The UFC has had a storied history throughout the years, and the promotion would only be where it is today with the key figures who blazed the trail in its infancy. Today, fans have grown fond of the commentary team that continues to raise the bar with respect to professionalism and attention to detail. Legacy fans will remember the first commentary team that graced its first few pay-per-view events, which featured the late great Jim Brown, who passed away last week at 87 due to natural causes.
Jim Brown was mainly known for his American football career, winning three league MVP awards and becoming an NFL champion in his penultimate season. As a fullback, Brown led the league in rushing on eight separate occasions, pacing the NFL in touchdowns for five of those seasons. The man was a legend of the sport and was inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame in 1971 for his achievements.
Brown later went on to contribute to the UFC massively, acting as a key member of the commentary team for their first six PPV events. Starting in November 1993, Brown’s presence in the booth served as an essential factor in attracting new fans to a sport that was still in its early stages. He would lend his voice up until July 1995.
In his first statement on the UFC 1 broadcast, Brown said, “I’ve been around the toughest fighters in the world in Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, (and) Mike Tyson. I’ve been around the greatest NFL players, the tough guys – Dick Butkus, Sam Huff, all of those guys. But I tell you, they could not last in this ring.”
While the UFC is commonly accepted as a legitimate sport in the present day, the same could not be said for the early stages of the UFC. Brown’s support added a layer of legitimacy that the sport direly needed. He also blazed the trail for African American commentators in combat sports as the first black UFC commentator. This opened the door for legends like Yves Edwards, Din Thomas, and Daniel Cormier to make their impact on UFC broadcasts, be it on the play-by-play side of the sport or behind the scenes.
Jim Brown’s impact transcended the sports world, as he took a significant role in the civil rights movement after he retired from football in 1965. He founded the Black Economic Union (then the Negro Industrial and Economic Union). In addition, he helped organize the Cleveland Summit in 1967, which supported boxing icon Muhammad Ali when he stood against the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War. He, along with Ali and basketball legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell, will forever be etched in history for their bravery during this time.
Brown even made a sizeable contribution to the entertainment industry, starring in over 30 films, including a memorable role in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday. Even today, the public wrestles with a narrative surrounding athletes’ societal impact. Brown helped set the tone early on, showing that athletes can be more than just athletes, offering his talents on many different fronts. His wife and five children continue his long-standing legacy.