The argument can be made that the UFC would never have amounted to more than a Gracie Jiu Jitsu infomercial be it not for wrestlers. Most fans know that the wave of amateur Freestyle and Greco Roman wrestlers who came into the sport following the initial dominance of Jiu Jitsu players forever changed the landscape of mixed martial arts. But did you know that the state of Georgia played a historic role in the emergence of these athletes on the MMA scene? Pioneering MMA Promoter Brett Moses recently explained how.
In November of 1997, I helped promote an event called Martial Arts Reality Super Fighting (MARS). The beginnings of wrestling in MMA in large part come from that event because of a man named Rico Chiapparrelli. Rico was an NCAA Wrestling Champion in the 80’s and he was one of the first, if not the first, who thought wrestlers could do well in MMA.
He brought in guys like Tom Ericson, the huge heavyweight wrestling champion to that event.
Brett gives Chiapparrelli credit for being open minded about training different styles when many in martial arts were not.
Back in those days there was a complete separation. If you were a wrestler, you didn’t train with Jiu Jitsu people and if you were a Jiu Jitsu guy you didn’t train with wrestlers.
For example; Carlson Gracie got real mad at Renzo (Gracie) because Renzo was teaching Rico Jiu Jitsu and Rico was teaching Renzo wrestling. Carlson Gracie made a big stink so Renzo had to quit training with Rico. Carlson got the whole Jiu Jitsu community up in arms.
A short time after MARS, another event in Georgia had an even bigger impact on the development of MMA. UFC 13, held in Augusta, featured the debut of another fighter trained by Chiapparrelli, a 38-year-old wrestling coach named Randy Couture. Of course Couture ended up winning the tournament at UFC 13 and the rest is history. Tito Ortiz, another wrestling pioneer in MMA and the UFC also debuted at that event and Vitor Belfort wiped out Tank Abbott
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