Marcus Da Silva strolls to the cage - a picture of concentration. In the stands, his students are raising the roof, but he blocks it all out and focuses on the job in hand. He is wearing a traditional martial arts kimono, secured by a brown belt. When he reaches the cage door, he takes care to neatly fold the belt and hand it to his cornerman before entering.
His opponent was keeping loose and doing his best to look unimpressed. Minutes earlier, Lanus Jones had performed a standard ring walk; swaggering along to ‘I Predict a Riot’. Lanny’s fight wear was a clue to his style of fighting; TapouT board shorts in the colours of the Mexican flag. In boxing, from Ricky ‘The Manchester Mexican’ Hatton to Michael Gomez, all action, never say die punchers have venerated the no backward step philosophy of fighters from south of the border. Jones was more than a slugger. Like the other Manvers lads, he had better wrestling than most UK operators and his submission game was coming along. He had played it down when I talked to him earlier; describing his jiu jitsu level as ‘lower than white belt’.
The two are called together in centre cage by the referee for their final intructions. The shape of the forthcoming fight was obvious. Da Silva is a Brazilian jiu jitsu specialist. At the inaugural 10th Legion show, he had wrapped his legs round Jaime Palou, transitioned to an armbar and hung on for dear life. The Swede Palou struggled manfully to shake Marcus off, but finally had to surrender. That effort earned Marcus the 10th Legion Championship Fighting Light heavyweight belt. Lanus was here to take it off him. This was a genuine throwback fight. Style versus style. Brazilian jiu jitsu versus the world.
Brazilian jiu jitsu was developed by the Gracie family. Without the Gracies, there would be no Ultimate Fighting Championship, no Mixed Martial Arts, no insightful magazine articles by yours truly. They revolutionised the way we think about fighting. The weird clan of doctor’s kids came to the conclusion that, eventually, every fight ends up on the floor. Building on their judo foundations, they devised the ultimate ground fighting system.
The key player was Helio, the runt of the litter. He perfected a set of chokes and joint manipulations that enabled a small weak guy to beat a larger adversary. Brains beats brawn. The wee Helio achieved celebrity status in Brazil, taking on all comers. He threw out a challenge to Heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis: a no rules fight, one million dollars, winner takes all. The Brown Bomber never got back to him. Along with the invention of killer submissions from the bottom, the Gracie’s came up with an all encompassing philosophy of combat and a banana heavy diet plan.
Of the next generation, it was Rorian who took the family art to the next level. The law graduate moved to California in 1979. He had grand plans of spreading the word, but wound up working as an extra on Starsky and Hutch, co-ordinating fights for movies and teaching jiu jitsu in his garage. He came to prominence thanks to an article in Playboy magazine in September 1989 entitled; ‘Rorion Gracie is willing to fight to the death to prove he's the toughest man in the west’. The piece outlined the story of his extraordinary family and contained details of the marketing ploy known as the Gracie challenge: Rorion would fight anyone: $100,000, winner takes all.
Art Davie was an ad man with an eye for an opportunity. He signed up for private tuition at Gracie’s gym. As Davie discovered more about jiu jitsu, he saw the chance to use his creative nous. Together with Rorian, he put together the idea of a one night tournament that pitted martial artist of different against each other. The pair sold the idea to the Semaphore Entertainment Group; a firm with a reputation for offbeat pay per view TV events.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship was staged at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver (Colorado had no boxing commission to press them on inconvenient matters like safety). Eight fighters of various levels of distinction were assembled: a couple of kickboxers, a couple of guys with karate credentials, a sumo wrestler, a boxer, a shoot wrestler and a Gracie.
"This was a genuine throwback fight. Style versus style. Brazilian jiu jitsu versus the world."
Rorion selected his brother Royce. Royce was young, clean cut and slender compared to the grizzled hulks in the other corner. In the quarter final he faced the boxer Art Jimmerson, who gave up when Royce mounted him on the canvas. In the semi and final, he took down opponents, who both enjoyed a considerable weight advantage over him, and choked them into submission.
The show did reasonable numbers and, as is the way in the entertainment biz, a sequel was planned. Once again, Royce Gracie brushed aside the opposition to take the title. Over time, what we now know as the modern sport of Mixed Martial Arts evolved from these humble beginnings. If anyone other than Royce had triumphed, this would not have happened. Viewers were entranced by the antics of this skinny kid.
The notions of what is effective in martial arts changed overnight. It became accepted that, in a one on one fight, a grappler will beat a striker. There is scientific proof to back up this assertion. Shortly after the first UFC, the US Army began a root and branch overhaul of their hand to hand combat training under the supervision of Matt Larsen. The staff sergeant managed the kind of experiments you can only run when you are a fighting force with hundreds of thousands of recruits every year. Take a class of 100 infantrymen and split them into two groups.
Fifty of them learn boxing from pro coaches for twenty hours as part of their induction, the other fifty do additional physical training. In the final week of training, the two groups meet in the ring. The non boxers will win more than the boxers. Repeat the experiment with ground grappling instead of boxing and the grapplers achieve close to a 100% success rate. The resulting Modern Army Combatives Program is based on what Larsen calls the ‘rice and beans’ fight plan: ‘close the distance, achieve the dominant body position, finish the fight’.
A spectacle designed to take an extra couple of bucks out of the wallets of cable viewers had created a phenomenon. If you wanted to be taken seriously as a martial artist, you had to get a ground game. Gracie jiu jitsu was a hot property. It delivered what every fighting system had always promised. You could defeat any opponent with technique, regardless of his size. Royce Gracie’s giant slaying exploits were proof. The Gracie family were the vanguard, but ever since, a steady stream of South Americans have left their homeland to satisfy the global demand for authentic BJJ instruction. One of them ended up in Hull.
Marc Goddard is laying down the law. The ref has had enough of Lanus Jones holding the cage. A couple of times, Da Silva has had him in his clutches and Lanny has grabbed the fence to keep on his feet. He knows that the fight is over for him if he gets dragged to the floor; the natural habitat of the Brazilian. Goddard parades the Yorkshireman, instructing each judge to take a point from him. The ref then theatrically crosses his open palms then parts them to let everyone know the score. He does it again and he’s out of there.
The fight recommences. Jones loads up on a right hand, looking for the finish. Marcus traps him against the barrier, tying him up. The chants of ‘Lanny, Lanny’ ring out from the fans that have made the trip up the M18. Suddenly, Da Silva unloads a couple of uppercuts. Jones manages to break free. The pair exchange punches. For a second, it looks like Da Silva’s lost the playbook and is going to trade. Then, the inevitable happens. They’re in centre cage. Marcus puts his arms around his opponent’s neck, leaps to hook his feet together round the back and drops back. No cage to grab and no back up plan. They fall together. For the first time, the BJJ students make a noise.
There can only be one outcome. As Renzo, the most amiable Gracie, famously said: ‘A boxer is like a lion, the greatest predator on land, but you throw him in the shark tank and he’s just another meal.’ The arm is in and the legs are creeping up the back for a triangle choke. He’s not quite got it and attempts the transition to an armbar. Too late. In a split second, Jones gets the soles of his feet on the deck and powers up and out. He stands over Da Silva and waves him up. As soon as the Brazilian is back on his feet, Lanus confidently marches towards him. He’s out of the mole hole and ready to enjoy the sunshine.
"They’re in centre cage. Marcus puts his arms around his opponent’s neck, leaps to hook his feet together round the back and drops back. No cage to grab and no back up plan. They fall together."
Da Silva clinches up again but the rejuvenated Jones is having none of it and uses his strength to push him away. As they part, Lanny’s right hand pushes the Da Silva right hand down, leaving him exposed. The chin is up in the air, crying out for a fist. Jones obliges, swinging the big left hand in. Timber! The ref is straight on the scene. One punch on the canvas and it’s waved off. Lanny does an impromptu lap of honour and the South Yorkshire fans erupt.
Lanny remains unbeaten. There used to be the old saying that records were for DJs, but having that 0 intact is a powerful marketing tool, especially when you’re knocking over decent quality. With this win, he has becoming a force in the domestic Light heavyweight division. He wasn’t really big enough to take on some of the monsters who cut down to fight at the 14 st 9 lb limit and would be a lot better off dropping down to Middleweight. He knew it too, but would was happy to wait till the results forced the change. Why kill yourself dieting when you’re still dropping bodies?
I caught a word with the victor before I got off. He was full of bravado.
"All this jiu jitsu. Load of bollocks. Just give ‘em a good thump. Job done."
If Lanus Jones had fought on the original UFC show, there would not have been a UFC 2.
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