The HIstory of the UFC: UFC X - The Tournament
Posted by Matt McEwen on 06.18.2007
UFC IX was a dismal artistic failure, John McCain and local governments were doing ther best to shut the whole thing down and their audience was getting tired of boring fights. In the face of all this, what could the UFC do to regain momentum? How about return to the tournament format, debut a future MMA legend and put on the best show yet.......
Two months after the debacle that UFC IX turned out to be, the UFC was back in action on July 12th, 1996. After their brief flirtation with holding a straight ahead card of all predetermined match ups, they returned to the traditional tournament structure. I do not know if leaving the tournament style event was another side effect of all the problems they had in the Michigan courts, but at the time the fan base were mostly adherents to the tournament style, as it was felt it added an endurance element to the event. Of course, looking back now you can see that it also often added a "really bad fight" element as well, but hindsight is 20/20.
The return to the tournament - as well as allowing punching to the face - did not mean that the UFC had gotten out of the political hot water they had been boiling in all year. John McCain may have failed getting UFC IX called off in Michigan, but he learned from that loss and was taking a different tactic now. Using his political connections he was pressuring the PPV providers to dump the event, and with buy rates and revenues dropping a bit, they were more willing to listen than they may have been previously. Of course, there was a lot of negative p.r. about the UFC at the time as well, which in this case forced the event to be moved from its previously announced Rhode Island location to what would become the home to the UFC for the next few years - the deep south. In this case, Birmingham, Alabama played host.
And what would they be playing host to? A straight up tournament card with no SuperFight, featuring defending champion Don Frye, former runner up Gary Goodridge, crowd favorite Mark Hall, and five UFC newcomers which including a former Israeli karate champion and a former NCAA national wrestling champion.
As usual, Bruce Beck does the initial hype for the night, this time concentrating on newcomers Mark Coleman and Moti Horenstein as possible threats to the veterans in the tournament. Jeff Blatnick is on hand of course, and he interviews Don Frye about returning to the tournament structure. In a funny moment, he asks which style of event Frye prefers or finds easier - the tournament or just having one match. When Frye answers that just having to prepare for one opponent and knowing that you would not be going longer than 15 minutes was easier by far, Blatnick looks at him and says, "Oh, well you had previously told me you prefer tournaments due to your conditioning." Rule #1 of interviewing - do not tell your interview subject what they should have answered on live TV. No Don Wilson tonight, and no mention of him either. Could he be gone?
Prior to the PPV, there were two prelim fights, but I can tell you there are no injuries in the main draw, so you need not worry about them. If you are anal about this stuff though, Sam Adkins (1-1) defeated Felix Lee Mitchell (0-1) by unanimous decision, while Geza Kalman (0-0) won by ref stoppage over Deiusel Berto (0-0). On to the main fights....
Mark Hall (3-1) vs Don Frye (4-0)
This should be an interesting fight between two of the smaller UFC competitors, though Frye has put a few pounds on and is weighing 214lbs now, giving him 25 on Hall.
As Hall makes his way out, Blatnick says that he has good ground skills that we have not seen displayed yet, and is absolutely fearless. He will probably get a chance to prove both of those comments taking on Frye, who at this point is the best fighter in the UFC due to his combination of good wrestling and stand up skills.
Bruce Buffer makes his debut as the voice of the Octagon. FINALLY. I was getting really sick of the "G-Man" for more reasons than his awful nickname. Buffer really does a good job of giving every fight that Big Fight feel.
As the fight starts, Hall lands a pretty nice spinning back kick to Frye's ribs, but gets immediately taken to the mat. I guess we will get to find out about those ground skills that Blatnick was talking up. As soon as they are on the ground, Frye starts with body shots to the ribs. Blatnick comments that those will not hurt Hall that bad, but about a minute in you can see the bruising and welting begin on his rib cage. The entire fight is spent in this position, with Hall occasionally trying to strike from the bottom and Frye concentrating his attack on both sides of Hall's ribs. And they are big rib shots. You can hear the nasty, meaty thud every time one lands. At about the eight minute mark, Frye postures up and lands a few shots to Hall's face. You can hear Frye tell him, "You need to quit." Hall responds, "I can't." Frye's response? "You can," followed up by another shot to the ribs. This is an absolutely classic moment that shows a lot about both fighters.
The fight continues for a few moments longer, with Frye telling McCarthy that he needs to stop the fight, which he does after a few more punches land.
Great display of sportsmanship by Frye, and toughness by Hall. I guess he proved Blatnick half right.
Scott Fiedler (0-0) vs Brian Johnston (0-0)
Two newcomers in this fight, and both guys are listed as kickboxers with some wrestling skill. They are both pretty big, with both being 6'4 and Fieldler weighing 235lbs, 13 more than Johnston. Not 13lbs of muscle though, as Fiedler is flabby while Johnston is ripped. Fiedler also has the worst haircut I think I have ever seen - the front and sides of his head is shaved while the back is braided together. I would take Flock of Seagulls hair over that mess.
As for the fight itself, it quickly and surprisingly becomes a wrestling match which Fiedler gets the best of. Johnston gets the initial takedown, but Fiedler quickly takes his back with both hooks in. He can not finish the choke though and Johnston eventually shrugs him off and ends up in the mount. Fiedler rolls to his back after a few punches and McCarthy stops it. Fielder is upset about it, but it is a good stoppage.
Mark Coleman (0-0) vs Moti Horenstein (0-0)
They hype up both of these guys as big time newcomers, but Coleman is an elite world class wrestler so I will give him an edge. Other than Mark Schultz at the previous event, Coleman is the most decorated wrestler to compete yet in the UFC, being a former NCAA national champion and a seventh place finisher at the 1992 Olympics. For his part, Horenstein looks like a tougher Jean Claude Van Damme, a comparison that Beck makes about two seconds after I wrote that.
Horenstein rushes at Coleman to start the fight, and gets taken down and mounted for his troubles. Coleman starts hammering away, pardon the pun. Coleman rides his opponent for a while, always looking to land the big shot. He eventually lands a couple and Horensteins only defense is to put his hands over his face. McCarthy stops it and Coleman has an impressive win in his debut.
Gary Goodridge (2-2) vs John Campetella (0-0)
Lots of muscles in this one as Goodridge is as big as ever, while Campetella has 235lbs of muscle stuck to his 5'9 frame. He could be a good fighter as well, as they say he has good wrestling and striking skills.
They come straight out and start swinging. They roll to the ground but both get up quickly with Campetella landing a big shot to the back of Goodridge's head.
Goodridge surprisingly pulls guard, but manages to roll and mount Campetella. Four huge left hands later and Goodridge is moving on as McCarthy stops the fight. Quick but good stoppage here, which seems to be a theme. I would imagine McCarthy was instructed to stop the fights as quickly as possible to avoid the anti-UFC contingent getting any more ammunition than they already had.
Tank Abbot is in the booth and discusses the problems he had in Puerto Rico which led to him being suspended for a few months. He says he will be back in September at the next event. The make mention of Don Wilson, who Tank calls "Dragonfly", and say that he is off making a movie right now and will be back in the booth next time. Oh well.....
Brian Johnston (1-0) vs Don Frye (5-0)
Frye's right eye is a bit swollen as he comes out, so Hall must have landed something decent in the previous fight. Tank picks Frye to win, which seems to a consensus I could agree with.
Frye clinches to start and pushes Johnston against the fence. Lots of punches by both guys, as Johnston exhibits some good dirty boxing skills.
Frye's stamina is called into question after all the punches he threw in the last fight, and he does look a bit tired as Johnston lands some nice punches. Frye manages to take his back on a takedown though he does seem to be bleeding now. Lots of rib shots by Frye. Johnston is able to get his feet, but Frye takes him down again and ends up in side control. He lands one elbow and Johnston taps out. That was surprising as Johnston made no attempt to get out of the position before tapping.
Frye looks absolutely exhausted after the fight, and Tank says he just had his first real fight in the UFC.
In a comment that would get him sued if he said it nowadays, Tank sees Dan Severn in Frye's corner and says, "I had a nightmare that I thought I was being raped by Freddie Mercury at the Ultimate Ultimate." Classy guy, that Tank.
Gary Goodridge (3-2) vs Mark Coleman (1-0)
Goodridge got manhandled by a 200lbs wrestler last time out, so what does he have for a 240lbs wrestler?
Blatnick picks Coleman, but says it is close since he does not know what kind of punch Coleman can take. Coleman takes Goodridge down pretty quickly to start the fight, and starts pounding on him with punches and a few big headbutts. Goodridge rolls after eating a couple of punches and stands up against the fence with Coleman latched around his waist, throwing uppercuts to "Big Daddy's" face. Goodridge actually scales along the cage to get to his corner, but keeps eating big shots once he is there. They eventually get of the cage and Goodridge starts stalking Coleman, only to miss a big punch and get taken back down. A flurry of punches makes Goodridge rolls again and tap before he can take any more damage. Two fights, two impressive wins by Coleman.
Dan Severn jumps into the broadcast booth for a bit of a chat. They talk about the SuperFight against Shamrock, and Severn claims the fight was very strategic mental warfare. I wonder if he means on everyone who had to watch the fight? He does at least admit that he was not pleased by his performance.
He takes some questions from on line fans, with the only interesting comment being that he has no plans to fight Don Frye.
Before the finals, Beck lets us know that McCarthy said that Campetella tapped in the first round fight against Goodridge.
Don Frye (6-0) vs Mark Coleman (2-0)
This is an interesting match up. Both guys are good wrestlers, but Coleman is and elite wrestler with 25lbs on the smaller Frye. The smaller man probably has the better stand up game though.
Coleman shoots right off the bat and Frye sprawls only to have Coleman squirt out the side and take his back. Frye manages to gain guard, but eats a bunch of shots. There looks to be a lot of submission openings, but Frye's one weakness is not seeing or capitalizing on them. To my untrained eyes, there looks to be good shots at armbars and chokes left open by Coleman's attack. Instead, we get Coleman raining down big blows.
Frye eventually gets to feet courtesy a sloppy head crank by Coleman. Both guys look exhausted though as they start throwing on their feet. Coleman eats a punch but is able to take Frye down again. He lands more punches and opens Frye up enough that McCarthy stops to the fight to take a look at it. Big John takes the time to tell Frye to do something. Meanwhile, Coleman is exhausted, leaning over with hands on his knees and his head against the fence.
On the restart, Coleman can not even keep hi hands up. Frye shoots this time but can not finish the takedown, as Coleman reverses it and ends up on Frye's back again. Elbows to the base of the neck set up a choke attempt, but Frye manages to roll into the top position. Coleman, while exhausted, is so strong he is able to simply stand up and lift Frye over his shoulder. Frye manages to hold the cage, otherwise he would have been brutally slammed here. Instead, Coleman ends up on top and lands a few more punches on the ground and is able to clear guard into side control. McCarthy pulls Coleman off after a couple of headbutts and the fight is over. Coleman finishes off his impressive debut by handing Frye his first loss and becoming the UFC X tournament champion.
Post fight, Coleman says how surprised he was by how many punches his opponents were able to take. He also thinks he can get better. That could spell problems for the rest of the competitors.
The 411: Coming on the heels of UFC IX which had no really good fights and really dragged due to a couple of bad ones, this card was a breath of fresh air. Pretty much every fight had plenty of action. Overall, this was probably the best tournament yet as no alternates had to be called in and there were no bad fights at all.
Historically, you get to witness the birth of the "Ground and Pound" style. Coleman was like a bull in a china shop as he took down whoever was in front of him and proceeded to pound them into submission. His is the most impressive debut in the UFC up to this point, including Don Frye's at UFC VIII. The wrestlers had been on the verge of dominance for several events, but Coleman showed what a truly aggressive wrestler could do.
So, no bad fights, a couple of good ones and a historically significant debut. Not bad for one night if you ask me. Now, in the continued face of political pressure, what would the UFC pull off next? It would be UFC XI: The Proving Ground, with the returning Tank Abbott stepping up to challenge the new bull of the woods, Mark Coleman.