Kathy Long wasn't exactly sure what would happen at the UFC's inaugural event in Denver, CO, on November 12, 1993. All she knew is that she wanted to be there to find out.
"At the time I heard about it I was living in Bakersfield, California," Long reflected on The MMA Hour. "I wasn't new to the idea of mixing marital arts and creating another system because I was very accustomed to [it]. That was Kung Fu San Soo. We incorporated lots of different systems, but nothing to compete with. So that's why I was fascinated by it. I really wanted to see what they were going to do."
And so Long found herself seated between karate champion Bill "Superfoot" Wallace and NFL legend Jim Brown commentating cageside at UFC 1's pay-per-view. A five-time world kickboxing champion in her own right, Long had never heard of the mythical Gracie family until the weekend of the show.
In retrospect, neither her nor her partners knew what to expect from that fateful night. Yet, as we approach the 20th anniversary of the historic event, the threesome's bewildered, often conjecture-filled commentating has become an endearing touchstone of the early days of the sport, when the term "mixed martial arts" was simply "No Holds Barred," and a diminutive man from Brazil steamrolled though a trio of fearsome opponents without barely breaking a sweat.
"I had absolutely no clue [what to expect]," admitted Long. "I know the mass confusion that was going on in the locker room or in the rules meeting. Nobody knew quite what to do, how to do it, what they could do, what they couldn't do. The Gracies were very clear about what you could do, and obviously you can't hit the eyes or the groin. Everybody else says, ‘Well, what do I do? Do I wrap my hands?' The boxer especially, poor guy, Art Jimmerson had no clue about whether he should wear gloves or no gloves, or hand wraps or no hand wraps. And ultimately they left it up to him to decide what he wanted to do."
Jimmerson, of course, ended up wearing a boxing glove on just his left hand; a rather poor decision in retrospect, as the former pro boxer inevitably tapped to mere position after spending two minutes under Royce Gracie.
However, Jimmerson was far from the worse off amongst his UFC 1 brethren. That title likely goes to 400-plus-pound Sumo goliath Teila Tuli, who memorably opened the pay-per-view by getting his front tooth smashed out of his mouth by a wild Gerard Gordeau head kick. For audiences at home, such primal, graphic violence was a sight many were unaccustomed to.
"There were a lot of mixed emotions and mixed views about it," Long said looking back. "There were people who liked it, who thought it was really exciting. And there were those who thought, ‘Wow, this is way too violent, and I don't know about this. I don't know about these guys laying on top of each other.' There were tons of comments like that. But, I think overall, it was positive. Unfortunately a lot of people thought it was too violent and it was banned for a while, but I'm very happy to that it's evolved to what it is today."
UFC 1 ultimately served as Long's lone appearance in the broadcast booth, however even to this day she remains a major fan of the sport she helped introduce to the masses. She started training Brazilian jiu-jitsu after watching Gracie's brilliance in 1993, and in 2009, Long made her professional debut with a unanimous decision victory. Now, at the age of 48, she's holding out hopes to compete just once under the Invicta FC banner.
Long includes numerous UFC champions among her list of favorite fighters -- Jose Aldo, Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones mainly. Though she still has a particular soft spot for the women of the sport, and thusly, is a major proponent of the UFC's newest star, Ronda Rousey.
In fact, Long believes the armbar queen could give a few 135-pound men in the UFC a run for their money.
"You know, all of my sparring partners were, and always have been, men, who are bigger, stronger and heavier than me," Long mused. "Because of that, I've learned to hit very, very hard, because I've had to. They were willing to beat the crap out of me, literally, and that's what made me who I am. That's how I got five world titles, because of all of my sparring partners. Did I hurt them? Yes. Did they hurt me? Yes.
"I think if anybody's willing to go in and continue to train with men, they stand a good chance when fighting against men. When I was boxing as an amateur a long time ago, I only had males to fight against, and I won [against] all of them. So I think [Rousey] stands a good chance."
In the end, though Long's stint with the UFC may have been short, she looks back at that magical moment in time with fond memories and simply considers herself lucky to have been there to witness history as it unfolded.
"I think my favorite memory," Long finished. "Is just being invited to commentate on that show in the first place. Years later I realized what a wonderful opportunity that was and how grateful I was to have it."