By: Albert Miller – Last week was a bad week, for everyone. Period. With the heavy news that had happened, we’ll often try and change focus to our hobbies and sports to keep balance to the information that we’re absorbing. We couldn’t really do that: Jon “Bones” Jones completely tanked his stock (whether he intended to or not), the main event was shuffled twice, the UFC ended up getting sold after months of denial. It’s a sea change; the world, and our favorite sport is changing. Everything is changing.
Although it may feel like everything is shaking up, this isn’t the first time that the world of Mixed Martial Arts has been forced to adapt on the fly. UFC 200’s main event shake ups were pretty substantial, but truth be told: changes bigger than those have happened in shorter periods of time. This week on the Friday 5ive, we’re counting down five of the biggest last minute changes in MMA history.
Note: these are just five to come to mind; if you’re drinking haterade, I’m not listening.
No. 5: The rules of Guy Mezger vs. Kazushi Sakuraba get changed (while the fight is in progress) – In the opening round of the PRIDE FC Grand Prix 2000, Guy Mezger agreed to a bout with “The Gracie Hunter” Kazushi Sakuraba; Mezger accepted the bout with a broken foot and with the understanding that the bout would be one round, fifteen minutes in length. It’s widely understood that PRIDE had different rules and that weight differences could be negated with rule negotiations, but still, taking a fight on two week notice (and with a broken foot) is pretty Herculean. During the bout, Mezger did excellent work of stuffing Sakuraba’s take downs (after all, Kazushi Sakuraba is one of the best amateur wrestlers to ever come out of Japan) and score strikes on the outside. At the end of the round, everyone in the Mezger camp (including head coach Ken Shamrock) expected the bout to go to the judges and then Mezger would be able to go to the locker room and rest his injured foot. I’m not one to claim corruption, but the judges tried to order an overtime round for Mezger and Sakuraba. All of the contracts signed (and the rest of the bouts on the card) had agreed to one round with a fifteen minute time limit. Folks out of the Mezger camp were claiming that the judges were trying to give their countryman another chance to defeat the Lion’s Den fighter; regardless of why, Shamrock stepped into the ring and ordered Mezger to the locker room. The bout would not continue, the principal of the contract had already been defeated when PRIDE tried to order the overtime round. Reportedly, Helio Gracie had approached Mezger and told him that he’d been screwed, that he had won that fight. The fight would be ruled a no contest and the President of PRIDE FC would publically apologize to Guy Mezger later in the evening.
No. 4: Steve Jennum replaces Ken Shamrock at UFC 3 (and wins the tournament) – Long before Shamrock vs. Gracie 3 happened for Bellator, “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” was looking to redeem himself against the UFC 1 and 2 tournament champion, Royce Gracie. The return bout was scheduled to happen in the finals of UFC 3. UFC 3 just happens to be the same bout that the world (and Royce Gracie) was introduced to Kimo Leopoldo. While Gracie was able to defeat the Germany native, Kimo did a very thorough job of throttling Royce Gracie into exhaustion. For the semi finals, Gracie was able to meet Harold Howard in the cage, but his ability to see had been severely compromised. In all good conscious, Royce Gracie was in no condition to fight Harold Howard (“If you’re coming on, then come on!” –Harold Howard) and the bout was forfeited. In the locker room, it was announced that “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” would fight Harold Howard in the finals of UFC 3. Shamrock, who toughed out the third UFC just to get his hands on Gracie, refused to fight and withdrew. Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG, the original owners of the UFC) had no choice, they had to put an alternate into the championship bout. Enter: Steve Jennum, an alternate who had found himself in the finals of the 1990’s most brutal spectacle, and he got there without throwing a single punch. Jennum would go on to defeat Howard and become the UFC 3 tournament champion. After Jennum’s win, the UFC decreed that alternates had to fight in order to qualify to be a replacement for tournament battle.
No. 3: Mohawk Nation says Extreme Fighting can promote, Canada changes its mind the next day – Allow me to be more specific, Battlecade: Extreme Fighting was the promotion. Extreme Fighting (EF) was likely the first viable competitor to SEG’s Ultimate Fighting Championship. Extreme Fighting had their own franchise Gracie (Ralph), they had the same no holds barred mentality, they had a champion that everyone could get behind (Igor Zinoviev), and the only major difference was that Extreme Fighting was making a move to be viewed more as a sporting event than a blood sport. If the mindset of the US populous in the 1990’s tells you anything, based on which promotion flourished and which didn’t, is that we wanted blood. Extreme Fighting had the misfortune of timing against them; had they pulled the trigger on promoting in the same year as the UFC, or even innovating the idea before SEG, they may have had a better run than they had. The UFC began promoting fights in 1993, Extreme Fighting began in 1995; just long enough to carry all of the UFC’s legislative stigma with it wherever the promotion went. Extreme Fighting learned the King of the Cage lesson early (before King of the Cage, actually) that if the local governments won’t let you promote within their jurisdiction, go to the local First Nations governments. The state of New York wouldn’t let Extreme Fighting promote, but the Mohawk Nation would. Extreme Fighting 2 was set up, the event was held, and it was all in the history books, right? …Wrong! Although the Mohawk Nation gave its blessing to Extreme Fighting, the Montreal government had different plans. Before Extreme Fighting could leave town the next day, law enforcement (I’m assuming the Mounties) showed up and took a lot of people into custody; the ring announcer, the promoter, among others. Now, I never quite understood what the ring announcer had anything to do with a promotion pulling the trigger on an event, but I guess that’s for the Canadian government to understand. Extreme Fighting would promote two more events after the Canada fiasco before they’d close their doors.
No. 2: Seth Petruzelli replaces Ken Shamrock in EliteXC Main Event – October 4, 2008; I was about to turn twenty-four the next day and I was able to sit down and celebrate my birthday with Mixed Martial Arts on CBS. Not just MMA, but my favorite fighter “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” Ken Shamrock was in the main event against the legendary, street certified, Kimbo Slice (may he rest in peace). Leading into this fight, Kimbo had dropped Ray Mercer, Bo Cantrell, David “Tank” Abbott, and even stopped James “The Colossus” Thompson. The only way for Kimbo to get any more substantial heavyweight competition was to step into the Octagon, and it wasn’t going to happen in that point of time. Stopping guys like Cantrell, Abbott, and Thompson is impressive on its own, but it was how he was beating them. Kimbo wasn’t just outscoring these guys on the judge’s cards, he was stopping them, knocking them unconscious. Kimbo certainly had a mystique to him and it was unclear if the talent in the minor leagues (compared to the UFC’s major leagues) had the ability to stop him. So far we’ve got my favorite fighter, an unsurmountable challenge, and birthday snacks (special birthday snacks, not cheese slices and ritz crackers), it was going to be a great day for the Big Fellah. I hunker down into my chair, turn on the TV just in time for the announcement: Ken Shamrock had gotten a cut in the pre-fight warm ups, the athletic commission wouldn’t let him compete. Son. Of. A. Bitch. Seth “the Silverback” Petruzelli, one of the best heavyweight / light heavyweight competitors with Tae Kwon Do skills, was on the undercard; the athletic commission would allow Petruzelli compete against Slice at the weight that had been recorded. The rest was history: Petruzelli knocked out EliteXC’s franchise, the company folded, and both fighters would make emergences in the UFC.
No. 1: UFC 12 changes venues (in a matter of hours) – UFC 12, in retrospect, is one of the most important events to modern MMA as we know it. UFC 12 was the first appearance of Joe Rogan, the meteoric rise of “The Phenom” Vitor Belfort would begin, and the bout between Dan “The Beast” Severn and Mark “the Hammer” Coleman for the super fight championship (which would become the UFC Heavyweight Championship after Coleman’s victory) all had happened on that card. Prior to UFC 12, obviously UFC’s 1 through 11 had occurred, but so did both “Ultimate Ultimate” tournaments and Senator John McCain would get the biggest jones for stopping the UFC in recorded history. A lot of the UFC’s legislative issues were brought on themselves; how do you expect a nation of laws to react when you are regularly billing an event as “two men enter, one man leaves” and “no rules allowed”? The paradox is that if the early UFC’s weren’t billed that way, it would have fizzled and I’d be reporting on competitive nose picking. The blood sport angle was also a product of the 1990’s; before there was YouTube, we had to actually pay to watch shocking stuff. If we wanted to see two grown men bareknuckle fight each other, we bought pay per view. If we wanted to see professional mud wrestling or Jerry Springer’s too hot for TV, we had to buy pay per view. New York was supposed to be the UFC 12 venue, but McCain had applied just enough pressure to get the Empire State to say no. Luckily, Oregon’s athletic commission would allow it. The UFC, package and parcel, traveled to Oregon. Just as the UFC arrives on site to set up the event, Oregon caves to legislative pressure. The UFC had two options: move the event or cancel the event. Say what you want about the UFC’s previous (previous, previous owners, if you think about it), but they had no qualms about taking it on the chin and doing what needed to be done. They chartered every plane they could to get fighters to Alabama where the event would go down. Of course, UFC 12 was just successful enough to keep the UFC going. Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG) would promote seventeen more events before selling to Zuffa, LLC.
The point of this week’s Friday 5ive was to point out that last minute changes aren’t death sentences (unless you are EliteXC), but opportunities to persevere and adapt. Last week’s UFC 200 went off without a hitch, and while it didn’t have the fights we were all looking for, it still was a decent card to watch.
Of course, thank you for joining us for the Friday 5ive, make sure you check out the Prizefight Podcast this week. Until next time: Fights, Cameron, Action!