UFC 1: The life and times of Gerard Gordeau

June 3, 2020

– Guest Editorial by Ed Theisen

Growing up wasn’t easy for Gerard Gordeau, one of six siblings, who lost his father at age 11. Living in a high crime area of the Dutch district only added to the challenge. When Gordeau found Karate he seemed to find his way. Competing in tournaments all over the Netherlands and abroad, proved to be just what he needed and he did it well.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Gordeau about his UFC 1 experience and his role in what would become the greatest spectacle on earth.

Responding to an ad looking for fighters for a competition with no rules sparked his interest. Gordeau had just become the European and world Savate champion and figured this would be a good fit. He sent video tape of some of his bouts and soon received the call to come and fight.

Against the Kyokushin International Organization’s advice, he signed up to fight at UFC 1.  The organization was worried about their image in the case that Gordeau did not make it far into the tournament.

“Imagine if I won all three fights as a Kyokushin fighter. Then BJJ would not have become as big as Kyokushin, but that’s history,” remarked Gordeau.

Toppling at 400-pound Goliath

Taking his white karate gi and listing himself as a Savate fighter, he entered the octagon with the traditional Savate salute, which may have been taken for a not so favorable salute, but had nothing to do with anything else.

Gordeau faced Teila Tuli for the first ever UFC match-up. He devastated the 400-pound sumo wrestler with a roundhouse kick followed by a right uppercut to end the fight after just 26 seconds.

Gerard Gordeau vs Teila Tuli UFC 1

His second fight would be against another heavyweight-sized individual in Kevin Rosier, whom he finished with two liver stomps. The victory secured his spot in the first-ever UFC tournament finals to face Royce Gracie.

Gerard Gordeau vs Kevin Rosier UFC 1

Gordeau stated that he was initially paired against Gracie in the first round, but felt once his past fighting experiences were discovered they changed the fighters draw to make things easier for Gracie, whose family was a part of the business team that created the UFC. Regardless, after a couple wins over two much bigger fighters, with a broken hand and foot, he would get his chance with Royce.

With some of Tuli’s teeth still stuck in his foot, Gordeau’s kicks and stances were affected, and he knew he had to keep the fight standing. He had some Greco-Roman wrestling experience, but it would prove to be no match for the Brazilian’s skills on the ground. He found himself submitting to rear-naked choke.

Royce Gracie and Gerard Gordeau UFC 1

‘What if’ Gordeau had defeated Royce Gracie at UFC 1?

When asked if he would have done anything different, Gerard stated, “I have never regretted anything in my life. I do not care. We cannot change what is. I lost the fight and it is as clear as that. Royce is the first UFC champion

“I had the first UFC match and the first UFC knockout that changed martial arts forever and made the UFC big. If I was not as brutal as I was, things would have gone different.”

Gordeau also imagined that the UFC would become very popular, which was why he did not want to return to UFC 2. He did not want to become a commercial product. It’s not his kind of world; he just liked fighting.

Gordeau did participate as a coach in later UFC’s for the likes of Remco Pardoel and Frank Hamaker, but he really did not follow it much after that. He understands that all fighters can strike and grapple these days. They are all athletes. However, his generation were martial artists.

As much as Gordeau does not care for Dana White’s influence on MMA, he thinks in general that he has done a good job.

Where is Gerard Gordeau now?

Today, at 64 years old, Gordeau no longer fights. He had done some wrestling with Akebono in Japan for thousands of people. Being that he was already nearly 40 when he fought at UFC 1, his time in MMA was short lived.

His career led him to kickboxing in Thailand, Savate in France, Seidokan in Japan, and karate kickboxing and free fight matches in Europe.  He has done what he loves, simply fighting.

With brothers Al and Nico, Gordeau formed the Kamakura dojo, which became one of the biggest martial arts schools in the Netherlands. They also formed their own international karate organization, IBK International Budo Kai.  He still coaches fighters in Europe and Japan and still trains and spars with his assistant Rob Pepels. Pepels, who is an expert kicker, enjoys sharing techniques with Gordeau. He had also traveled with his student, world champion Cem Sonol, coaching him in events such as Kyokushin Kumite, which was a 100-man tournament.

Gordeau is currently enjoying his retirement, mainly in Portugal, offering advice to Rob and Cem for their combative classes. Both men have military and security backgrounds and teach advanced programs for law enforcement, security, and military groups. Gordeau himself also had previous experience as a bodyguard, bouncer, and also trained special police and INTERPOL agents.

Gordeau is a true fighter. His love for the martial arts took him around the world and he enjoyed every minute of it. He participates in UFC 1 reunion parties and events and he and Royce have become friends. Royce has been known to be a guest at his dojo in the Netherlands.

He was recently interviewed by Mason Gordon, a filmmaker from the United States, who is making a movie on UFC 1, where he demonstrated his fight against Telia Tuli.  He has also been in contact with UFC co-creator Art Davie many times through the years.

Good luck to Gerard Gordeau, his legacy will live on forever in UFC history.

Gegard Gordeau and Royce Gracie

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Ed Theisen is a preserver of MMA and combat sports memorabilia.  It is his goal, along with partner Charlie Smith, to open up the very first combat sports museum.