Length: 270 mins
There was a time when the Senators & “Barbaric!”-crying nay-sayers were winning the war against the beast that evolved from NHB (No Holds Barred) into the minor 21st century cultural phenomenon known as MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), forcing the Semaphore Entertainment Group-owned Ultimate Fighting Championship into what constituted near-underground status, in contrast to the high profile their early-year offerings enjoyed.
The run of events from around UFC 9/10 to the time when the league was taken over by the Fertita brothers & Dana White (Zuffa Ltd.) has been christened in certain circles at the “lost UFC's”. Thanks to the new owners, UFC's 21 & 22 (and, indeed, their twenty predecessors) have recently shed this tag by way of official DVD release: these events can now be purchased at www.fightdvd.co.uk. Join me if you will, friends, curious parties & Zuffa-era converts, as we journey through a land of venues more Cox Pavillion than MGM Grand, horrific synthesised entrance themes & logos that I'm sure weren't intended to look like Bas Rutten...
UFC 21: Return Of The Champions
UFC 21: Return Of The Champions emanated from the Five Seasons Events Centre in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on 16.07.1999. A fresh-faced Mike Goldberg was already on board by this point, joined on commentary in these prevenient times by the awkward, wooden Jeff Blatnick. In light of the surroundings, Goldy scores early ProWres brownie points by name-dropping Dan Gable. Mr Kurt Angle will, of course, tell you WHO IS DAN GABLE!! Whether Maurice Smith intended to make Marco Ruas humble during the course of the mainevent wasn't made entirely clear.
Throughout the comparatively dark days, SEG would seemingly load their cards with more home-state heroes than would make Fritz Von Erich blush: the first Iowan to hit theOctagon was Royce Alger, whose nickname, “The Farmer”, was particularly apt, given his sporting of the t-shirt tan & side-parting combo. Any slim notion of Alger ever being confused with Phil Baroni was dispelled following his truly painful pre-fight interview promo. The crowd favourite controlled the first round against debutant Eugene Jackson after escaping an early standing-guillotine, displaying respectable striking ability to push Jackson onto the back foot & utilising his Greco Roman Wrestling background to score a big takedown into side control. From there, Royce easily transitioned into full mount, ending the round by laying down punches, without much resistance from his opponent. As would become something of a prevailing theme throughout the event, cardio played a telling factor in the finish, as when the fighters came out for round two, Alger was visibly knackered from his prior attempts to finish, giving EJ plenty scope to stand off & pick his moment, which subsequently arrived at 1:19 of the round, as the first timer scored the knockout with a left hand punch. The close-up replays showed Alger's stand-up guard to be very lethargic, with his hands level with his chest when the killer blow arrived. The action-packed opening round coupled with a hot crowd made for zestful opener overall.
Recent retiree Tsuyoshi “TK” Kosaka tangled with Jackson's training buddy Tim Lajcik in the lead-off heavyweight tussle: to envisage the latter's fighting style, simply picture a heavyweight Josh Koscheck with a more contemporary haircut. With the exception of a pair of heel-hook attempts from TK, and a beautiful escape from the bottom by him late in the first, the opening round was almost exclusively a Lajcik lay 'n pray fest, which continued into it's successor, with Kosaka intermittently trying to get a decent grasp of the arm in order to attempt a submission, to no avail. Suddenly, with a minute until the break, TK swept to unleash a flurry from top, as the fight burst into life: this clearly had the desired effect, as Lajcik grabbed the fence to stay standing during the rest period, prompting his corner to throw in the towel. Not an especially enterprising contest, but given Lajcik's early prominence, a vying one regardless.
The natives quickly regained control of the broadcast, as Iowa PE teacher Paul Jones shook off an initial scare, being knocked down inside ten seconds of his fight with the frighteningly skinny-calved Flavio Luiz Moura, to completely dominate the jejune Brazilian in an ungraceful 4:21, landing a multitude of unanswered shots from the guard, passing into side control and landing knee to head, causing Moura to give up his back, making him easy prey for a Rear Naked Choke & the tapout...quick, decisive & scrappy.
A notable feature of these times in comparison to the modern day, highlighted by the pre-match “Tale Of The Tape” graphics, was the often considerable weight difference between fighters in the same weight class: Jeremy Horn brandished a 29lb advantage on his overmatched opponent Daiju Takase, owner of seriously stumpy, Sean Sherk-esque arms. Horn was coming off his recently infamous win over Chuck Liddell here, and after taking affairs to the mat following three tentative minutes of crisp inside-leg kicks & knees from the clinch, Horn worked into full mount across the next minute, before opening a cut on Takase's forehead to force the stoppage at 4:41. “Gumby” bears a scary resemblance to Future Championship Wrestling MC Kris Godsize. This was a pure massacre.
MFS head-honcho Pat Miletich was the UFC Lightweight Champion once upon a time- the present day parlance of which being Welterweight Champ, an accolade sported by Milletich student Matt Hughes. Challenger Andre Pederneiras (believe me, I'm not typing that twice), boasted an MMA record of 1-0 going into his title shot, which would indicate that either the divisions had literally no depth at this stage, or that SEG top brass wanted to feed one of their marquee players what they felt was a can for his big homecoming. A solely stand-up episode ensued, with the utterly nondescript first round starting & finishing with a clinch against the fence, as the drab scuffle made it's way to the centre of the Octagon in between. The “Croatian Sensation” (“Oh, Mis-ter Fil-opo-viiiic.....”) countered a right leg kick with an overhand right to draw a stream of blood from Andre's brow, and the moment the fight hit the ground, the stoppage was called- Milletich retained at 2:20 of Round Two. It's good to see that some things never change, as Pat's post-fight ramblings just had to include the cliche retort to the 'what next' question....“I'll fight whoever the UFC tell me to”. Lion's Den boy Mikey Burnett consequently showed Mr Milletich how it's done, calling him out by virtue of a classic Pro Wrestling HEEL promo.
Prepare to disregard every other notion herewithin: this double-disc set is worthy of your legal tender on the strength of the Smith-Ruas video package alone, and the visual of Randy Couture, mid octagon, comically sporting generic black ankle length tights!! The main event served as inspiration for the sub-title of the card, as Maurice Smith was making his first Octagon foray since dropping the Heavyweight strap to “The Natural”, whilst Marco Ruas was appearing for the first time since his “Ultimate Ultimate” semi final exit at the hands of Oleg Taktarov. In truth, the feature attraction was a total non-event: proceedings hit the ground quickly, with Smith utilising a front facelock & “The King Of The Streets” attempting to counter by keeping hold of MS's right leg, with each endeavour ultimately leading to nothing. The two shuffled away from the fence, where Ruas managed to improve his position to partial mount, but never looked like mounting any serious offence from half guard as the round whimpered out, and Ruas called it a day, citing a knee injury he was carrying coming in, before both expressed their desire to tangle again once he regained full fitness.
With PPV minutes to spare, there's a prelim tacked onto the end: later OVW perfomer Ron Waterman suffered a first round KO at the hands of 300+lber Andre Roberts in a stand-up slugfest.
UFC 22: Only One Can Be The Champion
UFC 22, from the Civic Centre in Lake Charles, Louisiana on 24.9.99, was clumsily sub-monikered “There Can Only Be One Champion”. Less than thirty events in, and that was the best they could come up with? That rubber stamps it, then- the Zuffa takeover was definitely best for all concerned.
Bruce Buffer announced Ron Waterman's record as 5-0 prior to H20's heavyweight clash with Tim Lajcik, despite footage of his UFC 21 defeat by Andre Roberts airing in the pre-fight montage. Um... okay. What could likely be described as an unofficial “Loser Leaves Town” match (given that both were coming off losses) was a very deliberately paced offering for the first two rounds, which were top-heavy with amateur wrestling, the forte of both. Waterman scored an untidy takedown, which gave him the edge in the first- one which he subsequently lost on the scorecards due to an inadvertent low blow at the five minute mark. The second period saw lots of stalling in the stand-up exchanges, with Lajcik picking off punches more effectively than his foe, and showing good sprawling skills to avoid a double-leg takedown. After ten stagnant minutes, the last round finally dished up a little excitement, as from another unkempt takedown, Waterman lay in Lajcik's high guard, having a stab at forcing a submission via neckcrank, from where the bout reverted to type. Had contemporary rules applied, John McCarthy would've stood the fight up on several occasions. With Lajcik's second round superiority, and Waterman shading the third, the latter's earlier indiscretion returned to haunt him as the scorecards adjudged a draw.
The gangly, well-toned John Lewis toppled fellow Jui-Jitsu practitioner Lowell Anderson in the second fight, with the former's height & reach advantage a definitive factor, as he proved an infinitely more aggressive striker throughout the first two rounds which, ironically for two BJJ men, were predominantly contested upright. With Lewis parading lightning-fast hands, Anderson was forced to wait a good eight minutes for the opportunity to go to ground & work from the bottom. LA shot out of the blocks, swinging for the fences at the onset of the final round, a fool's errand indeed, as Lewis closed the distance & nailed a series of harsh knees from the Thai Clinch, following up with a high kick, which was enough to convince Anderson's corner to chuck the towel in. The main body of the fight saw much movement & industry, with little damage inflicted; the finish was explosive.
Jeremy Horn's heavyweight bow opposite a previous conqueror of his, Jason Godsey, was a tidy technical exhibition while it lasted: Horn swiftly transitioned from the guard into an armbar for an instant tapout, in the first of three consecutive quickfire fights.
Chuck Liddell's two minute cut-stoppage enabled victory over Paul Jones was a dishevelled spectacle, if one that gave “The Iceman” the chance to break out an early prototype of his now-trademark victory celebration.... safe to say, it was a work in progress in 1999.
The pre-main event preliminary interlude featured the almost-square Brad Kohler knock out Steve Judson in rapid order, which succeeded a truly priceless moment: Ultimate Japan II was officially announced mid-ring, as the Louisiana patrons viciously booed the President of UFC-Japan out of the building!
The Middleweight (now Lightheavyweight) Championship scrap was Shamrock vs Ortiz with one significant difference- it wasn't a one-sided decimation. If you thought that the contradistinct factor was that this fight starred Frank Shamrock, not Ken... well, that's true, too. The main event of UFC 22 was an epic encounter & true example of a tactical masterclass. Ortiz had his way in the first instance- Frank was constantly active in trying to impove his position within guard, yet Ortiz remained persistent with the ground & pound, and was resultantly able to get off a few tasty shots in the closing seconds of the round. Round Two followed a similar pattern, with Ortiz utilising his superior wrestling to go to ground, where he was fast to impose his will from the top, with the competitive touch-paper being lit in the final moments as Shamrock battled back to a vertical base. Again, the Lion's Den man spent a sizeable proportion of the third on his back, giving it up at one point, but quickly rolling back into guard to avoid any potential submission attempt, yet as would become quickly apparent, “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” was playing straight into Shammy's hands. By mid-Round Four, Tito was noticeably sucking air, standing off from any striking exchanges & looking for an opportunity to go back to the mat, much to the chagrin of the assembled throng. When business went downwards for the final time, Kenny's little bro reversed a clinch, got back to an upright position, let rip with a rapid burst of strikes, forced Ortiz to the mat with a front guillotine & unleashed an array of hammerfist blows, to which the exhausted challenger had no answer except to tap. For those recently exposed to the world of Mixed Martial Arts, this fight is essential viewing.
Whilst the undercards of both events are crammed with offerings that haven't aged well given the radical evolution of the fledgling sport, and the main event of UFC 21 is especially underwhelming considering the names involved, there is the odd golden nugget (the spectacular finish to Lewis-Anderson) to be found here, along with the odd point of interest from another perspective (an early Chuck Liddell appearance). What with the presence of a genuine classic & historically important match as Frank Shamrock vs Tito Ortiz, there was never any danger of this set not getting some form of recommendation.
Points: 7 / 10
$14.99 (VHS - Ultimate Fighting Championship XXI: Return of the Champions)
$14.99 (VHS - Ultimate Fighting Championship XXII: Only One Can Be Champion)