And So It Began: Royce Gracie’s Legendary Clash With Ken Shamrock At UFC 1!

And So It Began: Royce Gracie’s Legendary Clash With Ken Shamrock At UFC 1!



The storied history of the UFC and MMA as a whole can be traced back to one epic night.  The night of the very first UFC event featured a tournament style setup, where all of the fights competed multiple times in a single elimination, one-night only tournament.

The culmination of the night came in the finals, when the big, hulking wrestler by the name of Ken Shamrock stepped into the cage to face the scrawny, Gi-wearing Royce Gracie.

While it was unclear at the time, what was about to unfold in this brief matchup would alter the course of combat sports forever, and would introduce a brand new sport to mainstream America.

Even with all of the fantastic fights that UFC and MMA has had over the years, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t seen the historic showdown that night.



Styles Make Fights

Going into the very first UFC event, there was a preconceived notion that the bigger and meaner you are, the more likely you are to win that specific fight.  Clearly given the progression of the sport, and knowing the outcome of this particular event, it’s easy to laugh at that assumption, but when comparing these two men side-by-side, Shamrock was by far the physically superior fighter.


Early on, Shamrock showed his physical strength when Royce shot in for a takedown right off the bat.  As Royce shot, Shamrock was quick to react and stuffed the takedown, driving Royce into the mat for a moment.  Knowing what can come from having a strong wrestler on your back, Royce was able to generate a quick scramble, leading to the two standing back on their feet.

Quickly, Royce would pull guard and this is where the beauty of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu comes into play for the first time on a major stage.

Shamrock was able to get some decent positioning and posture on Royce, however, Gracie didn’t allow him the chance to throw anything.  When watching the fight, you’ll notice how Royce was able to pin Ken’s right arm and take it out of the picture.  By eliminating his arm, he was now stuck, and almost useless in striking.

On top of that, the left leg of Royce was planted firmly behind Ken’s head, making it very difficult for Shamrock to properly posture up.  This led to Shamrock losing his footing, allowing Royce to sweep him and end up in the full mount.

One Small Step For Man, One Giant Leap For Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

This was when Royce was able to get comfortable and really dictate the pace of the match.  After the sweep, Gracie began positioning himself to secure the victory.

Soon after, the fight would hit the mat, and we saw Royce keep himself hugged tightly to Shamrock.  At the time this may have seemed like a foreign concept, but what we saw for the first time was the importance of spacing and taking away your opponents opportunity to get the upper hand.  This moment, all be it subtle, was showcasing one of the most fundamental concepts in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Knowing that his opponent had the major strength advantage, Royce did not want to allow Shamrock the opportunity to get a lucky shot in on him, or burst to life and sweep or escape from the position that they were in.

Gracie soon worked for side control, and if you look close, Shamrock is able to get a hold of Royce’s right foot.  By holding on to his foot while Royce moved, this helped turn Shamrock over onto his side.

Meanwhile, Gracie would sweep his left hand under the torso of Shamrock, apparently clearing the neck of any unwanted defense.

As he reached up to apply the choke hold, Royce maintained a sing grapevine on the right leg of Ken Shamrock.  This was an important move, as it prevents Shamrock from regaining his base.  If he had this opportunity, he would have had the chance to escape, thus leading to the continuation of the fight.  By eliminating the base of Shamrock, Royce essentially solidified the victory.

From here, a slight flex of the muscles was all it took to cut off a little bit of blood flow to the brain, forcing Shamrock to tapout.

At that very moment, Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu changed forever.  All thanks to one man and his name is Royce Gracie. For even more on Royce’s explosive changes to BJJ read this insightful and incredible article.

Dan Faggella

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