In a testament to the shortcomings of human beings, prior to the UFC, every martial artist was convinced their approach to fighting was the best, but none of them actually tried it. There were contests to see who could punch the best, and who could put on a ninja turtle shell and kick each other in the head the best, and who could push each other around the best, but no one actually tried putting it all together.
The simplest ideas can be genius. The great spirit who invented wheels on luggage is lost to time, but the man who invented modern mixed martial arts is Rorion Gracie.
Gracie recently appeared on Ariel Helwani's The MMA Hour, and detailed the birth of the world's fastest growing sport.
It began when Gracie taught Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu modestly for a decade, and decided evnetually there had to be a way to get the word out about BJJ that was faster than beating every Hapkido man, Kung Fuista that walked into his garage.
This is the garage:
"I came to the U.S. for the first time in 1969 and but I got robbed, they took my flight tickets and money, so I had to stay here for a year," said Gracie. "It was an interesting experience that made me more mature, and I made some good friendships here. I had to sleep in the streets, my bed was a pile of newspapers, but that experience made me grow a lot."
"When I got back to America, I put a jiu-jitsu mat in my garage and asked everybody to take a class with me, and everybody liked it. I spent 10 years teaching jiu-jitsu in my garage. Most of my students said their karate, boxing or muay thai teachers said they were wasting time with jiu-jitsu, and I always invited the teachers to come train with me inside my garage. I beat them all, and some of them became my students in the end.
"It all happened over and over again, a hundred times in ten years, but I realized I had to leave my garage if I wanted to introduce jiu-jitsu to the world, and I knew I would need the TV to do it. That’s when I had the idea to create a tournament where every martial art would fight to see which one is the best, and that’s where a skinny Royce Gracie started all this."
"The TV guys loved the idea. It was unbelievably crazy, but they loved it. I used to teach John Milius and we started wondering how we could create a ring where the fighters couldn’t escape. I’ve seen a lot of fighters escape through the ropes when they’re getting beat. We came up with the idea to build a tank full of sharks or alligators around the ring, or maybe an electric fence. We considered everything, but in the end we came up with the idea of an octagon."
"I was alone in the U.S., working hard to build Gracie jiu-jitsu. I found out that we could do a fight with no gloves or rules in Colorado, so it all worked out. Everybody loved the idea and my dream became true."
"Everybody told me to pick Rickson Gracie. He would be a huge success, he would obviously beat all of them, but the reason why I picked Royce is because he’s a tiny, skinny guy, and that would prove that jiu-jitsu is a better martial art no matter who you’re fighting. If Rickson goes there and wins, big deal! He’s huge. It would be like a tank running over everybody. The idea was showing that even a small guy could beat a bigger opponent using jiu-jitsu."
"We expected to sell 40,000 pay-per-views with that first edition and sold 85,000. After that, we sold 120,000. It grew fast. By the second or third pay-per-view, Forbes called the UFC the most successful franchise in pay-per-view history."
"We had two hours to air the event in pay-per-view, and we had fights with no time limit or weight divisions, just two guys going in there to brawl and finish the opponent to win. That was the idea when I created the UFC. But when Royce fought Dan Severn at UFC 4, the whole event lasted two hours and three minutes. The pay-per-view went off and nobody saw the end of the main event. We had to send them tapes of the fights, return their money… It was crazy.
"At UFC 5, my partners Art Davie and Bob Meyrowitz said we had to change the rules because of TV, so I realized that the TV had changed the philosophy of my tournament. I wanted real fights on TV. My partners wanted a TV show with fights. They were the pockets of the UFC at that time, and I disagreed with them, so I left. I sold my share of the company and left, and I don’t regret it. I wasn’t there to make money. I just wanted to show jiu-jitsu to the world."
"I don’t watch the UFC anymore, but Dana White called me to go there on Nov. 16 and I’m going. I said 'of course, man, I want to congratulate you'. The fact that I don’t watch it doesn’t mean it's not good. They have a lot of great fighters there. But my dream is complete. When they started training jiu-jitsu, my mission was accomplished.
"It’s the fastest growing spectacle in the world today. Dana White built a great entertaining program, but it just doesn’t have the same educational value that it had before. We had a competition between martial arts, and now we have a competition between athletes. Everybody learned jiu-jitsu as I planned when I came to America. Today, my goal is to help people change their lives with the Gracie Diet."
What do you think UG? Where would martial arts be without Rorion Gracie?