Jerry Springer passed away this week at the age of 79. If you’re old enough to remember his show when it was a sort of cultural phenomenon then no summary of the man is really necessary. If you’re too young just know that the Jerry Springer show was the thing that Gen X’ers like myself watched before the internet was a thing to make ourselves feel better by watching people trashier than ourselves. Headlines like “My Nazi Transvestite Lover is choosing my dog dressed as the pope over me”. Much like pro wrestling, we knew it was fake as hell, but we couldn’t stop watching anyway (even if we were loath to admit it).
As we came more and more jaded, the show would book more outrageous guests and premises to keep us watching (and a brawl was virtually guaranteed on every episode), but on the early days of the show it attempted to be at least a bit more…not sure if factual is the word here. The Jerry Springer show was one of the first “mainstream” media outlets to give Mixed Martial Arts a positive outlet, actually this was before the days “MMA” was coined and it was known as NHB (No Holds Barred) or Vale Tudo (Anything Goes).
In this clip you can see old school pioneers (and my friends) John Lewis and Ralph Gracie on the Jerry Springer show. Ironically one of the few shows not to contain some kind of brawl or confrontation.
John and Ralph were on to promote an organization called Battlecade Extreme Fighting, which at the time was a legit rival to the also fledgling UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). It was actually well ahead of it’s time in many ways, as they actually introduced weight classes, gloves and time limits before anyone else did.
The financing behind Battlecade Extreme Fighting was Bob Guiccione Jr., son of Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guiccione Sr. so it was better financed and had more publicity avenues than the competition. The ring girls they used were actually Penthouse Pets of the era, and they used the magazine to promote events.
Here’s something you didn’t know, is that Dave Camarillo (Guerrilla Jiu Jitsu Founder) is actually featured in a pictorial spread in Penthouse magazine along with another friend Laura Geddis (Don Geddis’ wife). They are fully clothed of course and just demonstrating Jiu Jitsu Technique. The funniest part is that Don is a bona fide pioneer (founded bjj.org) but they took one look at him and decided they would rather have his wife in the pictures, and it was the only time before or since she ever put a Jiu Jitsu gi on.
Battlecade Extreme Fighting wound up encountering the same issues as the UFC did at the time, in that it was highly illegal in most of the United States and Canada to hold such events. At one event every fighter was arrested at the hotel except for Ralph Gracie, and it was because he refused to answer the door when the police arrived. He tells the story as Nino Schembri was in the room with him at the time, who immediately began tying sheets together in a bid to escape out the window.
The founder / mastermind of Extreme Fighting was John Perretti who should be acknowledged as a genius and a pioneer in the field. After Extreme Fighting folded he actually worked for the UFC as matchmaker for a time. Unfortunately he’s a bit more than a footnote these days, I suspect it was because he wasn’t exactly the easiest personality to get along with (to put it charitably). His commentary on the events was equal parts respect for his honesty and knowledge (Announcer #1 “How do you think Ali deals with Ralph?” John “I have no idea”) to major cringe (“He mounts him like a little pony”).
I have a nostalgic bit to start watching 90’s era Vale Tudo fights AND Jerry Springer episodes. Don’t tempt me with a good time this weekend..