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Volume 22 No. 2
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Closing Shot: Enter the octagon

Twenty-five years ago, the Ultimate Fighting Championship took a swing at the fight market with an anything-goes card that would captivate, and disgust, with an event that would put mixed martial arts on the map
Denver played host to the first UFC card 25 years ago, which put mixed martial arts on the radar for fight fans but also drew the attention of state regulators.
Photo: ufc

The fight poster promoting the UFC’s first event does a capable job of laying out the product for a Denver audience that probably hadn’t heard of mixed martial arts heading into that seminal night 25 years ago, but certainly could recognize a good toughman contest when it saw one.

Down the sides are brief résumés of each of eight combatants, with height and weight, hometown and, most importantly, the fight discipline from which they came.

Make your way down the poster and you’ll find four words that became the calling card of the embryonic UFC, four words that would help the promotion, and the sport, build a cultlike following, and then hang around its neck like a restraining collar as it tried to fight its way into the mainstream.

“THERE ARE NO RULES!”

If you were up for bloodsport, the Ultimate Fighting Championship would deliver.

In the first televised match of the event —- which aired on pay-per-view, as have all of UFC’s more than 200 signature shows since — Teila Tuli, a 6-foot-2, 410-pound sumo wrestler from Honolulu, met Gerard Gordeau, a 6-foot-5, 216-pound Dutch champion in the discipline of savate, which is akin to kickboxing.

At the opening bell, Tuli circled Gordeau for a bit, and then charged like a bull. Gordeau retreated and stepped to one side, allowing the hulking Samoan to stumble into the chain-link cage. As Tuli tried to get to his feet, Gordeau delivered a brutal right kick to the mouth. One of Tuli’s front teeth flew clear of the octagon. Another embedded itself in Gordeau’s right foot. Gordeau quickly followed with a punch to the eye, which opened a cut that led Tuli’s corner to throw in the towel. Time of the bout: 26 seconds.

Because it was a tournament, Gordeau had another fight ahead of him. Doctors were hesitant to remove the tooth from his foot for fear of infection, so they simply taped over it. Unfortunately, one of the few rules of the night with “No Rules” did not allow them to tape Gordeau’s hand, which he had broken on Tuli’s face.

While that sort of brutality generated an underground buzz, it did not play well with state legislators. By 1995, MMA was banned in 36 states.

When brothers Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta bought the UFC in 2001, they realized that they would have to tame the beast before they could ride it. The promotion with no rules adopted 31 of them, then went to work on gaining sanction, state by state.

“We run towards regulation,” Lorenzo Fertitta often said as he stumped for UFC acceptance.

Today, MMA has been legalized in all 50 states.