The very first ever UFC was held exactly 14 years ago today. Dave Meltzer of Yahoo has a write-up. Here's Meltzer's descriptions of the fighters in that first tourny:
Royce Gracie, who had never won anything of substance in Brazil, was billed as the world light heavyweight champion in jiu-jitsu. At 176 pounds, he was the smallest man in the tournament, by design, since the idea was to show that technique was more important than size in fighting, and that a skinny man who looked like he could easily be broken in two by these heavyweights could subdue them all.
Gerard Gordeau, a savage streetfighter from Holland who had done some high-profile pro wrestling matches in Japan, was billed as the World Savate champion.
Art Jimmerson was a cruiserweight boxer who at the time had a national ranking.
Teila Tuli was billed as a 425-pound sumo wrestling champion, although he was closer to 350 and never even competed in the high-profile Japanese sumo circuit.
Kevin Rosier was a well-known kickboxer in the 80s, who held one of the dozens of world heavyweight championships the sport had, although past his prime by that point.
Zane Frazier also did some kickboxing, and was advertised as a champion.
And the final entrant was a star Japanese pro wrestler, Ken Wayne Shamrock, whose bodybuilder-like physique made him look like what everyone thought an Ultimate Fighting champion should look like. He was billed as the World shootfighting champion.
Shamrock and two other pro wrestlers, frustrated at older stars holding them back, decided to create a pro wrestling circuit, called Pancrase, where the matches would be real. While he had trained in submissions with pro wrestlers for a few years, he had actually only had a few real matches, all under essentially pro wrestling rules with submission finishes, which included no closed fists or even rope breaks.
He also points out the way the UFC sowed the seeds of its downfall right into the marketing of the first event:
The first show was booked for McNichols Arena in Denver and the secret local promoter of the event was Zane Bresloff, who had to keep his name quiet for fear his regular bosses, the folks at the World Wrestling Federation, would find out about his involvement.
It was billed as anything-goes fighting, to the finish, banned in 49 states (it was actually not banned anywhere - that would come later). On the first show, there were no gloves worn, and everything was legal except biting, attacking the eyes and attacking the groin.
The second show saw the rules modified somewhat: You could attack the groin.
It was billed as world champions from eight fighting sports, although credentials of fighters were often exaggerated and records, and even heights and weights were often outright made up. They would have a one-night tournament with the only way to win being via knockout, submission or a fighter's corner throwing in the towel. On the eventual videotape release of the show months later, it was billed as the only way to win being knockout, submission, or death. While that may have helped sell tapes, in the long run, that type of promotion was Semaphore's undoing.
Along these historical lines, I've got a post from August that talks a bit about the developments in Brazil and Japan leading up to UFC 1.