Unless you’re a hardcore, Pancrase-nerd (DeLucia’s “home promotion” for most of his career), the name Jason Delucia might not mean much to you, aside from the being the “kid” that lost to Royce Gracie at UFC 2. His contributions to MMA, especially in Japan, consist of much more than that one fight, though.
DeLucia has the distinction of being one of the two competitors that competed in the very first UFC fight. The other participant was local Denver, Colorado fighter, Trent Jenkins. These two men faced off in an “alternate bout” before UFC 1 went live, on pay-per-view, to determine an alternate for the UFC 1 tournament in case a fighter had to pull out due to injury. This was officially the very first UFC fight but as I was watching this rare footage recently, you can clearly hear the commentators make comments that sound like there were fights that occurred prior to this one.
Things like, “Nobody’s gone over the ropes (cage) yet. No, but the first fight they almost went through it. That was a lot of weight there”. I could debate a while about what these comments mean but my best guess is that maybe this fight was shown as “filler” on the first UFC broadcast to give fighters a rest between tournament rounds so the commentators were commentating on it “after the fact” and not live as it first happened.
That would explain them mentioning prior fights. I watched UFC 1 live but that was long ago and I was pretty young. I honestly don’t remember if this fight ever aired on that broadcast at all. I do know that even if it did; it was lost for a long time sometime after.
Regardless, both men were strikers by nature (DeLucia specializing in Five Animals style Kung-Fu) so, as soon as the fight started, fans were treated to techniques that they wouldn’t witness much at all for years or even decades to come! Both men came out, guns blazing, throwing side-kicks, hook-kicks and spinning back kicks! The young Jason Delucia had a secret weapon, though… he also knew how to grapple. After a minute or two of trading kicks with Jenkins, Delucia closed the distance and obtained a takedown, eventually submitting Jenkins with a rear naked choke.
Although he never made it into the UFC 1 tournament as an alternate; DeLucia was invited back to compete at UFC 2 in the main draw. He had success in the first round but ran into the unbeatable (at the time, at least) Royce Gracie in Round 2. Here, DeLucia was forced to submit to an armbar. Always a dogged competitor; this was not the first time DeLucia had taken on Gracie as he had previously lost a “Gracie Challenge” fight against Royce sometime prior to the formation of the UFC.
During his UFC performances, Jason had impressed Ken Shamrock to the point of Shamrock beginning to train with him. Although DeLucia would not go on to be an official Lion’s Den member, Shamrock helped to secure him a spot in the Japanese Pancrase promotion which would become DeLucia’s home for the rest of his career. DeLucia only had one other fight in the UFC, in 1999, the first time the UFC traveled to Japan. Sadly, in this fight, DeLucia didn’t get to showcase much to the UFC audience as his corner was forced to throw in the towel early due to a brutal looking knee injury that he incurred during a takedown.
In Pancrase, DeLucia was able to shine and live up to his potential. He had tons of exciting matches with Yuki Kondo, Minowman, a young Chris Lytle, and Minoru Suzuki. DeLucia also had his famous trilogy of “grudge matches” against the legend, Bas Rutten, while in Pancrase. Well, they always appeared to be “grudge matches” to me, anyway. I always got the feeling that those two didn’t like each other very much. Jason could never get the best of Bas but that’s understandable. Few ever could. The fights were always exciting, regardless. Truly a great “MMA trilogy”.
Jason DeLucia never shied away from any challenger throughout his career and he always delivered a solid fight. It’s a shame that out of all the people that made a name for themselves after competing in UFC 1 (Ken Shamrock, Royce Gracie, even Pat Smith to a lesser extent), DeLucia seems to be the most overlooked. He truly deserves a spotlight for his contributions to the sport.
*Adam Zimmerman (a/k/a The Grappling Gamer) is also a staff writer and contributor to Canadian Bulldog’s World. http://www.canadianbulldogsworld.com