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Length: 233 mins
It was in the pages of Power Slam (or Superstars of Wrestling at the time- I forget) that this writer first came across the words “Ultimate Fighting Championship”. I vividly recall reading about the loosely familiar wrestling name Dan Severn, and how he would be competing in a No Holds Barred tournament against Boxers, Judokas and Karate practitioners. Intriguing, this surely was to a fourteen year old- grown weary of the cartoon-era WWF- who had recently discovered the jovial world of tape trading….
…. As an aside, these were much more ebullient times in the trading scene, bizarre as it may sound. The by-modern-standards deathly slow turnaround time in receiving footage from Japan and the Indies, built anticipation to the point where the arrival of a bubblewrapped VHS cassette on the doormat was a monumental occasion, and every minute of said opus was cherished viewing. Any time you weren’t scrunching your eyes to tell Misawa from Kawada, chances are you were gushing over the superior picture quality, all of which equated to a feeling of being part of something primo to the point of being fetish. Alas, the magic is dead: with crystal clear footage from Budokan free to stream within forty eight hours of any NOAH show, and an array of stuff at your instant beck & call, there’s precious little time to waste on the less-than-prime cuts, to the point where you’ll gleefully skip through an undercard to get to the good stuff. But I digress….
…. It was through the medium of a grainy compilation that I first got acquainted with UFC IV. As I casually kept abreast of this new concept, showcasing as it did an array of new names each time out, I’d often wonder why the numerous tournament winners and dominant fighters seldom met…. you could even say that I had the idea for the “Ultimate Ultimate” first (in all probability a stark untruth, but still…)!
Ultimate Ultimate 1995
- Dan Severn vs. Oleg Taktarov
- Oleg Taktarov vs. Marco Ruas
- Tank Abbott vs. Dan Severn
- Keith Hakney vs. Marco Ruas
- Oleg Taktarov vs. Dave Beneteau
- Paul Varelans vs. Dan Severn
- Tank Abbott vs. Steve Jennum
“Ultimate Ultimate??” A moniker clunky in the extreme. The eighth UFC event saw Octagon veterans converge en masse for the first time, to crown a Champion of Champions (of sorts). Conspicuous by his absence was the unquestionably dominant fighter of the initial bunch, Royce Gracie, whose family had essentially cut ties with the group after UFC V; while this would certainly be a blemish on the prestige of the concept, ’twas a case of needs must when the devil drives for SEG, and it was onwards and upwards without him…..
It is incredible how radically primitive this December 1995 footage appears in comparison to that from the current era. The setting- a building in Denver, Colorado- is one akin to a venue where’ll you’ll watch your local ‘rasslin promotion in at the end of the month. The fighters, for the most part, are startlingly one-dimensional…. clearly the whole multi-facetted, cross-discipline training brainstorm that would soon equate to necessity was still quite a way off.
For reasons indescribable, I find I quite the tickler that the evening’s three judges (who scribble the name of the winner on a card and hold it up, a la The Weakest Link, only in reverse) comprise the likes of the editor of “Inside Karate”.
Each of the quarter final match-ups was asymmetrical, for sure. Tank Abbott overwhelmed Steve Jennum- Most Unworthy UFC Champion In History (TM)- crushing him against the fence until he cut his losses and tapped. Dan Severn made a sub-two minute mockery of big Paul Varelans, by virtue of a choke he likely could’ve applied in his sleep, so hapless was the future ECW-alumni from the second the fight hit the canvass. Similarly, as soon as Oleg Taktarov manoeuvred Dave Beneteau to the ground, the Soviet picked out an academic and effortless ankle-lock to advance. Marco Ruas had to wait a minute or so for Keith Hackney to flail in his direction, clinically stepping in to take him down, unleash some quick strikes and sink in the fight-winning choke. I’ve seen Justin Eilers fights that went longer than these four fights combined.
The semis and final, by contrast, all went to the… erm… miniature whiteboards (in lieu of scorecards), yet in keeping with the like-natured theme of the quarters, they all clocked in at varying degrees of soporific…
“The Beast” shot to position Tank against the fence, gradually and less-than-gracefully forcing the brawler to the mat, but clearly didn’t possess the striking proficiency to finish across the subsequent fifteen-or-so minutes, intermittently scoring with elbows and knee-strikes, with an occasional round of open-handed strikes thrown in, the Greco Roman wrestler emphasising with the benefit of hindsight just how discipline-contained the combatants were at this stage. Abbott scrambled back to his feet with precious little time remaining, yet once Severn was able to re-apply a rear waistlock, only blatant clinging to the chicken-wire (again, perfectly legal at the time) stopped a further takedown. Naturally, the then-NWA champion advanced.
Defending tournament champion (I suppose) Ruas simply didn’t show up for the excruciating circle-fest of a second semi. You know, again with retrospect onside, I think the UFC was able to maintain a certain level of popularity through the early days through novelty value alone (“Hey! Real fighting!”). Taktarov was pretty busted and bruised by the time the clock gracefully ran down- from the few shots Ruas was able to pick off- but received the nod regardless, presumably by virtue of the fact that he did all the pushing of what little there was of a pace. Hey ho…..
…. and like that they wheeled Taktarov back out, practically right away, to go half an hour with Dan Severn. To the drained and pounded “Russian Bear’s” credit, go half an hour he did. For synopsis of this fight, see that of Severn vs Abbott, in that the wrestler spent the bulk duration smothering his foe from atop, scoring points via strikes while being nothing more than hopeful of utilising them to finish within the distance. Nonetheless, Severn was the clear dominant fighter and worthy victor. I hope I haven’t come across as too scathing here, as the age of the footage has to be considered a massive quality-determining factor.
Ultimate Ultimate 1996
- Tank Abbott vs. Don Frye
- Mark Hall vs. Don Frye
- Steve Nelmark vs. Tank Abbott
- Paul Varelans vs. Kimo
- Cal Worsham vs. Tank Abbott
- Gary Goodridge vs. Don Frye
- Ken Shamrock vs. Brian Johnston
The following annum’s identikit parade was held in much more salubrious surroundings, with an actual arena as backdrop. The 7 December 1996 “Ultimate Ultimate” had a general aura tilting towards that of the period of the “lost” UFC’s, as opposed to it’s NHB-tinged predecessor. The action on display lends additional credence in this respect: whilst still mid-evolution, the fighters in general are much more refined and all-round clued in on disc two….
Ken Shamrock mark one bid his name-making launchpad adieu in the opening quarter final, confounding the imposing Brian Johnston against the fence with a succession of punches, and ending affairs at the six minute mark with a basic forearm-across-the-larynx choke to draw the tapout. Ol’ Shammy was to pull out of the tournament running (and ne’er a Gracie to be found in the bracket- for shame!) after this bout, citing injury. It was hard to work out how that happened, as he pretty much thrashed Big Bri’ here.
The battle of Don Frye and Gary Goodridge is an intriguing one from a cardinal perspective. Jeff Blatnick is highly critical of “Big Daddy’s” decision to sport the Gi, and those words appeared most prophetic as Frye utilised the garment to get the better of a lengthy opening exchange in the clinch. Goodridge opportunistically took the fight to the mat, picking his moments to strike across a five minute spell, and constantly being made to work by the busy “Predator” to maintain the dominant position. This wound up being the decisive factor, as when the cerebral Frye was able to roll and come out atop the tussle, Goodridge immediately saw the writing on the wall and tapped. An interesting thought I’ve just had while writing this questions whether this actually amounted more to Goodridge giving his inevitable conqueror the grace to preserve energy (to take to a potential two further fights) than self-preservation…. a worthwhile nugget this, so watch and decide.
This tournament as a complete work could well constitute Tank Abbott’s MMA legacy. His quarter final victory over Cal Worsham is a purists incubus, but stick your Pro Wrestling head on and it’s a lot of fun. Abbott forced the ex-Marine into the mesh and hoisted him up for an early takedown, yet halfway up elected to have a proper go at actually slinging him over the fence…. to my own surprise, I found myself actually rooting for him to do it. Alas, it wasn’t to be: Tank took up position in guard, let off a few tentative shots before unleashing the big guns, with a faint and well-disguised tap prompting John McCarthy to step in, with Worsham immediately (and inexplicably at first) springing up, making a lunge for the Pitfighter, and generally kicking up something of a stink. A wedge of analysis and post-fight comment established the Tank threw one last right after Worsham had tapped: that he was probably still in the zone, so to speak, and that the tapout could have been misconstrued are enough (I think) for the man from Huntington Beach to get the benefit of the doubt.
The elusive and sporadic Kimo even managed to dust off the trunks and make it to one of these bad boys, giving a career-best individual turn in scoring a TKO over the gargantuan Paul Varelans. An ill-advised takedown attempt saw the dwarfed Hawaiian assume guard and fight to survive a prolonged clubbing to the point where Varelans gassed, fell vulnerable to the sweep, and ate a quick slew of punches for the stoppage. Kimo was visibly prostrated at the conclusion: this would be the end of his night, as well.
Find footage of Tank Abbott’s indescribable semi-final KO of alternate Steve Nelmark. Find it now. Macabre, for sure. Awesome to boot. Just to cap the festivities, previous Tank-vanquisher Scott Ferrozzo is interviewed afterwards- in a cheap beige suit and gaudy “eyewear”- giving it the glass ceiling routine. He actually reminded me a bit of Kenny Bolin here. This had to be a put on.
The second semi was equally as swift and only slightly less impactful. Mark Hall flew out of the blocks, Don Frye immediately took him down and slapped on a harsh heel hook for an instant tapout.
The tournament final was a ferocious affair. Short but impetuous, Tank strolled out and left-hooked Frye onto his rear right away. “The Predator” scurried to stand and looked to reply immediately: an early prototype of the legendary Frye-Takayama exchange began to develop, but was cut short as Tank began to feel the moment and simply unloaded with a succession of serious punches, but getting a touch overzealous in the process. Tank slipped to ground, with Frye having enough presence of mind to take his back and sink in a Rear Naked Choke to end the madness and take the accolades. This would prove Don Frye’s UFC swansong: with the original plan being that the “Ultimate Ultimate” winner would meet Superfight champ Dan Severn to crown the first UFC Heavyweight Champion, “The Predator” went south, and Severn went on to face Mark Coleman- who missed this tournament through injury- instead.
This set holds up better than it has any genuine right to: whilst the 1995 show is a bit of an aphrodisiac after the quarter finals, if nothing else it’ll serve as a handy point of reference, vis a vis the timeframe, in your collection. The 1996 tournament, likewise, is pretty far removed from being a rigid vocational gem of any description, but the contributions of Frye, Tank and Kimo make it a boisterous jaunt nonetheless.
Points: 6.5 / 10