Recently I’ve been doing some work on the SBNation MMA Database. It’s a rather cumbersome task that suits itself to my desire for neatness and order, and has the potential to turn into a great resource long term. At the moment I’m working on building profiles of old UFC and Pride events and their fighters. This has lead to a great deal of rummaging around through story backlogs, and forums and personal websites for little tidbits of information.
Many of us who came to MMA late, remember those early days and early fights as matches between overwhelmed Karate instructors, suddenly out of their depth in a real fight. And while there is, occasionally, some truth to that notion, there’s also a lot more there than meets the eye. That said, as I make my journey through MMA history, I will do these articles on the fighters that graced the first events of MMA. Who were they, what got them there, what’s happened to them?
And now, the fighters of UFC 1:
Gerard Gordeau – One of the first fighters to appear in the UFC, Gordeau was a world champion Savateur and multi-time black belt and champion Karateka (under Harry Couzijn Shihan) as well as Jiu Jitsu black belt from the Netherlands. Among his many claimed accomplishments are 1979 karate victories over Andy Hug and Dolf Lundgren, as well as the 1988 Savate World Championship. Despite his short MMA career (although he did have a largely unrecorded career in Shooto and Rings in Japan in the late 80s/early 90s) he is known for one particular incident, in which he ended up blinding Yuki Nakai in one eye, from a gouge, at Vale Tudo Japan in 1995. Gordeau was known as a somewhat “dirty” fighter, and many feel the gouge was intentional. Nakai went on to fight two more times that night, but retired from MMA competition after the event.
After his MMA career Gordeau has pursued a pro-wrestling career in Japan appearing for New Japan Pro Wrestling, as well as many smaller promotions. He is also the founder and head instructor of Dojo Kamakura in The Hauge, The Netherlands.
Teila Tuli – Born Taylor Wiley, Teila Tuli was one of the first sumo wrestlers to find tournament success in Japan. He won a championship in the makushida division (sumo’s third highest) before retiring from the sport. Tuli competed under the name Takamishu out of the Azumazeki stable and was a mentor to legendary sumo wrestler Akebono Taro, helping Akebono adjust to life in Japan as both were from Hawaii. His MMA career only lasted one fight, in which he lost several teeth and his senses while on the receiving end of a Gordeau head kick.
After his fighting career ended Tuli went on to find success as an actor and currently plays the recurring character Kamekona on the Hawaii Five-0 reboot. Tuli is one of only two professional Sumo wrestler to ever appear in the UFC.
Zane Frazier – A WKF kickboxing champion, and fourth degree Karate black belt, Frazier had a reasonably long (considering that many early fighters fought only a small handful of times in their careers) and notably unsuccessful career, amassing a record of 4-11.
Legend has it (and a 1993 issue of Karate International Magazine) that Frazier secured his entry to the UFC by beating up Frank Dux at the Draka Martial Arts Trade Show in at the Century City Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Art Davie was reportedly on hand to witness the scuffle and was so impressed that he asked Frazier to compete at UFC 1.
Kevin Rosier – A former ISKA, WKKC, and WKA kickboxing champion and professional boxer, Rosier is known more for his late career failures than it’s early successes. Despite a 2-6 MMA record, and a 7-17 pro boxing record, he claims a 66-8 record as a professional kick boxer, much of which may be attributed to his point Karate fighting days.
Royce Gracie – This was, of course, the first appearance of Royce Gracie to American audiences. As a blue belt Royce moved to California at the age of 17 along with his brothers to help his older brother Rorion run his quickly growing Jiu Jitsu academy. By the age of 18 Royce had earned his black belt, and by the early 90’s, Royce, his brothers, and the Gracie Challenge had a growing reputation in California. Despite being the smallest of the Gracie clan, Royce was picked to be the “enforcer” for the first UFC tournament. It was hoped that his diminutive frame would further the schools reputation when he won the event.
However that was only the beginning. Royce would go on to win multiple UFC tournaments and compete for Pride and K-1. He notably failed a post fight screening for steroids following his last fight, a win over Kazushi Sakuraba, and while he has often talked of returning to MMA since, he has remained out of competition.
Art Jimmerson – Somewhat affectionately (or tauntingly, depending on your view) known as “One Glove,” Jimmerson was a promising professional boxer when he entered into MMA. As an Amateur he was the national Gold Gloves middleweight champion. The biggest moment of his professional boxing career came in an upset over hometown favorite Lenny Lapaglia. By the time he entered the octagon, Jimmerson was a respectable journeyman with a 29-5 record.
He was brought in by Rorion Gracie to represent boxing’s place in martial arts, and to truly validate the skill of Jiu Jitsu fighters. After agreeing to the competition Jimmerson tried to back out of the deal, but when Davies threatened to sue him, he re-entered negotiations. Rumors have been floated that Jimmerson made as much as $20,000 for his single MMA fight.
Jimmerson explained the one glove idea, saying that he knew the dangers of bare knuckle fighting to a boxers hands and wanted to protect his jab hand during the fight. He lasted a full 2 minutes against Royce Gracie in his debut before tapping out. After his foray into mixed martial arts, his career took a turn south. Over the next 8 years he would go 4-13.
Ken Shamrock – When Ken Shamrock entered UFC 1 he already had a history in MMA. In fact he was the only fighter at the event to have recorded professional MMA bouts prior to UFC 1. He played football and wrestled in high school, and would go on to a decent junior college football career, after a wrestling neck injury kept him from offers from larger schools. He played semi-pro football for the Sacramento Bulldogs, but by the time the San Diego Chargers offered him a tryout he was looking to pursue a pro wrestling career. Pro wrestling took him to the tutelage of Buzz Sawyer, but the lure of Japanese mixed martial arts/pro wrestling cross-promotions saw him move to Japan to train with Masakatsu Funaki under Karl Gotch.
The call of pro wrestling and of Japanese promotions has complicated Shamrock’s legacy with mixed martial arts and the UFC. As one of the sport’s earliest stars he was a UFC Superfight champion, and King of Pancrase, but much of his early success occurred overseas. And his latter day MMA career has been marred by a string of poor performances and a failed drug test for steroids in 2009. After retiring in 2010, Shamrock has recently announced his return to MMA and will face Ian Freeman at UCFC: The Legends, in July.
Patrick Smith – Pat Smith was one of MMA’s early striking stars. A Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido, Karate, and Tang Soo Do black belt with a kickboxing record of 66-8, he failed to find consistent success in his MMA career. But as time passed (and his level of competition decreased) he has managed to build a reasonable legacy as a journeyman fighter. After a quick exit at UFC 1 he made it to the finals of UFC 2 (a 16-man one night tournament) where he lost to Royce Gracie.
Smith was arrested in 2008, shortly before his Yamma fight, after leading police on a high speed chase. Despite the arrest he still fought for the promotion. His last fight was a decision loss to Kevin Jordan in 2009.
Jason DeLucia – Jason Delcuia was already familiar with the “Gracie Challenge” when he entered UFC 1 as an alternate. He had lost to Royce Gracie just one year prior to UFC 1 at the Gracie Academy in California. Following the loss he entered the tutelage of Ken Shamrock and the Lions Den to expand upon his 5-Animals Kung Fu background. He didn’t make it into the UFC 1 tournament, but it was his first foray into professional mixed martial arts.
After competing for the UFC in it’s first two events DeLucia would go on to a long and successful career in Pancrase in Japan. There he would gain victories over Matt Hume, Masakatsu Funaki, Ikuhisa Minowa, and Chris Lytle. He eventually retired from competition in 2006
Trent Jenkins – A Karateka, Jenkins competed sporadically in MMA between 1993 and 2000. Prior to his UFC debut he tried to keep his MMA plan a secret, telling his mother, who was planning to go to a family funeral, not to tell anyone. His mother ended up cancelling the trip out of fear that she would need to take him to the hospital after the event. He claims to have been one of the few fighters at the event who was unsurprised when informed that strikers would not be allowed hand wraps, which many felt unfairly swung the rules in Royce’s favor.
Talking about his debut he gave the following quote on his expectations of fighting as an alternate, and the expectations the Gracies had for him and DeLucia:
They said, “You know what, you guys might not end up fighting. We might decrease your pay or whatever.” The fights might go two hours, might go two minutes. If we went on, it was because someone got hurt or they needed to fill time. I thought we were going to go friendly because DeLucia said, “I’m not going to get my face messed up.” I don’t know if it was a mind game on his part. (via Real Fighter Magazine)
Most recently he was reported to be working at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.
That’s all there is to tell for the fighters of UFC 1 (or at least it’s all that will fit comfortably in one article). Be sure to look out for the next installment UFC 2: Who are all these one-off fighters and why should I care, coming soon.
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