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