Art Davie is the one of the founders of the UFC and he recently appeared on an episode of The Lytes Out MMA History Podcast with Chris Lytle, where he revealed the reason why Rickson Gracie was never invited to compete at UFC 1. He was asked about the decision because Rickson was undoubtedly the family’s most notable competitor at the time. Of course it was famously Royce Gracie who stormed to victory at that event and several other UFC tournaments after that, but he wouldn’t have been the natural choice to represent his family in competition.
Rickson was the most experienced fighter in the Gracie family still within his athletic prime at the time, he has even claimed to have hundreds of wins in competition over the years. While very few of his fights or grappling matches have ever been verified due to the time in history that he was competing, those that do exist show that he was a very talented fighter. Aside from the small amount of recorded evidence of Rickson in action that does exist, many of the best grapplers and MMA fighters on the planet have spoken very highly about his skills in combat sports as well.
Art Davie echoed those sentiments when asked about Rickson Gracie not competing at UFC 1:
“Rickson (Gracie) was definitely the family champion. Everybody told me that the best street fighter was Relson (Gracie) but Relson would use a bottle or a brick on the street if he needed it… Rickson would only do Jiu-Jitsu.”
That meant that Rickson Gracie was the obvious choice to represent the Gracie family at UFC 1, but Art Davie revealed that some issues between family members is what prevented this from happening:
“Rorion (Gracie) and Rickson in the same room was electric because there was tremendous friction, and Rorion had discovered that Rickson had been taking students out and teaching them over at his garage in Torrance (California). It happened twice, when it happened a third time Rorion basically said to me ‘there’s no Rickson for the event.”
Obviously this left Davie and the rest of the team behind UFC 1 in a difficult situation, as the whole event was inspired by the ‘Gracies in Action’ videotapes that the family had made. He wanted to have a representative of the Gracie family competing and Rorion Gracie was the co-founder of the promotion, so there was always going to be someone with that surname in the bracket. Davie explained that after Rickson Gracie wasn’t an option for UFC 1, Rorion came proposed the replacement:
“I said ‘who’s it gonna be?’ He said ‘It’s gonna be Royce (Gracie).’ I said ‘Your kid brother Royce!?’ I knew that Royce had a driver’s license but he had no checking account, he had no credit card, and he lived in a small room over the Gracie garage…”
The rest is history of course. Royce Gracie put in a series of fantastic performances in one night and left as the champion, before winning another two UFC tournaments and eventually fighting for the inaugural Superfight Championship. Not only did he cement his place in MMA history books forever, but he also helped propel his family and their style of Jiu-Jitsu even further than they had ever imagined.
The interview with Art Davie where he goes into detail about his experiences with Rickson Gracie and other Gracie family members was uploaded to the official YouTube channel of The Lytes Out MMA History Podcast: