In November, 1993, the world was introduced to what today is known as the largest MMA organization in the world, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, along with what is known today as the fastest growing sport in the world, mixed martial arts.
Commanded by the figures of Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, and referee “Big” John McCarthy with his signature scream “let’s get it on,” you couldn’t flick from channel to channel on your TV without seeing the promo for the upcoming event.
UFC was an immediate hit in Puerto Rico, historically a cradle for combat sports, especially boxing. The Puerto Rican fans took to UFC and what later became called MMA like second nature.
UFC was such a hit in Puerto Rico that in less than three years of existence, they decided to step out of continental US for the first time. The obvious choice, Puerto Rico, of course.
UFC 8: David Vs. Goliath, celebrated in February, 1996, at the Rubén Rodríguez Coliseum in the city of Bayamón, is crucial in the historical formation of both UFC and MMA in the world, but why?
The Biggest Gate
UFC 8 became the biggest gate UFC had seen to date and it remained the biggest gate up until UFC 40. The attendance at this event was 13,462. UFC 8 was also a bigger gate than Ultimate Brazil in 1998—the first UFC event in Brazil—and bigger than UFC Rio (UFC 134). UFC 142: Aldo vs. Mendes, also in Brazil, only beat UFC 8 by a couple of hundred at the gate.
A Significant Change
UFC 8 brought with it significant changes. Time limits were set to 10 minutes in the first two rounds of the tournament, 15 minutes for the tournament final and “super fight,” and for the first time, judges could decide the outcome of a bout via vote if the round ran its course.
The Rise of Legends
Without a doubt, the biggest legend coming out of the early days of UFC was a man called Royce Gracie, son of Helio Gracie, one of the founding fathers of Gracie Jiu Jitsu.
But UFC 8 brought forth a set of MMA legends in its own respect. UFC 8 champion, Don “The Predator” Frye, saw his MMA career started in Puerto Rico, along with his opponent in the tournament finals, “Big Daddy” Gary Goodridge. Both went on to become some of the most popular MMA fighters in the history of the sport.
The Veteran Voice of the Octagon
Fun fact about UFC 8, one of the most beloved and recognizable figures in the UFC today, Bruce Buffer, called his first MMA fight in Puerto Rico at UFC 8; an untelevised alternate bout between Keith Mielke and Sam Adkins. Adkins was the victor in the alternate bout and went on to replace Paul Varelans who couldn’t continue due to injury.
Buffer today stands as an icon for UFC and fans all over the world recite his lines along with him in every fight. “It’s Time.” Buffer has also made “The Buffer 180” his signature move in the Octagon.
In a recent interview with The MMA Truth, Buffer explained why Puerto Rico is so dear to him. "Puerto Rico is very important to me because UFC 8 was there back in 1996 and it was the first UFC I ever announced and ever set foot in the Octagon." View the entire interview by clicking here.
Staring Injustice in the Face
MMA has been a scapegoat for every single politician in the nation looking to draw attention to himself. UFC 8 in Puerto Rico also marks the first time UFC had to go to battle against MMA opposition. The morning of the event, promoters along with referee “Big” John McCarthy were standing in front of a Federal Court judge explaining why the event should not be canceled. But, why would it be canceled?
Then governor, Pedro Roselló, leader at the time of the political party pushing for Puerto Rico to become a full state of the union, echoed the voice of a Calvin McCard, a Michigan politician who presented an onsite protest against UFC.
In an interview with “Big” John McCarthy last September for the release of his book “Let’s Get It On,” McCarthy explained his deposition in front of the Federal judge.
“That was the first battle that UFC went to court. UFC 8 was the first time they had the government come in and try to shut the show down. We ended up in Federal Court in Puerto Rico, trying to save the show and trying to keep the government from being able to put a cease and desist on the show and keeping it from happening.
We ended up being in court for several days there testifying. The first time I ended up having to testify for the sport or UFC. Being up on the witness stand and be not only interviewed by the attorney that was trying to help us, but cross examined by the government’s attorney.
Them trying to say so many bad things about the sport, trying to get a judge to understand what this was, what the sport was, it wasn’t what they were making it out to be—human cockfighting. It was a tense moment because they could’ve shut us down.
The judge was smart enough as to look at what they were doing and understood that they didn’t have the legal right to do what they were doing at the time.” ~Interview with ”Big” John McCarthy by The MMA Truth.
We also asked “Big” John if he thought that if UFC had lost that battle in Puerto Rico, it would’ve affected how MMA has grown in the world in the last 15 years.
“I absolutely do, I really do. I think it would’ve had a huge effect. If Puerto Rico [UFC 8] had actually been shut down, and people went to buy something and it wasn’t there for them to buy, then that would’ve killed a lot of people’s interest in the sport. It would’ve killed the belief that it was going to be there.
So, it was a huge victory at the time to keep the sport moving forward.”
We topped off the interview by asking McCarthy if UFC asked him if they should go back to Puerto Rico. This is what he had to say:
“Absolutely, Puerto Rico is full of fight fans. The Puerto Rican fans are incredibly enthusiastic, so passionate about not only boxing, but also MMA, I think Puerto Rico would be a huge location for UFC to go to.
They’re absolutely going to sell out the stadium fast. The fans are passionate, they love fighting. There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s awesome. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
There’s one thing; MMA in Puerto Rico, from the very first time it was brought there years ago and it’s never come back, it has still grown. I know a lot of people that are doing MMA in Puerto Rico and it’s a huge thing as far as it getting bigger and bigger and more fighters coming out of there. It’s only going to continue to get big. So, I think it would be a great place for UFC to go back there.
There is no doubt that UFC 8 and Puerto Rico are crucial within the historical formation of UFC and MMA in the world. Presenting the notion that MMA or UFC is something that is only starting to become a novelty in the Island is not only wrong, it’s irresponsible.
To say that UFC 8 failed to establish UFC and MMA in the Island, like an article at El Nuevo Día (Puerto Rico’s national newspaper), is far from being true. As John McCarthy says, even after being banned for so long, the sport grew and is still growing.
The UFC has taken a special interest lately in coming back to Puerto Rico and the fans couldn’t be more excited. Comprehending the historic relevance of Puerto Rico in relation to MMA and UFC, and understanding that the local fan base is not only one of the strongest, it’s the most passionate and an original stronghold for the UFC, will only make things easier and the fans will get what they have been waiting for so long.
The MMA Truth, the only MMA news website in Puerto Rico working at UFC and international level, carried the voice of thousands of MMA fans in the Island when we presented UFC president Dana White, with the official t-shirt for the ‘Bring UFC Back to Puerto Rico” campaign, at the UFC 145 post-fight press conference. (see video)
We will continue to carry this message and we make it extensive to those opposing the legalization of MMA in New York City. Stop the dirty politics, legalize MMA in N.Y. and bring UFC back to Puerto Rico.
Politicians against MMA? If you really want to know the reason why MMA is not legal in NY, go to www.prommaradio.com. The man some call “the best MMA interviewer in the world,” Larry Pepe, unmasks N.Y. assemblyman, Bob Reilly. Episode #133.
Originally posted at The MMA Truth.