Looking back at the first-ever Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event 20 years ago, the story of how Royce Gracie ran through the tournament field -- introducing his dominant and dangerous brand of Brazilian jiu-jitsu to the combat sports world and forever changing the landscape of mixed martial arts (MMA) -- is usually the most common occurring theme.
The famous Gracie-train entrance into the Octagon, and the first-chosen for competition Gracie clad in his gi for the opening round in Denver, Colo., are usually both the most celebrated and most brought up in conversation. But, the one indelible image -- the single-most amusing, yet perplexing picture that enters peoples' minds who recall the historic night -- is of Gracie's opponent in that opening round, Art Jimmerson, and his lone boxing glove.
At the time, UFC was "no holds barred" and were, for all intents and purposes, "no rules." In fact, fighters weren't even required to wear gloves. While it is widely known that gloves protect fighters' hands more than they protect their heads, why wear one and not both? Many of us have wondered, joked with some buddies and scratched our collective heads at the reason Jimmerson cushioned only his left hand in red leather. Perhaps it was symbolic on his part, to show that he was a boxer entering the one-night tournament.
"No!" former UFC executive producer Campbell McLaren told MMAmania recently as a guest on Darce Side Radio. "No, no, no. I wondered about that for a long time, too."
Before McLaren would spill the beans and divulge the method to Jimmerson's madness that faithful night at the McNichols Arena, he provided some narrative.
"He was nervous. He didn't want to do it," McLaren said, explaining how he was able to sign Jimmerson for UFC 1. "I flew out to St. Louis and I met with him. We had a conversation and we went back-and-forth, and finally he goes -- he's a really nice man, he's a really good guy -- and he goes, ‘I'm buying a house and I need a $15,000 down payment.' I said, ‘I'll give you $15,000 to do the UFC.' He said, ‘Okay, I'll do it.' Just like that."
"I really wanted a boxer," McLaren continued. "I was so naive, I thought Jimmerson was going to kill Royce. I don't mean beat him, I mean actually he might really injure him. If Royce weighed 165 pounds, he had four rolls of quarters in the gi pockets," McLaren continued sarcastically. "He didn't weigh 165 pounds. Maybe with the gi wet and someone else putting their toe was on the scale. I thought he was going to get knocked out. That's how wrong I was. That's how much I knew about it."
The St. Louis, Mo.,-based fighter had won 15 fights in a row prior to UFC 1 and McLaren was adamant in pointing out that Jimmerson was, "the highest-ranked, current, contemporary boxer to enter UFC. I think he was the eighth-ranked in the IBF at Cruiserweight. He was a real, real boxer."
Prior to the beginning of the fight, the telecast showed a promo video of a very confident Jimmerson. "I'm a pro boxer and that's how I'm going to win," he boasted. "Being a fighter, I punch hard, I'm fast and I'm quick. You can't hit what you can't see."
McLaren noticed Jimmerson, "was a different man walking out that night." What he didn't know, until referee "Big" John McCarthy gave up the ghost -- while the two were talking about the good ‘ole days at Invcita FC 6 over the summer -- was the fact that a conversation took place prior to the now famous quarterfinal matchup between Gracie and Jimmerson.
McCarthy was not yet a referee at the inaugural UFC event -- he was there because he was a training partner of Gracie. Jimmerson was "pumping him for information," McLaren said, before dishing on the details of the backstage tete-a-tete.
"Big John said, 'you know what he's going to do to you right?'" McLaren said, re-telling the story he only recently became privy to. "Jimmerson said, ‘what's he going to do?' and he was dancing around and doing boxing moves. Big John said, ‘You ever get in a clinch in a boxing match?' Jimmerson said, ‘yeah, the ref breaks it up.' Big John goes," In this they're not going to break it up when he grabs you. He's going to have his arms on you. They're not going to break that up. The ref doesn't break that up in this fight.' Jimmerson goes, ‘what?' Big John said, "He's going to shoot in. He's going to grab you. You are going to get one chance to hit him, and if you miss, he's going to be all over you.' Jimmerson said, ‘He's going to break my arm isn't he?' Big John said, ‘Yeah, he's going to break your arm.'
"That's when he decided to wear the one glove," McLaren revealed. "To make sure we could see him tapping with the other hand. Walking with him to the Octagon, he said, 'If I tap with my glove hand, is it a still a tap?' That's when I knew it wasn't going to work out."
The pro boxer was practically a deer in headlights -- he never even threw a single punch. Neither did Gracie, who took down Jimmerson on the first attempt before immediately moving into the mount. The one-gloved pugilist from Missouri was at a worse disadvantage than he would've already been in because of not being able to grip with the hand that donned the boxing glove. He would submit little more than two minutes into the fight, losing officially by "position."
"This sheds new light on what Art figured out for himself," McLaren said. "Now, I know he was helped along in his realization by Big John."
Gracie went on to win the tournament and the $50,000 prize money, taking the first step toward the evolution process of modern MMA. Meanwhile, Jimmerson earned the dubious moniker of "One Glove" and the rest, as they say, is history.