A lot of people forget — or have tried to forget — that George Foreman once fought five guys on the same night.
It happened in Toronto in 1975. The next year, Muhammad Ali was matched against Antonio Inoki, a Japanese professional wrestler, in Tokyo.
On the same night Ali contracted blood clots from being kicked in the legs by the Japanese Gorilla Monsoon, Vince McMahon promoted a sideshow at Shea Stadium pitting Chuck Wepner, who had fought Ali for 15 rounds, against Andre the Giant.
The boxers lost dignity by agreeing to these circus acts. Vince McMahon made millions on the closed-circuit telecast.
A former Golden Gloves boxer-turned-advertising director from New York City was watching with a raised eyebrow. You’ve seen guys like Art Davie before. They wear fedoras and smoke fat cigars and call you “Babe,” especially when there’s a buck to be made.
What if those five guys Foreman fought had tried to knock his block off? What if Ali vs. Inoki and Wepner vs. The Giant weren’t scripted like dinner theater?
What if they fought for real?
That’s the idea that kept banging around inside Art Davie’s head. He also remembered getting his butt kicked by a wrestler when he was boxing in the Golden Gloves, and the way Vietnam servicemen would whoop and holler (and wager on the outcome) when Uncle Sam’s wrestlers and boxers went against Muay Thai fighters in the bamboo bars over there.
What, if instead of martial arts, there were mixed martial arts? Would people pay to see it?
On Nov. 12, 1993, people did pay to see it.
A crowd estimated at 7,800 turned out in snowy weather to watch eight men from various combat disciplines try to knock each other’s blocks off in a tournament at McNichols Arena in Denver. Another 86,000 bought it on pay per view for $14.95.
It was real fighting, too, even if Art Jimmerson, who represented boxing, wore one glove, Michael Jackson-style, in his bout with Royce Gracie. Jimmerson, the story goes, wanted to protect his left jab for future fights against the likes of Torsten May and Jerry “Wimpy” Halstead.
At first this thing in Denver was called “War of the Worlds.” Not that original. So then it was called the Ultimate Fighting Championship, later to be renamed “UFC 1: The Beginning” for those purchasing DVDs at home.
That was 174 UFCs ago.
On Saturday at Mandalay Bay, the testosterone and Bud Light will be flowing for UFC 175: Weidman vs. Machida. There will be viewing parties all over town, and a big fan expo to get everybody in the mood for submission holds.
People are going to get excited. It’ll be like the World Cup, except biting will result in immediate disqualification, and Tim Howard won’t be on hand to defend the octagon from angry Belgians.
And maybe none of it happens if Art Davie, who lives part time in Pahrump and part time on a houseboat on Callville Bay on Lake Mead, doesn’t remember Big George Foreman fighting five guys on one night.
“I didn’t invent this,” said Davie, 67. “This goes back to ancient Greece. There were historic precedents. But nobody before Denver had figured out a way to put it together in a package.”
Art Davie recently wrote a book about the package, and of putting it together, and of being Donald Trump’s roommate at the New York Military Academy — they didn’t get along and had to be separated — called “Is This Legal? The Inside Story of the First UFC From the Man Who Created It.”
He’ll be signing books all over town before UFC 175. The title was inspired by Chuck Norris. It’s what Norris said when Davie asked him to be one of the ringside commentators at UFC 1, along with another badass named Jim Brown.
“Is this legal?”
Well, now it is, in 49 states and all 10 Canadian provinces. But Davie said don’t give him too much credit for being a visionary.
“I’m the guy who sold a billion-dollar idea for a million dollars,” he says, quick to credit the Fertitta brothers for taking the UFC into the stratosphere after he and his partners — Ju-Jitsu pioneer Rorion Gracie, Hollywood screenwriter John Milius and concert promoter Bob Meyrowitz — launched the trial balloon 21 years ago.
Davie said he was driving down Sunset Boulevard last year when he saw a billboard featuring Randy Couture, the UFC Hall of Famer he had once recruited. Reality set in, or at least smacked him upside the head like a spinning backfist.
“I felt like a divorced father,” Davie said, “and somebody else was raising the kids.”
Yes, this is legal, at least in 49 states and those Canadian provinces, and as Art Davie writes in his book, “I have done my best to give credit where credit is due, even in the case of those who I thought were jerks, thieves and (expletives.)”
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.