The History of the UFC: UFC XIII - Ultimate Force
Posted by Matt McEwen on 07.16.2007
While almost no one was watching, the UFC put on one of their best shows yet, featuring the debuts of two future legends, and the dismantling of an old stand by. Who are these mystery men? Matt McEwen lets you know in this week's History of the UFC.
Continuing on with their quarterly PPV schedule despite the massive reduction of their audience, the UFC took to the airwaves for their luck thirteenth event, Ultimate Force, on May 30th 1997. Live from the home of the Master's golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia, the southern exile also continued as no regulated state would let the "barbaric" event cross the Mason-Dixon line.
Continuing with the format set up at the previous event, a four man lightweight tournament, a four man heavyweight tournament and a one on one main event would make up the card. Personally, I love the switch away from the eight man tournament as it allowed for fighters to go full force and not worry so much about their stamina or injury.
As for the card itself, this one would have to be considered historic, at least in hindsight. Two future legends debuted here, as both Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz entered the Octagon for the first time. The main event for the night was the much hated and hyped Tank Abbott taking on the much loved and hyped Vitor Belfort. While they might have been a bit heavy handed with the promotion of the event, I do remember at the time thinking that this was a battle of polar opposites in everything but fighting style - one was lean and athletic, one was a fat brawler, but both would come forward at 110% until the fight was done.
Honestly, I think I'm looking forward to watching this event more than any of the first UFC's so far.
UFC XIII: Ultimate Force
Bruce Beck and Jeff Blatnick welcome us to the event as usual, and start the hype for Abbott/Belfort right away, playing up the differences between the two competitors. Beyond hype for the main event, they run down the two tournaments we will be seeing tonight.
In the lightweight division, we get two veterans in the form of Lion's Den product Guy Mezger and judoko Christophe Leninger, along with two newcomers, Shooto fighter Enson Inoue and the man they hype the hell out of, Iowa wrestling product Royce Alger.
In the heavyweight division, it's all newcomers. Dmitri Stepanov from Russia will be taking on Steven Graham, and Blatnick admits that they know nothing at all about either guy. Good preparation there guys. In the other fight, some Greco-Roman wrestler named Randy Couture will take on Finnish pro wrestler Tony Halme. That's a total toss up fight in my opinion (please read with sarcasm).
Now, you may have noticed a name missing here. I said Tito Ortiz made his debut at this event, and he did. It just wasn't on PPV - he debuted by winning the lightweight alternate fight by destroying Wes Albritton in about 30 seconds with elbows. Over in the heavyweight division, Jack Nilson defeated Iranian Saeed Haseeni (sp?) by ref stoppage about two minutes in.
On to the tournaments....
Lightweight First Round Christophe Leninger (0-1) vs Guy Mezger (2-0)
Leninger is looking for redemption after losing to Ken Shamrock in his previous trip to the Octagon at UFC III. He has won some fights outside of the UFC, as in spite of the political backlash a grassroots community had begun to grow by this point giving fighters places to perfect their craft before making it to the UFC.
For his part, Lion's Den fighter Mezger feels he has improved a great deal since his previous alternate appearances, and thinks it is his time to win.
Bruce Buffer is back! They mention that he just did a guest spot on Friends, which I wouldn't know since I hated that show royally. Everyone always told me a I looked like Chandler, which I liked even less. My only question about Buffer being on there is how was he famous enough without being associated with the UFC to do a cameo on the highest rated show on TV at the time? Anyhow, I believe that from this point on, Buffer takes care of the announcing for most - if not all - future events. I can now rest easy at night knowing I don't have to watch the "G-Man" anymore.
Once John McCarthy tells them to "Get it on," Mezger starts stalking the gi wearing Leninger. Mezger lands a lot of early shots as his opponent attempts to close the distance and clinch. This closeness allows Mezger to grab a hold of the gi of Leninger, and use it to control the distance and land more shots. Leninger's answer is to give Mezger a super wedgie - he grabs his trunks and pulls as hard as he can to keep the distance at a minimum. Tired of eating rights, Leninger eventually pulls guard, but allows Mezger to easily move to 1/2 guard, which Beck has now taken to calling the "outside guard." Baby steps, baby steps.
Leninger's defense on the bottom is good, as Mezger has a hard time landing shots. He decides he liked the fight better on his feet, so he allows Leninger up about four minutes in. Leninger looks pretty tired as they get back up. Once they clinch again though, Leninger's judo expertise comes into place for a second as he scores a very nice throw on Mezger. He doesn't land in a advantageous position though, and they are back on their feet in the clinch pretty quickly. The crowd is getting restless and booing by this point, but this is a pretty good fight, if a bit one sided.
Just as I think that, Leninger uses one of the nicest rolls/throws I have ever seen as he falls back to pull guard, but rolls through and ends up in the mount. Great, great move. I've never seen that before and wouldn't have though that was possible on a high level fighter, but there it is. Mezger is just too strong for Leninger though, as he easily rolls Leninger off and starts to work out of his guard. This is at about the 6 minute mark. After about two and a half minutes of slow action on the ground, McCarthy decides to restart them.
Back on their feet, Mezger keeps coming forward and catches Leninger with a big kick. Both guys are looking a bit tired at this point, but Mezger keeps throwing, catching Leninger with a big body kick which hurts him. This prompts Leninger to pull guard, which is where we end the regulation period.
We will be getting a three minute OT here, but I can't see it going any different. Leninger is a very one dimensional fighter, who seems to be having real problems adjusting to an opponent who isn't wearing a gi. Mezger, on the other hand, represents the state of the art UFC competitor at this point. He can strike, grapple and has a submission game. Essentially, he is like a rudimentary version of the modern MMA competitor, which is probably why he is considered a bit of a legend in the MMA world.
The OT goes pretty much as expected, with Mezger getting the best of it on their feet, then controlling from the top position once the fight hits the ground. He easily wins a unanimous decision and move on to the finals. For his part, Leninger would not return to the Octagon again, though he would try two fights in 2001, losing both, one being to eventual Ultimate Fighter 4 competitor Edwin Dewees.
Enson Inoue (0-0) vs Royce Alger (0-0)
The hype for this one is all about Alger, who was an All-American wrestler and trains with Mark Coleman. In his intro video, we see Alger training with Coleman, and then saying that while Mark has done well, it is time for the "A team" of wrestlers to take over. Well, at least wasn't cocky coming in to the fight. Training with Coleman means that Alger is part of the newly formed Hammer House team, as Coleman begins putting together a stable of fighters.
Now, since ten years later I'm more familiar with Enson Inoue than Alger, I'm thinking some of the hype may have been misplaced....let's see.
Inoue comes in looking very large at 199lbs, making me think that he cut weight to get down to size here. On the other hand, Alger looks a bit out of shape, almost like he bulked up to have as much size as possible here. Once they start fighting, that strength difference is a bit noticeable.
Alger shoots right off the bat, but gets his attempt stuffed by Inoue who tries to take his back and ends up in a crucifix position. Alger is able to shrug him off and starts to work out of Inoue's guard. He posts up on his arms a lot though, and now I'm waiting for an armbar.
Inoue, though he is on the bottom, is landing the better punches, and Alger again leaves an arm behind as he tires to posture up and gets caught with an armbar, He tries to power out, but Inoue is able to pull him down by rolling to his belly and Alger has to tap at the two minute mark. Not the debut he was looking for.
Post fight with Joe Rogan, Inoue says he did not have a solid gamelan coming into the fight, other than to see what Alger was going to do and then react to it. I would imagine that, at this point, with limited tapes on most fighters, that that would be a common gamelan.
We get a cheesy hype video for Tank that plays up what a bad ass he is. We do get highlights of the brawl in Puerto Rico though, and they tell us it was an altercation with Alan Goes, who will be in Belfort's corner tonight. That is interesting.....
Heavyweight First Round
Dmitri Stepanov (0-0) vs Steven Graham (0-0)
Stepanov is a Muay Thai and Sambo expert, while they list Graham as an "Extension" fighter. I assumed that meant submission, but they go on to explain that it is more of an MMA style, without saying MMA of course, since the term doesn't exist yet.
Stepanov comes out first, and he reminds me of a gym teacher. He is a big guy at 6'3 and 217lbs, but really not an intimidating looking guy at all. Judging from his announced skill set though, he should be a good all around fighter.
Graham more than makes up for whatever intimidation Stepanov may be lacking. At 6'1 and 290lbs, the guy looks like a top level defensive end. That is to say he is a massive, athletic looking guy.
He flies out of his corner throwing a kick at Stepanov, then picks up the Russian with a double leg and brutally slams him down and takes side control. The big man shows a bit of patience as he slowly works his grip on Stepanov's right arm before finally muscling in a kimura for the tap out victory. Very impressive win for Graham, and I am left to wonder what happened to this guy.
Randy Couture (0-0) vs Tony Halme (0-0)
Randy is really calm as he discusses the fight and says that his training has prepared him for every eventuality, and how to deal with his weaknesses. I do have to say that it is a bit funny to see Randy with an almost full head of hair and a goatee here. Not to mention the sideburns...those things are pretty nice.
Tony Halme on the other hand, is not so calm. The former WWF star - under the name of Ludvig Borga - says that he has balls of iron and will either rip his opponents head off or die trying. If your interested and want an entertaining read, do a little web search for Mr. Halme and read about his life. He has gone from bar fighter, to pro wrestler, to a possibly racist Member of the Finnish parliament, to being committed for alcoholic induced delirium and is now on disability leave from the parliament. Seriously....I did not make any of that up.
Before the fight, Blatnick is very amused with this being a fight between an amateur (read as REAL) wrestler and a professional (read as FAKER THAN A THREE DOLLAR BILL) wrestler.
As for the fight, Halme rushes at Couture with his fist cocked and gets blitzed to the ground with a textbook double leg. Couture postures up a bit for some punches, and Halme rolls to his belly to avoid damage. Couture works both hooks in, and secures the choke for a quick win in his MMA debut. My wife walked in at this point and said:
"OH MY GOD!!! Is that Randy???? He looks SO different! And young!"
Post fight with Rogan, you can tell how analytical Couture is as he dissects the fight. It is an attitude we hadn't really seen from other fighters at this point, as instead of ego or bravado, Couture dissects the action like a QB would explain how a nice pass play came together. This is a fairly extreme example, but the move from spectacle to sport has really kicked in at this event.
We get a good bit of hype as they try to give some time before the finals of the tournaments. Some Vitor hype, and some discussion of where his career would go.......if only they knew.
Rogan is back to inform us that Enson Inoue has to pull out of the finals due to some vision problems, so Tito Ortiz will be taking his place. This would be Inoue's only UFC appearance, but he went on to fight a who's who of MMA in the late 90's in Japan, even handing Randy Couture his first loss at a Vale Tudo Japan event in 1998.
As a treat, they are going to show us his earlier alternate bout, so we DO get to see Tito's UFC debut.
Lightweight Alternate Bout
Tito Ortiz (0-0) vs Wes Albritton (0-0)
Tito gets listed as a street fighter here, since he trains with Tank Abbott. Even still, they do acknowledge his wrestling skills and that he is likely more than just a brawler. For his part, Albritton is a slightly soft looking kempo black belt with no ground fighting experience.
They have a ref who is not Big John, as ref Joe Hamilton is in for the prelim fights.
As for the fight, Tito throws Albritton to the mat using double underhooks, then mounts him and throws punches and elbows until the corner throws in the towel. Short, brutal fight as Tito was easily a class above here.
Tito Ortiz (1-0) vs Guy Mezger (3-0)
Pre fight, Tito is as cocky as ever, as he suggests that either Mezger or Leninger would - after they had a "girly fight" - balk at taking on Alger in the finals, so he would be able to step in and win. It didn't work out quite that way, but he is in the finals. Before the fight, they do make mention of Tito fighting as an amateur tonight, so he is not getting paid to be here.
In the Octagon, Tito looks essentially the same as he does now, only a bit skinnier. As the fight starts, Tito actually gets the better of the boxing exchange, which is surprising considering Mezger is the more accomplished striker at this point. Mezger decided to shoot, which Tito easily stuffs, and controls him in a front facelock. He starts throwing some big knees, then grabs Mezger's leg for an inside cradle to open him up for some more knees. Beck thinks that Mezger taps out, but it might be that he was trying to block the knees. Immediately after that, and leading to some confusion, McCarthy steps in and separates the fighters. Apparently the knees opened up two cuts on Mezger's head, and he wants the doctor to have a look. You can hear McCarthy tell Tito that Mezger did not tap, and that he was only trying to block a knee. On the replay, it is hard to say. He is definitely trying to block at first, but then it does look like he taps before starting to block again. Tough call.
On the restart, Mezger comes out throwing right away. Ortiz shoots this time, but Mezger sprawls and grabs a guillotine to end the fight. Big win for Mezger and a tough break for Oritz as he was dominating before the restart. This would be a big learning experience for Tito, as he would adjust his wrestling style to be more MMA friendly and come back meaner and more prepared in the future.
Before the heavyweight finals, Rogan interviews Heavyweight Champion Mark Coleman, who will be defending his title against the debuting Maurice Smith at the next event. This would essentially be a title unification match as Smith was the champion of the smaller Extreme Fighting promotion and was a world champion kickboxer as well. Coleman says that is doesn't matter how big a striker Smith is since he is a bigger wrestler, and that is all that really matters in the cage. We'll see how that goes for him next time out. He also swears. A lot.
Randy Couture (1-0) vs Steven Graham (1-0)
Big size differential here, as Couture - at 225lbs - has to take on his second straight 290+lbs opponent. Both guys had quick wins to get to the finals, so they should be pretty fresh.
Graham does not rush the wrestler to start, showing at least some strategy here. Even still, Couture gets an easy take down and takes his back after landing a couple of punches. Graham rolls but eats a few more punches as Couture takes side control. He floats over to a front headlock and lands some knees. Takes the opportunity to take the big man's back, getting his hooks in and landing punches until McCarthy stops the fight.
Pure dominance by Couture here. Graham looked great in the first round, but then got completely exposed by Couture in the finals. He would never fight again. Couture's skills on the ground were the best I've seen up to this point, including Coleman. He was able to work strikes and try for submissions almost at will. An extremely impressive debut here, which we learn came only as a last minute fill in as Art Davie presents Couture with the winner's medal post fight.
Tank Abbott (6-4) vs Vitor Belfort (2-0)
I sense a short, intense brawl ending with a big KO here.
They keep mentioning how Vitor would be trying out for the 2000 Brazilian Olympic boxing team, but that never would happen.
Belfort takes the center of the Octagon and waits for Tank to engage. Once he obliges, Belfort goes for the takedown, but Tank reverses on the ground and lets him up. He wants to throw punches, shockingly. They clinch, and Belfort's hand speed starts to come into play as he drops Tank and pounces on him. Tank tries to roll away, but McCarthy has to stop it for the quick TKO win by Belfort.
Another impressive win by the young Brazilian who continues his meteoric rise, while this was essentially the beginning of the end for Tank as he would move away from being a legit contender to more of "You're gonna get the brawl you want to see" kind of fighter they would put on cards just to hype the crowd up.
The 411: Well, if losing most of their audience and income is what it took to put on shows like this, I wish it had of happened sooner. Both tournaments were good and featured a bit of intrigue, even watching 10 years after the fact. Add in that this is the debut show for two future Hall of Famers and how can you go wrong? Plus, if you're like me and got real tired of Tank's schtick by this point, watching Belfort dismantle him was also pretty fun. The atmosphere is really starting to take on more of a sports feel, and really getting away from the spectacle aspect people always refer to when talking about these events. The competitiors definitely seem to be more pure athletes and less bar room brawlers, so that helps a lot as well. And other than Tank, no big fat guys this time out, so that's nice too. So, overall, a bunch of good fights and historical appeals make this one of the better UFC's yet. Let's hope they can keep it going with UFC XIV....