If you didn’t follow his pre-UFC career, you probably figured that Anderson Silva’s Octagon debut would be relatively competitive. Chris Leben was a dangerous brawler who had won five straight in the Octagon against solid competition, while Silva was…some sort of Brazilian from Japan, I guess? In actuality, the Spider was quickly becoming the most lethal striker in the business, and had spent the previous two years brutalizing guys like Lee Murray, Jorge Rivera, and Tony Fryklund as the middleweight champion of Cage Rage. So all that stuff the Crippler said about pressing the action against Silva, rough-neckin’ him, throwing him around, blasting him in the face, breaking his jaw, then sending him back to Japan where the competition’s a little easier? Oh my God, player. He might as well have been talking about how he was bringing the karate aspect back into jiu-jitsu — that’s how out of touch with reality he seemed, in retrospect.
Chances are, you’ve watched this clip a hundred times by now, so you know what happens next: Anderson Silva makes his name in the U.S. with one of the most flawless victories in MMA history and earns an immediate title shot against Rich Franklin, while Leben begins his slow drift out of relevance. And these days, all of Silva’s fights look like mismatches.
It was a classic matchup of skill vs. morbid obesity. The comically large son of legendary Brazilian scrapper Rei Zulu, Wagner da Conceicao Martins (aka “Zuluzinho”) managed to build up a sizable undefeated record in vale tudo matches before joining PRIDE in 2005, where he mauled sumo wrestler Henry “Sentoryu” Miller in his debut. But things like size, pedigree, and professional record mean very little when you’re fighting Fedor Emelianenko. To the untouchable PRIDE heavyweight champion, Zuluzinho was nothing more than a giant punching bag.
In just 26 seconds, Fedor put ‘Zinho on his ass with an inhumanly fast left hook, abused him on the ground a bit, knocked him back down with a right as soon as the giant got to his feet, then went into beastmode until Zuluzinho tapped from the onslaught. This fight proved once and for all that “big and slow” is not the best combination for beating Fedor. If only Hong-Man Choi and Tim Sylvia got the message in time.
On paper, bringing early UFC great Royce Gracie back to face the most dominant welterweight champ of the modern era must have seemed like a great idea. In reality, it meant pitting a thirty-nine year-old one-dimensional, slightly disinterested fighter against a more aggressive and more capable opponent. A thrilling clash of old vs. new it wasn’t. Gracie took his beating like a man, but also like someone who was resigned to the outcome. He would fight once more in MMA against Kazushi Sakuraba, winning a decision victory and then testing positive for steroids. After the way he got bullied by Hughes, we don’t necessarily blame him for wanting to juice up.
#7: Wanderlei Silva vs. Tatsuya Iwasaki, PRIDE Shockwave (8/28/02)
PRIDE’s matchmakers, God bless their crazy hearts, just loved to throw their champions curveballs. And so, a year after Wanderlei Silva won PRIDE’s middleweight strap, the Axe Murderer found himself standing across the ring from Tatsuya Iwasaki, a hair-fluffing Kyokushin karate practitioner with zero MMA fights to his credit. Iwasaki threw exactly one kick before he was kneed to the mat then hammered flat with ground-and-pound. In the end, karate was no match for karazy, and Iwasaki was roadkill. Back to the dojo, my friend…
#6: Mark Kerr vs. Greg “Ranger” Stott, UFC 15 (10/17/97)
If you’re watching an old school MMA bout and trying to determine whether you are about to witness an epic mismatch, the first question you need to ask yourself is, Has one of the participants invented his own martial art? Stott, an Army Ranger, came into this bout touting the superiority of his made-up style, RIP, proudly declaring “RIP rules, and all other styles rest in peace.” It turns out that RIP involves a short, pudgy dude in khaki shorts throwing awkward kicks and punches simultaneously.
When former collegiate national champion wrestler Mark Kerr came face to face with this unorthodox style, you could almost see him cock his head to one side like a dog that has just heard a kazoo for the first time. Once that feeling passed, he grabbed Stott and kneed him once in the head, bringing a mercifully swift end to the fight just seventeen seconds in. Thus, the glorious RIP empire collapsed before it had even begun. Somewhere in America there’s a storage space filled with instructional VHS tapes for the martial arts craze that never was. Stott would throw them all away, but he can’t set foot in there anymore without suffering horrible flashbacks.
#5: Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic vs. Dos Caras Jr.
The second question you need to ask yourself when determining whether you are about to witness an MMA mismatch is, Is one of the participants wearing a mask? Granted, Dos Caras Jr. came to MMA from Mexican professional wrestling, so he has one of the two best reasons for wearing a mask (the other? armed robbery), but it doesn’t change the fact that he had no business in a Pride fight with “Cro Cop.”
Filipovic is no fool, though. He knows what his bosses are expecting, and he gives them the head kick finish followed by completely unnecessary punch that they crave. We don’t need to see that guy’s face to know it did not leave the ring in the same condition that it arrived there in.
#4: Royce Gracie vs. Art Jimmerson, UFC 1 (11/12/93)
When the thought first occurred to Art Jimmerson, it must have seemed like a brilliant idea. If he entered the first UFC event of all time wearing one boxing glove, it would enable him to pound on opponents’ skulls without hurting his beloved fist, and he could also have one hand free to grab or shove or eat ice cream cones with. How could that not end in triumph? Well, one way is if you get so freaked out by the idea of the ground game that simply being stuck in the mount position is enough to make you give up. Jimmerson never fought in MMA again after that night, but the legend of his one glove serves as a necessary reminder to people everywhere that there’s a reason some objects are only sold in pairs.
#3. Travis Fulton vs. Jeremy Bullock, Extreme Challenge 22 (11/21/98)
It had all the earmarks of an epically ugly mismatch: MMA fighter vs. Tae Kwon Do stylist. 46-11-5 record vs. 0-0-0 record. A weight differential that was listed at 30 pounds but was probably closer to 50, considering that there’s no freakin’ way Jeremy Bullock was 170 pounds that day. As soon as Bullock entered the cage and started entertaining the crowd with jump kicks and his ability to do the splits, it was pretty obvious that something horrible was about to happen — and everybody seemed to know it except Bullock himself, who obliviously Diaz-flexed in his corner before the fight.
Then, reality struck. “Ironman” Fulton easily scored a double-leg takedown (after being hurdled by Bullock in the opening seconds), then moved to side control as Bullock desperately clutched Fulton in a headlock. In one smooth motion, Fulton lifted Bullock over his head and slammed him directly onto his neck, which immediately sent the TKD fighter into convulsions of agony. Bullock eventually left the cage on a stretcher, and never fought again. Apparently, keeping your butt in a bind is easier said than done.
#2: (tie) All of Alistair Overeem‘s MMA fights in 2009
Here’s the deal: Alistair Overeem is the current Strikeforce heavyweight champ and one the top heavyweight fighters in the world. At least, we think he is. We don’t know for sure because the guy spent all of 2009 fighting hopelessly outmatched opponents, while dabbling in a little K-1 on the side. Between James Thompson, Tony Sylvester, and Kazuyuki Fujita, he didn’t fight a single opponent who had any legitimate reason whatsoever to be in there.
Maybe that sounds like good, clean fun to you. Maybe you don’t begrudge a guy the chance to get an easy paycheck or three. Most of the time, we’d agree with you. But as Fujita lay on his back staring up at the ceiling of the Saitama Super Arena after nearly being decapitated by an Overeem knee, we were reminded that there are consequences that come with putting a man into a certain doom scenario like that. When a fighter is chosen specifically because he is no match for the guy standing across from him, shit can get serious in a hurry.
#1: Ben Rothwell vs. Nick Bartlett, Ultimate Wrestling 2 (6/25/99)
Mad props to “Lurkers can talk too” for giving us the definitive backstory on this infamous clip, which depicts Ben Rothwell’s amateur debut against some hapless tubbaguts:
The fight took place in Cleveland at the Nautica Flats. The event was an amateur tourney and open to just about anyone that signed up. This was right around ten years ago. Outside of the amateur tourney, the event was headlined by Severn/Kohler. The rules of the tourney basically allowed punches and kicks while standing, but no closed fist strikes to the head while on the ground.
I’m not sure if there was a draw or seeding, but that match was the first of the heavyweight matches in the tournament and not one damn person in the place thought it was going to end pretty. I remember watching it, and may have started shouting for the stoppage before the bell rung. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a little blood, but that was like watching someone throw a watermelon into a woodchipper.
The reason Jeremy Horn stopped and reset the fighters [Ed. note: Wait a minute, Jeremy Horn was the referee?] is because the knee that Ben dropped on the kid was illegal. If you look, those shots he’s blasting him with were mercifully palm strikes, otherwise someone may have been on the news that night describing death in the ring for the second time in MMA.
The kid got his injury time and decided he wanted to continue from what I gather. Lots of heart shown there, but someone really should have just told him to follow his survival instinct. In fact, Ben may have considered going over and beating up the cornerman with the equally impressive physique who didn’t throw in the towel. Not the best way to look after your friend.
Rothwell executed the poor fatty with extreme prejudice, then went on to trounce another guy named Pete Delmutti later that night; Bartlett and Delmutti never fought again. As the camera-holder drawls at the video’s 1:04 mark, “Somebody frickin’ let their kid get beat up, pretty much.”
Did we leave out any brutal mismatches? Let us know in the comments section. This list is dedicated to Jeremy Bullock, wherever he is…