(It’s not a UFC fight, but you can’t talk awful title fights without at least referencing Sonnen vs. Filho II. Photo courtesy of Sherdog.)
Today we’re talking about bad UFC title fights – fights that fizzled out after weeks of hype, bored even the most die-hard fans among us, and left us baffled that the winner was considered the best in his weight class. Since we’re dealing strictly with UFC title fights, notable clunkers like Ruiz vs. Southworth II (Strikeforce), Wiuff vs. Tuchscherer (YAMMA), and Sonnen vs. Filho II (WEC) are ineligible for inclusion. Also, we promise that the only appearance of the name “Ben Askren” in this column lies in this incredibly forced sentence. Read on for our picks, and please, pretty please, send your ideas for future Roundtable topics to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Detroit is known by many names – Motown, Motor City, and Hockey Town to name a few. None of which lend to the idea that the birthplace of the assembly line was also a mecca of mixed martial arts or a place to catch great fights on Saturday. Unfortunately, UFC didn’t care; they took the show to the Great Lakes State in 1996 for UFC 9: Clash of the Titans 2 nonetheless. Ken Shamrock and Michigan native Dan Severn were set to face off for the first world title outside of Japan, the UFC Superfight championship. However, thanks to Senator John McCain, instead seeing an exciting rematch that was sure to cover the canvas in bad blood, fans in attendance and at home watching on PPV were treated to what became known as “The Detroit Dance.” And to this day, it is regarded as one of the worst fights in the history of the sport.
What did McCain have to do with any of this, you ask? The politician was fierce in his letter writing campaign against a sport he knew nothing about. He essentially scared or bullied local government agencies to ban the sport. You know, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Several key components in the UFC machine were tied up in the Detroit courts until 4:30pm the day of the event getting permission to hold an event that was already being set up. The hacks behind the desk said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “You can proceed with your barbaric and uncivilized fisticuffs spectacle as long as no one actually throws a closed fist to his opponents head nor will any butting of the heads be allowed. Anyone seen doing such things will be arrested.”
For the better part of twenty minutes, Shamrock and Severn circled each other with little to no contact. During the last ten minutes of the fight (if you can even call it that) the two played pat-a-cake until Severn decided to throw the special rules right out of Cobo Arena. Despite stalling for two thirds of the fight and head butting his opponent, Dan Severn won the fight and the championship belt. The Michiganders in attendance could be heard throughout the area booing and chanting, “Let’s go Red Wings!” There has never been a more pathetic example of a championship quality fight. The men in the cage deserved to be there, sure, but when you start adding special rules and stipulations, you’re watering down your product. So much so, that Detroit is now in two sport’s Hall of Shame.
It’s kind of ironic that Anderson Silva, who owns the most impressive championship reign in UFC history, also happens to have the distinction of participating in three of the worst championship fights in the company’s history as well. But ironic or not, it’s no less true. Picking the worst of the three is like deciding which segment you want to be in the human centipede, but I suppose it must be done. To that end, I nominate Silva’s bout with Demian Maia at UFC 112 as the worst of the worst.
I remember watching UFC 112 on an internet str- err, on pay-per-view. To say it was an underwhelming card is probably a little more generous than what it deserves, and that was before the main event. Matt Hughes fought Renzo Gracie – who didn’t know how to check leg kicks – for no conceivable reason. Frankie Edgar upset BJ Penn in the most unspectacular way imaginable, via a debatable decision with virtually no emphatic moments throughout the entire fight. But all of this would surely be a footnote when Anderson Silva, fresh off his humiliation of Forrest Griffin, would unveil some hitherto unknown debilitating maneuver that would drop all of our jaws to the floor while our feeble brains attempted to process what we just witnessed.
Instead, Silva spent the vast majority of five rounds dancing, taunting, and throwing the occasional oblique kick. To say it was frustrating doesn’t do it justice. It was maddening, made even more so by the lone flying knee Silva threw out of nowhere in the fight. It knocked Maia down, broke his nose and served as a reminder of just what Silva was capable of… and how he refused to bother indulging the audience with his capability that night. Maia, to his credit, never gave up. At one point in the final round, Maia – with one eye swollen shut – fell in front of Silva and kept swinging wildly from his knees. It was desperate and ineffective, but it exemplified heart and determination in contrast with Silva’s utter lack of such. Silva won the fight, Maia retained his pride, but the audience was left with the worst championship fight you could imagine. The UFC has not bothered returning to Abu Dhabi since.
On the bright side, “where’s your jiu-jitsu now, playboy?” became part of the MMA meme vocabulary. So I suppose it wasn’t a total loss.
It’s easy to feel a little sympathy for Tito Ortiz these days. He’s been going through some personal shit – the variety of which we are banned from getting too specific on. But hey, thems the breaks when you shack up with a porn queen. Well-adjusted females with run-of-the-mill daddy issues don’t generally get into fuck films. They just latch onto some poor bastard and systematically suck every ounce of pride and manhood out of him until he’s an obedient slob with a semi-manageable speed habit and a secret fetish for snuff porn. That’s life. The ones that go for the porn queens, well, all I’m saying is disregard the lessons of Little Bill at your own peril.
That sympathy, however, can cause us to forget that there was a time when Tito was a wildly popular UFC champion; not just some dude with a quick mouth and a gigantic head who only tasted victory once during the last six years of his career. It’s hard to deny Tito his accolades. Circa 2002 he was the most successful UFC champion there was. He won the belt and defended it five times. That’s more title defenses than Randy, and even one more than his arch-nemesis, Chuck had. Granted, both of those guys would eventually clown Tito en route to victories (x 2 for Chuck), and of course there was that whole saga of Tito allegedly ducking Chuck, but we’re talking numbers here, bitch. Context is irrelevant when trying to make an absurd point.
Hindsight being 20/20 ‘n shit makes Tito’s title defenses seem mildly comical by modern standards, considering the competition: Yuki Kondo, Evan Tanner, Elvis Sinosic, Vladimir Matyushenko, and Ken Shamrock. But you gotta remember this was pre-TUF, pre-FOX, and pre-UFC monopoly when the glory days of Pride were in full effect. UFC title challengers were often contemptible back then. Incidentally, Dave Menne won the UFC’s inaugural middleweight belt that same night, and well shit I’ll go as far as agree with Danga, Dave Menne – for real???
It’s easy to mock a couple of Tito’s title defenses on grounds of legitimacy. But interestingly enough, perhaps the most legit challenger – Vlady – provided for the worst fight. This was UFC 33, an event which Dana White still to this day describes as, “The worst show we’ve ever had.” It was so bad we could just as easily be talking about the co-main event of the evening – Jens Pulver vs Dennis “Balls” Hallman, but that wasn’t the main event, and the pay per view broadcast didn’t black out in the middle of it – two very important factors that help to solidify Tito Ortiz vs.Vladimir Matyushenko as the worst ever.
According to one analysis, the Tito/Vlady fight produced only 40 “significant strikes.” To further expound on that lamentable figure, in a 25 minute fight that means that a decent strike was landed only once every 37.5 seconds. Might not seem like a long stretch while you’re on YouPorn stroking yourself to some early Jenna, but during an actual fight that’s an eternity of visual pain. Contrast that extreme with a Cain Velasquez, who lands over six significant strikes per minute – or one every ten seconds, and the standard deviation model gets blown all to shit.
Basically, the fight was about as horrific as you’d expect of two wrestlers with rudimentary striking skills. Don’t forget, this was before Tito’s “improved boxing” that Joe Rogan liked to talk about almost as much as his “underrated jiu jitsu.” The bottom line is there have been many terrible title fights in the UFC, but not one of them headlined the worst show ever, and not one of them blacked out on pay per view before the fans could fully experience the horror of just how anally violated they got. So there.
In deciding the worst UFC title fight I chose to look at a number of criteria. Do I choose one that was boring (GSP/Fitch)? How about one that’s meaningless or undeserved (Jones/Sonnen)? What about one that shames the sport of MMA as whole (Arlovski/Buentello)? Luckily I didn’t have to look far to find a shit sandwich that’s comprised entirely of those three ingredients.
Sean Sherk vs. Hermes Franca at UFC 73 was a complete failure in every sense of the word. A highly forgettable fight, which was put on only to build anticipation for the return of BJ Penn, resulted in a glorified 25 minute sparring session. Someone managed to wake the judges up long enough to decide that Sherk had won, and everyone could start getting damp in their trousers at the thought of Penn fighting for the lightweight title again. Mission accomplished, right? Not quite.
The aftermath of UFC 73 is really what landed this fight as my top pick. It’s a special kind of person that tests positive for anything following a title fight. Honestly, at the highest levels of competition you’d have to be as blind as Anne Frank not to see a drug test coming. It makes it all the more amusing that both Sherk and Franca tested positive for steroids following the fight. I would give up anything in my life to have been able to be a fly on the wall when Dana White heard this news. Something tells me his reaction was a little more than a simple facepalm. As usual, neither fighter was at fault for their positive tests, as Franca was forced by the UFC to roid up, and the CSAC botched Sherk’s results. Hey, these things happen in MMA.
So there you have it folks, a boring ass fight that ended up with both participants being suspended and the champ being stripped of his title. All parties involved, fans especially, would have been better off had these gladiators met under the XARM banner, but alas, it now goes down as the worst title fight in UFC history.
Apparently, now, the CagePotato Roundtable only happens when The Boss is on vacation (which means the inmates run the asylum for a day or two with Mr. Goldtsein’s unbelievable wealth, a seventeen-day luxurious private cruise to the Bahamas – don’t forget my obligatory touristy t-shirt BG) and that means it brings out the “fringe” contributors who enjoy throwing spitballs while generally making a ruckus in the back of the room in order to mess with the substitute instructors.
The topic of the “Worst UFC Title Fight” is a bit of a conundrum for me because, personally, Georges St. Pierre vs. Matt Serra 1 was one of the worst moments of my life because of my inner bro-mance with GSP and my buddies’ propensity for reminding me that my affinity is unnatural. But, I digress. Since I hosted all of the UFC parties (and got ALL the PPV bills) there is still one in particular that pains me.
It was a highly anticipated bout that pitted LHW Champion Randy Couture vs. Vitor Belfort at UFC 46 and if you look at the fight card now, you’d call me a poseur for complaining about this. No shit – the three prelim fights that didn’t air that night had Matt Serra vs. Pat Curran, Josh Thomson vs. Hermes Franca and Georges St. Pierre vs. Karo Parisyan. The PPV featured (in)famous names like Lee Murray, Jorge Rivera, Carlos Newton, Wes Sims, Frank Mir, Matt Hughes and B.J. Penn. The World Series of Fighting would double-barrel jerk-off Mr_Misanthropy AND crappiefloper while Fried Taco watched, if the promoters could get a collection of talent like that [Ed. Note: Wow.].
Needless to say, this main event fight should’ve been awesome but 45 seconds later . . . . . . It was OVER. That’s right! I lasted longer on Prom Night – she’ll tell you too, not by much . . . . but still – than the LHW Championship bout at UFC 46 and I screamed (on both occasions), “WHAT THE FUCK?!”
Then I realized that Couture’s eyeball was literally about to fall completely out of his head – Hostile style. Vitor’s glove grazed his outer eyelid and it caused a HORRIFIC paper cut-esque slice. Yeah, a paper cut that could actually make your eye-ball drop out of your head. It was gross and it was an absolutely warranted stoppage by the hot red-headed doctor (that I still dream of). Yet, 45 seconds later and the championship fight was over without a single punch landing cleanly.
TIE: Frank Shamrock’s 1st and 3rd Title Defenses
Look, I get that every sport has to start somewhere. I GET THIS. But even by the incredibly low standards of the UFC circa 1997, Frank Shamrock’s light heavyweight title defenses against Igor Zinoviev and John Lober were laughably misguided at best and staged public executions at worst. While the promotion’s heavyweight division featured such names as Mark Coleman, Maurice Smith, and Randy Couture battling it out for the title, down at 205, they were booking Shamrock in freak show matches that even the Japanese wouldn’t touch with a ten foot gunto. The Japanese, you guys.
Where shall we begin?
Ah yes, that’s Franky boy slamming Igor through the mat in under 30 seconds at UFC 16. What a contest.
How a man coming off a pair of draws can be fast-tracked to a title shot in his promotional debut is anyone’s guess. Maybe the UFC honestly thought that this Igor character was the next Randy Couture, or perhaps he just possessed some otherworldly trash-talking skills. In any case, we were left with a pathetic mismatch, one completely shattered collarbone, and a ringside medical crew questioning whether or not a spatula was an appropriate tool to lift a fighter onto a stretcher with by the time all was said and done. Oh yeah, and Igor never fought again. He always knows when it’s about to rain, though, so perhaps it was for the best.
And if you think that’s bad, just try finding a video of Shamrock’s third title defense — a rematch against John Lober at UFC Ultimate Brazil. You won’t be able to, because the UFC most likely destroyed all evidence of the fight for legal reasons. We’ve all heard the story before: Lober managed to score a controversial technical split decision victory over Shamrock at a SuperBrawl event in Hawaii in ’97, so one year later, the UFC decided, “Hey, why not have these two settle the score now that ShamWow is the champ?”
“Sure, Lober has gone 0-5-1 in the time since they first squared off,” they said whilst diving nose first into a mountain of cocaine the likes of which you have never seen, “But it will sell because GRUDGE MATCH.” It’s a strategy that the UFC utilizes to this day, but never did it appear more transparent than during the 7-and-a-half-minute beat down that Shamaroo dished out on Lober before forcing him to tap to strikes.
Lober would go on to score two wins in his next seven contests, and Shamrock would defend the light heavyweight title against his only true test in Tito Ortiz before leaving the UFC citing “a lack of competition.” No shit.
Wow, you guys certainly left me with some options, huh? Let’s see…I guess I should point out that Ben Goldstein, if he was available to contribute, would have picked Anderson Silva vs. Thales Leites, which is the only reason why I won’t be covering that turd on a plate. I could go old-school, “how the hell is one of those guys fighting for a title in the first place?” and tackle Pat Miletich vs. Andre Pederneiras or Maurice Smith vs. Randy Couture, but considering how weak the talent pool in general was back then, it really wouldn’t be fair to include them. So instead I’ll do something even broader, lazier, yet somehow twice as deserving as the rest of the fights we’ve omitted combined, and nominate all of Tim Sylvia’s title defenses as my selection.
Boring title fights from guys like Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre – while infuriating for fans to watch – are at least forgivable on the basis that they’re boring because the champion is simply that much more talented than the guy across the cage from him. I may not get too excited about watching GSP jab for five rounds, but I’ll be damned if I don’t acknowledge him as the greatest welterweight in the history of our sport. With Tim Sylvia, this was most definitely not the case.
Sylvia was a champion when the heavyweight division was weak enough for the “Cabbage” Correiras of the world to pick up victories inside the Octagon. During his reign over the heavyweight division, the “strikers” either lacked anything resembling technique (Exhibit A: Gan McGee) or lacked a tough enough chin to actually exchange punches with the big man (Exhibit B: Sylvia/Arlovski III), and the grapplers lacked the striking chops necessary to penetrate The Maine-iac’s awkward jabs (Exhibit C: Jeff Monson). In a sport defined by the diverse skills and athleticism of its athletes, Sylvia managed to defend the UFC heavyweight title that Cain Velasquez proudly wears by simply taking up space and staying on his feet; a “Great White Stiff” with unlimited upward mobility, ”the poster child for over-achievement.”
Fortunately for the fans who tried to stay awake during his title defenses, he was eventually matched up against Randy Couture, and that fight was incredibly memorable thanks to A.) how badass The Natural is and B.) a moment early in the first round, when Couture took Sylvia’s back and (not quite) Fatty Boom-Boom (yet) stalled in an effort to get a completely unnecessary stand-up, which inspired one of Joe Rogan’s greatest rants (“You’re on your back, tough! Figure out a way to get up! If that’s boring, baseball’s about a million times more boring!” Classic.). Ever since that fight, Sylvia began his transformation into the amorphous blob of his former self who loses to guys you’ve never heard of on the “Where are they now?” circuit that we know today. He’s still holding out hope for the possibility of a UFC comeback, but after watching him defend the once-meaningless UFC heavyweight championship…it’s probably for the best that he never even gets close to fighting for it again.
Did we repress all memories of your least-favorite UFC title fight? Then have the honor of ruining our weekends by bringing it up in the comments section.