You kids don’t know nothing. Do you think MMA just fell from the sky the night TUF first aired? Do you think Randy Couture hatched from an Olympic-caliber egg with a belt around his waist? Do you think Ken Shamrock’s face always looked like lukewarm hamburger helper? Oh no, you kids missed out on EVERYTHING. This monolith of MMA is built upon the past. Jon Jones is holding a title for some weight class or another, because guys fought when we didn’t have those things.
“There are no weight classes in the streets!” we’d cry, to all who cared to hear us.
The UFC is selling out 20,000 seat arenas now because they couldn’t sell out the Dotham Alabama Civic Center with their no rules death matches. Aoki is busting arms over in Japan because many great men were willing to fight in leg warmers, with rules that Steven Hawking couldn’t wrap his head around. Sit down by the fire and let me tell you about the good old days.
Soon you’ll see that this grand sport was built on the discarded gi tops and mullets of fighters long since disappeared. They were no less brave than the heroes of today, but perhaps lacked direction, any sort of game plan, and sometimes basic combat skills. Today, our story is:
The Top 3 Soul-Crushing defeats of early MMA:
Story One: You’re Not The Only Angry Fat Guy In This Cage
The Event: UFC 11
The Year: 1996
The Fight: Tank Abbott vs. Scott Ferrozzo
Do you remember Tank Abbott? Sure, you’ve seen him get flattened by Kimbo Slice half a hundred times, but do you REALLY remember him? Let me tell you about good old Tank. He was a straight-up drunken motherfucker, and the best thing that ever happened to me. When Tank showed up in this wacky sport, we were already starting to figure out Karate wasn’t worth those $30 a month lessons. But when Tank brought his hairy belly into the cage and started wiping his ass with black belts, the jig was entirely up. This was exactly the guy our karate instructors told us would run face first at us in a bar, and that we could defeat if we landed a wicked leopard paw strike to his upper lip. After seeing him punch Dave Mateua into a seizure, I knew my 8-point blocking system wasn’t going to do much for me in reality. Sure, he might have been choked out by Oleg Taktarov, but he assured us it was the altitude that choked him out. And yeah, maybe Dan Severn won via a new technique called a “decision” but hugging Tank to victory wasn’t the same as beating him in a man-to-man fight.
Tank wasn’t the only fat guy who could lay out a ninja though. Scott Ferrozzo entered the cage for the first time at UFC 8, with nothing but a leotard and a game plan to push Jerry Bolander clean through a fence. Sure, he was eventually choked out by his own leotard straps, but Ferrozzo learned from his mistakes. Showing up to UFC 11 as an alternate, and wearing nothing but black tights and a smile, he came out like a raging bull for his shot at the tournament title. In this alternate match, Ferrozzo faced novice kickboxer Sam Fulton, who had decided to get into his opponent’s head by calling him fat. Despite the fact Ferrozzo was 350lbs and wearing skin-tight spandex, he was apparently sensitive about his obesity; Dropping knees onto Fulton’s head until his eyelids exploded from the pressure. With Tank coming off a quick submission of adult film star Sam Adkins, and Jerry Bolander bowing out of the tournament, we were set for an epic bout between two men who couldn’t possibly be more qualified as professional fighters.
The fight was a masterwork of bar brawl savagery. With a battle cry of “Come on Faggot!”, interspersed between rapid fire foot stomps and shoving, Scott Ferrozzo laid down the groundwork of how to defeat Tank Abbott; A game plan perfectly emulated by Frank Mir seven years later. It wasn’t the first time Tank had lost, but it was the first time Tank lost in a straight up street fight, making it a defeat that would never leave him. If Tank hadn’t already plunged into a life of alcohol abuse a decade earlier, this surely would have pushed him over the edge.
Story Two: How Would You Describe Your Embarrassing Loss?
The Event: IFC Kombat In Kiev
The Year: 1996
The Fight: Paul “The Polar Bear” Varelans vs. Igor Vovchanchyn
IFC: Kombat In Kiev was the bastard love child of UFC 1, Soviet efficiency, and post-Soviet poverty. Where the UFC used an Octagon, the IFC decided the wiser choice would be a diamond shape. Not only did this save the destitute government four entire sides, it allowed fighters to corner their opponents as a way to line up better groin kicks. Gloves were kind of new idea in the sport, so rather than invest the $40 a pair on a fad like hand protection, they made their own gloves. I’m fairly sure the IFC president’s wife was less than thrilled to find her husband fashioning athletic equipment out of her maxi pads, but who asked her? Having flown in the largest Americans they could possibly find, the IFC cued up the hottest Ukrainian techno track for everyone’s entrance music, compensated for this by shutting off the heat in the building, and got ready to roll out a good old-fashioned USA vs. Ukraine tournament.
One such American MMA pioneer was Paul “The Polar Bear” Varelans. A monster of a man he was, at 6’8″ and 300lbs, and an Alaskan Trap Fighting Master. He cut such a menacing figure, you couldn’t even tell him Alaskan Trap Fighting wasn’t real, lest he trap fight your fucking face off. Having gotten in on the bottom floor of this whole amazing sport in the making, Varelans had seven fights under his belt, famously being kicked in the leg twelve thousand times by Marco Ruas in the UFC. His semi-final opponent had also gotten in on the ground floor of MMA, but with the work ethic of someone literally fighting to eat, he’d somehow amassed seventy professional fights in two years.
The unassuming opponent across that glorious diamond was Igor Vovchanchyn, and he was thirsty. Not for glory, not for money, not for the adoration of the crowd, but for actual liquids. You see, Vovchanchyn had fought an even larger man in the Quarter-finals in the 6’5″, 400lb Fred Floyd, and literally spent thirteen minutes upper cutting him in the testicles. With no heat in this arena in the dead of winter, I’m assuming all of the beverages on hand froze, adding a cool X-factor to their death match tournament. Most men would have bowed out of this fight, but most men aren’t Igor Vovchanchyn. This is a guy who found his way into MMA because Russians refused to kickbox him anymore, on account of him punching their arms in half when they blocked. When Russians refuse to fight people for money, there’s a reason for it son.
The two men rushed to the center of the diamond, where Vovchanchyn promptly punched Varelans so hard, you could hear his cheekbone break over Bas Rutten’s commentary microphone. Many soccer kicks to the face later, Varelans was declared unfit to continue and the desiccated Vovchanchyn ran out of the diamond, presumably to lick some moisture off of the basement walls before the tournament finals. As Varelans lay there, wondering why the good lord had allowed him to return to his Earthly body, he found himself thrust into the post-fight interview. You see, post-fight interviews were always tragic affairs in this era of sponsors like “Mike’s Chicken Wings and Heavy Equipment Depot”, but it was at least generally conducted with the winner. With Vovchanchyn forgoing formality to avoid having his kidneys shut down, a microphone was thrust into the badly swollen face of Varelans. To lose to a fighter like Vovchanchyn in front of two thousand people isn’t so terrible. To then have to stand there and address the crowd through a translator, while you slowly transform into Sloth from the Goonies, makes it a soul-crushing defeat for the ages.
Story 3: Dave Terrell Picks a Regrettable Nickname In Context Of This Article
The Event: UFC 51
The Year: 2005
The Fight: Evan Tanner vs. Dave “The Soul Assassin” Terrell
Maybe I’ve broken my own rules by telling this tale, but it’s simply too awesome to avoid. With the majority of the 18-24 year old male demographic yet to shave their hair into a Chuck Liddell mohawk, this PPV quietly aired a few weeks after TUF launched. With the Middleweight title having a history of being thrown away by fighters looking for greener pastures in a growing sport, the search was on for a new champion. Enter Dave Terrell.
A handsome, charismatic and extremely talented fighter, Terrell came into the UFC with a Cesar Gracie blackbelt. In case you don’t know about Cesar Gracie, he’d be more likely to offer you his daughter’s intact hyman and a bottle of KY than considering giving out a black belt. Not only was Terrell holding the Optimus Prime of black belts, he had never even been scored against in submission grappling, tapping out black belts of inferior blackness with ease. To make matters worse for his opponents, Terrell was developing an extremely tight kickboxing game that perfectly fit his lanky frame. He completely flattened Matt Lindland back when that meant something, and Terrell was one easy-as-pie fight away from the UFC title. What sucker was he facing, you ask?
Evan Tanner. A career alcoholic who had taught himself to fight with VHS tapes, and who was recently divorced, homeless, completely bankrupt, no longer training to fight, and lived in a dumpster behind a bar. You couldn’t have made a more lop-sided fight if you put Cro-cop and Teila Tuli together in a Left High Kicks Only Dental Death match. Driving a motorcycle across the country, eating out of dumpsters, and doing pilates to get back into championship-caliber fight shape, Tanner showed up to this fight to make a statement. In not so many words, that statement was: “You might be better at BJJ, wrestling, submission defense, positional grappling, cage generalship, long-range striking, clinch knees, trips, sweeps, cutting angles, game planning, endurance training, feints, chokes, range control, balance, upper-body wrestling and wrist control, but I’m still going to punch you in the teeth.”
Being completely outclassed for four minutes by this wunderkind of combat sports, Tanner took his sand grain of caution, threw it into the wind, and decided he was going to take the greatest grappling product since BJ Penn to the mat. We’ll never know if Terrell was stunned by the ludicrousness of the situation, or had never trained to fight off of his back, but Tanner started to hit him, and hit him, and hit him. He proceeded to unleash a ground and pound assault so profound, it replaced the defibrillator in Mark Coleman’s first aid kit. Its one thing to beat a guy up, but it’s another thing to completely beat the fight out of someone for the rest of their lives. Not only did Tanner win the UFC Middleweight title, but he effectively ended Terrell’s career, not physically, but mentally. The Soul Assassin suffered the soul-crushingest defeat in the history of our sport.
That’s all the stories I’ve got for today, but be sure to come back when you’re sick of ten point must systems and no kicking with shoes on. What? They don’t even let you wear shoes at all now? I need a drink….