Underrated Fights Showcase #1

You might want to think about giving these fights a second look.


6. Frank Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz

A while back the UFC broadcast a special of their “100 Greatest Fights” on Spike TV.  In typical fashion of the Zuffa regime, the historical significance of the SEG era fights was downplayed and fighters who had a disfavorable relationship with the promotion were either grossly misrepresented or not included at all.  Case in point: Tito Ortiz, who has the most Light Heavyweight title victories in UFC history, had four of losses featured on the list but no victories.  Frank Shamrock, perhaps the greatest MMA fighter of the 90’s, was not even acknowledged.

That was a shame.  Both champions have scored some stellar victories over the years, and in a non-biased list they would’ve been featured multiple times.  Undoubtedly, the best fight between the two was their clash at UFC 22 on September 24, 1999.  A Superfight in every sense of the term, the two warriors battled for the Light Heavyweight (Then Middleweight) crown.  For four rounds, both fighters challenged each other with a wide range of skills and pushed each other to their physical limit.  Ortiz controlled much of the action with his impressive power and wrestling ability, but the champion Shamrock would not let himself be taken out.  Utilizing superior finesse and conditioning, he eventually managed to wear down the challenger and get him to submit via a barrage of strikes.  A truly shining moment during the UFC’s early years. 



5. Lennox Lewis vs. Frank Bruno

The People’s Champion of Britain did his best to put on a show for his ever-loving fans.  Not exactly one of Lewis’ best performances, but a significant moment in British boxing history.   


4. Rashad Evans vs. Rampage Jackson

This is kind of considered the Phantom Menace of MMA fights.  There was a profound amount of build up, but in the end a lot of people were left disappointed.  In truth, the fight itself wasn’t bad.  People were just expecting Rock Em’ Sock Em’ Robots because of the heat between the two.  What everyone forgot is that fighters won’t always go out and fight full-retard even if they dislike their opponent. 

The fight had some good moments.  Both Rashad and Rampage landed some hard shots on each other, and Evans worked some decent ground-and-pound in round three.  I’ll admit the fight would’ve been better if Evans approached every round like he did the third, but over all I think both men put on a solid show.    



3. Tiki Ghosn vs. Bob Cook

Tiki Ghosn is known for a few things in the MMA world: Being Rampage’s assistant coach on TUF, fucking Arianny Celeste, and never having a win inside the Octagon.  Despite that somewhat dubious resume, his career has produced at least a few awesome moments.  Case in point: His Octagon debut against one Bob Cook in UFC 24.

If this fight occured in the modern era of the UFC, it would possibly be heralded as a classic in a similar vein to Leonard Garcia vs. The Korean Zombie.  Unfortunately, it happened during the “dark ages” of the UFC, the period between events 22 and 30 when events were not available on home video.  Both fighters battled at a lightning pace with Cook eventually finishing his opponent off by RNC in the second round.  The AKA representative Cook promptly called it a career after this fight with an undefeated overall record of 5-0, with all wins coming by knockout or submission. 


2. Muhammad Ali vs. Karl Mildenberger

There are many Ali fights which are heralded as legendary.  His 1966 bout with Karl Mildenberger is not one of them.  Still, the south-paw German put on a gutsy enough show with the prime champion for the fight to warrant a watch.  Mildenberger, perhaps the second best heavyweight to ever come out of Germany behind Max Schmeling, used his jab and awkward style (He was the first left hander to ever fight for a world heavyweight title) to win at least a few round against the incomparable Ali. The champ battered the ever-stalking German’s eyes shut over the course of the fight and knocked him down several times, but Mildenberger never ceased to press the action.  Finally, in round twelve, Ali was able to finish off his gritty opponent with a barrage of looping uppercuts and a straight right lead to the head.

“Mildenberger gave me my toughest fight,” stated Ali after the bout.   

Following the fight, many journalists ranked Mildenberger as the second best heavyweight in the world and regarded him as the front-runner to win the vacant title after Ali had been stripped of the belt in 1967.  He ended up losing to Argentinean fight Oscar “Ringo” Bonavena in the first round of the elimination tournament, however, in a bout that was deemed “Upset of the Year” by Ring Magazine.  The German stud retired in 1968 with a record of 53-6-3 after losing his European heavyweight title to Britain’s Henry Cooper.   


1. Royce Gracie vs. Keith Hackney       

When you think of Royce Gracie’s great early UFC fights, you think of his battles with Kimo, Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, and his comedy fight with Art Jimmerson.  If you remember Keith Hackney, the fights that come to mind are his kickass David vs. Goliath match with Emmanuel Yarborough and mind-blowing testicle destruction of Joe Son.  The best fight between the two, however, is the one they had with each other.  Unfortunately, not many people seem to bring it up. 

Hackney represented a fighter rarely witnessed in the juvenile MMA scene: A striker who actually knew how to sprawl.  A state champion wrestler in high school, Hackney had enough grappling experience to repel the notorious “Gracie Tackle” and keep the fight standing longer than any of Royce’s previous opponents were able to.  It wasn’t a cake walk from there on out, though.  Despite smacking Royce with some hard rights, the karateka ended up getting clobbered with a few knee strikes to the head up against the fence.  It was evident that the young Gracie’s preparation, although not quite up to par with modern MMA training, was geared to fighting other styles and not just pure BJJ.

Still unable to take Hackney down, Royce was eventually forced to pull guard.  The zealous Hackney might’ve been able to get away, but he elected to keep the pressure on Royce and strike him several more times with his heavy right hand.  This left him open for Royce to apply an armbar and make him submit at the 5:32 mark.  A TRUE unsung classic that deserves to be recognized amongst Royce’s other old school battles, both for historical significance and action.       



Year-by-Year: The Best MMA Fights of 1993

1993 ushered in the modern era of MMA with the debut of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in Denver, Colorado.  Being that only a single UFC event was held in 1993, you might think a list of the year’s best fights would only come from that first show.  That is not the case, however, as Japan’s Pancrase had also made its smashing debut around the same time (Shooto had been hosting professional events since 1989, but video footage of these fights is rare).  And so, without further ado, here is my list of the top five fights from modern MMA’s birth year:

5. Masakatsu Funaki vs. Ken Shamrock (Pancrase- Yes, We are Hybrid Wrestlers 1)

The headliner for the first Pancrase card was a bout between teacher and student.  It’s fascinating to see Shamrock, who always seemed so cool and confident in the UFC, come across as such a green and zealous fighter in his match with the Pancrase founder.  After a close fought technical battle, the future star Shamrock caught his coach in an arm triangle choke and forced him to submit at the 6:15 mark.  The beginning of two very excellent MMA careers.


4. Trent Jenkins vs. Jason DeLucia (UFC 1: The Beginning)

This alternate match, which occurred before the finals of the first Ultimate Fighting Championship, was aired in the initial pay-per-view broadcast but not featured on the subsequent VHS release of the event.  That’s a shame, because judging from the reaction of the show in the martial arts magazines of the time, it was the best received fight of the night.  Although I’ve never seen the full fight, there’s enough footage of the fifty second encounter shown in the second UFC for me to decide that it belongs on this list. 

The two traditional stylists squared off in the cage and exchanged the kind of flashy kicks viewers had expected to see when they purchased the pay-per-view.  According to Big Jon McCarthy, the Kempo disciple Jenkins cut DeLucia with his toe nail when he threw a high kick, an incident which lead to nail trimming being mandatory before fights from there on out.  DeLucia eventually managed to take Jenkins to the ground and used the grappling experience he had gleaned from the Gracie’s to choke his opponent out with an RNC (The first in UFC history).  DeLucia’s jiu-jitsu skills were at a white belt level at the time, but he might as well have been armed with brass knuckles in these early events.  If anybody owns the full fight, please, please, please send it to me!

3. Ken Shamrock vs. Royce Gracie (UFC 1: The Beginning)

The fight that kicked off the UFC’s first major rivalry.  People who dismiss the early UFC events as being overly biased towards the Gracies really should take a second look at this stand-off.  A yoked-up submission grappling expert like Shamrock is not the kind of person you let into a no-holds-barred tournament if you want your fighter to have no chance at losing.  Going into the fight, most American viewers watching for the first time certainly must have expected the diminutive Brazilian to get crushed.  As you know, however, that was not what transpired.

Easily the most technical fight of the night, the minute-long battle saw both men scramble for grappling dominance.  After the shootfighter Shamrock failed with a heel hook, Gracie seized control of the fight and quickly choked out his mammoth opponent with his own gi sleeve.  The limitations of Shamrock’s grappling style had been exposed; although his training in Japan was applicable to real fighting, it was still used mostly in a performance context and left him exposed to chokes.  The loss would ignite a seething lust for revenge in Shamrock that would not be quelled until his second encounter with Gracie in UFC 5.


2. Vernon White vs. Katsuomi Inagaki (Pancrase- Yes, We are Hybrid Wrestlers 3)

Who says you have to be top tier to put on a good show?  These novice fighters went to fucking war!  Ex-bodybuilder Inagaki controlled much of the early action, using the kesa-gatame hold to execute offense and force White to give up several escape points.  Eventually, though, the Shamrock protégée and former Taekwondo instructor White managed to grind down his Japanese foe with merciless barrages of strikes (Many of which were blatantly illegal).  Despite enduring an abusive amount of punishment, the courageous Japanese refused to give up and only lost when the referee stopped the fight standing.  Inagaki never achieved much in his MMA career, but he would ALWAYS display the same level of bravery and determination that he did in this fight.



1. Ken Shamrock vs. Yoshiki Takahashi (Pancrase- Yes, We are Hybrid Wrestlers II)

Takahashi is a badass motherfucker.  Maybe a little too badass for his own good.  He obviously had talent, as we got to see in this very stellar match, but his refusal to quit even after suffering severe injury probably wore him out for the rest of his career.  Nevertheless, these early fights will still always be around for us to appreciate his heart and ability. 

The ex-amateur wrestler Takahashi scored some huge takedowns in the early goings of the fight, something we seldom witnessed against the seemingly invincible Shamrock back in the day.  The American’s power and skill would eventually enable him to take control of the match and batter his Japanese opponent for twelve minutes straight.  Over the course of the fight, Takahashi suffered a broken jaw from a palm strike and nearly had his leg broken from a heel hook attempt.  He was even choked unconscious at one point, but managed to grab the rope just before passing out (Shamrock was actually given a red card for holding on too long).  Despite this abuse, he continued to press forward and threaten the American with submission holds.  Finally, he was forced to tap when Shamrock applied a brutal heel hook.  The gallant warrior ended up having to be carried out of the ring.

Takahashi’s later fight with Bas Rutten, where he had his shin broken, probably fucked his body for life.  Still, he continued to fight on in a career that lasted seventeen years.  During that time, he would take on a myriad of world class opponents, including Masakatsu Funaki, Bas Rutten, Valentijn Overeem, Igor Vovchanchyn, Vitor Belfort, and Josh Barnett.  He would also achieve such notable feats as defeating jiu-jitsu legend Wallid Ismail in his lone UFC appearance and winning the inaugural Pancrase Heavyweight Championship.


Fighter of the year:

Masakatsu Funaki

This choice probably comes as a surprise to most of you.  After all, Ken Shamrock is in three of the five fights on this list and Royce Gracie won the first UFC tournament.  Either fighter would seem like a more logical choice.  In truth, however, the impact of Gracie’s victories could not fully resonate in the martial arts community around the time of the first UFC event as it was not made available on VHS until much later (The UFC II tape was actually released before it, for God knows what reason).  And despite Shamrock’s early achievements, I really can’t help but give this to Funaki.  His founding of Pancrase was both a significant point for Japanese MMA and the history of the sport as a whole.  Without his contribution, the world might’ve never known Ken Shamrock, Frank Shamrock, Bas Rutten, or Josh Barnett.  There might’ve never even been a Pride FC.  For that, I must honor him.

Can scientific wrestling make a comeback?

Ever since the debut of the Ultimate Fighting Championship on pay-per-view, grappling martial arts have received a major boon in popularity.  No longer does boxing and cinematic kung-fu dominate the American public’s perception of unarmed combat as they had for years.  When people think of fighting nowadays, takedowns and chokeholds are almost as likely to come to mind as punches and kicks.  Grappling has shoehorned itself into our combative consciousness.

And yet, despite the fact that more people are studying arts like BJJ than ever, grappling as a spectator sport does not look like it’s going to take off any time soon.  MMA is strictly the only venue where people will pay to see men apply armbars and heel hooks on one another.  The viewing audience for pure wrestling, sans punches and kicks, seems to be limited to what can fit in a high school gymnasium.  This is interesting considering that, traditionally, wrestling was amongst the most popular sports in both America and the world as a whole.  Many moons ago, the popularity of legitimate professional wrestling actually rivaled that of baseball.  Following the expansion of the theatrical style of worked wrestling matches, however, public interest in scientific wrestling tapered off and never really recovered.

Could legitimate grappling contests ever regain any kind of public recognition in this country?  People have tried to bring it back before.  Real Pro Wrestling, a Tennessee based promotion, was formed to bring amateur wrestling back into the public eye. For two seasons, it broadcast wrestling contests on ION Television before the company eventually folded in 2007.  It would seem, especially in this day and age where both MMA and theatrical wrestling dominate the airwaves, that scientific wrestling does not have much of a chance at making a comeback.

Nothing is impossible, however.  After examining the success of other combat sports, as well as theatrical pro wrestling, I’ve come up with a list of ideas that I believe would need to be implemented in order for pure scientific wrestling to have a shot at becoming popular again:

– To start off with, it must be stressed that grappling is, in fact, combat.  Heavy emphasis should be put on the fact that all grappling styles are martial arts, even American wrestling.  There are several ways to facilitate this.  First off, regardless of whatever rule set is ultimately used, the matches should take place inside of a ring.  People associate rings with fighting, as both boxing and professional wrestling takes place inside a ring.  Rings are also more glamorous than traditional wrestling mats, which have an amateurish feel to them  (To prevent grapplers from tumbling out, it would likely be a good idea to line the bottom rope with a net, as they did in Vale Tudo).

Secondly, more militarized and interesting terminology should be used to describe techniques.  For example, instead of rear naked choke, announcers could use the law enforcement term for the hold: Lateral vascular restraint.  If not that, then perhaps the widely known sleeper hold.  Not only will this make grappling seem less like a sport and more like fighting, but it will also pique the interest of new fans and make them want to know how the techniques work.

Finally, Human Weapon style self-defense instructionals could be included in the hypothetical grappling program along with competitive bouts.  It must be made known that grappling can be used as a means to protect oneself.     

– I think neither ordinary amateur wrestling nor submission grappling rules would be most effective at capturing the public’s interest.  The rule set should allow for the entire gamut of grappling styles to compete, from Sumo to BJJ.  Taking a cue from Catch Wresting and Judo, a grappler should be able to win by both submission and three-count pinfall.  The addition of pinfalls, I believe, would both help enable more crowd pleasing action and give grappler from non-submission styles a more even plane to compete on.

– Stylistic and cultural clashes should be encouraged.  A promoter of this hypothetical grappling promotion would find it in his best interest to emphasize the international scope of the sport.  Fighters from exotic and esoteric styles (Pehlwani, Glima) should be brought in to contrast with fighters who use more conventional styles.  Grapplers should also be allowed to wear the traditional attire of their style, even if the different uniforms change the dynamics of the match (Such as gis).  Taking a cue from pro wrestling and Pancrase, vibrant colors should be encouraged to catch the eyes of potential spectators.

– The point system should be simple as possible to insure the uninitiated have no trouble keeping track of what’s going on.  Catch wrestling utilizes a twelve-minute time limit with no scoring system, so the only possible outcomes of a match are pinfall, submission, or draw.  With a system like that, there wouldn’t be a risk of new fans being distracted by how fighters are supposed to earn points.  The trade off is that a lot of matches would have the potential of going the distance with no decisive winner being declared. 

A rope escape points system similar to Pancrase and pro wrestling might also be something to consider.  Fighters would have a set number of points in the beginning and would lose one each time they grab the rope to escape a submission or pin.  There’s a lot of bullshit that could come with this one, however: Accidental rope grabs, and fighters risking serious injury trying to grab the rope instead of tapping.               

– It’s ok to get creative with the competition format if it helps getting people to watch.  David vs. Goliath and tag team matches are two good possibilities.  Open weight brackets, after all, are a staple of grappling tournaments.  Hook N’Shoot also used to hold tag team submission grappling matches, so it’s not a completely novel idea.  

– Well known names from the MMA and pro wrestling world could be brought in to attract attention.  The primary focus, however, should be put on young up-and-coming grapplers.  For an organization in any combat sport to be successful, it needs homegrown stars that people would identify the promotion with. 

Now that I’ve laid out all these ideas, I take it you’ll probably want to ask me this: Is it even necessary for scientific wrestling to make a comeback?  What would be the point in this day and age when MMA training is so widely available?  Well, there are several reasons why I think wrestling’s resurgence would be a positive thing, both for the sport itself and the martial arts community as a whole.  Despite MMA’s booming popularity, wrestling programs are still being cut in high schools and colleges all across the country.  If more kids were interested in learning the art of wrestling, these programs would be able to stay afloat and keep offering young people competent martial arts training as well as scholarships for college.  Along with this, a professional venue for scientific wrestling would give martial artists who are solely interested in the art of grappling another means to make a living besides teaching.  Despite MMA’s success, boxing and kickboxing are still popular worldwide.  Why shouldn’t grappling also get that kind of recognition?