Book Review: original UFC founder Art Davie's Is This Legal?

By John LaRocca

"Is this Legal? The Inside Story of The First UFC From The Man Who Created It
By Art Davie with Sean Wheelock. 

I have been looking forward to this book for a very long time as the beginnings of the Ultimate Fighting Championship has always intrigued me. I knew it could not have been an easy road to get a mixed martial arts tournament off the ground.  At the end of this book, I was exhausted. I felt like I was right there with Art Davie and feeling every stress and annoyance he would encounter leading up to that historic night on November 12th, 1993 in Denver, Colorado. 
At first I thought it would be a hit piece from how Davie opened up about "telling the truth" about how the UFC was created.  It ended not being a hit piece at all, but a detailed look on how it all started.  I loved every page of this book.  Starting my own pro wrestling promotion Premier back in January of 2013 was an overwhelming task.  So going on Davie's journey of making his vision of various disciplines of combat sports coming together to see who in fact was truly the best, was an inspiration and motivated me even more to continue my company forward to the success I envision it to have.
My favorite chapters are the ones featuring the talent of the first ever tournament, from trying to sign eight fighters to going over the rules with the fighters the night before the event. Though Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock became MMA legends, most of the fighters in the first ever tournament have long been forgotten today, other then maybe Art Jimmerson, the boxer who wore one boxing glove on his left hand into the cage.

These forgotten fighters are remembered here and you get to know them. A guy like the huge sumo wrestler from Hawaii, Telia Tuli, might be looked at as the fat guy who was crushed in the first ever UFC fight, but after reading this book, I felt myself wishing he had succeeded in this tournament, at least past the first round. You can tell Davie truly had an appreciation of the big Hawaiian, especially after the fighters rules meeting the night before the event.

Davie's dealings with the Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG) was laid out in great detail.  I won't give anything away, but I nearly had an anxiety attack as dealings with Davie's W.O.W Promotions and SEG negotiations kept going back and forth, and timing of when everything was finalized would make your mouth drop as mine sure did.  

The book also details Davie and Rorion Gracie's relationship; a beautiful story of friendship and trust. What made what became the UFC was Rorion's trust in Davie. Rorion let Davie take control and rarely interfered in the negotiations.  If Gracie wanted to be hands on everything when it came to the UFC, then the UFC probably would have never gotten off the ground. 
This book also took me down memory lane as well.  I was a sophomore at Santa Teresa High School in San Jose, California.  I was always hanging out at my friend Greg Martin's big two-story house over by the hills in south San Jose.  We would hang out and watch all kinds of PPV events at his house since his dad's cable box somehow got every event for free.  We kept seeing advertising for The Ultimate Fighter Championship and the tag about this being no rules and real.  I was a huge pro wrestling fan, though I did not compare this event to that. It was more of the excitement of the movie Bloodsport featuring Jean Claude Van-Damme coming to life.

The day of the event, Greg and I ordered two large pizzas and sat back to watch all the chaos. Greg cheered on his pick Gerard Gordeau as the European kickboxer came off as a badass to him.  I went with Ken Shamrock since I was a huge pro wrestling fan and Shamrock looked like a badass to me. Weird thing is this was not the first time I have seen Shamrock.  First time I saw him was when he was wrestling for George Scott's South Atlantic Pro Wrestling company as Vince Torelli out of the Carolinas as their TV came on Sports Channel America here in San Jose.  However, I did not put the two and two together until years later. 
We yelled and screamed the entire two hour event. Both of our guys lost to the "little guy in the gi", Royce Gracie. From this point on, we both were hooked and hoped for the second event.  After a few events, Greg moved on to other interests, but I continued to watch every event until I would lose interest when UFC was banned from PPV. This book not only brought back a great memory from my youth, but now I have a much more appreciation for that first event. 
For any true MMA fan, this is a must read book. It is a quick and easy read, but also very detailed. The UFC holds over 50 events a year now and holds events all over the world.  But, without the vision and desire of Art Davie, we may never have truly had MMA as it is today. Do yourself a favor and pick up your copy today.

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