Most mixed martial arts fans simply aren’t concerned with revisionist history, but we still have a duty to preserve the integrity of sport. Note “sport” is a very specific label not to be confused with methodology, training, or brutal contests that would include an analysis of Pankration, Vale Tudo, and any number of distant relatives that inspired modern MMA competition in the United States (long before we knew it as mixed martial arts). The “invention” of mixing martial arts dates back to the rise of humanity, but the “creation” of an American sport has direct lineage. The field of pioneers runs deep including everyone from Bruce Lee to “Judo” Gene LeBell setting the tone with exhibitions and challenges, but their contributions, although groundbreaking, do not constitute an “open” regulated sport. Like stick-and-ball games, baseball didn’t become a sport until the emergence of a diamond, 3 strikes and 4 bases and MMA is no different. While the UFC popularized the idea of MMA, the “sport” was created a decade earlier (MMA’s best kept secret). CV Productions provided the blueprint for a multi-billion dollar business in 1979; the first league of its kind with no pay-per-view or the internet to spread their message. The Super Fighters revolution was repressed, now passed off as mere urban legend, but it’s time to look past the fairy tale version you’ve been brainwashed to believe—UFC’s Maiden Voyage.
Art Davie thought he had entered uncharted waters in 1993 when he created the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but another ship set sail years before him. Davie planted his flag in Denver, Colorado thinking he had discovered new land, but in reality MMA’s story began in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania more than a decade earlier. It’s not up for debate; there is overwhelming evidence that a UFC-esque promotion thrived before Rorion Gracie and Art Davie collaborated. CV Productions was a premonition of the Zuffa era, built as sport from the ground up, while UFC 1 was devised as a spectacle, slowly transforming to sport over time. The former isolated in Pennsylvania, the latter seen in every major market in America. One forgotten, the other larger than life.
While Davie, a true innovator, certainly pitched the idea of cage fighting and popularized it on television, his vision “There are no rules” was a far cry from anything that resembled sport. His version would eventually morph into a billion dollar behemoth, but it too had a precursor. Yes, he co-created the UFC (the most famous 3 letters in combat sports) but he wasn’t the first to “package” MMA. It may be hard to fathom that sport existed before the UFC, but it did. Art Davie and Rorion Gracie were the first to introduce modern MMA to the “world” (via pay-per-view) but remain the runner up in “America.”
Most media outlets tell us, “Mixed martial arts competitions were introduced in the United States with the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 1993.” This just isn’t true; a major milestone yes, but a major misnomer. They, the press, got it wrong in ‘93 and have been wearing blinders ever since. A more accurate description might have been, no-holds-barred competitions were introduced in the United States with the first UFC but the modern sport of mixed martial began under the banner of CV Productions. Too late, once the ripple effect set in (print, reprint, reprint) the UFC became the first of its kind. Positive or negative press, the public is prone to believe what news they hear first. Ask any politician who’s been on the wrong end of a juicy scandal; truth becomes relative depending which way the press leans. It’s equally hard to buck that trend if you are an inventor or explorer playing catch up.
The perception of the UFC and CV Productions is very much in line with Christopher Columbus and Leif Eriksson. While the Vikings didn’t have a clever rhyme, Columbus did, sailing the ocean blue in 1492. The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s ploy of course was shock and awe, broadcast live and in bloody color. UFC, like Columbus, won the media’s attention and was accepted into an exclusive club with “lifetime” membership—pop culture. The New World may have been discovered 500 years before Columbus was born, but once America makes up her mind she is stubborn.
History does seem to iron itself out, but first impressions still carry a lot of weight. What’s right is right and President Lyndon Johnson declared October 9th to be Leif Eriksson Day, just a few days earlier than Columbus Day observed on the 12th. However, unless you’re Norwegian, Columbus still takes the first place for being second. CV Productions is yet to get its official proclamation, but their day is coming.
Today, CV Production’s “anything goes” creation has evolved into one of the fastest growing sports in the world, albeit under the auspices of the Ultimate Fighting Championships. Nearly thirty years before the UFC garnered real mainstream acceptance, CV set up shop as the first mixed martial arts company in American history. Although enshrined at Heinz History Center in association with the Smithsonian Institution, you’ve likely never heard of them—until now. MMA is the sport of the 21st century: WOW Promotions popularized it, SEG Entertainment refined it, Zuffa LLC monetized it, but CV Productions created it. This is your exclusive ticket to travel back in time and relive the epic journey of the Tough Guys.