If you didn’t follow his pre-UFC career, you probably figured that Anderson Silva’s Octagon debut would be relatively competitive. Chris Leben was a dangerous brawler who had won five straight in the Octagon against solid competition, while Silva was…some sort of Brazilian from Japan, I guess? In actuality, the Spider was quickly becoming the most lethal striker in the business, and had spent the previous two years brutalizing guys like Lee Murray, Jorge Rivera, and Tony Fryklund as the middleweight champion of Cage Rage. So all that stuff the Crippler said about pressing the action against Silva, rough-neckin’ him, throwing him around, blasting him in the face, breaking his jaw, then sending him back to Japan where the competition’s a little easier? Oh my God, player. He might as well have been talking about how he was bringing the karate aspect back into jiu-jitsu — that’s how out of touch with reality he seemed, in retrospect.
Chances are, you’ve watched this clip a hundred times by now, so you know what happens next: Anderson Silva makes his name in the U.S. with one of the most flawless victories in MMA history and earns an immediate title shot against Rich Franklin, while Leben begins his slow drift out of relevance. And these days, all of Silva’s fights look like mismatches.
It was a classic matchup of skill vs. morbid obesity. The comically large son of legendary Brazilian scrapper Rei Zulu, Wagner da Conceicao Martins (aka "Zuluzinho") managed to build up a sizable undefeated record in vale tudo matches before joining PRIDE in 2005, where he mauled sumo wrestler Henry "Sentoryu" Miller in his debut. But things like size, pedigree, and professional record mean very little when you’re fighting Fedor Emelianenko. To the untouchable PRIDE heavyweight champion, Zuluzinho was nothing more than a giant punching bag.
In just 26 seconds, Fedor put ‘Zinho on his ass with an inhumanly fast left hook, abused him on the ground a bit, knocked him back down with a right as soon as the giant got to his feet, then went into beastmode until Zuluzinho tapped from the onslaught. This fight proved once and for all that "big and slow" is not the best combination for beating Fedor. If only Hong-Man Choi and Tim Sylvia got the message in time.
K-1 recently uploaded some choice highlights from their MMA library onto their YouTube page, featuring early fights from current superstars like Brock Lesnar, BJ Penn, and Lyoto Machida. Above is Lesnar’s pro MMA debut against Min Soo Kim, which went down at Dynamite!! USA in June ’07. Odds are, you’ve watched this fight before — though it’s still worth a look if you’ve never seen the head-clashing faceoff and the fight’s aftermath, in which Lesnar triumphantly stalked around the cage while Kim was slowly brought back to life.
Fighting for a living is a lot like teasing a really mean dog: you can’t do it forever without something bad happening to you.Even the great ones get to a point where their drive becomes sluggish and their bellies are too full for them to stay hungry, and that’s usually when a particularly bad beating takes what remaining fire they have and douses it with the fury of a God pissing on your dreams.It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll quit right then, even if they should, but it does mean that they’ll never be the same again.Here now, in chronological order, are the most notorious breaking points in MMA history.
It’s hard to say that Igor Zinoviev was really on his way to being a legend of the sport, because he got stopped almost before he really got started.The former Soviet Army commando was one of the first fighters in the early days of MMA to beat a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt when he TKO’d Mario Sperry, and he took out Enson Inoue the next year.All this came after years of fighting underground brawls in Brooklyn warehouses following the fall of the Soviet Union, so his toughness was never in question.
When he joined the UFC the future was, as they say, wide open.Then he came up against Frank Shamrock, who wasted no time in scooping him up and slamming him down so viciously that it shattered his collarbone and knocked him out cold.It was Zinoviev’s first career loss, and he would never fight again after that.We’re not saying the devastating finish served as the catalyst for Shamrock’s out of control ego over the next 10+ years, but we’re not saying it helped, either.
Matt Hughes may not know exactly what he wants to do with the new four-fight contract that he signed with the UFC, but he definitely knows what he doesn’t want to do.Fights with young welterweight up-and-comers like Josh Koscheck and Mike Swick?Not interested.A third chance at getting his first victory over Denis Hallman?No thanks.How about simply completing the entire four-fight deal?No guarantees there, either.So what the hell does Hughes want to do with the remainder of his career?I don’t know, you got any more washed-up legends laying around?
As far as who I fight next? You know, looking at these younger kids who are wanting to come in and be the next world champion or be the next contender, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know if I’ll take on those guys.There are plenty of older guys out there with big names who can fight, too. I like to take fights where I’ve got something to win. If I take a fight against Mike Swick or Josh Kosheck, I’ve really got nothing to gain from that fight besides a paycheck and beating somebody up. They’ve got more to win than I do. Those aren’t the kinds of fights that interest me.
Royce Gracie was a big fight, you know? It was a huge name, a guy that had won the old tournaments in the beginning. Those are the fights I like, the ones I can really get revved up for and get motivated. Those are the kinds of fights that gets me into the gym ready to train and work.
Is steroid use an epidemic in MMA? Or are most of the fighters who have tested positive simply the victims of inept athletic commissions, shady nutritional supplements, and tainted goat meat? After Josh Barnett’s latest chemical misadventure took down Affliction, we decided to round up every steroid bust in the sport since early 2002, when the Nevada State Athletic Commission began testing MMA fighters for performance-enhancing drugs. The results…may shock you.
JOSH BARNETT (Pt. 1) Caught:4/22/02, following his TKO victory over Randy Couture at UFC 36. Tested positive for:Boldenone, Nandrolone, and Fluoxymesterone Punishment: A six-month suspension from the NSAC and the loss of his UFC heavyweight title. Barnett fought the steroid charge, and didn’t compete again in the U.S. until PRIDE 32, four and a half years later. (See: Belfort, Nastula) In his own words: “I am a fighter, not a lawyer. I am innocent, and I should be fighting right now.” Repeat offender: Barnett actually tested positive once before, for two different anabolic steroids, following his submission via strikes victory over Bobby Hoffman at UFC 34 in November 2001. Josh was let off with a warning (which went unheeded, apparently) and the incident was never officially reported — but according to Sherdog’s Mike Sloan, Barnett’s first positive steroid test is what inspired Nevada to begin regularly testing UFC fighters for performance enhancing drugs.
TIM SYLVIA Caught:10/7/03, following his first-round knockout of Gan McGee at UFC 44. Tested positive for:Stanozolol Punishment: $10,000 fine and a six-month suspension from the NSAC. Sylvia voluntarily vacated his heavyweight title following his positive steroid test. In his own words: “[A]fter I fought Ricco [Rodriguez], I was in for a long layoff. I decided to try some things and maybe change my physique a little bit and get in better shape. But whatever I used, it came back positive. I don’t know how that happened. I did it so long ago and I was way off it before I fought McGee. I think they found it in my fat cells. I guess it stays in there for a while, huh?…I heard what Josh [Barnett] had used, so I used something different and I was only using it to trim my physique. I thought that what I was using, it was going to be out by the time I fought McGee. I fought Gan and apparently it wasn’t out.”
When Joe Rogan declared the beginning of “the Machida Era” at UFC 98, the Dragon became just the latest in a string of dominant fighters who have defined MMA and its development with their unique styles. In this sport, there always seems to be one or two guys who are way ahead of the pack, just waiting for everybody else to catch up. So we decided to go back and recreate MMA’s historical timeline by “era” — starting with you know who…
Famously, the 170-pounder was chosen over his older, larger, and more intimidating-looking brother Rickson to represent the Gracie family in the UFC because Royce’s success would prove that a smaller man could beat larger ones through proper technique. Though Royce would take a five-year break from competition after his tedious 36-minute draw against Ken Shamrock at UFC 5, he’d fulfilled his objective by then: America had learned the Gracie name, and the BJJ phenomenon had officially begun.
Our good buddy Ariel Helwani was on the scene after Strikeforce: Shamrock vs. Diaz, and got some camera time with Stockton’s conquering hero Nick Diaz. Diaz was his usual gregarious self — making sure to never make eye contact with either Ariel or the camera — and he attributed his win to intense preparation and top-shelf sparring partners. He also says he could have finished the fight on the ground, but sometimes it’s easier just to throw punches. Does he regret anything he might have said in the buildup to this fight? Not so much, homey.
Below:Tito Ortiz (at left, with sunglasses on the wrong side of his head) says he’d love for Strikeforce to make him a big offer so that the UFC can match it. Ortiz has just finished up physical therapy following his back surgery, and will soon begin training again so he can get back in the cage in August or September.
After the jump: Will we see MMA pioneer Royce Gracie return to competition in the near future? Gracie plays it close to the vest, but "anything’s possible." You can see all of Ariel’s recent one-on-ones at Break.com/ArielHelwani.
(Rolker and Royce Gracie pay their last respects to their father. Photos courtesy of Sherdog.)
Less than 10 hours after he passed away at the Beficência Portuguesa Hospital after contracting pneumonia, Helio Gracie was laid to rest in a modest ceremony in Petropolis, Brazil, witnessed by about 70 relatives, close friends and students. As Sherdog writes:
Sons Royce and Rolker led the procession, a kilometer in length, from the chapel to the tomb where Gracie was buried. At the tomb, Royce asked for a round of applause for his father and placed a black belt over his coffin.
Speaking on behalf of Helio’s son Rickson Gracie, who was unable to reach Brazil in time for the funeral, Mario Aielo said:
“Thanks to this man, there are thousands of teachers around the world making a living from jiu-jitsu and thousands of fighters making a living from MMA. Without Helio Gracie, Rorion could not have brought Vale Tudo to the US and MMA would not exist, giving jobs to many fighters, promoters and managers and fun to millions of fans around the world.”
— Those of you who bought the UFC photography book Octagon when it was in its $2,500 limited-edition form are going to be kicking themselves right now. The coffee-table tome is now selling in a scaled-back trade edition for just $40, and UFC fighters will be making appearances this evening at Barnes & Noble locations in 20 cities to sign copies. The full list of cities/guests is here. Biggest name: Chuck Liddell representin’ in his hometown of San Luis Obispo. Smallest name: Eddie Sanchez holdin’ it down in Irvine. Sanchez still has a job? Irvine has bookstores?
(Gerard Gordeau stomps Kevin Rosier in the semi-finals of UFC 1. Image courtesy of Real Fighter.)
In honor of the upcoming 15th anniversary of UFC 1, Real Fighter magazine has published an incredible oral history called “Starting a Fight,” where all the fighters and organizers involved share their memories about the watershed event. You can (and should) download the article at BloodyElbow. Our favorite bits are below…
“Big” John McCarthy: I had put in my application for it. Rorion said, “What are you doing? You can’t fight. You’re with us. When Royce is done, we’ll put you in there.”
Rorion Gracie: We thought of a ring that had a moat and we could put alligators on the outside, [or] chariots running around the ring and dropping the fighters off, people with trumpets and Roman togas announcing them. This is Hollywood.
Art Davie: I don’t think I came up with the moat idea. But the electrified copper fence was mine.
McCarthy: Jimmerson said, “How in the world do you think Royce is going to beat me when I’m flicking out a jab? He can’t get past that.” We went into a back ballroom area and I grabbed him in a double leg and put him on the ground. He looked up at me and said, “Oh, my God. He’s going to break my arms and legs, isn’t he?”
Ken Shamrock: Tuli goes down to his knees and Gerard kicks him in the mouth and his teeth go flying into the front row. Prior to that, everyone [backstage] was hitting pads and trying to hide their fear. It went dead silent.
(One of these two men is still telling this story.)
What do you do when you’re an over-the-hill fighter who has repeatedly refused to take the dignified route to retirement? Apparently you challenge another over-the-hill fighter who you faced a couple of times back when you were both still relevant to the sport. That’s the only possible explanation for why Ken Shamrock thinks it’s a good idea to call out Royce Gracie like it’s 1995 all over again:
The second time I beat him in every aspect of the fight; in fact his corner had to carry him out. Fans have been calling for a rematch ever since. After this particular fight Royce left the UFC. As a matter of fact I ran the entire Gracie family out of the UFC. His talk is cheap. Let’s settle it in the cage. I heard Royce agree to a rematch three times now, every time he has come up with a reason not to fight me. Royce and my brother Frank should get together and write a book about how to set up fights and not fight.
At least Shamrock’s smack-talking skills haven’t atrophied at the same rate as his physical ones. Where this statement goes from being the typical crazy Shamrock banter to being completely out of touch with reality is when Shamrock claims that “fans have been calling for a rematch ever since.”
Really? Fans want to see a rematch of the thirty-six minute stallfest that ended in a draw? What fans? Where do they live? Could they accurately be described as fully functioning adults?
Fightlinker claims to think it’s a good idea as long as they do it in Japan with extended rounds. If the fight does happen, it had better not be in a place with an athletic commission, and any time you admit that you could only put on a fight in a place where there is no official oversight, aren’t you basically admitting that it’s a fight that is not athletically meaningful?
The eight greatest MMA fighters who have never won a championship or major tournament…
8. Gilbert Yvel (32-12-1)
There are two reasons “The Hurricane” hasn’t risen to the lofty heights of champion: his lackluster ground game and his ridiculous temper. Yvel has undeniable knockout power, particularly in his kicks and flying knees, and 28 of his 32 wins have come via KO/TKO. On the other hand, a quarter of his 12 losses came from well-deserved DQ’s. If he could have gotten out of his own way, this guy could have been on top of the world.
7. Yushin Okami (22-4)
Okami had a good shot to win Rumble on the Rock’s 175-pound tourney in 2006. As you’ll recall, he was staggered by an illegal kick from Anderson Silva in the first round, picking up a DQ win that allowed him to continue on to fight Jake Shields. But Shields beat Thunder in a decision (and ended up winning the whole thing), and Okami’s title hope disappeared. Now in the UFC, Okami is a top contender for the middleweight title — but good luck getting past the division’s undisputed ruler.
6. Jeremy “Gumby” Horn (79-17-5)
Although he has logged an impressive record in over 100 pro fights — beating guys like Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, Josh Burkman, Dean Lister, “The Hurricane,” David Loiseau, and Vernon White — “Gumby” has never won the big one. He had two chances to pick up a title (UFC 17 vs. Frank Shamrock for the middleweight crown and UFC 54 in a rematch with Liddell for the light heavy belt), but was stopped both times.
(Emmanuel Yarborough probably won’t make the list.)
Attention, Potato Nation: We’re looking to put together a massive, ambitious feature on the greatest MMA fights of all time, and we need your help with the nominations. Now, what makes for a truly great fight? Well, if it’s…
…a non-stop war where two evenly matched fighters leave their hearts on the mat (see: Frye vs. Takayama, Griffin vs. Bonnar 1).
…a match where one fighter is getting his ass handed to him but comes back to steal a victory (see Minotauro Nogueira vs. Sapp, or Nogueira vs. a lot of people, for that matter).
…a fight that settles a genuine grudge or rivalry (see: Royce Gracie vs. Sakuraba 2, Liddell vs. Ortiz 1).
— You bastards went all-out in the first Chuck Liddell caption contest, and three people won autographed copies of Chuck’s new book. Come back Monday and at least two more signed books will be up for grabs.
10. Roger Gracie In 2005, 23-year-old Roger Gracie won the Abu Dhabi Submission Wrestling World Championship by submitting all eight opponents, something that had never been done before. The son of Reyla Gracie, Roger has racked up numerous first place finishes in jiu-jitsu tournaments around the world, and won his first MMA match in December [...]
The UFC Hall-of-Famers whose blood and sweat carried the organization in its early days will act as coaches for a series of team MMA events to be held in Asia. According to MMA Weekly, Las Vegas-based Platinum Fighting Productions is organizing a tournament named “Ring of Fire,” which pits teams of five fighters (including one woman) against each other, with four preliminary events leading up to a final matchup between the two best teams. Along with Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock, the other coaches will be UFC/PRIDE veteran Josh Barnett and Armenian-American submission grappling guru Gokor Chivichyan. The lineups will be:
Team Gracie: Cleber Luciano, Jorge Patino, Daniel Serafian, John Marsh, Katrine Alendal Team Lion’s Den (Shamrock): Evan Dunham, Kyacey Uscola, Mike Whitehead, Ricco Rodriguez, Tonya Evinger Team Barnett: Koji Oishi, Yuki Kondo, Renato “Babalu” Sobral, Jeff Monson, Ginele Marquez Team Gokar: Karen Darabedyan, August Wallen, Rodney Faverus, Hakim Gouram, Amanda Buckner
The first event will take place on December 9th at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Philippines, and will feature Barnett’s team taking on Chivichyan’s. Future events will take place in Macau, Japan, and China; the final is slated for December 2008. Why this is being held on the other side of the world is anybody’s guess — it doesn’t seem to be the best move for a fledgling organization, marketing-wise, if a television broadcast is out of the question. Stay tuned for more details on this compelling, possibly bullshit event.