INTERVIEW - RETRO: Art Davie - Dana White's predecessor discusses harsh media coverage of new sport (pt. 2 of 3)
May 29, 2009 - 1:53:00 PM
[The following interview was originally published 13 years ago in the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter with then-early UFC executive and match-maker, Art Davie. The Torch covered UFC's early days before the sport was known as "MMA" and before there was dedicated MMA media sources.]
Torch Talk with Art Davie, pt. 2 of 3
Originally Published: May 13, 1995
Torch Newsletter #334
Sunday on CBS, sportscaster Pat O’Brien took the fashionable (not to mention naive and hypocritical) UFC bashing to network TV. He urged viewers to pass up the next UFC pay–per–view because similar fights can be found in corner bars. In the following second of a three part “Torch Talk” with UFC’s Art Davie conducted Apr. 11, Davie addresses the harsh media attention UFC has received.
Wade Keller: What is the background of the UFC concept, how did you originally get involved, and whose idea was it?
Art Davie: I owned an advertising agency and I had a beer client and I was trying to interest them in sponsoring kick boxing events. When we did the research, we found there was little in the way of effective promotion of kick boxing in North America. In the course of doing the research we ended up with a huge file of information.
Now, way before that in 1969 I was in the Marine Corps stationed in Vietnam for a year, did an R&R in Thailand, saw a mixed match between an Indian wrestler and a Thai boxer. I was fascinated.
I was also involved in Tae Kwon Do with Jun Rhee in Washington D.C. when I was stationed there at Henderson Hall. I began to meet people in the late–’80s who were doing promotion—or whatever they thought was promotion at that point. I read about the Gracies in Pat Jordan’s article in the Sept. ’89 issue of Playboy. I called them up, met them, found that they weren’t promoting fights formally but were willing to fight anyone. Through them I met a student of theirs, film director John Millius. Millius, Gracie, and I were sitting around one night talking and we began to have a conversation, like guys used to have in Vietnam, about if Sugar Ray Robinson were alive and would have fought Bruce Lee, who would have won. People always have those “what if?” kind of conversations in the martial arts. Out of it came a desire to do this event.
I went back to my agency and had my art department put together a comp called “The War of the Worlds.” I said lets do a tournament. I sat down with Millius and Gracie. Millius said he’s help develop the fighting circles. Rorion said he’d show what technically would work. I said I would get the marking done and raise the money. Within two months we were in partnership with Semiphore Entertainment Group in New York. Five months after that we had our first event in November 1993.
Keller: How did you get hooked up with Semiphore?
Davie: I did research on who was active and powerful within the pay–per–view world. There are really only three companies—TVKO, Showtime, and Semiphore Entertainment Group. Semiphore did more events per capita. They did smaller events, but they did more of them. They were primarily concert and comedy oriented, but I was fortunate in that their vice president of programming got the event the first time it was presented to him, he understood it. He became a visionary for it and climbed on board the first day.
Keller: Did the Gracies have a tremendous influence on the octagon and the formation of the rules?
Davie: Absolutely. One of the things I told Gracie is I wouldn’t get involved in the event if it became a Jiu Jitsu event or The Gracie Challenge. I saw it as a much broader event with more appeal. That’s where War of the Worlds came from and that’s where our company name, W.O.W. came from. When we tested the name we found out it made people think of the H.G. Wells science fiction film. The idea was it had to be the world of karate vs. the world of boxing vs. the world of tae kwon do vs. savate, etc. It had be broadly structured enough where any style could come in and the rules would be neutral enough so that any style could compete on an even footing. Where the Gracies and Millius had a tremendous influence was in designing the fighting surface so we neutralized the weakness of a boxing ring because in a boxing ring if a fight goes to the ground, it’s too easy for them to slide out and you spend most of your time trying to slide the fighters back in.
We also wanted a larger area than a boxing ring. We eventually ended up with something 32 feet in diameter. Boxing rings are between 16 and 20. Millius, who designed the pit for Arnold in Konnan the Barbarian, had a lot of great theatrical ideas. Rorion was able to help him get them so they would be technically feasible. Then working with the design firm here in L.A. and then working with Semiphore in terms of the television production requirements, we were able to come up with surface that was viable and could be built at a realistic price. The Octagon cost us at that time about $34,000 to build.
Keller: There is one Octagon?
Davie: There is one Octagon. It is modular. It can be broken down and set up. It’s extremely sturdy. They recently used it on the set of the Paramount film “Virtuosity.” They built it and then at the last minute the director said he wanted it turned. Without tearing it down they moved it and nothing happened to it. They had to move it 180 degrees, completely around in the other direction, so it’s extremely sturdy. We could theoretically move it to Japan if we do a show in Tokyo this September.
Keller: And the next event is not in Anchorage?
Davie: No, it’s not. Anchorage is a smoke-screen. We have a lot of smoke–screens now that we have Senator McCain involved in “helping to promote” our events (laughs). He will be getting the keys and the (ownership papers) to his car if he continues to perform (for us).
Keller: Two years ago did you have any idea you would come across the type of political grandstanding and protesting that you have?
Davie: We anticipated it. I used to joke about the fact that I thought it would be Pat Schroeder because we incorporated as a limited liability company in Colorado. I said it will be some politically correct liberal who comes along and decides what we are doing is the victimization of fighters. I thought Schroeder because she’s from Colorado and we ran our event in Denver. It didn’t turn out to be her at all. It turned out to be a Republican P.O.W. war hero. Very surprising. It shows you can’t pick who your friends and enemies are going to be. He came out of the woodwork. He was a college boxer at the Naval Academy. He understands boxing. He doesn’t know beans about the martial arts.
Keller: Do you find the argument just absurdly ignorant that UFC is tremendously more dangerous than just about anything else or do you think there are some elements of truth to the critics’ claims?
Davie: It’s completely counter to that. It represents a victory of emotion over reason. The fact of the matter is it is intrinsically safer than even boxing where you have removed all the defensive elements. In boxing you mandate that people are continually separated and strike each other so they are hit 40 or 60 times in a round with a padded fist. Everybody in boxing and out of boxing knows that as soon as you put a boxing glove on a man’s hand you turn it into a weapon. In the interest of safety we ask our fighters not to wear gloves. You punch a man in his head with your bare hands, it’s like punching a bowling ball. The hand will break before you are able to do cerebral trauma. It’s emotion over reason. The politicians fan that flame. They can’t solve crime, they can’t solve poverty, they can’t solve the deficit, what they think they can solve is, my god, this bare knuckle, brutal event. The fact of the matter is there’s a lot of cultural prejudice against it. The average American understands wrestling and boxing, but doesn’t understand the difference between thai boxing, tae kwon do, or jiu jitsu. Part of it is a cultural prejudice. Since it’s Asian, oh, it’s that crazy chop sakie stuff from over in Asia. We don’t know the what hell it is. Therefore, there is a tremendous educational job needed. I could tell you from advertising, you can get people to change their brands, and that’s a hard job, but to get them to change their habits is almost impossible with even the best advertising and marketing available.
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