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Friday, Nov 18, 2011

Original UFC Pioneer: Ten Great Things About UFC That Have Not Changed Since The Beginning

Original UFC Pioneer Campbell McLaren (right) standing next to UFC 3 competitor, 6-foot-8, 600 plus pound Olympic Judokan and Sumo Champion Emmanuel Yarborough. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Street Communications

Original UFC Pioneer: Ten Great Things About UFC That Have Not Changed Since The Beginning

By Campbell McLaren


As the originator of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Executive Producer of the first 20 Pay-Per-View events I was eager to watch the UFC’s first Fox broadcast.

I love the UFC and have loved it since the fateful day in April 1993 when Art Davie called me to pitch his and Rorian Gracie’s idea for a “War of the Worlds” Pay Per View event.

As I watched the UFC’s Fox broadcast debut I was struck with déjà vu, well not exactly déjà vu since the UFC has never been on Fox. I don’t know what the word is; I just had a sense that the UFC has changed much and yet not changed at all.

I flashed back to 1995 and The Ultimate Ultimate, the UFC’s first tournament of champions. We were doing everything possible to make it the biggest UFC event ever but desperately needed to avoid scheduling it near Mike Tyson’s upcoming Pay-Per-View fight with Buster Mathis.

Tyson’s PPV fights were always huge money makers; his previous fight with Peter McNeely had made $63 million on American PPV alone. Don King announced his Tyson PPV date and our company quickly locked in The Ultimate Ultimate for December 16, 1995.

We began advertising but back then the UFC’s marketing budgets were tiny. The early UFC’s needed controversy to create buzz or no one would have heard about the events. I had an idea to use the music from The Nutcracker, Tchaikofsky’s holiday classic, in the tv commercial, while showing clips of UFC groin punches and kicks. The fans loved it but the critics predictably said the UFC at Christmas time was horrifying. More people heard about that evil Christmas commercial than actually ever saw it.

Then Don King became a very nasty Santa; he announced the Tyson fight was moving to December 16, the same night as The Ultimate Ultimate, and it was going to be free on Fox.

Why had Don King chosen to do this and seemingly give up so much money? Why did Fox program it opposite the UFC ? Just a coincidence ? To this day I have never heard a good explanation why Tyson moved from PPV to free tv.

But disaster turned into a triumph; The Ultimate Ultimate garnered more press pitted against Tyson; the excitement of the UFC shined against boxing’s tarnished offering. The Ultimate Ultimate became the highest grossing PPV for the UFC up to that date.

Maybe this doesn’t mean the UFC has come full circle from Fox death-blow to Fox debut. But it did make me think about how the UFC has changed and how much of it’s success comes from the early years.

So with that in mind here is my list of great things about the UFC that have not changed.

10. It is still totally unpredictable.

The UFC’s Fox broadcast title fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos was over in 63 seconds. No one expected that. You just can’t predict UFC fights. The very first UFC fight between Teila Tuli and Gerard Gordeau lasted 23 seconds. At the time I thought that meant our first Pay Per View would be over in nine minutes.

9. The Octagon.

The Octagon is an icon. Today’s Octagon is essentially the same as was used in UFC I. Credit for that goes to famed Hollywood director/writer John Milius (Apocalypse Now, Dirty Harry). He was part of the creative team planning the first event. Milius came up with the shape from his Conan The Barbarian movie where Conan fights in a stone octagon. It was then decided to base the Octagon’s dimensions on a Sumo ring, as a tribute to the oldest martial art. I wanted to add barb wire to the top but even back then that seemed like too much.

UFC commentator Joe Rogan

8. Joe Rogan.

I brought Joe into UFC XII as a roving commentator and he is arguably now one of the best color commentators on TV. Few people have ever been better suited for their job. Joe was a kick boxer and stand-up comedian at the beginning of his career; two very tough ways to make a living. Joe could not believe how disorganized we were on XII. He should have seen UFC I. Joe loved the UFC from the moment he heard about it from me. He still does, and it shows.

"Big" John McCarthy (left) presiding over the action between Mark Coleman and Maurice Smith at UFC 14 on July 27, 1997. McCarthy served as a head referee for nearly every UFC fight between UFC 2 and UFC 77

7. Big John.

Is there a more famous referee in sports? John came into the UFC on the second event. In the first UFC the referee was not allowed to stop the fights. That was incredibly dangerous and reckless. Big John changed that. John was always in command even when there were no rules.

6. The Fans.

From the beginning, the UFC has inspired fans. Originally many of the PPV buyers were interested because of the violent hype but there was an immediate hard-core that really wanted to see great fights and technique. From the first event on I was getting calls and letters from passionate fans offering amazing insight into a brand new sport. Are there more opinionated fans in any sport than MMA?

UFC matchmaker Joe Silva

5. Joe Silva.

Joe is the UFC’s matchmaker and few people, if any, know more about UFC fights than he does. He deserves tremendous credit for creating the sport. Joe started as one of those highly opinionated fans. He won a contest I created to find the UFC’s “Superfan.” As the winning “Superfan” Joe flew to Denver to watch UFC III live. He arrived with yellow legal pads filled with ideas and notes after watching the first two events. Even then he knew more about the UFC than I did.

4. Danger.

The UFC still feels dangerous. It has a tremendous safety record and takes every possible precaution to ensure fighter safety. Other sports, including boxing, car racing (which regularly kills spectators) professional and high school football, professional wrestling and Steeple Chase have all been shown to be more dangerous than MMA. If you count the concussions in girl’s Youth Soccer you can make a case it is more dangerous than the UFC. But still… when the door to the Octagon slams closed I get chills.

3. The old guys in the media.

This is a classic generation gap. Judging by much of the press coverage of the Fox telecast not much has changed here. They are still quoting my 1994 press release that said the fights would stop if there was a death. I brought in football legend Jim Brown as an announcer to get aging baby boomer sports writers to pay attention. They did not respond. On ABC’s Good Morning America Charlie Gibson asked Jim Brown “ How did you get mixed up with this stuff ? ” From the beginning sports/boxing writers have tried to write the UFC off as a fad. The same is true for the old guy tv execs; both HBO and Showtime had the chance to air the UFC but they saw it as a threat to their boxing business.

UFC President Dana White

2. Dana White.

Dana obviously did not work on the UFC in the beginning. But he was a fan. Dana says he loved it right away even though it was maybe “the worst run business in America.” He is absolutely the perfect leader for the UFC; part Don King, part Vince McMahon, and all the way concerned for the fighters. I was too busy telling the media that there were no rules and anything goes then back pedaling and saying it was actually safe and should be allowed on the air. Dana reminds me of the guy on the old TV commercials who said “I liked the razor so much I bought the company.”

The original UFC champion and legend Royce Gracie

1. The Fighters.

From Royce Gracie on, the UFC has presented incredible athletes performing incredible feats of strength, speed, skill and courage. The UFC began with Gracies and Shamrocks, Tank, Severn, Couture, Kimo, Ortiz, Frye, Coleman and others whose names are not as well remembered. Then, and now, the UFC fighters represent the best in sports. Critics likened the early UFCs to gladiatorial combat. Maybe they were right; the UFC fighters always give their all. The UFC has always been about heroes, the heroes of the Octagon.

True then and still very true today.


Campbell McLaren is the creator of the original Ultimate Fighting Championship and Executive Produced the first 20 Pay-Per-View Events.

McLaren formed Rorion Gracie and Art Davie’s “War of The World’s” concept into the first UFC event and added many of the elements, people and fighters that continue to influence the UFC today. Pat Miletich called him “The marketing genius behind the UFC.”

Today he is a successful TV producer having created shows such as BET’s The Iron Ring, Telemundo’s Tu Nite Con Lorenzo Parro, VH1’s Paul McCartney’s Tribute To Linda and Court TV’s The Wrong Man.

He lives in New York and has strong opinions on all things UFC and MMA.


posted by FCF Staff @ 4:54 pm
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One response to “Original UFC Pioneer: Ten Great Things About UFC That Have Not Changed Since The Beginning”

  1. Mark Grassman says:

    “Is there a more famous referee in sports?” Yes. Boxing & Celebrity Deathmatch ref Mills Lane. He and John shared the phrase ‘Let’s get it on!’