A cage full of UFC memories
Marcus Davis was a 19-year-old professional boxer the night he sat down to watch UFC 1 in 1993. He didn’t know a thing about jiu-jitsu or grappling, but what he knew, or at least what he thought he knew, was that he could pummel the crap out of that skinny guy rolling around on the ground twisting arms and choking people.
Davis laughed when UFC 1 was over and Royce Gracie, who weighed all of 180 pounds soaking wet, came out as the tournament winner.
“Being a boxer and watching guys with what I considered horrible standup and seeing a guy who was 180 pounds at most taking guys out and making them quit, well, I had no concept of what was happening,” Davis said. “The only conclusion I could draw was that it was fake. I thought the whole thing was phony. It’s the only thing that made sense to me.”
A few days later, Davis opened the phone book and was calling any martial arts academy with the name Gracie attached to it. He would prove conclusively that what he had seen was a bunch of bunk.
He phoned the Integrated Martial Arts Development Center in Waltham, Mass., and reached a purple belt named Joe Maffei. He told Maffei he wanted a private lesson, but never told him Maffei he was a boxer because he had a contract that forbade him from competing in other sports.
When Davis saw Maffei, a short, pudgy man who was hardly intimidating looking, he chuckled to himself. He wasn’t laughing, though, when the one-hour session was over.
“He destroyed me,” Davis said. “He absolutely wiped the floor with me. I was freaked out. I had a totally different outlook when I walked out than I had when I walked in. I became a believer. And I became a UFC junkie after that.”
Davis’ memory is similar to that of many fighters, who were inspired to compete in mixed martial arts after watching Gracie take apart much bigger and stronger men.
I’ve collected a series of memorable moments of cards from fighters, writers, executives, managers, trainers and fans to show the impact the UFC has had upon them.
Thiago Alves, UFC welterweight, UFC Brazil: Ultimate Brazil: “I was a young guy, 13 or 14, and I liked the idea of two guys going at it in a cage. … I never thought I’d wind up fighting MMA, though.”
Michael Bisping, UFC middleweight, UFC 70: “UFC 70 remains very special. Although I’d fought in the UFC twice before, to fight in my hometown of Manchester was just unreal. Over two years on, I get chills when I think about the way the fans absolutely went nuts. It was a thrilling, exciting and humbling experience: All those strangers cheering me on like crazy! The support of the fans is something I will never take for granted; it is just an honor to have people support you like that and I take not letting them down very seriously. To cap it off, my son came into the octagon to celebrate with me. That’s something he’ll be showing his kids one day. It was a just magic night, to be honest.”
Stephan Bonnar, UFC light heavyweight, UFC 51: “It was just two episodes into the airing of Season 1 of The Ultimate Fighter and I hadn’t had much air time, so I pretty much was anonymous. I was at UFC 51 in Las Vegas with my trainer, the late great Carlson Gracie Sr. The main event was Tito Ortiz vs. Vitor Belfort and it was my very first UFC. I was so excited. I had always wanted to go to a UFC and it was like a dream come true. I still couldn’t imagine fighting in a venue like this. I ran into Dana White, then we ran into Dan Henderson. Holy crap! Dan Henderson. I was like a basketball fanatic meeting Michael Jordan. Then Dana proceeded to bust his balls about losing to Kazuo Misaki. What surprised me the most was the amount of pretty girls there dressed to kill. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought for sure a UFC would have been a huge sausage fest, but it wasn’t! What were these girls doing watching this crap, and they seemed to be really into it. Every time my friends and I got together to watch a UFC, it was a dude thing. If there were girls there, they certainly weren’t paying any attention, nor did they care. The main event was great great fight. In my opinion, it could have gone either way, but Tito walked away with a split decision. An exhausted Vitor exited the cage and was walking right past us when an enraged Carlson (Vitor’s former trainer from childhood) was shouting obscenities at him in Portuguese. Vitor stopped and attempted to retort, then Carlson lunged at him, throwing a hard right hand that barely missed. Immediately, Vitor’s cornermen restrained Carlson, who had the fire of the devil in his eyes. I knew they had a falling out, but, wow! I reminded myself to stay on Carlson’s good side. My first UFC was definitely a memorable night.
Mike Brown, WEC featherweight champion, UFC 4: “UFC 4 was the most wild my house was ever been, and it was for one specific fight. Keith Hackney fought Joe Son and punched him in the groin repeatedly. It was so funny and so exciting. Back then, they didn’t have a UFC every month and so when one came along, it was like Christmas. Everyone in my house was going nuts watching that fight. I still laugh when I think about it.”
Shane Carwin, UFC heavyweight, UFC 96: “I fought Gabe Gonzaga that night in Columbus, [Ohio], and it was a huge fight for me. I had some adversity in the fight and to overcome that and win was pretty special. And the crowd was so loud. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a louder crowd. The energy in the arena was incredible.”
Mark DellaGrotte, MMA trainer, “The Ultimate Fighter 1” finale: “The one I do remember most is the first TUF finale between Forrest [Griffin] and Stephan [Bonnar]. The reason it’s special was because it was my debut in the big show. Kenny Florian was fighting Diego [Sanchez] and that night in a lot of ways was kind of the birth of the sport. Guys like us who loved it always followed it, but that was the night the sport went on the map. I was octagonside live and I specifically remember the hair on my arm standing up watching Forrest and Steph go at it. It was an incredible fight and I remember it for that for because it was my first time in the big show. Looking back, that was a great night.”
Dave Doyle, Yahoo! Sports MMA and boxing editor, UFC 52: “I was watching UFC 52 on pay-per-view with friends and the Matt Hughes-Frank Trigg fight was on. When Hughes took Trigg for a ride, and then choked him out, the people in the room jumped up out of their chairs and started high-fiving each other, like the Red Sox had just won the World Series. We had been watching UFC since the early days, and nothing had ever caused that sort of reaction. And no one in the room was a particularly big Hughes fan. This was a turning point that demonstrated the modern UFC really was turning into something that would last.”
Urijah Faber, former WEC featherweight champion, UFC 11: “Tank Abbott and Scott Ferrozzo fought on that show and it was so funny, watching two guys who looked like potbellied pigs just standing there and blasting each other with punches. After the fight, they asked Tank what he was going to do next and he said, ‘I’m going to go to the bar and get into another fight.’ That was before there were weight classes, but the whole thing was hilarious.”
Lorenzo Fertitta, UFC CEO, TUF 1 finale: “At the first TUF finale, when Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar started winging punches at each other and the crowd at the Cox Pavillion was stomping their feet, I leaned over to Dana and my brother, Frank, and said this thing (UFC) is gonna work! SpikeTV executives wouldn’t let us leave the building without upping for more TUF seasons. We all went to Nobu at the Hard Rock after to celebrate because even though we didn’t have ratings, you could just feel this thing was going to explode.”
Kenny Florian, UFC lightweight, UFC 4: “When Royce Gracie came back at UFC 4, it was an amazing thing to see him win three fights in one night, defeating Dan Severn in the final. People doubted him after UFC 3 when he had to bow out to Harold Howard. He came back and he put on another inspiring performance. Royce will always be my idol.”
Ron Frazier, MMA trainer, UFC 68: “My top memory as far as the UFC is concerned is UFC 68: Uprising, when Randy [Couture] fought Tim [Sylvia] for the heavyweight title. Warming Randy up before the event, we all felt a calmness and a sense of history in the making, defying all the odds. The crowd was electric from the start and not just for the main event but from the very first fight of the night. It was already at 95 percent capacity by the first fight. It was so loud you could not hear yourself think. Randy followed the game plan to perfection, using the cut kick to the overhand right that dropped Tim. He kept Tim off-balance. He took him down when Tim thought he would stand and he boxed when Tim thought he would take him down. He boxed the whole third round, even slipping a jab while throwing an uppercut, a move he learned an hour before the fight when hitting mitts warming up. The countdown the last 30 seconds of the bout still gives me goose bumps, hearing 20 thousand people counting down until his championship coronation. It was simply awesome and his performance was awe-inspiring. After the fight, he said, ‘Not bad for an old man.’ Not bad, indeed. I felt honored to stand with him that night. We all did.”
Mike Goldberg, UFC play-by-play announcer, UFC 68: “Being a proud Ohio native, it has to be Randy Couture versus Tim Sylvia from Nationwide Arena in Columbus. Because of the crowd, the Olympic-type countdown of the last 10 seconds and the mere fact that the Hall of Famer returned and dominated, it was very special to me because of the way my fellow Buckeyes embraced the sport all week long!”
Antoni Hardonk, UFC heavyweight, UFC 85: “I fought Eddie Sanchez in London on that card and it was a difficult fight for me. Eddie hits very hard and he hit me once and I was dizzy and couldn’t really see. It was a great mental challenge and I had to overcome myself. I had all these thoughts in my mind and I was hurt badly and to come back and win that fight was a very, very spiritual moment for me.”
Dan Hardy, UFC welterweight, UFC 28: “My first real defining memory of the UFC was actually watching the tape of Jens Pulver knocking out John Lewis from UFC 28. As soon as I saw that KO I wanted to be a UFC fighter, and somehow I knew that it was a legitimate possibility. It was the first time I thought, ‘Yeah, I can do that,’ which was weird because I’d been watching UFC on VHS tapes for years by then. But even though I was a fan of UFC, and was actually doing martial arts at the time, I didn’t connect with the old UFCs. But somehow Jens knocking out Lewis clicked with me. It looked like an athletic contest between two finely tuned fighters, not a 350-pound bloke from Sweden mauling a semi-pro boxer from Missouri. I’ve watched that fight dozens of times. Something about it just set something off in me and Jens Pulver is still one of my favorite fighters of all-time.”
Reed Harris, WEC general manager, UFC 47: “I’d known Chuck [Liddell] a long time and I knew that fighting Tito [Ortiz] was one he really wanted badly. He went out there and basically destroyed Tito. The crowd was so loud when Chuck came out. It’s the most energy I’ve ever felt in an arena.”
Dan Henderson, UFC middleweight, Ring – King of Kings finale: “For me, that was a big night, because I beat a couple of very good heavyweights. It was a really tough night of fighting and to do what I did meant a lot.”
Kevin Iole, Yahoo! Sports MMA columnist, UFC 48: “Frank Mir defeated Tim Sylvia with an armbar to win the heavyweight title. This was not just another armbar, however. This one snapped Sylvia’s arm in half. It was then that I truly realized the full potential of jiu-jitsu and that made the entire sport more enjoyable. To that point, I saw jiu-jitsu as an annoyance, but I’ve viewed it as a dangerous weapon ever since.”
Greg Jackson, MMA trainer, UFC 1: “The first one is so memorable to me and it’s just because that high level of grappling showing dominance over the striking arts. I had wrestled and had grown up in a family of wrestlers, but I never knew you could do all those things and show that kind of dominance over strikers. It was revolutionary to me. It changed my life for sure watching that.”
Joe Lauzon, UFC lightweight, UFC 69: “My most memorable UFC was when Matt Serra fought GSP for the welterweight title at UFC 69. I don’t think anyone was giving Matt a chance against one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet, but he shocked us all. I have been to a lot of UFCs, but nothing compares to the entire crowd gasping in unison when Matt dropped Georges with that first punch. It was pretty amazing how it felt like all of the oxygen in the entire place was drawn out.”
Brock Lesnar, UFC heavyweight champion, UFC 3: “The memory that sticks out in my mind the most is Royce Gracie and Kimo [Leopoldo], I believe it was, when Gracie pulled his ponytail out of his head. That’s probably one of the things that sticks out most in my mind, just watching two guys of different disciplines get into the octagon and wondering which discipline [was better] and who was going to come out with their hand raised. It was one of those moments that sticks out in my mind.”
Chris Lytle, UFC welterweight, UFC 47: “That was the night Chuck [Liddell] and Tito [Ortiz] met for the first time. I fought on that card and the place was so loud and people were so into it. You knew then you were seeing the start of something that was going to be pretty big.”
Dave Meltzer, Yahoo! Sports MMA columnist, UFC 68: “There are so many, but I’d have to go with the first 10 seconds and the last 10 seconds of the Randy Couture-Tim Sylvia match. It was a situation where the crowd wanted Couture to win so badly, but because of the size and age difference, I think deep down they were afraid he had bitten off more than he could chew. The first 10 seconds was the knockdown that nobody saw coming, and the last 10 seconds was the climax, when they realized, he really had won the championship for a record-setting fifth time.”
Frank Mir, UFC interim heavyweight champion, UFC 1: “Obviously, the most cliché one that everyone talks about was the very first UFC. At that time, in the early ’90s, I was under the same assumption everyone else was, that if you punched somebody they fell down. I never had any clue whatsoever about grappling. I thought wrestling was just a sport in college and the Olympics. I never realized judo and jiu-jitsu were actually very dominant martial arts. I remember that was a very eye-opening experience for me. I couldn’t imagine what Royce Gracie was doing. I had no clue. Me and my Dad were sitting there watching, completely dumbfounded by the whole situation that was going on.”
Ken Pavia, MMA manager, UFC 40: “Tito [Ortiz] and Ken Shamrock, their first fight really stands out for me. It was my first show and I had one of the undercard guys, Tiki [Ghosn]. It set things in motion for me personally. But the show was a spectacle to the largest degree. They were still doing the entrances with the ramp then and they were both memorable and they created a frenzy in the arena. There really was a lot of bad blood between those guys and there had been quite a bit of promotion on that fight. The fans had been waiting for it for a long time. It turned out to be a very violent, very exciting fight and it’s one I’ll never forget.”
Marc Ratner, UFC vice president of regulatory affairs, UFC 70: “My favorite moment of many was Manchester. Going to England and starting from scratch and helping to put on a successful show made it a very special night for the UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts.”
Diego Sanchez, UFC lightweight, UFC 52: “The fight between Randy and Chuck was incredible. They had been our coaches on ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ and to get to be there and feel the energy and emotion from the crowd when they fought that night was really cool. I’ll never forget it.”
Joe Stevenson, UFC lightweight, UFC 68: “One of the most awesome UFC moments for me happened at UFC 68, when Randy ‘The Natural’ Couture went up a weight class to fight Tim ‘The Maniac’ Sylvia. It was surreal due to the fact that I just had watched the new ‘Rocky’ movie and Rocky lost, but one of my heroes pulled it off in real life. The fans in Columbus, Ohio, added to the moment with their electrifying energy. Being in the locker room with Randy after the fight was the cherry on top.”
Georges St. Pierre, UFC welterweight champion, UFC 1: “Watching Royce Gracie winning the first tournament, I became inspired to do what I do now. Using the martial arts, a weapon no one knew at the time, he was able to win even though he was so much smaller than all the guys he fought. That really inspired me to get involved.”
Frank Trigg, UFC welterweight, UFC 91 and UFC 46: “UFC 91 with [Frank] Mir and [Brock] Lesnar had the all elements you want to see in a great fight. I remember it so vividly. I remember Frank being down and being beaten up to the standup to the restart. It was all so exciting. Frank was a former champion and a lot of people were asking before the fight could Brock handle that situation. And then Frank gets that kneebar and it was amazing to see the fight change that quickly and end that way. And then UFC 46 taught me that no matter what, you had to be mentally and physically prepared for absolutely anything. Randy [Couture] was fighting Vitor Belfort and the fight had just started and nothing had happened and then it was over. Literally, nothing had happened but I saw Randy wiping his eye and he’d gotten caught by the glove. You put so much into those fights and to have it end that quickly, with literally nothing happening, is a tremendously difficult thing to handle. And that taught me, as a fighter, a great lesson.”
Dana White, UFC president, UFC 47 and UFC 52: “From a personal standpoint, watching Chuck [Liddell] beat the [expletive] out of Tito [Ortiz] was as good as it gets. Even back then, me and Tito were having a lot of problems and I really loved seeing him get blasted. But I don’t think I’ve ever remembered excitement like I do from UFC 52. That was one of the greatest fights ever, between [Matt] Hughes and [Frank] Trigg. Trigg was close to finishing Matt and Matt scooped him up, carried him across the octagon and slammed the (expletive) out of him. I thought the roof was going to be blown off the arena, it was so loud.”
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Jason Armistead, Bakersfield, Calif., UFC 88: “One of the greatest memories I have of UFC is the Chuck Liddell-Rashad Evans fight. I had a lot of my friends over to watch the fight and many of them were Chuck fans. I kept saying, ‘Look out for a big counter punch from Rashad. It will drop Chuck.’ Well, when that punch struck, the room fell silent because we couldn’t believe Chuck got rocked so hard. We literally thought he was dead. My brother-in-law jumped and yelled, ‘Dude, he’s dead!’ The way Chuck fell to the mat and when Herb Dean rolled him over we were in shock and couldn’t believe what had just happened. Obviously, many of then became Rashad fans after that fight.”
Usman Ashraf, Canton, Mich., UFC 81: “My best memory from the UFC is from UFC 81. Back then, I wasn’t a UFC fan, as I only really watched boxing and wrestling. The only [fighters] I knew were Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn, because of the WWE. I was a huge WWE fan, and I heard that Brock Lesnar was going to fight in the UFC, so I decided to watch it. When I saw who Brock was up against, Frank Mir, I remember thinking to myself, ‘Brock is going to destroy this loser,’ and for the first minute or so, that’s exactly what was happening. Just when I was sure Brock was going to knock Mir out, Mir just gets Lesnar in a [knee bar] and submits him. That’s the day I became a huge UFC fan, and in a way, Frank Mir was to me what Royce Gracie was to the generation before me.”
Nigel Branch, Jackson, Mich., UFC 16: “At UFC 16, rising star Frank Shamrock fought Igor Zinoviev. It was only the second event I’d seen, and in 22 seconds, Frank picked Zinoviev up over his head and slammed him down. I remember being totally blown away by how fast and brutally he ended the fight. It’s the fight that started my love for MMA. For years after that in wrestling, I attempted to mimic the slam in my matches. Seeing it on pay-per-view as a kid, I didn’t really know the extent of the public outcry against the sport. I’m glad it never affected my love of the sport.”
Michael Lapitan, San Jose, Calif., UFC 34: “The UFC memory that has always stuck in my mind was the Carlos Newton-Matt Hughes fight. Everything from Hughes lifting Newton from the center of the ring to the end of the cage, all while being choked, then leading to the infamous power bomb. The look on Matt Hughes’ face was priceless after finding out he won the fight!”
Jason Palmer, Seattle, UFC 86: ” I’ve seen some great fights over the years but I’m going with UFC 86, Forrest Griffin versus Rampage Jackson, as my best UFC memory. Season 7 of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ is what brought my wife around to my way of thinking on the UFC. She came to love both fighters during TUF and turned into a UFC fan. UFC 86 was the first pay-per-view we watched together and we haven’t missed one since.”
James Reece Peak, Baltimore, TUF 2 finale: “Watching Rashad Evans win the heavyweight title on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and then going on to gain the UFC light heavyweight belt is my favorite moment.”
Joe Piervincenti, New Rochelle, N.Y., UFC 81: “At this point, I was still [fairly] a hardcore WWE fan, and could never understand the appeal of legitimate fighting. I would tell my friend, ‘Why watch a street fight in a cage when I can watch two performers manage to put on a show and tell a story without hurting themselves?’ My primary reason for even watching the show was curiosity for Brock Lesnar’s debut. Man, did that ever change my life. Ever since that show, I have been absolutely addicted to the UFC, and it’s changed my life for the positive, given me a reason for traveling [to shows], given me a new aspiration of being an MMA writer one day, and it’s been the only thing that’s ever given me motivation to eat right and exercise. I can go on and on!”
John Rhynes, Macon, Ga., UFC 88: “It was surreal to see Rashad [Evans] when Chuck [Liddell] went down and no one but me knew he was doing Fred Sanford’s dance!”
Jon Simons, Suffern, N.Y., UFC 1: “I was a year-and-a-half into my tae kwon do training, which coincidentally, unbeknownst to me, was halfway to my black belt. My head instructor was talking about UFC 1, and I was very interested in seeing it. Unfortunately for me, my mother thought it was too violent for me, as I was only 11 years old. Luckily, my Dad disagreed, as he started training in TKD a little while after me, and was also interested in seeing fighters from different styles fight one another. My father and I watched the event and were blown away by Royce Gracie and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I have seen every UFC since the first, and I finally did something I’ve wanted to do for 15 years: I recently started a BJJ class.”
Arwin Sy, Singapore, UFC 7: “This is the card that really got me hooked on MMA. Marco Ruas chopped down Paul Varelans like a tree. To me, Ruas was the first well-rounded fighter to be featured in the UFC, showing both striking and submission skills. Most of the previous champions were one-dimensional. Marco submitted and TKO’d his opponents to win UFC 7.”
Trayce Zimmerman, Chicago, UFC 35: “Jens Pulver beats B.J. Penn then sobs with joy. Pulver is one of greatest survivor/redemption stories ever. Choked me up.”