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Length: 234 mins
To all things, however deficient, a beginning…. just when I thought I was out of the woods, Zuffa decide to unleash this duo of unnumbered events (not previously released, presumably because the dimwit element can handle ascending numbers but not chronological order, which might’ve knocked them out of synch to the degree that they stop handing over the moolah…. or something) for all we completists out here.
Anyone who’s been following my ongoing analysis of the UFC’s back catalogue should know enough by now to quake at the mere utterance of the words “Ultimate Japan”. I’ve always wondered what prompted SEG to make repeat trips over the Pacific, and at least in the first instance, this release goes some way to placating such a befuddlement: the first Ultimate Japan is far and away the pick of the bunch. Of course, such a compliment can be likened to labelling someone the best dressed man in a nudist colony, but lets stick with the upside here…
- Randy Couture vs. Maurice Smith
- Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Conan Silvera
- Vitor Belfort vs. Joe Charles
- Frank Shamrock vs. Kevin Jackson
- Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Conan Silvera
- Yoji Anjo vs. Tank Abbott
Four days before Christmas 1997, in the second city of Yokohama, the Octagon made it’s Far East debut. Something must’ve been rotten in Denmark with this deal, as the group filled a moderately sized arena on this trek- subsequent outings saw them crammed into Prefectural Gym-esque venues. It’s worth noting that the audio on this release is infuriating, the blame for which has to lie squarely at the feet of the production crew of the time: we get an early indication of what’s in store, as Mike Goldberg and Jeff Blatnick give what I assume by the empty arena behind them was a pre-taped intro… smack bang in the middle of a PA soundcheck. The balances throughout are all to cock, as Goldy and Blatnick’s ramblings throughout are often indecipherable, with the instructions from various cornermen being piped into the same feed at a similar volume. The cream on the sugar on the icing on the cake comes with the post main-event interviews, which see Blatnick wincing mid-Octagon, microphone in hand, while the strains of Machine Head blast over the PA…overall, a simple catastrophic mess.
The four man heavyweight tournament is somewhat notorious…UWFi standout Yoji Anjoh, with Nobuhiko Takada amongst his entourage, was able to do little but lay prostrate against the mesh for fifteen minutes, playing punching bag for Tank Abbott. Nothing noteworthy about this one, except a striking visual of Anjoh’s head making an enforced indent in the fence, and Tank breaking his hand somewhere amidst the frivolity, ruling him out of the tournament final…which leads me to another production bugbear: the Tra Telligman-Brad Kohler alternate fight is discussed in the build-up, included in the card rundown graphic, but otherwise completely forgotten about. Dang, that be shoddy editing, Jethro.
Speaking of production packages and the like, the pre-tournament hype piece made mention of only two men, in typical SEG fashion (see also, for example, “MILETICH DEFENDS!”). Clearly, they were banking on former Extreme Fighting kingpin Marcus “Conan” Silveira becoming a marquee heavyweight, which may look a touch insane with hindsight, as his semi final foe was none other than Kazushi Sakuraba. Always 20/20, you know. Initially, all probably appeared to be going swimmingly, as Silveira dominated the standing exchanges, and came close to finishing with a Kimura. The Carlson Gracie black belt unleashed a pair of hooks against the fence, and approximately two seconds later Sakuraba descended matwards; on first glance it could be fairly summarised that this was a delayed reaction to a hefty left, with John McCarthy stepping in accordingly. Upon the stoppage however, the future Gracie Hunter went completely ballistic, remonstrating with any and everyone in a fair radius, and attempting to seize the house mic from Bruce Buffer. The replays immediately prove that the native was, indeed, dropping to shoot for Silveira’s ankles, and a quick announcement set up an immediate rematch in lieu of a tournament final, given the injury Tank sustained. There have long since been rumours of “outside influences” prompting SEG to make this quick u-turn, although they are totally unsubstantiated. It must be pondered, however- in spite of the fact that Sakuraba clearly wasn’t knocked out- if such a remedy would ever be employed under different circumstances…. remember Larry Landless stepping between Phil Baroni and Evan Tanner?
One historical point of note came with the Middleweight Championship contest on this evening, which served as the birth of the strap taken by lineage up to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in the modern realm, and UFC debut of one of the men key to their evolution in Frank Shamrock. UFC 14 tournament champion Kevin Jackson completed the bracket, but he was little more than the support act here: despite taking the younger Shamrock down right away, he just as swiftly found Lion’s Den calves across his face, and his arm being fully extended leaving him nowhere to go but Tap-town. A stunning MMA-bow from Frank, and a focal point of the latter-early years as he left with a belt he’d never lose. As an aside, the all-over-the-shop audio made the sixty seconds post-fight totally unbearable, catching succinctly as it did some random woman bawling her lungs out.
The Superfight championship was amalgamated with the Heavyweight title at UFC 12, so why they continued to use the “Superfight” tag thereafter is a source of complete bemusement. Considering that SEG dusted the mothballs off UFC V loser Joe Charles in order to patch up some of the considerable and unforeseen damage Randy Couture inflicted on the growing Belfort-aura, why they even thought to utilise it in this instance is an even bigger mystery. This kinda reminds me of ROH’s earlier days, when something with no real raison d’etre would be listed as a “Special Challenge Match” or suchlike on their card listings. What, pray, makes a “Superfight?” “They’re Super, Thanks for asking….”
Vitor Belfort trounced Joe Charles. You didn’t need me to tell you that, though, did you? The sole point of interest came as “The Phenom” used this outing as a vehicle to showcase his Jui-Jitsu skills (utilising no strikes throughout, as Blatnick was quick to emphasise afterwards), transitioning into an armbar from mount to win by submission. A bit of research on this one actually clued me in (obviously, they didn’t mention it), that the absence of striking was pre-arranged beforehand. Make of that what you will. For Conan Silveira, the tournament “final” must be painful viewing. Handily on the ascendancy until John McCarthy’s blunder in the initial fight, he was armbarred and submitted by Kazushi Sakuraba in the quickly re-arranged return scrap. Presumably hopeful of erasing all memory of this minor fiasco, SEG would call on neither man’s services again. For shame, it is, as casting all the hullabaloo aside, this was quite the nifty four minutes of canvas-based action, and the hysterical post-match Japanese celebrations are, as they say, worth the price of admission alone.
Once more, to all things a beginning, but the grandiose in this case, as Randy Couture captured his first slither of UFC gold in the main event, wresting the Heavyweight strap from Maurice Smith. Grandoise, however, the fight was not. Pedestrian, perhaps. One daffy aspect saw “The Natural” go the distance in full length, plain black tights, which served to make his legs look radically disproportionate to his upper body. Couture secured an early slam into side-mount, calculatedly manipulating Big Mo’s ability to go anywhere for the duration of regulation time, throwing the odd armlock attempt and airy combo out there, but mainly keeping Smith working into guard. The two three-minute overtime periods panned out no differently, save for the future Hall of Famer exclaiming his superior blueprint with some knee strikes on the ground in the second. On a prevailing headscratcher of a night, Jeff Blatnick awaited the judge’s verdict proclaiming that it was “tough to separate them.” Indeed, one judge rendered a draw decision, with Couture taking the majority decision, and with it the championship. ‘Tis impossible to comprehend how Smith managed to convince anyone he was ever in this fight- must’ve been something in the water in Yokohama.
- Frank Shamrock vs. John Lober
- Wanderlei Silva vs. Vitor Belfort
- Tank Abbott vs. Pedro Rizzo
- Pat Miletich vs. Mikey Burnett
- Tsyoshi Kosaka vs. Pete Williams
- Jeremy Horn vs. Ebenezer Fontes Braga
Fast forward almost a year, to 16 October 1998, and the Octagon made it’s way to Sao Paulo- given how the UFC made it’s mark on the back of Gracie Brazilian Jui Jitsu, this was a prudent move. Coincidentally, given how these events have found their way onto a set, it was during this broadcast that SEG announced the departure of Randy Couture from the organisation, and the vacating of the Heavyweight title (sound familiar?). With that, they hyped the acquisition and impending debut of Bas Rutten as if t’were the second coming, although I’m sure half the folks watching at the time would’ve had no idea who he was. It’s certainly surreal hearing longtime PRIDE colour-man Rutten lending his commentary tones to a UFC pay per view. You’ll be glad to know that the audio mishaps here are far less frequent than on SEG’s prior foreign excursion, although Bruce Buffer would engage in quite the duel with some frustrating feedback throughout the evening. The name Ebenezer Fontes Braga had me delving into the memory bank, and for good reason: he met Masakatsu Funaki in Pancrase after this event, fell to Akira Shoji in the opening round of the 2000 PRIDE Grand Prix, and fought Gary Goodridge for Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye the following year, doing nothing of note in the major organisations across the rest of his career; so, he kinda popped up somewhere random as if to say “Remember me?” every now and again, before swanning off back to obscurity. What makes the fact that this night showcased his one and only UFC outing even stranger is that he accomplished the rare feat in this timeframe of making Jeremy Horn tap out. “Gumby” bossed what early stages there were, but left his head prone in shooting on the Gracie Barra man, getting caught in a guillotine, figuratively signing his own death warrant. A decurate opener- Ebenezer, we barely knew ye.
The second fight, pitting Pete Williams against Tsuyoshi Kosaka, is loosely billed as a Heavyweight Championship eliminator, yet there’d be a second later in the night, they’d already hinted that Bas Rutten would be involved somewhere, so….. how the hell does this work, exactly? SEG were completely and utterly lost once they weren’t able to simply bang out tournament after tournament any more: I had to delve into the resource bank to uncover that the winner of this fight, and Tank vs Pedro Rizzo later on, would join Rutten and Mark Coleman in the semis, as there was absolutely no clarification to be found here. Regardless, a technically proficient outing ensued, with Williams working a plethora of kick variations in the early going, finding limited success. Kosaka engaged clinch, wrestling Williams into half-guard and looking to exploit a prone arm, with the Lion’s Den man struggling into full guard, and eventually upright. The duo exchanged guard positions and early-aborted submission attempts right through the duration and three minute overtime period, with TK’s prime attempts to finish likely the major contributor to his unanimous decision victory. Proficient, if not pulsating.
I exercise my right to veto, vis a vis the insomnia prescription-remedy that was the first ever Lightweight (now Welterweight) championship fight, pitting Pat Miletich against Mikey Burnett. Engage chapter skip function here.
Gladly, it’s salubrious going from here on in, firstly by virtue of Pedro Rizzo’s most stately Octagon initiation opposite the recurring (so it seems, recently) Senor Abbott. As is customary, the pitfighter came out all guns blazing, unknowingly playing straight into Rizzo’s hands. The Brazilian worked his soon-to-become trademark left leg kicks as a supplement to a masterly exhibition in counterpunching, causing the ever onrushing veteran to quickly find himself sucking air. A salvo of punches put Tank on the mat, and the left leg-kick/right hook classic combo polished him off on the re-ascent. No wonder SEG were initially so high on Rizzo.
Whenever you hear an MMA commentator or historian lamenting the “old Vitor Belfort”, be in no doubt that “The Phenom’s” Ultimate Brazil mauling of Wanderlei Silva is foremost in their mind at that precise moment. Punches… wanton and indelible… Silva hits the canvas, 40-odd seconds- it’s simply breathtaking. I’m forever telling a bloke I work with how it’s criminal that Matt LeTissier never got 100 caps for England; similar mercurial talent, similar tale of woe.
John Lober, anyone? No, me neither, but as it turns out, the apparent no-name actually had his hand raised at the end of Frank Shamrock’s MMA debut, which is always a sure-fire promotional deal-clincher, amplified by the fact that UFC debutants receiving immediate title shots (and in many cases, disappearing soon thereafter) wasn’t uncommon in these times. Anyhow, the main event was vintage Frank all the way: Lober looked to push the pace straight away, having a strong takedown attempt kept at bay, and subsequently getting trapped in a persistent, draining guillotine, ultimately pulling free into Shamrock’s guard and quickly getting swept; as Frank instigated the fight returning upwards, Lober expended more critical energy in landing a takedown, with the same result ensuing. From here, Shamrock was in blatantly superior shape, weaving away from Lober’s sluggish offence and picking off shots at will, culminating with a pair of knee-strikes, and a collage of further shots on the mate, forcing Lober to wave the white flag. Clinical stuff, for sure.
Ultimate Japan is pretty meh, although for an event entitled such, that’s as close to a gold star as we’re ever going to get- it has more than it’s share of irksome instances, however. Ultimate Brazil is much more meritorious, boasting superlative individual performances from Rizzo, Belfort and Frank Shamrock- just steer well clear of the abhorrent Miletich-Burnett fight, and it’s all easy viewing, yet the presence of the first disc drags the overall score down a notch or two…
Points: 6 / 10