The next documentary announced for Sports Illustrated subscription streaming service SI TV looks back at some UFC history. That would be UFC 1: Origin of the Octagon, from Mandalay Sports Media; it’s directed by Mandalay executive producer John Mason Gordon and produced by Mandalay co-founder Mike Tollin (known for Arli$$, Radio,the 30 for 30 Small Potatoes: Who Killed The USFL?, Morningside 5 and much more, including previous SI TV film We Town), Select Films’ Mark Ciardi (known for Chappaquiddick, McFarland, USA, and Million Dollar Arm, and SI TV’s Josh Oshinsky. The film will air on SI TV this fall and be distributed internationally by IMG.
The documentary focuses on telling the story of how Brazilian jiu-jitsu master Rorion Gracie and former used car lot owner turned marketing agency “idea guy” Art Davie joined forces to create the UFC, and how the first event in Denver (later known as UFC 1) came together in November 1993 despite political and public challenges. The film includes interviews with Jim Brown, Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Tellia Tuli, Art Jimmerson, Gerard Gordeau and more. Here are some quotes from the release on what to expect:
“We are incredibly selective as to what constitutes an ‘SI Film’.” said Oshinsky. “The DNA of Sports Illustrated is in top of class storytelling in any medium, and we believe “UFC 1” is the next signature piece of premium content that helps make SI TV a must-have service for any thoughtful sports fan. The team at Mandalay Sports Media and our team at SI TV are incredibly passionate about this never-before-told story and believe it will be equal parts viscerally gripping and fascinatingly enlightening.”
Gordon said, “The origin stories of sports are often obscured behind layers of time and legend. We are thrilled to work with Sports Illustrated in telling the largely unknown stories of the creators, fighters, and executives who put everything on the line with success so unlikely. That it’s the origin of the UFC, a brand almost everyone knows, makes it an incredibly exciting documentary opportunity.”
There’s been a notable uptick in UFC documentary content lately, with the company putting out its own lineup of short documentaries last year as part of their 25th anniversary celebrations. But this is an outside one from a respected team, and it’s covering what’s certainly an interesting story; there were plenty of hurdles in the run-up to the first UFC event, and plenty of interesting figures involved. And it sounds like they have quite a bit of participation from notable MMA figures.
And this fits with Oshinsky’s overall emphasis on premium documentaries as a way to draw people to SI TV. He told AA last year “We need to be that legitimate 30 for 30 alternative,” and doing further projects with prominent figures like Tollin (who was a consulting producer on the original 30 for 30 series in addition to directing Small Potatoes) seems like a good step there. We’ll see how this one turns out.