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The Octagon, A Man Named Milius, and His Imprint on The UFC

Posted on 02/15/2011

It would be very difficult to chronicle the early history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship without mentioning the considerable part played in it by a man named John Milius. Not many fans of the UFC’s second “incarnation” are aware of it, nor the fact that Milius is in fact the famous “name” that helped create interest in the sport on the part of investors and television outlets in the first place. But those who were closest to this colorful genius were not surprised at all that his fertile, creative mind could provide some of the impetus behind the growing sport of mixed martial arts.Milius gamed much notoriety in Hollywood as a writer-director. He was nominated for an Oscar in 1980 as he co-wrote (with Francis Ford Coppola) the screenplay for “Apocalypse Now.” He also directed such films as “Red Dawn,” “Clear and Present Danger” and perhaps most famously, “Conan the Barbarian” (starring the future California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger). He also wrote the screenplay for “Magnum Force” and was an uncredited writer on “Dirty Harry.” Milius is responsible for two of the most famous lines in motion picture history: “Go ahead, make my day,” uttered by Clint Eastwood’s character, Harry Callahan, in “Dirty Harry” and “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” spoken by Robert Duvall in “Apocalypse Now.”

Milius was not just a fan of martial arts; he was an ardent student of Rorion Gracie’s. He got to know Art Davie, the marketing executive who had an interest in putting together a martial arts competition on pay-per-view television and who by now had become a student of Rorion’s as well. Davie enlisted Milius’ help in devising the concept for what would later come to be known as the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and it was a boon to have Milius’ name associated with the project; from a credibility standpoint, he brought a great deal to the table, since he was already acclaimed as a director and writer by this time. Furthermore, he was obviously an expert on concept and production values.

It was Milius who was primarily responsible for the imagery that became, quite literally in fact, a trademark of the UFC. It had been determined, in brainstorming discussions about the prospective event, that it was not feasible to hold it inside a boxing or wrestling ring, since it was likely that the action would get so wild that competitors stood a good chance of falling out of the ring and injuring themselves in a way that was not intended.

So Milius came up with the idea of having the competition inside a cage; one that would hold the competitors no matter what. And after much contemplation, the octagon (eight-sided) shape was eventually settled upon. It later became trademarked by Semiphore Entertainment Group (SEG), the original television distributor of the UFC. Milius was officially the creative director of the event and his name and reputation were extremely useful in drawing people to invest in the venture Art Davie had created in conjunction with Rorion Gracie, a group that grew to 28 investors by the time the first event was staged.

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