(“Hey sweetheart, you ever seen the missing frames from the Zapruder film? Would you like to?”)
If MMA folks sometimes seem a little suspicious that The Man is out to get them it’s because there was a time in the sport’s short history when The Man really was out to get them, and not just in the Rampage-Jackson-on-the-55-Freeway kind of way. A number of factors, including efforts by finagling lawmakers to kill MMA in the late ’90s and the glut of misinformation about the sport that still percolates in many mainstream media reports, have created a bit of a bunker mentality among its hardcore supporters.
At this point, when events fall apart, judges issue hinky decisions or another fledgling organization goes under, some of us are all too quick to assume that it’s the work of sinister forces beyond our control. Whether true or not, MMA’s past is rife with rumors of secret plots, backroom deals and widespread collusion.
In light of that, here are CagePotato.com’s Top 10 MMA Conspiracy Theories. Many of them you’ve probably heard before, but perhaps a few will be new to you. Some are ludicrous, while others probably contain a kernel of truth. At least a few are enough to make a man question everything he thought he knew about life and the universe around him.
The truth is out there, motherfuckers.
10. Pride was rigged for the Axe Murderer, Rampage says …
Long before he had Rashad Evans to bait him into racially-charged shouting matches, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson had a fearsome foil in Wanderlei Silva. Unfortunately for Rampage, the early days of the pair’s rivalry was more of a hammer-and-nail-style affair, with Silva serving him a double-dose of life-changing knockouts in 2003-04. At the time, Rampage complained long and loud about unfair stand-ups and all manner of other interference by the Pride brass on behalf of the Axe Murderer. Though he ultimately got revenge in the form of his own first-round KO at UFC 92 Jackson never really got over it, levying the following claim in more recent interviews: Shit was fixed. Pride wanted Wanderlei to beat Jackson and wanted Silva to take the GPs, too.
“It was bad," Rampage says at the 6:05 mark of the above video. “The tournaments were fixed. They said they drew numbers out of a hat (but) it was all set up for Wanderlei to win. Even in some fights, they’d stand you up when you were winning.”
So, is it fact or crap? I’m gonna say fact. Granted, Rampage doesn’t exactly qualify as a reliable source and it didn’t help that his primary offense against Silva were his vicious head butts to the knees. But in its heyday, Pride was a smorgasbord of fixed fights, laissez-faire steroid testing and mob ties. Would it really surprise anyone to learn the organization took certain steps to engineer victories for its more favored competitors, especially if a few Yakuza bosses had an insatiable desire to see Wanderlei whip that ass?
9. The UFC didn’t want Matt Lindland anywhere near Rich Franklin.
According to Lindland, just about everything bad in his life has come as the result of a vast plot by a network of his cunning foes. Dude is a Republican, after all. While a certain kind of persecution complex isn’t necessarily uncommon in MMA, Lindland is the only fighter to have a full-on documentary film that seeks to explain, as Gilbert Yvel might say, "why he always getting fucked."
But there was a time when Lindland was unquestionably one of the best middleweights – maybe the best middleweight – in the world. Yet, while compiling a 10-3 record against the top dogs in the UFC’s 185-pound class he never fought for a title, despite promises from Dana White to the contrary. To his supporters, the reason was obvious: The UFC was solely focused on establishing Rich Franklin as its middleweight poster boy and company officials didn’t want to take the chance that Lindland’s wrestling-based attack would spoil Ace’s shot at stardom. As a result, they colluded to keep the two guys from ever fighting. When that got too hard, they fired Lindland for wearing the wrong T-shirt.
Fact or crap? A little of both. The UFC probably wasn’t terribly interested in having Lindland as its champ, but it might have had more to do with him being an unrepentant malcontent who makes life as difficult as possible for pretty much everyone around him than its love from Franklin. If a plan did exist to protect Franklin as its untouchable golden child, it sure went out the window as soon as Anderson Silva showed up. But long story short, Lindland never made his bones against Franklin. Instead, this happened …
8. Ken Shamrock took a dive at the “TUF” finale.
The live finale of the first season of "The Ultimate Fighter" was obviously an extremely important event for the UFC. After essentially bankrolling the first run of the popular cable reality show out of its own pocket, the finale would not only be a referendum on the future of "TUF" but would also be a chance for the company to showcase its brand in front of a record-breaking audience. In light of that, some people allege the company left very little to chance, employing the services of one K. W. Shamrock, Esq. to throw the main event … which just so happened to be against “golden boy” Rich Franklin.
Shamrock takes his first weird flop to the canvas at the 4:06 mark and then falls down again while throwing a high kick with 2:36 on the clock. The second miscue leads to Franklin pounding him out a few seconds later. Weird, right? Well, it only gets weirder, some people say, once you consider that earlier at this very, very important UFC event, Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar “just happened” to engage in the greatest fight in the company’s history …
Fact or crap? Utter crap. The UFC would be crazy to fix a fight like this – on national television, in Las Vegas, in front of its largest audience ever. Hell, the UFC would be out of its mind to fix any fight anywhere. If the state athletic commission (or anybody else) got wind of it, it would be the end of the promotion as we know it. Shamrock just was actually that shitty.
7. Mirko CroCop was a spy for the Japanese.
When Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic jumped ship from the floundering Japanese MMA scene to the UFC in December 2006, some people just couldn’t let go of the old Pride vs. UFC debate. In the most outrageous iterations of the discussion, a few breathless chat room mavens began to wonder aloud if CroCop was going Deep Cover on behalf of the Pride organization. A shoddy translation of an interview with Pride boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara (remember him?) even emerged alleging to show that the master plan was for CroCop to win the UFC heavyweight title and make off with it back to Pride, kind of like when Alundra Blaze dumped the WWE women’s belt in a trash can on Monday Nitro, only better.
Yeah, that never happened … and the translation of the Sakakibara interview was later debunked.
Fact or crap? In retrospect, the funniest part was that people believed CroCop had a shot at winning the UFC championship. Sigh. Those were simpler times, my friends. While I’d love to sit here and tell you the Croatian Cop was MMA’s answer to Donnie Brasco, he proved to merely be a disinterested fighter on the back end of a once-great career.
6. Bellator feared Paulo Filho‘s physical fitness.
Once considered among the best middleweights in the world, Paulo Filho’s recent public appearances have been typified by bizarre behavior and a growing assortment of really, really shitty tattoos. After withdrawing from a scheduled bout with Hector Lombard at Bellator 18 earlier this month — which was, like, his third no-show in a row — Filho told Tatame.com he thought Bellator tanked his visa application process on purpse. The company was worried he might show up well-trained and actually beat Lombard, Filho said.
“I think maybe people knew I was in a good shape, strong, so they got scared …,” Filho told the website (their translation, not ours). “In fact, I’ve been informed it was a mistake of the event, which didn’t (give) me the letter so I could take it to the council. Things were left to be solved at the last minute, unfortunately I won’t fight.”
Fact or crap? C’mon, son, we’re not going to dignify that question with a response. The good news is, Filho has three fights booked within 15 days of each other this summer. No possible way that could go wrong. One of those bouts is with Impact Fighting Championship in Australia on July 10. Filho told Tatame that he has not yet begun to look into getting a visa.
5. Detroit cops threatened to arrest Ken Shamrock if he laid a hand on Dan Severn’s beautiful face.
In May of 1996, the District Attorney’s Office in Detroit, Michigan tried to sideswipe plans for UFC IX by threatening to fine and/or arrest any fighter who employed a closed-fisted strike during the event. According to Clyde Gentry III’s hilariously bad (and surely long out-of-print) 2001 book “No Holds Barred: Evolution” UFC President Bob Meyrowitz kept the legal wrangling secret from fighters until just hours before the event.
Luckily, the DA’s threats were summarily ignored by every fighter on the card … except (who else?) Kenneth Wayne Shamrock. Shammy was booked for a rematch against hometown hero Dan Severn and their ensuing “super fight” may still stand as the worst bout in UFC history. For more than 30 minutes, Shamrock and Severn circled the Octagon without engaging in any meaningful way. By virtue of a takedown or two, Severn was awarded a decision win and the loving Michigan faithful feted him by showering trash into the cage.
Fact or crap? Fact. The Detroit DA’s efforts have been documented by other sources. What still isn’t known is why Shamrock toed the line while other fighters like Don Frye, Cal Worsham and Mark Schultz all had the guts to throw actual punches. None were arrested as a result. It is unknown if fines were issued, or if Meyrowitz made good on his prefight promise to pay any legal fees the fighters incurred.
Here’s the thing about fighters, man: They pour so much of their souls into training and competing in this unforgiving sport that when things don’t go their way, it’s seductively easy for them to think the whole world has turned against them. Such may have been the case when BJ Penn lost his rematch to Georges St. Pierre in Jan. of 2009. After the fight, which Penn had chased relentlessly since losing to GSP three years earlier, the Hawaiian lightweight champion alleged that St. Pierre had greased his body during the bout.
The dispute soon went viral and a couple of other former opponents came forward to say St. Pierre “felt greasy” at the time they fought him. Penn took his fight all the way to a formal hearing with the Nevada State Athletic Commission, but the NSAC declined to take any action against GSP, trainer Greg Jackson or corner man Phil Nurse.
Fact or crap? Did St. Pierre get some Vaseline on his body between rounds? Yeah, he probably did. But did GSP, Nurse and Jackson conspire to cheat? Doubt it. St. Pierre could fight Penn wearing full 19th Century deep sea diving gear and still win eight out of 10 times.
3. Don Frye conspired to fix Ultimate Ultimate ’96.
At least one positive about Gentry’s aforementioned book is its willingness to dish out completely unverified backstage dirt from the early days of the UFC. Case in point: Mark Hall’s claim that Don Frye and manager Robert DePersia came into his dressing room during the Ultimate Ultimate ’96 tournament and convinced him to throw the two fighters’ upcoming semifinal match. Hall says that since Tank Abbott had already advanced to the final after two relatively easy wins, Frye – who’d logged almost 17 minutes of cage time already that night – wanted to save his energy for the championship.
Because he’d already suffered two defeats to Frye earlier in his career (and therefore probably wasn’t going to win anyway) and DePersia (who apparently had some kind of stroke in the UFC at the time) implied that saying no would have a disastrous impact on his future, Hall says he reluctantly agreed to go along with the plot.
That’s the unsubstantiated part. What we do know for sure is that it took Frye all of 20 seconds to tap Hall out with an Achilles lock that night. As it turned out, Frye did indeed need all the help he could get to beat Tank in the final. He pretty much got the tar beat out of him for the first minute of the fight, before Abbott slipped and fell down, allowing Frye to take his back and lock in a choke to become Ultimate Ultimate ’96 champion.
Fact or crap? Nobody likes the idea of Frye conspiring to cheat, but this story has a nagging ring of truth to it. That win over Hall was the second-shortest fight of Frye’s career and the only time he ever scored a victory by any sort of foot lock. After that night in December of ’96, neither Hall nor Frye ever fought in the UFC again. MMA gossip hounds however, will remember that Hall later went on to get beat up in a street fight by (wait for it …) Ken Shamrock during a dispute over a mattress. (Ed. note: Further review clarifies the dispute took place after an NHB event sponsored by Simmons Mattress Co.)
2. The state of California screwed Sean Sherk.
Then the lightweight champ, Sherk vehemently maintained his innocence when the California State Athletic Commission reported both he and challenger Hermes Franca tested positive for steroids after UFC 73. Reports say Sherk spent $20,000 of his own money trying to prove the CSAC had screwed the pooch and left him to try to sell the puppies when it said he had elevated levels of nandrolone in his system. He alleged that he’d passed independent blood and polygraph tests and that the machines used to conduct state’s testing had not been thoroughly cleaned, that three other examinations performed just before his also came back positive. After putting off the formal appeals meeting a few times, the CSAC upheld its finding, but reduced Sherk’s suspension from one year to six months, effectively time served.
That was all fine and good, except that the UFC had stripped Sherk of the belt in the meantime and when he returned, he lost to BJ Penn in his chance to get it back.
Fact or crap? This is going to be unpopular, but I actually believe Sherk. I think the CSAC knew it messed up, but couldn’t risk destroying its reputation by admitting it had violated an innocent man. Instead, it issued a half-assed, tacit apology by shortening his suspension. On an unrelated note about the CSAC’s character, it should be noted that then-president Armando Garcia later resigned after it was alleged he was something of a dirt-bag.
1. EliteXC told Seth Petruzelli to keep it on the feet.
How could this fiasco not be No. 1? After (guess who?) Ken Shamrock cut himself in training and respectfully abstained from EliteXC: Heat in October of 2008, the company shifted light heavyweight journeyman Seth Petruzelli into the main event against Kimbo Slice. Petruzelli responded by knocking Slice out in the first round, shocking the live audience, confirming what many hardcore fans had suspected about Slice all along and causing Gus Johnson to go into a conniption fit on live television. But the fun was just getting started.
On the heels of his win, Petruzelli went on the Monsters in the Morning radio show and alleged that EliteXC officials had encouraged (and possibly paid) him to stand and trade with Slice, instead of taking the street fighter to the canvas. Naturally, the good and decent people of the world were horrified. Petruzelli quickly backtracked, but it wasn’t good enough for the Florida Boxing Commission, which said it would investigate the allegations. The pressure of seeing its biggest star get cold-cocked on national TV, coupled with the impendning inquiry (and other factors) was too much for EliteXC to bear and it promptly folded.
Fact or crap? Oh, you know it happened exactly like Petruzelli first said. As an aside, I sometimes I imagine that there exists an alternate universe where Shamrock doesn’t get cut, defeats Slice in the main event and then parlays his revitalized career into a term as the junior senator from California and, eventually, President of the United States. Then I realize I’ve been reading too many Tom Clancy novels. Still, pretty weird how often Shammy shows up on this list, huh? Almost like he knows something we don’t … almost like he’s the puppet master …