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UFC co-founder Art Davie reveals which US sports icon he failed to sign for UFC 1

Art Davie tried to snag an American legend in the early 90s.

Art Davie at the UFC Hall Of Fame: Official Class Of 2018 Induction Ceremony
Art Davie at the UFC Hall Of Fame: Official Class Of 2018 Induction Ceremony
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Tim Bissell is a writer, editor and deputy site manager for Bloody Elbow. He has covered combat sports since 2015. Tim covers news and events and has also written longform and investigative pieces. (full bio)

UFC 1: The Beginning went down on November 12, 1993 at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, CO. The event, the brainchild of Rorion Gracie and Art Davie, was one by jiu jitsu ace Royce Gracie. He beat out a field of fellow specialists that included boxer Art Jimmeson and shootfighter Ken Shamrock.

The initial tournament also included fighters from the world of sumo, savate, kenpo, kickboxing and taekwondo.

Davie recently revealed that the thought the initial line-up for UFC 1 had a gaping hole in it, which he tried to fill with a combat sports legend. He spoke about this with Hannibal TV.

“Not enough people were thinking clearly about, ‘What about grappling? How would grappling figure in?’” said Davie (ht MMA News). “Now, I had tried to reach out to Dan Gable at the University of Iowa,” Davie said. “I could never get him on the phone. I wanted to get a top-notch amateur wrestler. Later on, I got Mark Schultz. I got Kevin Jackson. But in the beginning, I couldn’t even get Gable’s assistant to return my call.”

Dan Gable turned 45 in 1993. He retired from competition in 1974. In the 90s he was the head wrestling coach at the University of Iowa, the school he won two NCAA Division I titles with. As a coach he worked with multiple future Olympians and won a slew of Big Ten Conference and NCAA Division 1 titles.

Given his age, and what else he had going on, it’s not hard to see why Gable wouldn’t have returned Davie’s calls.

In addition to collegiate wrestling titles, Gable also won gold at the 1972 Olympic games in Berlin. In 2020 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In 2014 Gable revealed he spent time boxing as a youth and that he’s somewhat intrigued by MMA. However, he said he would have never gone into the sport over concerns of head trauma and how that might have affected his long-term health.