“Dave Abbott comes to my office, he has no beard, he has no goatee, no mustache and he’s wearing a button down shirt, chinos and penny loafers.
“He’s got a workout bag with him and he says ‘I’ve got my stuff in here.’ I said, ‘Well, great. What do you plan on doing?’ He said, ‘I want to fight today.’
“He said, ‘Well, are you going to give me an opportunity right now?’ I said, ‘What? Do you want me to bring you over to the Gracie Academy? He said, ‘Uh huh.’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t think they’re ready for you today. He said, ‘I’m ready to fight’.
“So this guy early on was somebody who wasn’t what I was normally used to. But that’s what the great appeal was, he was the anti-martial artist, martial artist. And I talked to him and realized that he had blown his knee in football and his father was the coach. And boy did have some issues with Daddy. There was some anger there. So I realized this guy was a stick of dynamite.”
That man would become known as “Tank” Abbott, one of the more formidable heavyweights to ever step foot in the cage. UFC co-founder Art Davie recalled the day he met him as a guest of MMA Fight Corner.
In a book dubbed ‘Is This Legal?’ which hits the shelves starting tomorrow, July 1, Davie recounts other memoirs and stories about the beginnings of the UFC.
Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Davie was a former boxer, U.S. Marine and later worked in advertising before founding what would be known as the Ultimate Fighting Championship. In 1993, Davie along with Rorion Gracie would bring what we know today as mixed martial arts events to the masses.
Other founding fathers included Semaphore Entertainment Group’s (SEG) Bob Meyrowitz and executive Campbell McLaren, who would place UFC 1 on pay-per-view. John Milius, a Hollywood director, helped envision the design of the Octagon. But without Davie’s vision of contrasting martial art forms going head-to-head in no holds barred matchups, perhaps modern MMA wouldn’t exist.
His book delves into each step of creating the brand from hearing about fights held in Thailand nightclubs, to reading about ‘The Gracie Challenge’. Inevitably, Davie tracked down Rorion to begin making the organization a reality.
Before SEG signed on to produce UFC 1, other mega production companies laughed the idea off, anticipating it would flop.
“It was a serendipitious confluence of events and people, and everybody who was approached basically said no,” Davie said. “You know, the title of the book ‘Is This Legal?’ I owe that to Chuck Norris. Chuck was invited to be the commentator at the first UFC and he just kept saying ‘Is This Legal? Are you guys sure that this is legal?’.”
Mainstream media wasn’t too sure what to make of MMA. Davie recalled opposition he faced from some who believed the sport was ‘dirty’ and not what America’s youth should marvel at or practice.
Soon after hearing about ‘The Gracie Challenge’ – an open invitation laid out by Rorion Gracie that offered anyone who could beat him $100,000 – Davie paid a visit to the Gracie gym in Torrance, CA. He left his business card to talk about the concept of having a tournament involving men from various fight backgrounds in which one man would emerge victorious. Obviously, Rorion would call Davie back. From there, the wheels were set in motion.
“There was tremendous opposition everywhere we went. And in all fairness, I met Rorion Gracie in the summer of 1990, but it was more than two years before I convinced him that the world’s best fighter is what we needed to be doing, not The Gracie Challenge because in all fairness, no one had ever come up with $100,000 to do the Gracie challenge.
“It was a strange juxtaposition of events and people, and at any point, the train could have gone off the track.”
It was during his time served in the military, a friend’s experience actually spawned the idea of one day building the UFC.
He and his friends often spent time wondering if a boxer could beat a wrestler. When a good friend of his came back from vacation time spent he Bangkok, he raved about seeing an Indian wrestler battle a Muay Thai fighter in a nightclub. That triggered the idea in Davie’s head.
Nearly 25 years later, the first UFC event would be held in Denver, Colorado. In 2001, the UFC was purchased by the Fertitta brothers, Lorenzo and Frank. Currently, the UFC has become the global home for all things MMA. Its expansion unmatched by any other MMA promotion.
Still, had it not been for the preconceptions or vision of men like Davie, who walked away from a secure job as an ad executive to pursue it, who knows if the sport would even exist today.