Length: 224 mins
One of the new regime's original intentions, it would appear, was to phase out the "numbering" of events, as throughout each of these two events, the card as an entity is referred to by subtitle only by Mike Goldberg et al. Didn't last long, did it? I wonder
why. The weight classifications and division names that we know today are applicable from this point onward.
UFC 31 - Locked & Loaded
- Randy Couture vs. Pedro Rizzo
- Pat Miletich vs. Carlos Newton
- Chuck Liddell vs. Kevin Randleman
- Shonie Carter vs. Matt Sera
- Pete Williams vs. Semmy Schilt
- Ricardo Almeida vs. Matt Lindland
Hooray for stock music! In amongst the fresh build-up ditties at "Locked And Loaded", emanating as it did from the Trump Taj Mahal on 04.05.2001, I counted both the Hardy Boyz and Bob Holly's "Attitude" era themes. One thing sadly lacking from these compilations- that picks up increasing relevance as we delve further into the higher numbers- is the lack of preliminary bouts that didn't make air in the first instance: this event, for example, played host to the UFC debut of one BJ Penn.
The most engrossing "boring" fighter ever to tape up gloves (that would be Matt Lindland, by the way) kicked off the peach that was UFC 31, constantly bustling to improve position atop first-timer Ricardo Almeida, across what very nearly panned out to three rounds. The Brazilian, drifting in other-organisation autopilot throughout, landed the first of a trio of kicks to the head of a downed Lindland in the final seconds of the opening round- a tactic that would ultimately earn him a rare disqualification with less than half of the final stretch remaining. Strangely enough, this doesn't feel like an anti-climax, as "The Law" was pretty much cruising to a decision victory anyway. This is a notable tussle, as the Team Quest man put on a veritable clinic in control on the ground, utilising his body weight to prevent Almeida catching him with anything from the bottom, all while scoring offensively with unique shoulder-striking.
I love the inclusion of what are clearly the prototypes for the modern day talk-up into videos on these two shows: Dutchman Semmy Schilt inspires tickling comparisons to compatriot darts-deity Roland Scholten, delivering his pre-match gambit in that unmistakable "Goldmember" slur through gritted teeth. The gargantuan striking specialist dwarfed Octagon-initiation opponent Pete Williams in equally galactic fashion, and logically played to his glaring strengths throughout this two-rounder, employing his reach advantage to keep the Lion's Den man at bay and picking off shots, whilst simply using superior girth to stop Williams from gaining a foothold on the sole occasion that business hit the mat. The second period sequence where Schilt secured the KO victory was delightfully slow-burning: firstly, he nails a huge kick to the midsection, but keeps the fight in his element by electing not to go to ground, instead electing to pummel a once more upright Williams with a disciplined punch-kick-punch combo to polish things off.
The first round of Matt Serra's UFC bow, opposite future TUF4 co-star Shonie Carter, is amongst the most pulsating you'll ever see. Opening in frenetic style, "The Terror" raced into a single leg takedown, passing guard but getting immediately and dramatically shoved off by "Mr International". The fighters revert to their feet, with Serra again diving in to pull guard and work for an oma plata. Shonie fought back to a vertical base, only to be caught with a mammoth kick to the head, with the action quickly heading back to the mat, and the New Yorker scrapping to fully apply a heel hook. With an Octagon career spanning four minutes, the current day Welterweight champ had audibly gotten himself well over, as the audience burst into a deafening round of "Serra! Serra!" The awesome burst ended as it had begun, with Carter wriggling free of a triangle attempt, picking off some punches and suddenly, inexplicably putting Serra on his arse with a spinning back-fist from nowhere, as the buzzer put an end to the joviality. Feel the love! I will watch this round a hundred more times before I die.
The second and third rounds couldn't quite match up to the sheer ferocity of the first, yet remained action-packed all the way, and boasted a phenomenally dramatic finish. With less than a minute remaining, Carter- most likely trailing on the scorecards- pulled one out of the fire: he took the fight downwards only to get figuratively warned-off by a further triangle choke effort, ergo backed away, and feinted a kick which left Serra open for a second spinning backfist, which put the BJJ-practitioner down and out. Wow..... I'm struggling to think of a better UFC fight up to this point.... all-time top-five stuff, for sure.
The revenue freight train for Dana, Lorenzo & Frank III that would be Chuck Liddell landed on this night, by way of a mammoth upset, rapid-fire knockout of Kevin Randleman. "The Monster", resplendent in a new, lighter division, pushed for a takedown right away, with Chuck demonstrating his trademark world class sprawl, before unleashing a swift left hook catching Randleman unawares, diving in to follow up and drawing the lightning quick stoppage. Randleman appeared outraged at the decision as Liddell, in surreal fashion, celebrated fervently with then-bosom buddy Tito Ortiz. One could earmark a myriad of turning points that would eventually lead Mixed Martial Arts to the level of popularity it currently enjoys: there's a strong argument to be had that this was the point where the gravy train left the station.
As one era began, albeit unbeknownst to everyone at the time, another was about to come to an end, as one time early days tournament runner-up Carlos Newton returned to the Octagon to become the man who would finally relieve Pat Miletich of the 170lb strap. "The Ronin" looked like a man on a mission in the first, continually coming forward, yet kept at bay by astute counterpunches from the champion, only managing to close in sufficiently to score a takedown as time fizzled out. Roles reversed as the second period began, with Newton cutting old Pat off at the pass with a resourceful overhead reverse takedown. Of sorts. The changing of the guard came in the third, as Newton ate one of Miletich's increasingly frequent punch-combos in order to put the Iowan in guard and against the fence. The titleholder struggled free, but in a moment of lapse allowed Newton to take up his back and transition to a side neck-crank. Newton's astounding muscle-definition is amplified as he sinks the hold in, emphasising that Miletich had nowhere to go but the land of tap (post-fight, and the MFS-founder is clearly irate with himself over the mistake). A cracking tactical battle, with Newton making the most of his chances, haven thrown caution to the wind and allowed Miletich to pick him apart with shots as he pressed for the opportunity that eventually did present itself... scintillating stuff.
The main event will long be a talking point; one of those fights you'll watch over and over... a pair of viewings for me, and I'm still unsure whether I personally score it for Randy Couture or Pedro Rizzo. One of those "under the circumstances" victories that emphatically trump his win-loss record in the foundation of his second-to-none legacy, "The Natural" was unfortunate not to put the matter beyond debate in the opening round, employing trademark ground and pound within the guard to bust "The Rock" open, wilfully unloading until the clock cut him off.
The second period belonged to Rizzo, who utilised a kick to the torso to stop Randy in mid-takedown, and continued to pick-off combos as Couture tried to close distance, finishing the round in repeal with a close distance right-hand, unable to beat the clock as he followed up to finish. The last round prior to Championship-territory is tentative by comparison, with each man seeking to re-fortify, whilst keeping the other at bay. Couture took the advantage in the fourth, by way of a string of uppercuts from the clinch, a la his first fight with Liddell, and ending the period in guard by way of a takedown into side control. By contrast, the Brazilian took the fight to the scorecards, ensuring an epic crescendo by bagging the fifth in it's closing moments, countering a shoot by Couture with a stiff kick, and a barrage on the mat, finishing the duration as he had the second round.
With the first and fourth clearly going to the champion, and the second and fifth the other way, all came down to how the judges saw the third round. Couture got the nod, to mildly perplexed looks all round. Regardless, this is one of the most invigorating, and contestable, tussles for the heavyweight strap to date, hence it constitutes necessary viewing.
UFC 32 - Showdown In The Meadowlands
- Tito Otrtiz vs. Elvis Sinosic
- Din Thomas vs. BJ Penn
- Semmy Schilt vs. Josh Barnett
- Pat Miletich vs. Shonie Carter
- Caol Uno vs. Fabiano Iha
- Vladimir Matyushenko vs. Yuki Kondo
"Showdown In The Meadowlands", the 29.6.01 offering, appears to be the genesis of Zuffa's Rock 'n Wrestling era inspired insistence on emphasising celebrity UFC-fandom, as the event played host to Dennis Rodman and Fred Durst frolicking at ringside, in addition to Dana White wheeling out Carmen Electra as the organisations new "official spokesperson". Serious sporting credibility ahoy! Own up, whoever thought that would be a good idea. Newer UFC converts should be glad they never had to endure the celebrity pre-main event bit, now that it's been mercifully dropped. Nothing against the likes of Jason Statham and Chuck Zito (no, me neither), but I really couldn't care less who you're "pulling for tonight..."
The opening three-rounder saw Vladimir Matyushenko triumphant in his Octagon debut, taking a tidy decision over the bantam-by-contrast Yuki Kondo, dictating affairs on the mat from the top throughout, via the advantage of superior girth.
The first stoppage of the night was an impactful one, coming as it did in the Lightweight bout between Caol Uno and Fabiano Iha. A point of genuine interest, this one, as Uno let fly from inside the guard to climax affairs- something you certainly don't see very often.
Until this point, this set has been firing on all cylinders, aside from mere highlights of the preliminary fights being shown; as with the debut of a certain "Prodigy" at UFC 31, would it have been too much to ask for a significant-in-retrospect outing like Ricco Rodriguez vs Andrei Arlovski to be tagged on as an extra or something?
I always thought, for years on end, that Pat Miletich bowed out of the UFC after dropping the Welterweight strap to Carlos Newton.... really oughta research these things, as the gaffer at MFS made one last sojourn on this night in New Jersey, to contest a sluggish first round with the ascending Shonie Carter. Gears were thankfully cranked up after the rest period, and both fighters came out looking to press: a sweet exchange in the clinch highlighted the second round, before Miletich feinted left, and unleashed a gargantuan roundhouse kick for the highlight-reel KO. The final two minutes saved an otherwise humdrum encounter.
An encouraging debut for Semmy Schilt at the previous show would prove a false dawn for the traditionally (until recently) shallow heavyweight division, as the Dutch anomaly was thoroughly schooled on this evening by Josh Barnett. The American took the exchanges downwards almost immediately, working into full mount, landing a slew of shots but taking a few in receipt, resulting in each man bleeding somewhat onerously. Schilt swept from the bottom, but Barnett used his deceptive flexibility to get his hips around the shoulder-joint, clinging on until momentum took Schilt over and he was able to fully extend an armbar for the tapout.
In the swing fight, a fast emerging BJ Penn made swift work of Din Thomas with a cumbrous knee to the jaw and flurry of unanswered punches on the mat. To think that this year, we'll finally get to see BJ wearing the 155lb belt! Aaaaaahh...
It'd be easy for an MMA newcomer to see, from events around this era, just why Tito Ortiz had the name value that he manages to retain: coming off the back of his decimation of Evan Tanner, the "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" further cemented himself as Zuffa's early franchise player with a similar brutal abolition of affable Elvis Sinosic to drop the curtain on the Meadowlands showcase. The Aussie gave back a little of what he got in the standing exchanges, yet once Ortiz was able to secure hooks and take Sinosic down, 'twas one way traffic. Working towards and ultimately against the fence, in trademark fashion, the champion reigned down with a veritable bag of punches and elbows, giving his opponent absolutely nowhere to go, and making the stoppage an academic one. The post-fight formalities are surreal with hindsight, as amongst Ortiz's celebrating entourage was one Charles Liddell, Esquire.
Between a dose of epic Couture, Liddell's breakthrough performance, and the utter exhilaration of Carter-Serra, "Locked And Loaded" can make a strong case for being the best UFC ever. Boasting a foursome of top-drawer finishes, "Showdown In The Meadowlands" serves as a none-too-shabby companion piece. Absolutely no need for the fast-forward function across these two discs, the White/Fertita governorship truly got off to the dreamiest of dream starts. Of course, a major pothole in the road was dead ahead, but for the time being...
Points: 9.5 / 10