BY MATTHEW “THE FIGHT NERD” KAPLOWITZ
We all have that one friend who still just doesn’t get MMA. You tell him how safe it is, he says he doesn’t believe it since you can punch a dude on the ground. You tell him there are rules in place to keep everyone healthy, he says he doesn’t believe it since you can punch a dude on the ground. See a trend developing? No matter what you say, this person just never understands. Part of it might be because of the numerous videos that highlight brutality or generally idiocy in the sport, and of course those are the videos that get traffic — not the ones that showcase good sportsmanship and quality fighting. I blame “America’s Funniest Home Videos” for this obsession with schadenfreude.
These are fights that your friend who hates MMA references to remind you of how horrible he thinks the sport is, and he could have a point with some of these when taken out of context. These fights make you ashamed to be an MMA fan; some for how strangely they turned out due to circumstances, and others for how damaging they were for the whole of the sport. Just a warning to you: This list might start off jovial, but it will take a sharp turn for the serious as we get closer to the bottom. So let’s dive into this cesspool that is teeming with the lowest common denominator and take a look at 10 MMA fights you wish you never saw, and more importantly, that you may wish never existed in the first place.
The man billed as “The Youtube Sensation,” backyard-brawler-turned-MMA-fighter Kimbo Slice made a splash in EliteXC, until he was jabbed to death by Seth Petruzelli in the appropriate finale for that company. No one knew what would happen to Kimbo, and questioned if he would enter boxing, K-1, or return to MMA. We were soon given an answer when the Florida-native popped up on the tenth season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Now, we would really see if he was UFC material by working his way up against other fighters vying for the top spot.
And hey, turns out Kimbo was not UFC material as he was defeated in the first round of the tournament by Roy Nelson. Still, people swooned over Kimbo saying he was given the hardest fighter in the house. Inevitably, Kimbo was granted a second chance at the TUF 10 finale, getting a fight with equally disappointing Houston Alexander, who had built up a reputation for having great hands and little else. It made perfect sense to book these two together, in hopes that one would knock the other into a time when ProElite meant something other than floundering stock prices.
Instead of fireworks, the match fizzled out and dragged out to a dull decision, with Alexander doing little more than throwing some leg kicks and Kimbo being the one to push the fight. Alexander, who was brought in for this one fight after three losses in a row, was cut and Kimbo was cut one fight later after a beatdown courtesy of Matt Mitrione. The moral of the story here — sure, street fighting is fun to watch, but does that equate to being an MMA fighter? It could if they actually trained. Slice was an example of the hype machine gone overboard, and there is a reason why we have not seen a street fighter pushed like that since.
9. Tag Team MMA
MMA is exciting because it’s two men locked in a cage with only a referee standing between them. So it makes sense that the only way to make it more exciting is to add an additional two men locked in the cage for a tag team battle! The rules in this match from “Fight Friday” are simple — no closed fists to the face, you get a point for every submission, and you have five seconds to switch after you tag out. In other words, this is exactly like pro wrestling except more dangerous since there is time after a tag for a double team which is kind of unfair in real life. Plus, you can’t even choose your own team name; it’s just red and blue. Why can’t I call my team “The Midnight Express”?
To make this one even worse, this fight goes to a tie. In tag team MMA, when you have a tie, you have a four-man battle-royale that quickly degenerates into a confusing orgy of limbs flailing akimbo. I truly question the matchmakers who thought this was a good idea, and wonder if they were just flown in from Japan for this one show and hoped it would do well enough in the US that they could bring it back to Japan and say it was a sensation in America. This is some dangerous logic, but I see no reason that it couldn’t be too far from the truth.
Another company, Warrior Extreme Cagefighting, attempted this concept in 2010, and renamed it “Tap Team MMA”, allowing for closed fists to the face as a welcome addition to the rules, in addition to having the option to change your partner in between rounds or when you score enough points. While this incarnation was slightly less stupid, that does not say much when the idea was ludicrously, exceedingly, incredibly, and groin-grabbingly stupid in the first place. This bout was an exhibition, so it will not reflect on their pro records thankfully. However, for another veteran of tag team MMA, James Te Huna, his tag-team bout did make it on his record. You know, Te Huna, the newest member of the UFC light heavyweight roster? Yup, that guy.
Not going to lie, I greatly enjoy the tag team bouts from ZST, but that’s because ZST is awesome and executed the concept much smoother. “Fight Friday” here… not so much.
During the Pride FC Middleweight Grand Prix Quarterfinals in 2005, Kazushi Sakuraba met Ricardo Arona. Arona defeated Dean Lister to advance into the tournament, while Sakuraba managed to earn his first victory through strikes against Yoon Dong-Sik to qualify. The two met in a match that raised some eyebrows to some dirty tactics in MMA.
During the fight, Arona cut Sakuraba with a soccer kick towards the end of the second round, and began to poke and prod the wound to open it up more. Arona succeeded in turning Sak’s face into a bloody mess and closing up his eye, making the Japanese wrestler’s face look physically worse than when he had his orbital bone broken by Crocop. The doctors were forced to stop the match as the cut worsened, giving Arona the victory through a new strategy of laying & praying supplemented with wound groping.
Arona made it all the way to the finals, where he fought Mauricio “Shogun” Rua who knocked him out early in the fight. Arona managed to obtain a title shot against Wanderlei Silva, who he beat en route to the finals of the tourney, but Silva retained his belt in a closely contested bout that went the distance. Arona only fought three more times after this and has been trying to rejuvenate his career, while Sakuraba’s career continues, much to the detriment of his personal health and safety.
An honorable mention goes here to Mark Kerr for his victory over Dan Bobish at UFC 14 for a submission due to chin in the eye, but that’s not nearly as grotesque looking as what Arona did to Sakuraba (who would later be in an equally disdainful situation against Yoshihiro Akiyama, but that’s a story for another day).
7. Midget MMA fighting
If there’s a sport, there is bound to be a midget version of it. It was only a matter of time before MMA got a taste of it, and it’s just plain weird.
These seem to be very popular in states where people still marvel at “Dwarf tossing”. There is no reason a little person cannot compete in MMA against another person like him in a regulated environment, but this is just another case of exploiting someone for personal gain. The two fighters participating in this video seem to be legit enough at first, fighting in a diminutive cage made from chicken wire. Then you realize that this is really a commercial for “Midgets Gone Mad”, a service that lets you book their roster to put on shows in your local dive bar. So in reality, it’s more like a traveling carnival show rather than actual sanctioned competition, especially when you learn that their shows also had hardcore midget pro-wrestling, which meant they hit each other with chairs, light tubes and thumbtacks (and that is taken from the back of their VHS packaging, so I am not making that up). Thankfully, “Midgets Gone Mad” seems to have gone out of business, but their youtube videos live on and if you scrounge enough, you can still buy their VHS tapes.
(Ed. note: Excellent choice of background music.)
Another company in Indianapolis called Elite Cage Fighting attempted to try legitimate midget MMA in 2007, but it was another debacle. Oddly enough, Elite Cage Fighting also no longer exists, and while it may have been a serious company for its tenure, promoting midget MMA is a desperate cry for attention that calls out to the lowest form of uneducated sports fans. If you get motion sickness easily, don’t watch the video above since it was filmed on someone’s shaky handy cam in the audience, and really, do you need to see more bad midget MMA? I think you’ve had enough to get through the rest of the year.
6. Gilbert Yvel vs. Atte Backman
Gilbert Yvel may very well be the definition of bad sportsmanship, and earned himself notoriety for being the king of yellow cards in MMA. A quick look back at his previous infringements include his May 1998 bout against Karimula Barkalaev, where Yvel was disqualified for biting his opponent, and his September 2001 match with Don Frye, where Yvel blatantly eye-gouged his opponent leading to another DQ. If he was not being completely thrown out of matches for his misconduct, he was being penalized for them during the fights.
In 2004 at Fight Festival 12, Yvel managed to top his previous performances in this fight against Atte Backman. The story I have heard is that the referee in this fight was supposedly a friend of Backman, and Yvel felt that the officiating was biased against him. Granted there is some strange refereeing in this match, so that could very well be true. The ref attempts to do an odd standing reset in a clinch, which Yvel refuses, and rightly so since I have never seen that sort of a reset before either. Yvel gets yellow carded and continues to resist, with the referee trying to force him into the position. Yvel, done playing games, clocks the referee in the jaw then kicks him while he is down, as Backman retreats and leaves the ring. Yvel was DQ’ed for the third time in his career.
In spite of this craziness, it’s still no reason to hit a referee, and this continued to cement Yvel’s reputation as a dirty fighter, even if he was justified in his actions. How about another fighter who deluded himself to think it was okay to break the rules?
Sobral needed a win if he wanted to stay in the UFC, having lost his last two fights to a prime Chuck Liddell and Jason Lambert. Luck was on his side as Sobral would overcome his opponent, but still found himself cut from the company after this insidious act.
Sobral met David Heath at UFC 74 in 2007, and quickly took control of the fight, grounding and pounding Heath and leaving him a horrible bloody mess that has become a trademark image for him. In the second round, “Babalu” caught Heath in a fight-ending anaconda choke, but Sobral was not done with Heath yet, as he continued to apply pressure to the choke after Heath tapped out. Referee Steve Mazzigati attempted to pull them apart but was met with resistance, and Sobral did not let go until Heath went unconscious.
The Las Vegas crowd responded with boos as Sobral spoke with Joe Rogan afterwards, saying he knew that Heath tapped but, “he (Heath) has to learn respect. He deserved that. He called me mother-fucker.” After the fight, the NSAC withheld half of his winning fight purse and Sobral was released from the company. Some say that it was purely because it was the end of his contract and the UFC did not want to renegotiate, but it’s debatable since he went 4-2 during that UFC run, including the aforementioned loss to Chuck Liddell. The bigger story here is that 2007 was during that time when “The Ultimate Fighter” show was booming, and negative attention like this (especially with an open admission of Sobral to blatantly want to hurt his opponent and ignore the rules) was intolerable. We can expect to never see Sobral set foot in the octagon again after what happened here, and with the recent acquisition of Strikeforce by Zuffa, his days in the big leagues may sadly be numbered.
4. Renzo Gracie vs. Eugenio Tadeu
Pentagon Combat from 1997 was a rare gem for many old school MMA tape-traders, not because it featured a match between Murilo Bustamante and Jerry Bohlander or an exciting knockout win for Oleg Taktarov over up-and-comer Sean Alvarez. No, it is remembered by most as the event where an entire arena rioted after Renzo Gracie fought Eugenio Tadeu.
The match was the result of an intense rivalry between BJJ master Renzo Gracie and Luta Livre fighter Eugenio Tadeu. The two styles had been at war since Helio Gracie was defending the family name in challenge matches, and this fight had a ton of legitimate heat between the two heading into it. Tadeu and Gracie beat the snot out of each other, but if you pay attention to the audience you can see them slowly creeping up closer and closer to the cage until they are literally hanging off of it. At that point, they actually began to participate in the fight, throwing things into the cage and kicking and punching the fighters inside it. Ringside security? Not in Brazil.
As hecklers began to make themselves noticed, Renzo decided to slug one who was clinging to the side of the fence. Ryan Gracie, who was in Renzo’s corner, kept the action going on the outside and the brawl escalated from there into the well-known riot. The lights went out, chairs were thrown, and no one was safe! This happened at a horrible time, especially for American MMA, as this was when the UFC was blacklisted thanks to the efforts of Senator John McCain, and this garnered worldwide attention. Have there been riots at other shows? Some, but none as insane as this one.
3. Kyle Maynard vs. Brian Fry
Quadruple congenital amputee Kyle Maynard had a dream; to fight in MMA. But before he got to fight his opponent, he had to fight to step into it. Maynard was born with arms that end at the elbow and legs that end above the knee, but in spite of this handicap excelled in high school wrestling. Enjoying a career in motivational speaking, Maynard soon decided to prove to the world that he was capable of something else in his athletic endeavors — cage fighting.
The battle to get him in the cage was more exciting than the battle that actually took place. The Georgia State Athletic Commission refused to sanction this fight, which oddly enough had a disabled former police officer on the board. Instead, the match was held in Auburn, Alabama, in March 2009, and was held under local amateur rules at a weight of 135 lbs. Because of Maynard’s condition, all kicks from Fry were illegal since Maynard was considered “a downed opponent” being on all fours, which also made it impossible for Fry to even think of diving for a takedown. Maynard got to live his dream, but sadly ended up losing by unanimous decision after three bizarre rounds as Fry avoided the takedown attempts of the wrestler and was able to outstrike him, a feat that is not too hard when you are fighting a man with stumps. Maynard has not returned to the cage since then, but continues his career of motivational speaking.
No way around this one, it was a literal freak show fight, and Maynard admittedly knew that coming into it. His opponent, Fry, was in an odd spot as well, as who wants to fight someone in Maynard’s condition, let alone lose to him? The fight is something best left forgotten, and here is hoping both men can continue with success in their lives and put this bout behind them.
2. Just about any fight from “Rio Heroes”
“Rio Heroes” was an anamoly in MMA that was a guilty pleasure for many. While most everyone else in the world was working to legitimize the sport of MMA by highlighting how safe it is and how there are rules and weight classes in play, Brazil had to go and ruin that with “Rio Heroes”, organized by former Vale Tudo fighter Jorge Pereira. A throwback to the old IVC Vale Tudo shows, these events held from 2007 to 2008 were bare knuckle with no rules, much like the original UFC tournaments only more brutal.
The events were held at undisclosed locations in Sao Paolo, and were as underground as a fight can get, featuring several legit MMA fighters from Brazil throwing down, including William Vianna and Pedro Santos. They were streamed online for a fee, with even Sherdog getting in on the fun briefly. Winners of the fights could walk away with $2,000, plus a few new bruises and broken bones. The video above is one of the more disgusting fights, a man fighting a woman (which is not the first time a novelty fight like this occurred, but I chose this since it was bare-knuckle). The company was eventually shut down for good by Brazilian police, mainly on the minor offense of illegal betting, and not so much the nature of the fights. “Rio Heroes” was one of the most damaging things that could have happened to MMA and a relic of the past that should have stayed buried, and I say good riddance!
1. Douglas Dedge vs. Yevgeni Zolotarev
The name Douglas Dedge is infamous in the MMA community, as he was the first man to ever die in an MMA fight. At the International Super Challenge in Kiev, Ukraine on March 16, 1998, Dedge met Zolotarev and ended up on the wrong side of a series of brutal punches that not only knocked him unconscious but seemed to cause serious brain damage. Dedge died two days later in a hospital.
The event was a limited-rules show that was to pit the local “Minamoto” Jiu-Jitsu club against foreign competitors, who were called the “World Team.” Fighters were lured to this show with an all-expenses paid trip to the country, as well as $2,000 for fighting and an additional $3,000 to win. Dedge, a 31-year-old karate practitioner from Florida who had a wife and five children, heard about the event and jumped at the opportunity to compete. He had only one MMA fight to his name, and had a history of medical problems that his training partners had seen first hand, but Dedge refused to consult a doctor about his affliction.
When it came to the fight, most agree that it was not the cause of Dedge’s death, merely the catalyst to a pre-existing condition, but it is still a large stain in the history of MMA. Worse was when most of the fighters went unpaid and the promoters disappeared, only to reappear some time later with the hope of selling tapes of the fight to make money by capitalizing on the filmed death of Dedge. Truly a dark moment in MMA, it’s definitely a fight I wish I never saw and hope that nothing this horrible or exploitative happens again.
Matthew Kaplowitz is the editor of TheFightNerd.com and a featured columnist for MMA Worldwide and TapouT Magazine. And no, the person who points out the irony of me exploiting these fights in an article essentially about exploitation of people does not get a Cagepotato t-shirt. Go earn it in the comments section.