It was October 17th, 1997 — sixteen years ago today — and the night was just getting started. Behemoth wrestler Mark Kerr entered the Octagon at UFC 15: Collision Course in search of another heavyweight tournament sweep, and his first opponent that evening was a doughy former Army Ranger named Greg Stott, who entered the bout with an NHB record of 0-0, touting a made-up fighting style called “RIP” (which stood for Ranger International Performance, in case you’re curious). Even before the bell rang, you could probably tell that this was going to be one of the ugliest mismatches in MMA history. Fans who were watching the pay-per-view at home settled in to witness the closest thing Americans had to a public execution in the late 20th century.
And then it happened. As Bruce Buffer read the fighter introductions, the UFC production team spotted a diamond in the rough, cutting to a fan in the crowd who wore the letters “UFC” painted green on his forehead, the phrase “JUST BLEED” in bold white on his chest, and what might have been his interpretation of the Nike “swoosh” logo underneath it. He was shirtless, and holding a paper cup full of an unidentified beverage. He began to flex, harder than anyone has ever flexed before. He gnashed his teeth, frothed at the mouth, howled like a rabid wolf. Behind him, Lorenzo Fertitta‘s redneck cousin Cletus Fertitta appeared to puff a doobie.
Among the many fantastic UFC crowd-shots we’ve seen over the years, “Just Bleed Guy” remains the #1 P4P G.O.A.T. And sixteen years later, the sight of JBG hasn’t lost its ability to both amuse and mortify. Just Bleed Guy wasn’t just a clown you could laugh at and forget. He’s still referenced to this day as an embodiment of lunkheaded MMA fandom — a stand-in for the type of UFC viewer who doesn’t care about strategies, scorecards, winners or losers. He wants blood, and blood alone.
Just Bleed Guy’s real name is James Ladner, and he would later do some prison time for an appropriately lunkheaded crime — acting as a fence for stolen farm equipment. Meanwhile, the venue where UFC 15 took place doesn’t even exist anymore; Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Casino Magic Bay St. Louis back in 2005. To me, that detail makes the event even more mythical. UFC 15 is one of the most important UFC events that nobody ever talks about. Here’s why…
- Most notably, UFC 15 was the event where the promotion finally tried to make its rules a little more palatable for mainstream audiences, formally banning groin strikes, shots to the back of the head, kicks to downed opponents, small joint manipulation, and hair pulling.
- UFC 15′s all-heavyweight cast featured a range of talent that bordered on the absurd. On the high end of the spectrum, you had elite wrestlers like Kerr and Randy Couture, along with fearsome strikers like Vitor Belfort and Maurice Smith. And then you had guys like Ranger Stott and Harry Moskowitz who were completely out of their depth. (Tank Abbott would rank somewhere in the middle, I guess.)
- It was the last appearance of play-by-play announcer Bruce Beck (who would be permanently replaced by Mike Goldberg at the next show), and the first UFC event to feature two separate referees (John McCarthy and Joe Hamilton), a decision that was made to lighten Big John’s workload.
- For the record, Randy Couture scored an upset TKO against Vitor Belfort in the evening’s heavyweight “Superfight,” while Maurice Smith defended his heavyweight title with a submission-via-punches of late replacement Tank Abbott in the main event; Dan Severn was originally scheduled to be Smith’s opponent, but the Beast had to pull out due to a hand injury. Kerr won UFC 15′s four-man heavyweight tournament in a combined 1:10 of fight time, including his 17-second smashing of Stott, followed by a 53-second rear-naked choke of tournament alternate Dwayne Cason.
- Kerr vs. Stott was an influential UFC moment in itself, as it was the last time that a totally inexperienced fighter figured he could show up in the Octagon with a self-made combat style and be successful against actual no-holds-barred vets. Though Greg Stott’s infamous tagline was “RIP rules, all others rest in peace,” it was RIP that would die a quick death that night, and Stott would become a cautionary tale for martial arts hobbyists around the world. Greg Stott is currently raising money for a documentary about his life, which will focus on his ongoing quest to break powerlifting records at the age of 50, and his battle with manic depression. At the end of this post is a video of Greg Stott playing “Knights in White Satin” on the piano. Enjoy.
(Props: Greg Stott)