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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.