The Ultimate Fighting Championship got kicked off, literally, on November 12, 1993, at the 18,000-seat McNichols Arena in Denver. Without a boxing commission or other regulatory body other than Art Davie’s rather self-contained International Fighting Council, the action promised to be wild and woolly.
And it was.
The first fight pitted Dutchman Gerard Gordeau, the savate champion, against sumo wrestler Teila Tuli. At 410 pounds, Tuli came into the octagon looking like the immovable object. But Gordeau, one of the more adroit martial artists in the world, was having none of it.
At the opening bell, Tuli went into a boxing stance as he and Gordeau circled each other. Then he decided to rush Gordeau, wading in throwing some rather weak punches. Gordeau was countering and he was backing up, but then just decided to step to the side and allow Tuli’s momentum to take him off-balance. A little push sent Tuli to the ground. At that point, with Tuli’s head turned away from the center of the octagon, Gordeau stepped in and landed a huge roundhouse right kick squarely on the right side of Tuli’s face; so hard that practically the entire arena was able to hear it. The kick popped out one of Tuli’s teeth and sent it flying into the crowd. With that, it was, for all intents and purposes, over.
Gordeau’s final right hand was more or less gratuitous, but it did damage anyway, landed right on Tuli’s right eye, opening up a big cut. This was just twenty-six seconds into the first round, and then there was a bit of confusion. The fights purportedly had no rules, aside from “loose” prohibitions on eye-gouging, biting, or groin blows, and Tuli did not want to quit the fight. He got up slowly, but Gordeau was not allowed to attack, as the referee had stepped in to inspect Tuli’s condition. But there was a long delay before he stopped the fight. It did not seem certain the official really knew what to do. But the doctor seemed to. Later it was discovered that Gordeau had kicked Tuli so hard that he knocked two more teeth out of his mouth. The only reason they didn’t fly into the crowd also was that they remained lodged in Gordeau’s foot! Doctors inspected the foot and determined that the teeth were so solidly embedded that an infection would be created inside the wound if they took the teeth out. So Gordeau’s right foot was simply taped up so that he could continue onto the next round of competition. Gordeau was in pain for the rest of the evening, not only in his foot but from his hand, which was broken when he landed the clean punch on Tuli’s face.
Tuli, in retrospect, was ill-suited for the event. He had not in fact wrestled in sumo since 1989, when he campaigned under the name Takamikuni. His real name was Taylor Wiley, and his big accomplishment was that he was a rare American who had been able to elevate himself to the point where he was good enough to compete in Japan. Although Tuli was hardly one of the best to compete in Japan, it nonetheless was kind of like an American soccer player becoming a regular for Manchester United. But he never appeared in the UFC again.
Meanwhile, Gordeau moved on – and made a name for himself in the process.
Gerard Gordeau’s emphatic knockout of Teila Tuli was merely the start of what were a number of unusual circumstances surrounding the first Ultimate Fighting Championship. Kevin Rosier, the ex-boxer and kick boxer who was in better shape in the photos he sent into the promoters in the application process, was announced at 265 pounds, though he was suspected of being closer to 345, when he stepped into the octagon against Zane Frasier.
Frasier did not have any major championships to his credit, but he had solidified a reputation with UFC promoters when he caught up with a former colleague, Frank Dux, at an exposition in Los Angeles and virtually manhandled him. Dux was well-known tot he “squares” who followed martial arts in the movies, as we was the inspiration for the Jean Claude van Damme film “Bloodsport,” but in a lawsuit that resulted from this assault, Frasier was able to raise quite a bit of doubt as to the validity of Dux’s background (eventually Dux was discredited in many martial arts circles). Frasier did not exactly come out of nowhere; he was a former student of Ed Parker, the foremost practitioner of kenpo karate. And he was considered a contender to reach the finals against Royce Gracie.
But Frasier may have been psychologically affected by some of the goings-on the night before the event was to take place. A ruling was made that prohibited hand wraps from being used in the tournament. Apparently it was part of Frasier’s strategy to cut his opponent up with his blows. And he cried conspiracy; maybe he was right, because there were a lot of decisions made at the last minute that seemed to skew the advantage toward Gracie.
Rosier, who came into the octagon wearing a hooded getup that made him look like the Grim Reaper, may have been woefully out of shape, but he had skills. From the outset, he was aggressive, going after Frasier, who was having some problems adjusting to the freelance environment. Rosier, with more experience in boxing, floored Frasier with a right hand early on, then later knocked Frasier down again and stomped on him a couple of times before the towel was thrown in. Later on it was discovered that Frasier had suffered an asthma attack during the fight, but not before landing enough to break Rosier’s jaw.
This was one of the most competitive bouts in the first UFC and indeed lasted the longest, at four minutes and 18 seconds.
Rosier lost his bout in the next round to Gerard Gordeau, and only competed in the UFC once more – in the fourth event, he submitted in fourteen seconds to Joe Charles. His mixed martial arts record stood at 2-6. Frasier did not appear in the UFC again until UFC IX (two and a half years later), when he lost to Cal Worsham. He won four out of his fourteen fights in mixed martial arts, but will continue to be known best for his expose of Frand Dux.
One isn’t sure whether Art Jimmerson thought the Ultimate Fighting Championship was going to be a piece of cake, but it is safe to say that once he looked at the action, he didn’t feel that way anymore.
There had always been an arrogance among people in the boxing community about the superiority of their fighters over those who competed in karate. “Those guys (the karate experts) would never be able to take a punch from a boxer,” was the standard anthem. At the same time, not many of them seemed daring enough to actually get into the ring with a kick boxer or karate champion. Art Jimmerson at least had taken the plunge years earlier.
On June 22, 1987, Jimmerson accepted the challenge of fighting Don “The Dragon” Wilson, who was a light heavyweight kick boxing champion under six different sanctioning bodies, including the WKA (World Karate Association). Wilson was one of the best-known fighters in the sport, and would eventually retire in 2000 after 78 pro fights.
Maybe one of the things that encouraged Jimmerson was the fact that Wilson had a very unfortunate and in fact, embarrassing turn as a professional boxer. he won just one of six fights, with three first-round knockout losses, and in one of those bouts, held before a national television audience on USA Network, he had gone into a karate-like stance at the opening bell, when Dawud Shaw, a middle-of-the-road Philadelphia light heavyweight, simply nailed him with a right hand and knocked him senseless within the first 20 seconds of the fight.
But when Jimmerson met Wilson in Cocoa Beach, Wilson’s hometown, it was really no contest. Jimmerson really couldn’t deal with the leg kicks coming from his opponent, and was chopped down systematically, lasting into the sixth round and no further.
At that particular point, Jimmerson had not made much of a reputation as a boxer, as he only had seven pro fights. But later his ring career began to pick up some steam. He won 23 of his next 26 fights, losing only to world champions Dennis Andries and Jeff Harding and Olympic medalist Andrew Maynard. In the process he had elevated himself to the point where he was listed as one of the top ten cruiserweight (190-pound limit) contenders by the World Boxing Council (WBC).
It was with this credential that Jimmerson went into the first Ultimate Fighting Championship. His plan, presumably, was to land a few punches to subdue his opponent. But he hadn’t brought boxing gloves with him. The fact is, he really didn’t know what he was going to do. Legend has it that after watching the first couple of UFC fights, his new strategy was to get out of there as soon as possible. Jimmerson’s first bout was against Royce Gracie, who could care less about standing up and boxing with anybody, since he was fully intent on taking an opponent to the ground and making him submit.
Jimmerson did a little improvising. He came into the octagon with one bare hand and one gloved hand, which was probably a violation of the agreed-upon provisions, and angered the event organizers. But would it really matter? And did Jimmerson not compromise himself completely by going “half and half”?
Gracie was a little wary anyway. Even though he knew the rules, or lack of same, played very much to his advantage, he didn’t want to get nailed by a Jimmerson punch, because in his discipline he was conditioned to a have an iron chin. That accounted for the fact that the fight lasted as long as it did (two minutes, 18 seconds). Of course, Royce didn’t realize what Jimmerson had planned. After a “feeling out” process, Gracie got Jimmerson to the ground with a few leg kicks, and before he even had a chance to go into his submission routine, Jimmerson tapped out. It was probably one of the easiest wins for a competitor in UFC history.
Jimmerson’s boxing career went precipitously downhill after his participation in the UFC. He lost 13 of his next 17 bouts, including nine in a row to end his career. His final boxing record was 33-18.
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