Three and a half months ago, Wisconsin Combat Sports reader, PJ1 asked the question, “Besides a notarized letter from God, what would it take to get an official UFC event in Milwaukee?” Jason “Kaz” Kazmierczak dug up a city ordinance and stated that MMA was banned in the city of Milwaukee sometime in the mid to late nineties. Little did I know that the UFC did try to run an event in Milwaukee and our city government decided that they were going to do everything in their power to stop it from happening. Here’s the story of the UFC’s roots in Milwaukee that took place twelve years ago this month.
In 1996, Robert Meyrowitz of Semaphore Entertainment Group, the original owners of the UFC, attempted to rent the Wisconsin Arena, which is now the U.S. Cellular Arena to run a UFC event in February of the following year. Milwaukee Alderman Jeffrey Pawlinski strongly opposed the sport and drafted legislation to have the sport banned in the city. The Common Council’s Public Safety Committee passed it unanimously with a (4-0) on June 13, 1996. The ordinance then passed through the Judiciary and Legislation committee before it would reach the full Common Council.
Milwaukee kickboxing legend Duke Roufus was asked what he thought of the bill and his thoughts were published the same day he headlined a kickboxing card at the Eagles Auditorium. “I hate it; it’s barbarism,” stated Roufus. “It’s wrong. It’s not sporting watching a guy getting his head bounced off the mat.” At the time, Roufus was also preparing to defend his kickboxing title against UFC veteran Patrick Smith later in the year. His closing thoughts were, “UFC is crazy. It’s more of a circus act to me. We might as well go back to gladiator days.”
Duke Roufus’ thoughts on the subject have certainly changed since the article twelve years ago, but then again so have the UFC and MMA. One month later in July of 1996 at UFC 10, Mark “The Hammer” Coleman would win the tournament and defeat Don “The Predator” Frye in the finals with the use of head butts. It was the first time any man had ever beaten Frye and Big John McCarthy was forced to stop the brutal bout. It would take until UFC 15 in October of 1997 before head butts, groin strikes, strikes to the back of the neck and head, kicks to a downed opponent, small joint manipulation, and hair-pulling became illegal. More rules were continually added until the UFC 28 in November of 2000, the UFC adopted the New Jersey Athletic Control Board rules which became what we consider to be today’s modern day unified rules. Now the UFC only holds events in states that regulate MMA with state athletic commissions. At the time, the UFC was receiving a lot of negative publicity lead by Senator John McCain of Arizona.
When the legislation was voted on at the Common Council, the ban passed with a 15-1 vote and MMA or Ultimate Fighting as it was called at the time was banned from taking place in the city of Milwaukee. Alderman Jeffrey Pawlinski, who drafted the bill would get sentenced to eight months in prison for misusing his campaign finance dollars a number of years later.
The proposed UFC event to be held on February 14, 1997 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin would instead be held on February 7, 1997 in Dothan, Alabama as UFC 12. Jerry Bohlander would win the lightweight tournament and Vitor Belfort would breeze through the heavyweight tournament winner defeating both of his opponents in a cumulative two minutes and show the world why he is known as “the Phenom.” Lastly, Mark Coleman and Dan Severn would fight the first ever UFC heavyweight title fight. Coleman would beat Severn with a neck crank to become the first ever UFC Heavyweight Champion.
Ultimate Fighting bouts could be blocked; alderman wants to prohibit events featuring brutal battles – Journal Sentinal Inc. – Mike Nichols – June 13, 1996
Ultimate Fighting loses first round; common council panel votes to ban bouts in the city – Journal Sentinal Inc. – Mike Nichols – June 14, 1996
No place here for Ultimate Fighting – Journal Sentinal Inc. – Roesslein – June 17, 1996
Kickboxing: Roufus is not a fan of ultimate fighting. He says attempt to ban event is a good move – Journal Sentinal Inc. – Pete Ehrmann – June 22, 1996
Ice cream truck music will play on. Council rejects request to unplug tunes, approves ban on Ultimate – Journal Sentinal Inc. – Meg Kissinger – June 26, 1996