Believe it or not, there was a time long, long ago when Tito Ortiz was something other than a dopey, stuttering mass of injury excuses and self-congratulatory speeches — “The pre-Jenna Era,” as it’s sometimes called. Yes, “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” preferred to let his fists, knees, and elbows do the talking for him back in the late nineties/early aughts, and we respected him so, so much more for it. Of course, he got off to a rough start in his first night as a professional fighter, when he kneed Guy Mezger into submission and *still* lost at UFC 13 on May 30th, 1997 — 17 years ago today.
To be fair, Ortiz’s actual MMA/UFC debut came just hours earlier, and ended in a 31-second TKO of Wes Albritton. But it was his main event showdown with Mezger, a Pancrase veteran and member of the Lion’s Den camp, that would go down as the first of many controversial moments in the future Hall of Famer’s career.
After besting Mezger on the feet in the early-going and brushing off his takedown attempts, Ortiz unleashed a vicious barrage of knees to Mezger’s noggin’, eliciting what many believed (ringside announcers Bruce Beck and Jeff Blatnick included) to be a tap from Mezger. Big John McCarthy would eventually intervene to check the cuts on Mezger’s head, where he would clarify his belief that Mezger was not tapping, but rather attempting to block Ortiz’s knees (a fact that remains disputed to this day). In any case, Big John would restart things on the feet and Mezger would secure a fight-ending guillotine shortly thereafter, sparking a decade-long rivalry between Ortiz and the Shamrock brothers.
Ortiz wasn’t the only future Hall of Famer making both his promotional and professional debut that night. Up in the heavyweight division, Randy Couture would breeze past Tony Halme and Steve Graham to win the evening’s heavyweight tournament, finishing both men in less than 5 minutes total fight time. As luck would have it, Ortiz and Couture would meet in the octagon some six years later at UFC 44, with the light heavyweight title on the line. It would not end well for Ortiz.
But that was then, this is now, and tomorrow is yesterday (or something like that), so check out videos of Couture’s tournament-winning fights, as well as Ortiz’s quick win over Albritton and a few other select fights from UFC 13 below, courtesy of Vimeo user Diesel Strongboy.
Couture vs. Halme
Couture vs. Graham
Ortiz vs. Albritton
Vitor Belfort vs. Tank Abbott
Enson Inoue vs. Royce Alger