Posted by Art Davie

First UFC – Actual rules from the fighter’s meeting

The first UFC: For the record, here are actual rules given to the 10 athletes at the UFC1 fighters meeting on Thursday, November 11, 1993. Campbell McLaren, in recent statement, released a photo of the rules he said were in place prior to the debut event that took place on November 12, 1993. See his post here:

What Campbell posted was an early version of the rules. Notice it says John Milius designed the Octagon and it’s 20′ in diameter. Both statements were later amended.  Set designers Harrison and Cusson were the ones responsible for designing the Octagon and it ended up the 30′ that I had originally suggested in communications with Producer Michael Pillot.

In the post, there was the implication that the rules were just suggestions and that all  Rorion said at the first UFC rules meeting, was, “There is no biting. We are men not animals.” Then he sat down. What really happened was that as Rorion read the rules, the meeting exploded. Zane Frazier challenged the rule about taping fists and Rorion and I soon lost control of the meeting as everyone began to argue.

5-1The First Fighters Meeting

I had typed up the rules for the fighters meeting at the hotel the night before. Below is the Meeting Agenda, which included the rules, that Sumo wrestler Teila Tuli (nee Taylor Wiley) signed. When Tuli signed his, slammed it down on the table and said, “I just signed my paper. I don’t know about you guys, but I came here to party. If anyone else came here to party, I’ll see you tomorrow night at the arena,” that gesture and his declaration ended the squabbles over the rules. You can read all about that meeting in my book, IS THIS LEGAL?

Campbell McLaren was an SEG employee whose focus for the first UFC was the commentators and marketing. He wasn’t an expert about the martial arts or fighting. As I said in my book, IS THIS LEGAL?, quoting the late wrestler Gorilla Monsoon, “Campbell and Bob (Meyrowitz) didn’t know a wrist lock from a wristwatch.” But he was a super pro when it came to the business of television, to be sure.

The 3 founders of the UFC:  Art Davie, Rorion Gracie and SEG’s founder/CEO, Bob Meyrowitz. And, interestingly enough, Kathy Kidd, Sherry Santos and me were the only people working full-time on the UFC in ’93. Everyone else had other gigs, projects or businesses to run.



What’s the whole story? Anyone who wants to discover how the rules came about and all the drama that took place during that memorable fighters meeting should read my book, IS THIS LEGAL? [ ]about the creation of the UFC.

Posted by Art Davie










The FIRST UFC – Art Davie’s inspirations



Before the first UFC and before he met Rorion Gracie, Art Davie had proposed a no-holds barred mixed martial arts event to his boss’s client at J&P Marketing in the spring of 1990. Davie called his concept the World’s Best Fighter.


Pankration 3For his presentation to the client, Davie had researched several historical developments in the martial arts. The first was Pankration, an event added to the classic Olympic Games in 648 B.C. Pankration allowed blows, strikes, holds and chokes with very few rules. It quickly became one of the two most popular events in the Olympics, the other being horse racing. More than any other single influence, the first UFC owes a great deal to the historical linkage with Pankration, according to Davie.


Early Vale Tudo in BrazilThe Vale Tudo development in Brazil was another great influence on Davie’s thinking even before the first UFC. Vale tudo wasn’t so much a fighting style as a meeting place for fighting styles. Popularized in the 1920s in Brazil, vale tudo often took place at circuses across the country, where two fighters would meet in a bout with no or very few rules. This led Davie to Pat Jordan’s September 1989 article about the Gracies, titled “BAD.”

Grappler Gene Lebell vs. Boxer Milo Savage in 1963 bout

Davie studied the 1963 Gene LeBell vs. Milo Savage mixed match (judoka vs. boxer) and began to understand why no one had been successful in developing a sporting event matching different styles of martial artists. Long before the first UFC, the key problem was money (i.e. who was putting up the dough) & the agreed upon rules. As Davie says in his book, IS THIS LEGAL?, “Getting two fighters of different backgrounds to agree to anything is like asking two pit bulls to decide how a steak should to be divided.”




Inoki vs. Ali 1976 JapanThe other mixed match Davie researched was the 1976 “fight” between Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki (boxer vs. wrestler). This bout suffered even more from the “agreed upon rules.” The same problem plagued the Chuck Wepner vs. Andre the Giant bout on the same card.


Heavyweight Bare-Knuckle Boxing Champ, John L. SullivanIn the book the Strength Athletes by David Willoughby Davie encountered the stories of heavyweight boxing champs John L. Sullivan and “Gentleman” Jim Corbett. Both men went into the ring with a wrestler and were easily handled. Corbett was quoted as saying, “In a mixed match between a boxer and a wrestler, the wrestler will win nine times out of 10.”

James_J_Corbett_by_Elmer_Chickering_1894Davie would later say, “By the time I walked into the Gracie Academy, I had a very good idea of the problems and the challenges of trying to stage a mixed styles event; and how it should be done. The first UFC, as I conceptualized it in the W.O.W. Promotions business plan, owes a debt to these potent influences. There were others, but these were the ones that got my attention.”

First UFC -Semaphore Entertainment Group

Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG) became the partner for W.O.W. Promotions, the company Rorion Gracie and Art Davie founded for the first UFC. This partnership produced the first UFC 1 thru UFC 5 and after their purchase of W.O.W. Promotion’s share of their joint venture, SEG went on to produce UFC events until they sold the franchise to Zuffa in 2001.

1-2The key individual at SEG was CEO Bob Meyrowitz. “Meyro” had produced award-winning specials for cable TV and was an established producer of TV and radio content.

Campbell McLaren 2The Vice-President of Original Programming was Campbell McLaren. A super creative executive, he was educated at Berkeley and MIT and had been a factor in the creation of the Catch a Rising Star comedy clubs. He was the first to see the value of the UFC; and was heavily responsible for the on-air talent for the UFC, including Bruce Beck, Jeff Blatnick and Joe Rogan.

Michael Abramson

The Vice-President of Sales at SEG, pitching Pay-Per-View projects to the cable companies, was Michael Abramson. He was also responsible for selling SEG’s King Biscuit Flower Hour, a radio syndication to stations. A powerhouse sales pro, Mike was actually the one who came up with the name “The Ultimate Fighting Championship.”


???????????????????????????????The Vice-President of production at SEG was Michael Pillot, an experienced producer of TV content. He was responsible moving the Octagon production forward when he added Rorion Gracie and Art Davie’s working ideas to his needs for TV production; and hired set designers, Greg Harrison and Jason Cusson to design the cage. Pillot was the show’s line producer responsible for the 6-camera setup & graphic design at the first UFC and subsequent events.

Semaphore Entertainment Group had been a pioneer in Pay-Per-View television with music and comedy concerts and sporting events like Jimmy Conners vs. Martina Navratilova. The UFC became their first “franchise.” Bob Meyrowitz was also an established force in radio syndication with the King Biscuit Flower Hour, a rock music package employed by radio stations across North America.


First UFC – Here’s Art Davie’s pitch to SEG

Here is the “pitch” letter Art Davie sent to Semaphore Entertainment Group in April 1993 that got the Pay-Per-View TV company interested in the first UFC. Davie had already been turned down by Showtime and HBO, but ESPN was giving it consideration. This simple three-page executive summary contained the highlights of the tournament concept for a mixed match franchise; and was sent to Campbell McLaren, the Vice-President of Programming at SEG.

SEG had been looking for a franchise property; as they had been producing “one-offs.” You can read all about it in the book IS THIS LEGAL? the inside story of the first UFC by Art Davie and Sean Wheelock, published by Ascend Books and due in book stores the first week of July.

Original pitch letter for show pg.1


Original pitch letter for show pg.2

Original pitch letter for show pg.3 (2)

Campbell McLaren was so impressed with this simple outline that he sent Davie a plane ticket to come to New York City and discuss a deal. The first UFC was off and running. Read all about it in IS THIS LEGAL? the inside story of the first UFC from the man who created it. Available in bookstores July 2014.


Fighters who turned down the first UFC

Fighters who said no to the first UFC.

As booker and matchmaker for the first UFC, Art Davie went after everyone he thought the show could afford for the first UFC tournament. Searching for wrestlers, Art called on the great Olympic wrestler and coach, Dan Gable. For professional boxers, Davie called the Kronk Gym in Detroit and Joe Frazier’s gym in Philadelphia (this is where he found cutman Leon Tabbs). He are just a few of the great combat athletes who turned Davie down for the first UFC:

Benny 'The Jet' Urquidez - Kick Boxing LegendThe legendary kickboxer, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez had a history with Rorion Gracie. When Davie called on him to join the tournament, he passed, saying, “these guys are amateurs. I’ve already proved myself.”

Dennis Alexio Champion Kick BoxerDennis Alexio played Jean-Claude Van Damme’s brother in Kickboxer. He was also arguably the world’s best heavyweight kickboxer in 1993. He blew Art off the phone in less than 5 minutes. No sale.

Bart Vale - Shootfighting pioneer



6’3″ 250lb. Bart Vale had made a reputation as a “shootfighter” in Japan. The Miami based athlete didn’t even break a sweat saying, ‘NO’ when Art Davie called him. Kathy Kidd, after leaving the UFC, was able to recruit big Bart into the World Combat Championship in October 1995 where he won one bout and retired with an injury.

Herb Perez  - Olympic Gold Medalist in Taekwondo - 1992 Olympics in BarcelonaDavie went after the Olympic gold medalist (1992) for taekwondo, Herb Perez. The young star was even offered  an “appearance fee”. He passed. You can read about why Art Davie thought he wasn’t able to fight in IS THIS LEGAL? the inside story of the first UFC from the man who created it.


Alberto Cerro Leon - the Murid of Penjak SilatAlberto Cerro Leon was the first European to win the World Penjak Silat Championship in Jakarta, attaining the title of “Murid.” He was built like Mike Tyson and looked like a rugged Antonio Banderas. No matter how Davie tried in the W.O.W. office to convince him he passed on the first UFC, but Art did get him into UFC2 where big judoka Remco Pardoel crushed him.

Many were called, but not everybody came to the party. But, as the UFC became a hit, Davie was even able to get Olympic gold medalists like Mark Schultz and Kevin Jackson into UFC events.


First UFC – Fighters on Art Davie’s wish list

Football player Mark Gastineau boxed from '91-'96 compliling a 15-2 recordFirst UFC Dream List

As SEG and W.O.W. got closer to November 12, 1993 to stage the first UFC, Art Davie’s job was to find the 10 fighters needed for the tournament. There were fighters he considered and didn’t approach given their availability or cost.  Mark Gastineau, the Hall of Fame NFL lineman, (he had begun a boxing career in 1991) was on the list, but he was priced out of the budget.

Mitch Green

A boxer Davie considered for the first UFC was Mitch “Blood” Green. He lost a decision to Mike Tyson; then lost a street fight to Mike in front of a Harlem clothing store and got a $45,000 settlement for that “dispute.” Almost every boxer approached wanted a five-figure “appearance fee.”

Peter Aerts, Dutch kick boxing champion


The great Peter Aerts, then kicking butt in Europe and Japan, and a thoroughly devastating Muay Thai style kickboxer, was also on  Davie’s wish list for the first UFC. But he would have required a five figure “appearance fee” to come to the states. No go!

First UFC

The star of Jan Plas’ gym in Amsterdam was Ernesto Hoost, then just becoming a dominant force in K-1. He was due to fight in Asia and Davie couldn’t make a deal for him in time for the first UFC. But Plas proposed Gerard Gordeau as an alternative. Gordeau, who had fought in Japan, was a world champion in Savate; and Gordeau became the European kickboxer Davie signed for the first UFC.





Aleksandr Karelin was a Hero of the Russian Federation and was the dominant Greco-Roman wrestler on the planet in 1993. He was known as the “Experiment” (at 6’3″ and 285lbs.) and rumored to be the product of Russian science. He would have cost  as much as Mike Tyson. That is if the Russians would have even let him come to the USA for the first UFC.



Emin Boztepe in his prime

Emin Boztepe was a very visible Kung Fu stylist in the martial arts magazines, like Black Belt. He and Rorion Gracie had almost come to legal blows over the “Gracie Challenge.” When Davie asked Rorion if he should approach him for the first UFC tournament, Rorion advised that it would only attract a lawsuit, so Davie never reached out to Boztepe. Emin Boztepe cultivated a reputation for invincibility in articles and advertisements.



Randall 'Tex' Cobb - boxer, kick boxer & actorRandall “Tex” Cobb was a kickboxer, boxer (he fought Larry Holmes for the heavyweight title) and movie actor. He was on Davie’s wish list, but had a reputation for being a wild man; and his price would have made him unaffordable. Read about him terrorizing everyone on movie sets in IS THIS LEGAL? where John Milius was the director.




Mike TysonOf course the “Ultimate” dream list fighter for the first UFC was Mike Tyson. He was serving time in an Indiana prison in 1993 and, no matter what, the cost to secure his services was wildly out of range for the UFC.

These were some of the top combat sports athletes Art Davie had on first UFC “wish list.” You can read all about them (and the fighters  who turned Davie down) in IS THIS LEGAL? – the inside story of the first UFC.


First UFC book available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

????????????For MMA fans the book that tells the story of the first UFC is coming to bookstores. Art Davie’s IS THIS LEGAL? will be in the bookstores during the first week of July. This is the inside story about the fighters, the network executives, the managers, the partners, film stars and politicians who helped or hampered the first UFC in November 1993.

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On November 12, 1993, in Denver, Colorado, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was unleashed on an unsuspecting public, with virtually no warning or fanfare, and instantly redefined action sports for a new generation.

The creation of advertising man and serial entrepreneur Art Davie, the UFC entered nearly 90,000 US households through pay-per-view television with an explosion–an explosion of blood—as 6’5 Dutch Savate champion Gerard Gordeau kicked 420 lbs. Sumo wrestler Teila Tuli flush in the face, less than one minute into the night’s opening fight.

The blow not only sent Tuli’s tooth flying into the crowd, it knocked the martial arts and combat sports worlds on their asses.

With the very first UFC, the new sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) was launched–although it wasn’t even called that yet–and fighting would never again be the same.

Now, for the first time, the true story of how the Ultimate Fighting Championship came into existence will be told by the man who started it all. In this vivid and fast-moving, first-person account, Davie explains how his idea to crown the World’s Best Fighter, painstakingly evolved into the UFC, which now stands as a billion-dollar sports franchise.

Art Davie is the Dr. James Naismith and Abner Doubleday of MMA (with a touch of PT Barnum), yet his name is largely unknown. That is, until now.

Davie’s tale is one of perseverance and against-all-odds determination, as he worked tirelessly for four years to see his dream come to brutal fruition, while meeting plenty of resistance.

It’s also a mash-up of martial arts, celebrity, sports, and business, involving a highly improbable cast of characters, that includes Academy Award nominee John Milius, NFL Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, action film star Chuck Norris, Brazilian jiu-jitsu godfather Rorion Gracie and pay-per-view TV pioneer Bob Meyrowitz.

This no-holds-barred account of how he started the ball rolling on the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and launched MMA, is one for not just fight fans, but for fans of mavericks in business and life, who stop at nothing to fulfill their dreams.

Whether you’re a hardcore supporter of mixed martial arts, or have never watched a single bout, you’ll be enthralled by Davie’s story of triumph. Art Davie created the sport of the 21st Century, which arrived two decades early. He started a revolution, and his revolution was televised.