Old School MMA is kind of our thing here on TheFightNerd.com. I was not a TUF bandwagon fan, but I was also not one of the people who was watching the first event when it aired in 1993. With that said, my fandom began with the debut event of “The Ultimate Fighting Championship” on VHS, and 90 minutes later I was hooked. Many years later and I am doing a video series all about the old SEG UFC events from a historical and comical perspective. There is a ton of info out there, but finding it all in one spot has always been tough, as well as being able to read between the lines and find the truth of hearing the same story told from different people. Today, we are checking out a book about the origins of the biggest MMA promotion in the world from the man that was responsible for making that happen.
Written by Art Davie (with help from Sean Wheelock), “Is This Legal?” tells the inside story of how the first no-holds-barred martial arts fighting show made it to pay-per-view, and all of the struggles along the way. It’s hard to review this book without giving away too many spoilers that make the experience so enjoyable and informative, and that sentence right there should give you an idea of where this review is headed.
Davie holds nothing back, whether it is about himself, the Gracie family, the business side of setting up this event and who he worked with, and the fighters themselves. Some of these are stories we have heard tidbits of before, such as the tumultuous rules meeting at the first event and how the structure of the fighting surface was initially formed, but now we have the deeper stories behind them from the man that witnessed and influenced these things. There is little time spent on autobiographical details preceding the first spark that set Davie on the path to the UFC, but it’s not all a behind the scenes of UFC 1 book, but a real origin story that sets the pace for the future of the sport.
Did you ever wonder why Royce fought in the first UFC and not Rickson? How movie director John Milius first met Davie and became involved in creating what would eventually become the familiar octagon shape that we all know and love? Or how Bob Meyrowitz and SEG came in, and all of the drama between Davie’s company, WOW, and Bob’s SEG? There are so many stories in this book, many of which I never even knew about until after reading it, that even the most hardcore know-it-all fans will learn something new by the time they finish it. Learning about how Davie recruited fighters and advertised the show was extremely interesting, as well as the contract negotiations between WOW and SEG that cut it close to the time of the actual pay-per-view airing live. Seeing all of the rejection letters that Davie received while trying to sell the event was also pretty amazing, when you consider how many of these people passed up on the sport that years later, they would cover or be interested in exploiting in some way or another.
This is a book that I want to discuss with people, but much like reading “Game of Thrones”, you can not talk about it until the other person has read it. There are few books about MMA history that I can say that about, but this is one of them. Much like the old UFC slogan, “Seeing is Believing”, this book is very much the same. I thought I knew a lot about the first UFC event, and this book taught me far more than I ever expected to know about it. Fight fans and history buffs need to pick this up right away!
You can order Is This Legal?: The Inside Story of The First UFC from the Man Who Created It as a hardcover book from Amazon.com for under $20, and is a 100% must buy for knowledge-seeking MMA fans. The worst thing about this book is that it ends, so Art Davie – if you ever see this review – make a sequel! I want to hear more about the good ole’ days of NHB fighting and would definitely buy another book like this one.