Combate Americas hopes to recapture UFC magic with 'Copa Combate' tournament

On Nov. 12, 1993, UFC 1 took place from the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver. It was an eight-man, open weight elimination tournament contested under no holds barred rules inside a cage.

Participants from the world of boxing, pro wrestling and karate all were involved, and at the end of the night, Royce Gracie was the winner of the tournament defeating Gerard Gordeau by submission and winning $50,000. 

UFC 1 exceeded low expectations and flattened negativity surrounding the event and did a surprising 86,000 pay-per-view buys. It was the springboard for mixed martial arts. Today, MMA has become the premiere combat sport in the world with the UFC being the industry leader. 

Paying respects to the 24th anniversary of the first UFC show, Combate Americas is presenting a similar tournament, this time featuring bantamweights, as the company presents “Copa Combate” from Cancun, Mexico. The event will air starting at 11:30 ET on the NBC Sports Network on Nov. 12; the winner of the tourney takes home $100,000.

Combate Americas CEO Campbell McLaren along with Art Davie and Rorion Gracie founded the UFC and originally thought of the tournament concept. McLaren understands the aura surrounding the tournament and the fun that can follow.

“Obviously, doing it on the 24th anniversary is pretty cool. It’s good to do that because when the clock strikes midnight, that will be the 24th anniversary,” McLaren told Sporting News. “I do like eight-man tournaments. We will probably only do a tournament one time a year and that would be around Copa embracing the soccer mentality of nation vs. nation.

“Putting everyone in the same room for one night is pretty epic. We haven’t seen it in a long time. I think it’s a very tough challenge, perhaps the toughest in sports.” 

UFC 1 was a less-than-great start for the MMA giant. NFL Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown was on commentary and really wasn’t any good. The Octagon looked like it was going to topple over into the crowd. The way the card progressed — with fights ending quickly — the event could have ended inside an hour.

While he wouldn’t incorporate anything from that show into Copa Combate, McLaren admits if wasn’t for that eventful November evening, Saturday’s fight card wouldn’t be taking place — even if it was 

“UFC 1 had the worst commentary in the history of sports. The first fight was about 26 seconds. I said in the production truck, ‘If they all go this long, the show is over in 3 1/2 minutes.’ We didn’t know if the Octagon is going to hold up and still be standing at the end of the event.

“It was just the unknown quantity. Think about it. We created a sport that night. That was cool. We had no idea what was going to happen. The unpredictability of a tournament in the first time out, I think I aged seven years that night. No one had ever done anything like it and we did it on live television. I don’t want recreate that experience. The pride I have in this. I feel like the UFC was our baby. If it wasn’t for Art Davie, Rorion Gracie and Campbell McLaren, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” 

Copa Combate features eight fighters, all from different Latin countries. McLaren doesn’t know what to expect on Saturday night but says the feeling this time around is different than it did 24 years ago.

“You have to expect the unexpected,” McLaren said. “UFC 1 was fear, trepidation, horror, stress, anxiety. This event is a much more positive thing. We are really getting accepted by the fans and the fighters. MMA is a very exciting sport because there’s some many variables. And when you add in the fact you are doing a one-night tournament, you multiply that by eight.  It’s going to be unpredictabilty because any of the eight fighters can win.”

Steven Muehlhausen is an MMA and boxing writer and contributor for Sporting News. You can listen to his podcast, “The Fight Junkies” here . You can email him at stevemuehlhausen@yahoo.com and can find him on Twitter @SMuehlhausenMMA .

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