Art Davie, who along with Rorian Gracie and Campbell McLaren co-founded Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) way back in 1993, reflects back on his journey, as well as the trials-and-tribulations he endured to get his ambitious project off the ground.
Nineteen years ago, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) "changed the world."
That's according to Art Davie, the original brainchild behind the fight promotion. Along with Rorion Gracie and Campbell McLaren, Davie helped get the wheels of what is now an unstoppable moving tank of the UFC in motion way back in 1993.
For those who are unaware, today (Nov 12, 2012) marks the 19-year anniversary of UFC 1, which went down on Nov. 12, 1993, in Denver, Colorado.
Before Dana White was knocking on the doors of multimillion-dollar cable television networks in hopes of landing a deal, Davie was getting rejected by Showtime and HBO, who emphatically told the ambitious trendsetter that mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting simply "didn't work."
That didn't stop Davie, who knew he had a winner with his "no-holds barred"-style of fighting competition that would bring together, for the first time, different fighters from around the world to compete under one roof.
On his recent appearance on "The MMA Hour," Davie recalls the trials and tribulations he and his partners had to go through to get it all started and how after rejection after rejection from major cable networks, the UFC was finally born:
"We started pitching it in 1992. I pitched it to HBO, I pitched it to Showtime. I pitched it to anybody I could. I was turned down by Lou Dibella at HBO. I was turned down by Jacque Mclean and Jay Larken at Showtime. They said what else you got kid? You got anything else besides the martial arts, because we got a memo here that says that never works. That stuff doesn't work. Kickboxing is dead and what you're proposing sounds crazy to us. So, we were out there for six months knocking on doors before I found Semaphore Entertainment Group in New York City and that was the thing that changed everything because they had been doing pay-per-view and not succeeding at it. They had not yet built a franchise."
Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG) took a chance on Davie's idea and soon, the first-ever UFC tournament was held in Colorado in 1993. The inaugural event saw the birth of a star in Royce Gracie, who won three fights that night to claim the $50,000 prize and bragging rights to boot.
Davie went on to reveal that UFC 1 was set to take place in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, however after consideration and deciding holding the event in Rio would be a "huge logistical nightmare," the group decided Colorado and its lenient hand-to-hand combat rules at the time would be a best fit.
It was at the after-party that Davie knew he had a winner on his hands:
"I remember, we had two parties after the UFC that night. We took over a private club at McNichols Arena. I remember Rorion and I and, Campbell walking around. I was walking around smoking a cigar and drinking a single-malt scotch and we looked at each other and we said, 'This is huge. This is unbelievable. We're taking over the world. This is going to rock people right to their socks."
Eventually, Davie and one of his partners, Bob Meyrowitz, had different ideas as to what marketing direction the UFC should take, leading to his departure from the promotion.
Regardless of feeling like "a divorced father with someone else raising his kid," Davie says he is still a huge fan of the UFC, Dana White and the Fertitta brothers and every Nov. 12, he lights up a fine cigar in celebration of the day he and his original partners changed the world:
"This is an important day. This was the day, 19 years ago, that we changed the world."
Since White and the Fertitta brothers took over operations, the UFC has reached unthinkable heights never imaged by anyone, becoming an entertainment juggernaught and pay-per-view (PPV) monster, while landing major blue chip sponsors and locking down the historical multi-year/multi-million dollar deal with Fox.
Though many naysayers felt those goals would never be achieved, Davie had confidence since Day One:
"I had to bang heads with a lot of people who said to me, 'What else you got kid? You got anything else, because this is nuts? And I said, "no, this is going to be big. You wait and see."
Davie also revealed he was on the brink of signing up former professional boxing champion Leon Spinks and K-1 legend Ernesto Hoost for the inaugural event, but eventually got Art Jimmerson and Gerard Gordeau, instead. It makes you wonder how Gracie would have fared against those two.
In two more years, the UFC will finally be legal at the tender age of 21. Then maybe, just maybe, people will stop saying, "we're still in the infant stages of the sport."
Then again, with all the improvements the aforementioned UFC President Dana White says can still be made to the sport, maybe not.