Kevin Rosier (UFC 1): Looking Back at a MMA Pioneer

Kevin Rosier

One big, tough dude from the MMA’s wild early days passed away this week.

Kevin Rosier, who died Tuesday after a heart attack, was one of the pioneering fighters who battled in the first edition of the Ultimate Fighting Championship back in 1993.

In fact, Rosier was actually the first fighter to appear on screen in UFC broadcast history. A montage of UFC 1 contestants begins with the big man throwing a front kick as he shadowboxes.

It was more than twenty years ago, sure. But revisiting the UFC 1 broadcast today, it may seem even longer ago — a look into another world. The voice over reveals an approach so far from today’s MMA product, with its athletic commissions and safety regulations.

“Eight street tough warriors wage combat!” Rich Goines boasts. “No rules! No judges! And no time limits! Anything can happen, and probably will!”

But as Rosier told Nashville Scene in 2013, “I paved the way. Now it’s a billionaire industry.”

Later, UFC co-founder Art Davie, would describe his struggle to gather talent for the event in his book Is This Legal?

Rosier was one of the “street tough warriors” who answered Davie’s call. It took a certain character to want to participate in the first UFC, and by all accounts, Rosier was nothing if not a character.

Rosier actually fought in the second bout of the broadcast, against Kempo stylist Zane Frazier. The back-and-forth slug-fest may be said to be the first come from behind win in UFC history.

A quick, energetic interview is shown as Rosier begins his walk to the cage:

“I’m Kevin Rosier; I’m the five time world kickboxing champ!” the baby-faced Rosier blurts out. “I’m going to win this tournament. My best technique is the overhand right. I’m gonna hit ’em, they’re not gonna get up!”

Rosier is announced as being 6’4″ and 265 lbs. but looks much heavier. His record is said to be 66-8, with all 66 wins by KO, and is listed as a “three time world WKA kickboxing champion and ISKA North American kickboxing champion.”

The bout sees Rosier plodding forward, looking for that overhand right. It eventually lands, and he keeps on the attack with elbows and punches. But Frasier turns the tide, landing a few of his own and a hard knee to the groin — which, at the time, was a perfectly legal tactic. The Kempo man gets a hold on  Rosier’s hair, and lands a series of hard uppercuts. But Frazier tired, and crumbled to the mat after getting blasted by a crude overhand courtesy of Rosier. Punches rain down, followed by some nasty stomps, and in comes the towel at 4:20. Rosier had won.

Rosier came back later in the evening to face Gerard Gordeau. Gordeau would hit a few leg kicks, then follow with a hand combination and a high round kick. Rosier fell to the canvas, where an axe kick/stomp to body ends it. Gordeau had taken a spot in the final.

But it seems nothing took away Rosier’s smile.

In Is This Legal?, Davie recalls the character who was Rosier.
“Rosier was the first fighter to arrive at the party, and he was wearing a circa-1975 tux, complete with huge flower cumberbund. He looked as joyous as if he had won the tournament and greeted me with a huge hug. He then proclaimed he was my long-lost son, and that now he was going to call me “Dad.” Rosier then excused himself, and said he wanted to go looking for John McCarthy, so that he could challenge him to a pizza-eating contest.”

There’s no word on who won that pizza-eating contest, but Rosier went on to fight six more MMA bouts from 1994 to 2000. Between 1989 and 2001 he had 25 professional boxing matches as well.

Another pioneering MMA promoter, Monte Cox, recalled his experiences with Rosier in a post on The Underground Forum:

“Kevin fought for me twice back in 1998, taking on Dan Severn. After the first loss in 53 seconds, Kevin came to my room where I was talking with John Perretti. Kevin says “OK, he out-wrestled me. If I gotta go to the Miletich school and learn wrestling for a week or two I will do it.”

Peretti and I laughed and John said, “Let’s see, Severn is a collegiate All-American and Olympic alternate who has been wrestling for about 30 years… yep, I’d say a week or two at the most.”

Kevin began working on his takedown defense and called me to fight Severn again. He swore he would do better, and he did, lasting 7 more seconds. Afterwards, he said “Monte, you had to see the improvement, right?”

Kevin was fun to be around and always made people laugh. It’s sad his life came to an end so soon. He will be missed.”

A New York native, Rosier had been living in a Nashville, TN retirement community at the time of his passing.

RIP Kevin Rosier, 1962-2015.