The concept for a tournament to discover the world’s best fighter was the brainchild of Art Davie, a Southern California based advertising executive. Davie met Rorion Gracie in 1991 while researching martial arts for a marketing client. Gracie operated a jiu-jitsu school in Torrance, California and the Gracie family had a long history of mixed martial arts matches in Brazil. Davie became Gracie’s student.
In 1992, Davie proposed an eight-man, single-elimination tournament with a working title of War of the Worlds to Rorion Gracie and John Milius. The tournament would feature martial artists from different disciplines facing each other in no holds barred combat. Milius, a noted film director and screenwriter, as well as a Gracie student, agreed to be the event’s creative director. Davie drafted the business plan and twenty-eight investors contributed the initial capital to start WOW Promotions with the intent to develop the tournament into a television franchise.
In 1992, WOW Promotions sought a television partner and approached Showtime, HBO and Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG). Both HBO and Showtime declined but SEG, a pioneer in Pay-Per-View TV who had produced a mixed tennis match between Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova, became WOW’s partner in May 1993. SEG devised the name for the show: The Ultimate Fighting Championship. The two companies produced the first event at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado on November 12, 1993. Davie functioned as the show’s booker and matchmaker. The television broadcast featured two kickboxers (Patrick Smith and Kevin Rosier), a savate black belt (Gerard Gordeau), a karate expert (Zane Frazier), a shootfighter (Ken Shamrock), a sumo wrestler (Teila Tuli), a professional boxer (Art Jimmerson), and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt (Royce Gracie). The show was an instant success, drawing 86,592 television subscribers on Pay-Per-View TV. In April 1995, following UFC 5, in Charlotte, North Carolina, Davie and Gracie sold their interest in the franchise to SEG and disbanded WOW Promotions. Davie continued as the show’s booker and matchmaker, as well as the Commissioner of Ultimate Fighting, until December 1997.