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Length: 316 mins
“Bright light city gonna save my soul…..”
As a recent former member of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, and one third of Zuffa LLC, Lorenzo Fertitta had retained enough internal stroke to swing state sanctioning in Nevada for the UFC in 2001. With the group newly positioned in Vegas, the move was critical in their evolution into modern-day mastodon: a higher profile environment in a state where gambling is legal, Zuffa were able to negotiate the UFC’s return to the schedules of the major pay per view providers to coincide with their Sin City inauguration…
UFC 33 – Victory In Vegas
- Tito Ortiz vs. Vladimir Matyushenko
- Jens Pulver vs. Dennis Hallman
- Chuck Liddell vs. Murilo Bustamante
- Ricardo Almeida vs. Eugene Jackson
- Tony DeSouza vs. Jutaro Nakao
- Fabiano Iha vs. Din Thomas
- Matt Serra vs. Yves Edwards
- Gil Castillo vs. Dave Menne
28 September was the date on which the Octagon first touched down at the Mandalay Bay for “Victory In Vegas”, an event that would prove a minor catastrophe for it’s new owners. Firstly, Vitor Belfort dropped out of his scheduled 205lb title fight with Tito Ortiz at the 11th hour- that match-up would eventually come to pass at UFC 51 in 2005 (the first UFC to be broadcast on 24 hour delay by Bravo, fact fans!). Lessons were learnt from this night, as never again would three (count ’em) championship bouts be scheduled on the same card: all three went the five round distance (in addition to the other two fifteen minute affairs lacking a finish), which resulted in the live broadcast ending midway through Ortiz’s finale opposite Belfort sub Vladimir Matyushenko.
The acrimonious departure of Frank Shamrock resulted in Elvis Sinosic being drafted into the three-man broadcast team for this one, with Jeff Blatnick and his face-for-radio presumably being ousted Jim Ross-style for the larger audience, as the colourless Jeff Osbourne made up the trifecta with Mike Goldberg.
Dave Menne and Gil Castillo got affairs off to an encouraging start, waging highly emulous war over the inaugural 185lb gong. The first two rounds centred around a myriad of guillotine choke attempts from Menne, many of which doubled up as tools to avoid being taken to ground. Castillo finally scored with a takedown against the fence in the third period, but not before eating a succession of tasty shots from the clinch; working to pass, the Cesar Gracie man attained full mount with around a minute of the five remaining, only to be immediately and unceremoniously swept by the Minnesota native. Into championship territory, and Menne began tentatively with some testing leg-kicks, being prompted into upping the ante with some stiff knee shots in retaliation to being thrust into the mesh. Castillo was able to shake off a further guillotine attempt before the final stretch; the trailing BJJ aficionado went all out to take Menne to the mat, but was constantly frustrated until the closing seconds by an excellent sprawl. The takedown did finally come, but it was too little, too late: Menne took the unanimous decision, and with it the big gold belt. A cracking, criminally forgotten fight.
When put next to the well edited, fast paced up-to-date releases, the inclusion of the pre-fight bio packages make these releases drag quite a bit.
Matt Serra gained a measure of redemption for his debut defeat-snatched-from-the-jaws-of-victory against Shonie Carter, forcing a majority decision over another man who would go on to bigger things in Yves Edwards. The opening round was highlighted by some spectacular standing exchanges, the most noteworthy coming with Edwards capitalising on a missed roundhouse kick from “The Terror” with a crisp right uppercut, and later landing a barrage of knees from the clinch, prompting Serra to actively pull guard, ending a round he mainly dominated through a succession of submission attempts on the defensive. The middle five told a similar story in this respect, with the New Yorker taking the Texan down into half-guard, securing hooks and coming close to finishing with a Rear Naked Choke. The third round petered out by comparison, with Serra caught in Edwards’ guard, although a further choke attempt was likely decisive in swinging the verdict. Once again, lacking a finish, yet a thoroughly decorous contest nonetheless.
This September night in Nevada wasn’t to be one of the highlights of Chuck Liddell’s resume in entertainment value terms: “The Iceman” did emerge victorious over Murilo Bustamante- once again via the judges’ scorecards- by virtue of the fact that his famed takedown defence nullified the BTT paragon’s superior Jui Jitsu. The future poster boy racked up the points in between, dropping Busta with a straight right in the opener, and ending the second in the ascendancy in similar style. Average stuff from two fighters who routinely produce better.
Dennis Hallman has always bugged the hell out of me for some utterly intangible reason, and his horrific twenty five minutes with 155lb champ Jens Pulver here at least serves the purpose of lending rationale to this repulsion. I’d long been mainly indifferent to Pulver, until the last season of The Ultimate Fighter, where “Little Evil” was given grace to talk at length, and subsequently get my goat right up with his whole slack-jawed undercut-and-earring image evoking demeanour. As with the Miletich-Burnett atrocity at Ultimate Brazil , this reviewer reserves his right to forego the painstaking specifics, other than that after Hallman had repeatedly failed to take Pulver to ground, he appeared at a complete loss to formulate a plan B, hence continually reverted to guard, and inactivity. Employ skip function here, folks.
So, it was up to the new face of the UFC to save a show that had spiralled quickly downwards after Messrs Serra and Edwards had departed the facility: in an outing not dissimilar to his title-winning effort against Wanderlei Silva, Tito Ortiz was rarely threatened en route to a shutout decision over Vladimir Matyushenko, but seldom truly looked like finishing inside the distance either. A nifty exchange of reversals set pulses racing in the initial stages, with the Hispanic opening a gash on “The Janitor’s” forehead with repeated elbows after finally securing the prolonged position within the guard; this established the prevailing pattern for the remaining twenty minutes, as Ortiz employed his superior girth to effectively disannul the Soviet’s wrestling dexterity, and pick off forearm and elbow shots at will, inflicting overwhelming visual damage on Vladdy’s mug. A masterclass in control from the longtime Light Heavyweight ace, if not the most pulsating offering of his reign.
UFC 34 – High Voltage
- Matt Lindland vs. Phil Baroni
- Heavyweight Championship:
Randy Couture vs. Pedro Rizzo
- Ricco Rodriguez vs. Pete Williams
- Welterweight Championship:
Carlos Newton vs. Matt Hughes
- B J Penn vs. Caol Uno
- Josh Barnett vs. Bobby Hoffman
Another shot on the greatest three-mile stretch on the planet (trust me), and the UFC chose 2 November 2001 to debut at the plush MGM Grand Garden Arena. Any missteps taken at the group’s East Coast launch would be emphatically rectified on this particular evening…
Rising star Josh Barnett overwhelmed the prosaic looking Bobby Hoffman in a title-shot securing display, tying the Miletich man in knots on the canvas throughout the initial stretch, and letting the hands fly from the outset of the second, taking affairs downwards from against the fence, securing side control and continuing to flail away with elbows until Hoffman had nowhere to go- “The Babyfaced Assassin” at his most transcendent.
Speaking of which, the legend of BJ Penn, on the back of his blitzing of Din Thomas, received a rocket up the rear in the second fight of the night, courtesy of a brash, instant flying kick from Caol Uno, which the Hawaiian deftly sidestepped to capitalise on with a hypersonic strike combo and salvo of unanswered hammer fists to draw an eleven second stoppage. Awesome.
Put Carlos Newton and Matt Hughes in a ring or cage opposite practically anyone, and you’re almost guaranteed a salubrious scrap. Put them in together… a bona fide MMA classic is your reward. Reigning Welterweight champion Newton pulled guard immediately, before just as quickly sweeping into the mount position, from where Hughes scrambled upright and slammed Newton downwards to secure side control, to end as frantic an opening sequence as these eyes have hitherto seen. A further trademark Hughes slam kicked off the second at an identikit pace, with Newton swiftly manoeuvring his legs upwards, thus beginning probably the most unique finishing sequence in MMA history: with a triangle choke fully applied, Hughes inconceivably reverted to his feet, hoisting “The Ronin” above his head and against the fence, fading from consciousness the whole time. With the hold sunk in deeply, Hughes dropped to the mat, KO’ing Carlos powerbomb-stylee. The era of Hughes, most dominant 170lber in UFC history, began in astounding fashion. Newton lobbyists could conceivably argue that Matt didn’t really win this one, as he was pretty much unconscious when he unwittingly dropped Carlos on his head, and indeed, the stage was set from here for a rematch at our very own Albert Hall.
Big Ricco Rodriguez turned in a Barnett-esque display en route to claiming a notable scalp in Pete Williams, winning by stoppage with some second round ground and pound from half guard. One thing that did strike me was the Team Punishment fighter’s post match interview, during which he came across as humble and articulate; had Rodriguez been able to stay in shape, he could’ve been a fine ambassador for the group in their continuing period of growth.
The first meeting between Randy Couture and Pedro Rizzo was a real gnat’s-kneecap of a close affair, and a certified belter to boot, hence a rematch for the Heavyweight strap was academic. “The Natural” laid the ghosts of an uncertain split decision to rest on this occasion, busting the Brazilian open with shots from full and half guard, after a resounding pair of takedowns. Rizzo got in practically no offence in the opening ten minutes, and appeared gassed coming out for the third round. Couture answered a weak leg kick with a further trenchant takedown, unleashing persistent ground and pound until John McCarthy stepped between the fighters. While this fight pales in comparison to Newton-Hughes, and the finish was nowhere near as dynamic as the BJ Penn show earlier on, the main event of “High Voltage” can certainly be certified as Vintage Couture.
As these tagged-classics like releases are basically the live pay-per-view versions of the shows, the Matt Lindland-Phil Baroni prelim in tacked on to the end. A decent, closely contested encounter, the presence of such a name fight on the initial pre-game menu should speak volumes about the quality level of UFC 34.
Whilst UFC 33 is on-the-whole lacklustre, it does boast a thoroughly worthwhile twenty five minutes courtesy of Dave Menne and Gil Castillo. The remainder of said card drags the overall score down a notch- in particular, the outright abortion that is the Lightweight title fight- as UFC 34 is essential in almost every conceivable way.
Points: 8.5 / 10