On January 11, 2001, a company named Zuffa, manned by brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta and their friend Dana White, purchased the struggling Ultimate Fighting Championship, and over the next ten years turned it into a juggernaut in the sporting world that has exceeded all early expectations.
Now, you mention the UFC to anyone on the street and you will get a reaction; back in 2001, you were lucky if you got a puzzled stare. It’s been a spectacular decade for the organization to say the least, but every success story had to begin somewhere, and for Zuffa, the first test would be its first event, at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The names on the UFC 30 card that winter night are household ones to mixed martial arts fans today: Tito Ortiz, the late Evan Tanner, Jens Pulver, Caol (then known as Kaoru) Uno, Sean Sherk, Phil Baroni, Jeremy Horn, Josh Barnett, Pedro Rizzo, but back then, they were fighters looking to find a place in a sport the mainstream didn’t understand, and in many cases didn’t want to understand.
That perception was about to change, and things really kicked into gear in 2005 when a little show called “The Ultimate Fighter” brought the sport into everyone’s living room. Now there are sold-out arenas both here and around the world, DVDs, action figures, trading cards, a magazine, and the UFC is everywhere.
And February 23, 2001 started it all. Here’s the way I saw things from the Auxiliary Press section that night…
UFC XXX - There's A New Sheriff in Town, and Ortiz is Packing The Guns
By Thomas Gerbasi
ATLANTIC CITY, Feb. 23 - It has gone from spectacle to sport; from "human cock fighting" to an art practiced by superior athletes. And as Zuffa undertook its maiden voyage into the Octagon tonight at the Trump Taj Mahal, the future looks brighter than it ever has for the fledgling sport of mixed martial arts.
Put the glitz aside. Forget that the royalty of the UFC (Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Mark Kerr, Ken Shamrock, Marco Ruas) was in attendance. And disregard the superior production values that marked the coming of the new sheriff in town. It has to be about the fighters and the fights. All the other 'stuff', which is necessary to appeal to the mainstream, means nothing to the hardcore fan. And it is doubtful if any fan left disappointed after last night's superior card.
Every sport needs a star. For the UFC, Huntington Beach, California's Tito Ortiz is that star. And like a main event fighter, the middleweight champion knows how to close the show. In 30 seconds, Ortiz grabbed number one contender Evan Tanner in a bearhug, picked him up and slammed him to the mat, knocking him unconscious in the process. Follow-up punches to the prone Tanner were just window dressing before referee Big John McCarthy was able to push Ortiz off his opponent and end the bout.
"Keep bringing the middleweights, and I'll keep stompin 'em," said the champion after a post-fight grave digging display. Ortiz has undoubtedly risen to the top of the UFC in a short time, and as his ritual T-shirt read after the bout, "If you can read this, I just stomped his ass".
In the co-feature, Iowa's Jens Pulver won the UFC's first bantamweight title bout, taking a close majority decision over Japan's Kaoru Uno. "I'm just so excited, I can't believe it," said Pulver after the bout. And then, turning to his vanquished foe, Pulver said, "Uno, you are my idol. I respect you forever. If you ever want a rematch, I will give it to you." The fans at the Taj Mahal would probably not want a rematch, after booing throughout the five round match. But what the bout lacked in sustained action, it made up in strategy, as Pulver continually stalked, looking to land his power strikes, and Uno looked for openings to use his speed to lock up and submit 'Little Evil'.
In the end, Pulver's striking attacks, and his utter disregard for Uno's power and strength, proved to be the difference. See Uno vs. Pulver
The fight of the night was staged between the big boys, heavyweights Josh Barnett and Pedro Rizzo. In 9:21 of some of the best striking attacks seen in a while in the UFC, the two combatants slugged it out on even terms until a vicious right hand by the Brazilian stunned Barnett. A follow-up right by Rizzo on his defenseless opponent left Barnett KO'ed at the 4:21 mark of Round Two. "I'm sorry to the fans, I fought really bad," said Rizzo after the match. "But I brought my power." One person not disappointed with the performance was Rizzo's ecstatic cornerman, Marco Ruas. See Rizzo vs. Barnett
"To be honest, I really don't know what hit me," said Barnett, who lost for the first time in 25 mixed martial arts bouts. The Seattle resident, who is one of the few to stand and trade with Rizzo for any length of time, will definitely be heard from again. As for 'The Rock', Rizzo will get his chance at heavyweight champion Randy Couture in UFC XXXI, also at Atlantic City's Taj Mahal.
In other undercard action:
Fabiano Iha made short work of Paul Johns, submitting him with an armbar in 1:47
'The King of Rock and Rumble', Australia's Elvis Sinosic, made a huge splash in his UFC debut, submitting highly regarded Jeremy Horn with a triangle armbar at 2:59 of the first round.
Iowa's Bobby Hoffman was able to free himself from the clutches of 285 pound South African Mark Robinson long enough to land a brutal right elbow, ending the heavyweight match in 3:27. "People thought it was gonna be a close match, so I wanted to thump his ass," said Hoffman after the bout.
Sean Sherk defeated Tiki via verbal submission (4:47), lightweights
Phil Baroni defeated Curtis Stout via unanimous decision, middleweights
Fight Flashback: The First Event
January 11, 2011 marked the ten-year anniversary of Zuffa's purchase of the UFC. Read below for a look at the company's first event, UFC 30.