In the very first fight inside the famed UFC Octagon, Dutch kickboxer Gerard Gordeau kicked a tooth right out of sumo wrestler Teila Tuli's mouth. The enamel covered bullet flew right by referee "Big" John McCarthy's wife Elaine at cageside on its way God knows where. Gordeau fought two more bouts that evening with a broken foot-and with Tuli's teeth embedded deep in his skin.
Boxer Art Jimmerson watching backstage, already nervous about a very adventurous departure from the squared circle, grew more nervous still. Jimmerson, despite claims on internet message boards, was no can. He was a solid journeyman fighter, best known for an exciting win over light heavyweight Lenny LaPaglia in 1988. Since that big win, Jimmerson had taken 15 in a row and was in line for the biggest fight of his life-a main event shot at the legendary Tommy "Hitman" Hearns.
It seemed crazy to risk it all for a then unknown fight show that was more likely than not going to tank. But Jimmerson was buying a house and needed cash quickly. So, as SEG Executive Campbell McClaren explained in Total MMA: Inside Ultimate Fighting, the fight was on:
Jimmerson was actually buying a house and was short on the down payment. So his needs and our needs came together. But he was a nationally ranked boxer. He was a real guy, a professional. But he was more interested in getting out of there with his arms still attached to his body...I talked him into doing it and he put on a pretty good show. I was used to doing more traditional entertainment and I was used to talking people into things. But I realized it's not a good thing to talk a fighter into doing a fight. There's too much at stake, it's not a game. If you didn't come physically prepared you might lose or things might not go the way you wanted. But if you didn't come mentally prepared you were in serious jeopardy...
Jimmerson, who had once been brutalized by leg kicks in a mixed match with kickboxing star Don "The Dragon" Wilson, knew he was entering a whole new world. But Jimmerson had no intention of putting himself in danger. He wanted the UFC's money, but wasn't going to do anything to jeopordize his possible fight with Hearns. McClaren, despite having seen Gracies in Action numerous times, was conditioned to beleive that the boxer stood a real chance. A trip into the locker room convinced him otherwise:
I was 1000 percent convinced that boxer was going to kill him. I don't mean knock him out, I mean actually kill him. Royce is going to be wearing his nice little jammies and a boxer can really punch. He's going to swing, throw a punch from his hips, hit Royce on his head and knock his head off his skinny little body. But when I went down before the fight and Art Jimmerson asked me 'Do I tap with my left hand or my right hand?'I started to realize maybe the fight wasn't going to go the way I originally thought.
Art had considered making a serious go of it. He was talking smack before the fight with Gracie confidant McCarthy, teasing the big man that Royce had no chance of withstanding what would surely be a barrage of Jimmerson's hard punches. McCarthy quickly showed him what Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was all about. He remembers Jimmerson being suddenly very contemplative indeed:
Jimmerson said, "How in the world do you think Royce is going to beat me when I’m flicking out a jab? He can’t get past that." We went into a back ballroom area and I grabbed him in a double leg and put him on the ground. He looked up at me and said, "Oh, my God. He’s going to break my arms and legs, isn’t he?"
Wearing a single red glove on his left hand, Jimmerson looked very nervous heading into the cage. And for good reason. He was stepping in with the odds on favorite to win the entire tournament, a fact that began to dawn on the fighters when they got to the arena and realized one of the fighters was related to the promoter. Remembering what McCarthy showed him, Jimmerson wanted no part of the ground specialist when the fight finally hit the mat:
It’s like a phobia, like you’re in a closet or scared of heights. I started getting nervous. I’m used to moving around the ring. All these things that were told to me about being on the ground, choked out, breaking a limb, were crossing my mind. Everyone was trying to tell me what to do and what not to do. I didn’t know how to react to it.
Gracie never grabbed a hold or landed a single punch, but that didn't stop Jimmerson from tapping out and heading home to collect his money. Reported as anywhere between $15,000 and $20,000, Jimmerson was the highest paid participant in the tournament besides the eventual winner. And while he didn't depart the cage basked in glory, he told Sherdog that he still believes things could have been different:
Going into the tournament, I was told he was an easy fighter and he doesn't really punch that hard, but they never really told me he was a world champion of his art," laments Jimmerson. "I had no ground training, I just went in as a fighter, thinking I would knock this guy out with one punch. If I went in there with someone like [fellow striker] Pat Smith I think it would've turned out different on my turf. With Royce, I was fighting a new champion.
After the jump, take a gander at Jimmerson's bout with Gracie and his most famous boxing match.
Art Jimmerson vs. Lenny Lapaglia Rds. 1-2 (via ARTJIMMERSON)
Art Jimmeson vs. Lenny Lapaglia Rds. 3-4 (via ARTJIMMERSON)
Art Jimmerson vs. Lenny Lapaglia Rds. 5-6 (via ARTJIMMERSON)