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History in the Making: Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock ignite the UFC's first rivalry

Royce Gracie (L) and Ken Shamrock (R) were the early faces of the UFC.
Royce Gracie (L) and Ken Shamrock (R) were the early faces of the UFC.

Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event took place in November 1993. Denver, CO holds the distinction of being the birthplace of the world's premier fighting organization as 10 men -- eight tournament fighters and two alternates -- descended upon the city hoping to be named the best fighter on the planet.

The sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) has come a long way since then. Going from the likes of Keith Hackney to Georges St. Pierre in less than 20 years is a mind bogglingly huge leap in the level of athlete that now competes inside the Octagon.

Last night (Feb. 4) before UFC 143: Diaz vs. Condit started, a new intro video was unveiled which chronicled some of the greatest moments in the promotion's history. From Matt Hughes lifting Frank Trigg into the air and walking him across the cage before slamming him down to Anderson Silva's jaw-dropping -- and jaw-shattering -- knockout kick against Vitor Belfort to the most important fight in UFC history between Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin at the end of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), it was a 60 second stroll down memory lane for UFC faithful and a quick history lesson for newer fans.

It opened, of course, how else but with Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock and the opening moments of their bout from the very first UFC. The rivalry between the two men helped pump some much needed drama and intrigue into the early days of the company where the future was uncertain.

Let's take a look at the bout.

Gracie and Shamrock, as talented as each of them were, stood at opposite ends of the physical spectrum. Shamrock looked like he stepped right out of a Marvel comic book. Hulking and massive, he looked more like a professional wrestler than a pro fighter. Coincidentally enough, he eventually ended up making the jump to the WWF in 1997.

The Brazilian on the other hand was slender and unimposing. His physical appearance was part of the reason he was chosen to represent Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in the tournament. It would seem more impressive to have a smaller man go through three others to win seemed to be the early UFC brass' thinking.

And it's exactly what Gracie did. He had an easy enough time against his first opponent, Art Jimmerson, forcing the former boxer to tap out when the Brazilian secured full mount. Gracie didn't even have to apply a submission, Jimmerson felt the fight was lost right then and there with his opponent on top of him.

In the finals, Gracie took out Gerard Gordeau in just under two minutes to win the first UFC tournament. But in between those two bouts, the Brazilian took on Shamrock who had heel hooked his way into the semi-finals. Of all the competitors, "The World's Most Dangerous Man" had the most experience having made his debut with the Japanese promotion Pancrase a few months prior.

Let's dive in.

Gracie immediately shoots in but is swept by Shamrock. A scramble ensues and the two end up on their feet against the cage. The Brazilian latches onto his opponent and drags him to the mat, pulling guard. Working from a half-butterfly guard, Gracie begins to kick at Shamrock's kidneys with his heel.

Unbeknownst to the audience -- and would be until he busted the move out against Dan Severn at UFC 4 -- Gracie begins to work towards a triangle choke. Shamrock avoids it by stacking his opponent but the compromise in his balance is taken advantage of by Gracie who drops the American onto his back.

From there, Shamrock begins to threaten with a heel hook but the Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) black belt doesn't allow the space his opponent needs to pull the submission off. From there, Shamrock gives up his back and Gracie sinks in a rear naked choke from sidemount.

The referee's performance leaves much to be desired as Shamrock's hand begins pounding the mat, giving indication he's accepted defeated. Gracie releases the hold but because of the referee's inaction, an awkward moment where the Brazilian attempts to reapply the choke while attempting to get Shamrock to admit he tapped begins.

Shamrock does in fact own up to the loss and the fight is called. For as quick -- the fight lasted all of a minute -- as it was, the UFC was eager to get the two back inside the Octagon against each other. When Shamrock returned for the third event, their feud was the major selling point and the two were placed on opposite sides of the bracket, ensuring a meeting in the finals should they both win their first two fights.

Unfortunately for the UFC, Gracie ran into Kimo Leopoldo, a cross-carrying Hawaiian, in the opening round. Kimo battered the Brazilian for nearly five minutes before Gracie was able to secure an armbar. Too fatigued to continue, his corner threw in the towel before the start of his semi-final match and Shamrock, robbed of his big money fight, also withdrew.

Two events later, the UFC avoided the same problem by creating the "superfight" which simply pitted the two against each other in a non-tournament bout. In a grueling affair -- for the fans, not the fighters -- the two went to a draw after over half an hour of "action."

Regardless of how the feud petered out, the rivalry was necessary to the survival of the UFC in its infancy. The organization needed something new fans could care about, something they could argue about.

Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock provided that for the company so it's fitting their first bout opened the new intro video.

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