The early days of the UFC were simply crazy and wild compared to the modern UFC era. Many of the UFC’s current rules weren’t in place then, and the UFC was mostly operating in unknown legal territory. Here’s a look at why and how the UFC chose to host its first event in Denver, Colorado.
The origins of the UFC
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According to The Denver Post, Art Davie, who came up with the idea of the UFC, first had to find fighters for the event. He eventually convinced Rorion Gracie, who came from the Gracie family. The Gracie family were used to using their Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills to beat up challengers, so Gracie was down for the concept. The same can’t be said for most cable providers.
Since the UFC was envisioned as a combat sports tournament on pay-per-view, Davie and Rorion needed a cable company. Many of the biggest names passed up on it, including ESPN, Showtime, and HBO.
However, they eventually found someone who actually liked what they had to say. That someone was Campbell McLaren, and he worked for Semaphore Entertainment Group, or SEG. McLaren passed the idea up to his boss at SEG, Bob Meyrowitz, and SEG were on board.
With the UFC funded, the founders added a few more people to get things started. Now, they just needed to get down to brass tacks and actually host the tournament. That said, one of the hurdles that they had to jump over had to do with the venue. Since MMA wasn’t really a thing at the time, there weren’t many places where they could legally host a tournament like they wanted.
Why the UFC chose Denver
Ultimately, like The Denver Post wrote, Denver was just the perfect storm of conditions that made it attractive for the UFC founders. Off the bat, Davie had a lot of personal connections to Denver. He said, “I had a Denver accountant, a Denver lawyer, and I had a Glock 17 in a safe deposit box in Denver.”
Furthermore, Denver’s laws were very loose when it came to combat sports at the time. For example, due to a loophole, Colorado allowed bare-knuckled boxing fights to happen. On top of that, since there was no state boxing commission, the UFC was pretty much free to do as it pleased with little oversight.
There were also good business reasons for the UFC to host its first event in Denver. The Denver Post said that Colorado was one of a few states that had a statute for the formation of an LLC, and this was beneficial for the UFC. Furthermore, the McNichols Arena, which was home to the Nuggets at the time, was empty that night as the Nuggets were playing an away game. This allowed the UFC to book the Arena for just $4,000.
A wild first event kicks off a legacy of success
A lot of people were curious about UFC 1, as it promised to showcase fighters from around the world fighting each other with different martial arts. It fulfilled that promise, as boxing, kickboxing, and other forms of striking were all beaten by the Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills of Royce Gracie. With his victory, Gracie proved that fighting was more than just punching and kicking, and it set off a phenomenon that continues to this day.
After the success of this event, the UFC hosted many more events. However, due to its lack of rules, it started getting bad press, and some states even started banning it.
Eventually, the UFC had to be sold, and it was sold to Dana White and his friends. White cleaned up the messy image of the early UFC, but regardless, Gracie’s legacy lives on as Brazilian jiu-jitsu continues to be a dominant part of MMA.