The early days of the UFC are something of a legend – few rules and regulations, naive fighters, and boatloads of controversy made the product fans saw 20 years ago look nothing like the crisp, well-regulated sport you see today. In the new book Is This Legal?, UFC founder Art Davie details the formation of the UFC and the trials and tribulations he went through to get that first event off the ground nearly 21 years ago in Denver.
Davie wrote the book along with Sean Wheelock, a long-time MMA commentator who we’ve chatted with here at AA in the past. Wheelock told me that the book was motivated by his friendship with Davie and growing realization that he needed to do something to tell Davie’s incredible story about the birth of the UFC, which led to the idea of Is This Legal? becoming a book. Even though Wheelock was one of the people who ordered the first pay-per-view and has been an MMA fan since day one, he still learned a lot from writing the book with Davie. Specifically, many parts of Davie’s story that weren’t well-known were filled in for Wheelock as he authored the book with Davie.
There are numerous details regarding the formation of the UFC that I was clueless about, and the lengths that Davie went to in order to get the first show off the ground were staggering. We don’t know many of the smaller details about the founding of the major sports in America, like baseball and football, but thanks to the UFC’s relative youth, we know the struggles that the sport has had since even before day one. While we may never know the inner workings of MLB’s first TV contract, Davie is able to recount the ups and downs he went through attempting to secure a pay-per-view provider for UFC’s first event.
Another tidbit I liked about the book was Davie’s reveal that Jim Brown was scheduled to be the play-by-play commentator for the first event, but asked to switch to color the night before the show. Imagine that – the guy you think would have been an awesome PBP announcer deciding that color suited him better the day before you went live for the first time. It’s inconceivable to think of, and yet, that’s what happened at UFC 1.
Is This Legal? isn’t too heavy of a read, clocking in at just 272 pages. Despite that, there are still plenty of details and anecdotes that fans of the UFC and MMA as a whole will enjoy. Once Davie gets his background out of the way and starts getting deep into the initial formation of the UFC, the book really takes off and fills in a lot of the blanks that fans have had about the formation of the promotion. Given the UFC’s success and their giant TV deal with Fox today, it seems far fetched to think that in the early days, they were having trouble getting Gold’s Gym to come aboard as a sponsor. But that was a different time, and Davie’s recollection of just how difficult it was to even make the first event happen really opens your eyes to just how far the sport has grown.