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Sean Wheelock: Art Davie's 'Is This Legal?' tells REAL history of UFC

Sean Wheelock is perhaps best known as a sports broadcaster and commentator for Bellator MMA; however, he's also a close personal friend of Art Davie, the man who ushered in the UFC era. He chats with about the book they authored together, "Is This Legal?"

Sean Wheelock (pictured left) talks about his book "Is This Legal?" with Art Davie.
Sean Wheelock (pictured left) talks about his book "Is This Legal?" with Art Davie.
MMA Mania

Even though Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is just 20 years young, there's already a lot of myth and mythology surrounding its origins.

Bellator MMA's Sean Wheelock was eager to get to the bottom of the real history behind what is today the world's leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion. Therefore, the sports broadcaster / ringside commentator went straight to the source, Art Davie (read our interview here), his close friend and the original UFC founder.

"I told Art, 'If I'm gonna do this book with you, I'm only going to it with the condition that we're honest," Wheelock shared with recently. "We're not going to tell half-truths, we're not going to fabricate, we're going to put every detail in. So you see original faxes, documents -- we tell you how much people got paid, we quote from contracts. Anything and everything that you wanted to know is in there."

However, just so there is no confusion, Wheelock wants everyone to know this isn't "The Art Davie Story."

"It's not Art Davie's biography or autobiography -- it's his first-person memoir of essentially the four years of his life, with a little bit of backstory, of how he created the UFC," Wheelock revealed.

It's a compelling story of how the circumstances leading to UFC almost fell into Davie's lap, but it was a struggle to get anybody else to see his vision of a "styles versus styles" competition, including the beer distributor he pitched it to.

"Art Davie was an advertising executive," Wheelock said. "He had a company called Wisdom Imports as one of his clients (and) one of their brands was Tecate. Art Davie pitched them on this 'style vs. style' martial arts event thinking that would be a good thing for them to sell Tecate beer. They passed, Art Davie wound up quitting his job, and then spent the next four years of his life from Fall 1989 culminating on Nov. 12, 1993, in creating the UFC."

Throughout the interview, Wheelock illustrates points of serendipity in Davie's life that made the early UFC possible such as becoming the first official student of Rorion Gracie's new gym and meeting the people who were working out there.

"John McCarthy was just a (Gracie) jiu-jitsu student, and John didn't start refereeing until UFC 2, but John is there at UFC 1 not only as the main training partner for Royce Gracie but as the bodyguard for Rorion Gracie," Wheelock said. "There was a huge dispute over the famous Gracie triangle and trademark, and Rorion was actually afraid that Relson was going to show up in Denver and shoot him! John McCarthy was an LAPD officer was told to bring his gun."

It's a classic case of the truth being more interesting than any fiction you could invent, which has Hollywood executives salivating to bring it to the silver screen.

"We received a few calls, people wanting to do a documentary, and a couple of people inquiring about buying the rights for a feature film. Hey, we're open to anything."

Wheelock points out it's compelling because there was so much opposition to UFC ever getting off the ground to begin with.

"The reality was this was not destined to succeed ... this was destined to fail," he said. "Everything that could go wrong continued to go wrong, and yet Art Davie persevered. The martial arts community was against it. Jim Coleman who was the editor of Black Belt magazine spoke to Art and said, 'I'm not doing a story on this - this is dirty fighting.' He actually used that term. So many people flat out turned Art Davie down."

If you don't want to wait until they make a motion picture or an HBO special out of the book, you can find "Is This Legal?" on and at finer retailers everywhere right now. Meanwhile, the complete audio of our interview is below.

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