By Matt Saccaro
Tournaments seem like a great way to determine the best competitor from a group of athletes. You have 8 (or 16 or 32 or whatever the number) fighters, put them in a bracket, and then let them fight it out. The last dude standing clearly must be the best because he survived the tournament, right?
At first, that logic seems OK. But upon closer scrutiny, it starts to sound like something Master Shake would try to argue.
Tournaments — like the ones the UFC used to run — are heavily dependent on how the bracket is organized. Some fighters get an easy run, others get a gauntlet.
This got us at Cage Potato thinking: What if some of the early UFC tournament brackets were re-organized or even shuffled just a little bit? Who would end up becoming the “Ultimate Fighters” of the 1990s? Let’s find out!
UFC 2 was the first and only 16-man tournament run by the UFC. The first round of the tournament — save for Royce Gracie’s fight (of course)—didn’t air on the PPV and aren’t on the DVD either. These “lost fights” from UFC 2 have quite a few interesting characters such as the enigmatic Pencak Silat master Alberto Cerro Leon and the chubby, sweatpants-clad Robert Lucarelli.
Look at the complete bracket and see how many names you recognize. Most of these guys from the UFC 2 dark matches had no chance in the tournament, save for a man named Freek (or Frank) Hamaker. We’re going to stick with Freek because it rhymes with Reek. A fighter like Hamaker was a rarity in the early days. He wasn’t a hapless striker fated to be embarrassed. He was a sambo practitioner who trained under legendary European grappler Chris Dolman.
Hamaker’s first (and only) fight was at UFC 2 against the mysterious San Soo Kung Fu man Thaddeus Luster. The fight went like the typical early UFC fight. The guy with grappling immediately took down the guy without grappling and won shortly afterwards. Hamaker withdrew from the tournament after defeating Luster and disappeared to the pornography theater from whence he came.
Hamaker had tremendous potential given his background in an effective martial art and given that having any kind of grappling ability in the early UFCs was tantamount to bringing a taser into the cage with you.
We don’t need to re-imagine the UFC 2 bracket much to have a more interesting outcome.
Let’s just pretend that Hamaker never got injured and consequently never withdrew.
After defeating Luster, he’d take on kickboxer Johnny Rhodes. Judging by the fact that Patrick Smith submitted Rhodes in a little over a minute, a more qualified grappler in Hamaker probably wouldn’t need much more time to do the same.
That would bring Hamaker into the semifinals against Pat Smith, who was previously submitted by Ken Shamrock at UFC 1 in short order, and was destroyed in the UFC 2 finals by Royce Gracie. Smith may have had enough grappling to beat the Ray Wizards and Rudyard Moncayos of the world but he likely wouldn’t have enough submission acumen to beat Hamaker. So in CagePotato’s alternate reality version of events, The “Freak” — that wasn’t his nickname, but it should’ve been. Freek “The Freak” Hamaker? You don’t like it? Fine. — therefore gets his hand raised for third time that night.
Could Hamaker really have taken out Royce Gracie in the finals?
Probably not, but keep in mind that Gracie initially struggled against Keith Hackney at UFC 5, a karate guy who had added just a smattering of BJJ into his arsenal. So, Gracie still would probably have won UFC 2 but he would’ve looked mortal doing it — and that’s the important thing.
At UFC 1, Royce Gracie looked like an unstoppable killer; maybe not a Che Mills-level killer, but a killer nonetheless. He took martial arts “experts” down and submitted them without breaking a sweat. Gracie did much of the same at UFC 2.
It’s unlikely that Hamaker would’ve beaten Gracie (pre-drug-testing Ken Shamrock lost to Gracie the first time and the skilled Judoka Remco Pardoel also lost to Gracie as well), but he had a good chance of at least making Gracie look like a regular, fallible fighter.
A Hamaker-Gracie finale would’ve shown the world that BJJ (or, more specifically “Gracie” Jiu-Jitsu) wasn’t a martial arts panacea and that Royce Gracie wasn’t some kind of god. It took Jesus-freak, motivational speaker, and meth enthusiast Kimo Leopoldo to do that.
Speaking of Kimo…