(The last time Big Daddy got paid on time and in full.)
By Cage Potato contributor Chris Colemon
Only 17 years removed from its inaugural bout, the UFC is just now exiting its awkward teen years and developing into a suave, sophisticated adult. After an extended bout of growing pains that at times threatened the sport’s very existence, MMA is finally coming into its own. Today’s fans witness seemingly daily achievements and milestones that speak to the sport’s rapid expansion. In 2010 alone, the UFC held its first events in Abu Dhabi and Australia, opened offices in China, set a new North American attendance record for an MMA event, crowned its first Mexican heavyweight champion, and launched their first attack in the Battle for New York.
But the UFC’s epic tale is not unlike any other in that each chapter begins where another one ends. For every historic first, there is an all but forgotten last.
Here is a short list of some of the UFC’s important lasts – the rules and regulations sacrificed in the fight for our sport’s survival.
Check them out after the jump.
The early days of MMA marketing were rife with hyperbole. The UFC was never truly “No Holds Barred”, nor was it ever “banned in 49 states”. One tough-sounding term aptly applied through UFC 13 however was “bare knuckle fighting”. While fighters did have the option to protect their hands, the use of open-fingered gloves was not mandatory until UFC 14. Couture opted for the 4-ouncers, while Graham kept it street. Lucky for his hands, the 290lb Extension fighter was promptly taken down 6 seconds into the bout and he only landed a single punch from his back. Couture dominated on the ground, running through an array of positions while launching a ground and pound assault featuring headbutts, elbows and punches to the back of the skull, and knees to his downed opponent’s head; basically, all of the classics.
*Surprise bonus: Stay tuned for the post fight interview to see a young Joe Rogan in a sports coat!
**Not such a surprise bonus: The suit is solid black, so is the t-shirt he’s wearing underneath.
Last legal headbutt – UFC 14: Showdown
(Maurice Smith def. Mark Coleman via unanimous decision after 21 minutes)
Whereas bare knuckle punches faded away with a whimper, headbutts went out in a blaze of glory. Few fighters utilized the headbutt as effectively as “The Hammer”, but even the viscous nuances with which he smashed his cranium into another man’s weren’t enough to take out Smith. In what would become a hallmark of his later career, Coleman didn’t really have a Plan B when “stomp a hole in his ass” didn’t come to fruition in the opening minutes of the fight, and his suspect gas tank allowed the patient Smith to keep it standing and land pot shots at his leisure en route to a unanimous decision.
It’s fitting that Royce Gracie, staunch defender of infinite bouts, would see them off into the sunset. While this match may not have set any records for being insanely long, it did set a record for pissed off pay-per-view customers. The tournament finale would begin just 12 scant minutes before the broadcast was scheduled to end; I think you can see where this is heading. Despite an emergency effort from UFC executives to have the broadcast time extended, countless customers lost their signal minutes before Royce unveiled the triangle choke to the masses. PPV providers were besieged with complaints and demands for refunds. Unable to risk losing their young fan base to another disaster, the UFC instituted time limits on all future bouts. But as they’d soon learn at UFC 7, there’s an important distinction between controlling the length of your fights and controlling the length of your event. An interesting footnote, the last match without a time limit, the UFC’s longest at the time, would end sooner than four of the five most recent championship matches.
(Ken Shamrock & Oleg Taktarov fight to a draw after 33:00 minutes)
(Save yourself the 33 minutes; the fans were declared the losers of this bout.)
You thought fighting to a draw with the champion retaining the belt was just the flavor of the month? Sorry, junior, but fighters have been getting down like that since ’95. Unlike today’s spoiled warriors, however, poor Ken and Oleg didn’t have the option of leaving the fight in the hands of the judges. No, back then Cecil Peoples was still playing first base in the minor leagues. A brief 3-minute overtime period proved insufficient for either fighter to put his foe away. This wasn’t the UFC’s first draw due to the lack of judges, but the backlash from fans ensured it would be their last. And everyone fought happily ever after, right? The biggest blow on this card wasn’t thrown by Shamrock or Taktarov- once again the PPV broadcast would run over its allotted time, though in this case it was a merciful ending.
(Kazuo “Yoshiki” Takahashi def. Wallid Ismail via decision in 15 minutes)
(Nut shots- the reason slow-mo replay was invented and why Bob Saget has a yacht.)
For all of the iconic images produced since 1993, none represent the sport’s early years more than a gi-clad Gracie. Royce’s gi seemed to impart him with powers well beyond the reach of his 186lb frame, and in it he looked as invincible as Superman in his cape. Fighters from various disciplines would don the gi inside the Octagon, but as time went on and knowledge of the ground game grew its presence became rare. At UFC 18, Frank Carraci became the last competitor to rock the gi in a UFC event. Its send off was not a triumphant one, as he would be dropped and pounded into submission by pro-boxer turned mixed martial artist Laverne Clark. Strict guidelines on wardrobe were set into stone when the Unified Rules were adopted by the New Jersey State Athletic Commission nearly two years later. Before those rules would take effect, Clark would also defeat Koji Oishi, who along with Yoji Anjo competed wearing an amateur wrestling singlet at UFC 25: Ultimate Japan 3.
You’ve got to feel bad for poor Moti. After getting drubbed by Mark Coleman in his UFC debut, he returned at UFC 14 to find himself standing across the Octagon from Mark Kerr. This time Horenstein had picked up one of those gis that had proven so popular, but once again he was promptly dumped on his back and beaten into the canvas. Kerr begins the assault with several hard knees to the skull, followed by solid punches and yet another knee. From here “The Smashing Machine” patiently pounds Horenstein, choosing his shots until he unleashes hell and Big John can’t take it any more. While most of the practices covered in this article will never again see the light of day, knees to a downed opponent are seen by many fans as a necessary element of the fight game and are often mentioned in the discussion of how to improve our sport, even by D-Dub himself.
Last UFC event without weight classes – Ultimate Ultimate 96*
MMA Forums would be a barren wasteland if not for this pivotal rule change. Prior to UFC 12 fans didn’t ask, “Who is the best fighter pound for pound?”; they merely asked, “Who is the best fighter?” Debate over weight cutting, walk around weight, and cleaning out a division didn’t transpire. While UU96 did not feature the massive weight disparities so celebrated in earlier events, it did host the UFC’s last purely open weight fights before it evolved to the two weight class system introduced at UFC 12.
* UFCJ (UFC Japan) events were less stringent on weight restrictions
(Kenichi Yamamoto def. Katsuhisa Fujii via kneebar @ 4:15 of Rd. 2)
It’s no secret that the UFC had many obstacles to throwing events stateside in its formative years. Japan was far more enlightened and accepting of human cockfighting at the time, making the Land of the Rising Sun an ideal market for growth, Yakuza be damned. By this point tournaments were pared to half the size of the eight-man tournaments that formed the backbone of the early franchise. While the fights lack flash and excitement, the four competitors display a skill set well beyond their 3-7-1 combined record. Any review of this tournament would be remiss without mentioning the curious behavior of Takase, who gave up 30lbs in his match against Yamamato. In addition to taking a brief nap in the Octagon during the fighter introductions, Daiju opted to leave his t-shirt on for the fight. It’s not as weird as it sounds, though; he did tuck it into his shorts.
Last fighter to legally wear shoes in a fight – UFC 30: Battle on the Boardwalk (Bobby Hoffman def. Mark Robinson via KO at 3:27 of R1*)
There were always tells from the announcers in the early days of the UFC, small phrases that tipped their hand and let you know if a new fighter sucked. Alarm bells sounded whenever they touted the physical strength of an inexperienced competitor. In a bit of cringe-worthy foreboding, commentator Frank Shamrock says of Robinson, “pure power IS his style”; you really know he’s screwed when his credentials are flashed on the screen and “Incredibly Strong” sits atop the list. While only in his second fight, the 285lb “White Rhino” did show a bit of savvy: spotting a barefoot Hoffman backstage, Robinson laced up his wrestling shoes, hoping to enhance his performance with additional traction. But Hoffman, the cagy vet, had been enhancing his performance for months by lacing his blood with illegal steroids. Advantage, Hoffman. Robinson’s strategy was clear from the opening bell: push Hoffman to the fence and smoosh him through it like a 253-pound lump of Play-Doh. Hoffman was pinned to the cage and restricted to rabbit punches for the majority of the bout, but when he created any space at all he landed with big punches or knees. At 3:27 of R1, he scored a big elbow to the temple that put Robinson out for good.
*After Hoffman’s urine sample came back positive for steroids, the result was overturned and ruled a ‘No Contest.’