MMA Campfire Tales: Tactical Errors

| January 15, 2012 | 11:31 am | 3 Replies

Flyweights are coming, and we’re already infested with Bantam and Featherweights. As for me, the only weight class I recognize is the open weight class. Back in my day, no one ever cut weight. They were too busy cutting your face with full mount headbutts to give a shit about what a scale said. Ah, the good old days of MMA. They’re long gone now; Swallowed by commissions and legislations, but an old man can still reminisce about how things used to be. 

Take game plans for instance. Back in my day, we didn’t have game plans. Usually fighters didn’t know who you were fighting until you locked eyes across the cage. And forget about watching tape! What MMA fighter in the 90’s could afford a VCR? Game plans are called game plans because they’re for GAMES! If a man is going to fight, he should be able to do so at the drop of a hat, I say. Even still, some fighters of old-time MMA approached things from a somewhat erroneous angle, and sometimes paid for it. Maybe I should tell you all a few stories, and illustrate my point about how simple ideas can have traumatic consequences:

The Top 3 Tactical Errors In Early MMA:

Scott Morris Disappears In A Cloud of Smoke; Reappears at Hospital

The Event: UFC 2: No Way Out in Denver, Colorado

The Year: 1994

The Fight: Pat Smith vs. Scott Morris

UFC 1 threw the entire martial arts world on its head, and left me with a lot of burning questions.  Would the first tournament have gone differently if Royce Gracie faced Teila Tuli in the first round? Could Ken Shamrock ankle lock Teila Tuli? Would Art Jimmerson have been able to stop Teila Tuli with one glove? I admit to a bit of a fixation on Teila Tuli, but these questions were burning just the same.  UFC 2 would answer exactly none of those questions, but only make my karate-filled mind even more jumbled and confused.

We had a familiar face in Pat Smith though. Sporting a 250-0 record in bare-knuckle karate matches, he had left UFC 1 an embarrassed man, but one looking to improve his ground game. Just like every other martial artist that saw the first UFC, we all went about mastering the ground game as a three-step process:

Step 1: Learn how to do a standing guillotine

Step 2: Declare ourselves well-versed on the intricacies of the ground game

Step 3: Go back to crescent kicking through pine boards in the pursuit of awesomeness.

Pat Smith’s opponent was Scott Morris, a real-life ninja. Like all ninja, he decided to keep his identity a secret by fighting in front of over 100,000 people on a PPV broadcast. He’d also completed the Karate Guy’s 3 Step Plan For Grappling Mastery illustrated above, which explains why both himself and Smith won their first matches of the night by standing guillotine. This led them onto a collision course into destiny which changed the sport forever.

Scott Morris ran across the cage with the fleet foot of a shadow warrior, and before Pat Smith even knew what was happening, Morris had him. By “had him” I mean he had his hands on Smith’s hips and was rapidly running in place. Maybe this was some kind of ancient Ninjitsu chi-draining technique, but Smith didn’t seem to realize that, so he just fell on him and landed in full mount. Smith then unleashed a barrage of elbow strikes so brutal, even when I watch it 18 years later; I call Denver PD to report a murder in progress.

The Error: Attacking like Drunk Trucker #6 in a Steven Seagal movie

It’s funny that Morris would attempt to run at someone and calmly hold them, because this is the attack every karate guy learns to defend on day one. Even a white belt would have dropped a shooto hand into Morris’ neck for this tactical miscalculation, and Pat Smith was no white belt. When you’re fighting the guy who turned Andy Hug into a fucking pez dispenser with one uppercut, maybe you shouldn’t try the “8th Grade Slow Dance” attack, Mr. Ninja.

Your Hair Fits My Hand Better Than a Boxing Glove

The Event: World Cage Combat 1: First Strike in Charlotte, North Carolina

The Year: 1995

The Fight: James Warring vs. Erik Paulson

With the success of early UFC, several promotions made a go of this whole “No-Holds-Barred” fighting gig. Why not? With no commissions involved, the hardest part to holding an event was finding enough crazy bastards to make a fight card. Where’d this take place again? North Carolina? Nevermind, that wasn’t hard at all. With the tried and true open weight, no rules, no time limits tournament set-up, World Cage Combat 1: First Strike was set to begin.

James Warring came into this fight at the tail-end of a mildly successful boxing career, as he was trying to explore other combat sports options. At this point, all of us karate guys knew it took more than a standing guillotine to defeat ground fighters. We also needed to put a lot of weight on them when we were in their guard, that way they were really tired from submitting us. Good luck in the tournament when you’re all exhausted and shit! I know it’s petty, but we were really pissed off about grappling.  Anyways, we knew Warring didn’t have a chance in this fight because he was just a boxer after all. No kicks? No thanks!

His opponent was Erik Paulson, who came into this fight with over twenty years of grappling experience from a lifetime spent in Judo and catch wrestling. He’d even taken the initiative to learn BJJ in a time when we all still figured Royce Gracie was one spinning axe kick away from being flattened in the cage.  Having cut his MMA teeth overseas in the Shooto promotion, Paulson came into this tournament a rightful favorite to make it to the final. He also came into this tournament with a pony tail.

This fact wasn’t lost on quarterfinal opponent Sean McCully, who was quick to use the pony tail as a handle, prying Paulson’s head back to rifle headbutts into his eyeball…….excuse me while I wipe a sentimental tear from my eye. Paulson was able to eventually outwork McCully on the mat for the stoppage and went onto the next round to face James Warring.

The Error: Skipping the barber

Despite everyone in Paulson’s corner telling him to cut his hair, both before and after the McCully fight, Paulson neglected to take scissors to his luscious locks. Instead of listening to reason, he fought James Warring as is, fearing only the boxer’s calloused fists. What he should have feared was Warring’s fingers buried in his pony tail for sixteen minutes. On this night, Warring wrote the book of “How to Hair pull the Fuck Out of Someone” all over Paulson’s face. He dirty boxed him, grated his face against the cage and ultimately turned Paulson’s head into a macabre paddle ball; pulling his head up and stomping it back down repeatedly. A little after the sixteen minute mark, it became clear Paulson wasn’t winning this fight unless the back of his head tapped out and left the cage, so his corner threw in the towel.  The tragedy was that had Paulson beaten Warring, he’d have faced Renzo Gracie, whom he had an outside chance of defeating at this point in his life. A career-defining moment stolen away by 90’s fashion sense.

Mark Kerr

The Waiting Game 

The Event: Pride 10

The Year: 2000

The Fight: Mark Kerr vs. Igor Borisov

In this sport, there is no bigger waste of talent than Mark Kerr. If you missed out on Mark Kerr’s career, you missed out on the greatest physical product MMA has ever seen, my friend. Packing Randy Couture’s wrestling skill into Alistair Overeem’s body, you’re left with a guy who could knock you out by spitting on your photograph. Fighters would literally crawl out of the ring in the middle of a fight to avoid being ground and pounded any longer, which is impressive in a fight world where you could still missile dropkick people in the penis. While this fight took place after Kerr’s life-altering loss to Igor Vovchanchyn, he was still a force to be reckoned with in the ring, and was looking to get back on track against Igor Borisov.

For Igor Borisov’s part of this bout, he was a moderately talented Russian sambo fighter who was looking to get into the higher-paying world of MMA, but had the misfortune of facing Kerr with only one fight under his belt. Before you ask, the error in this story wasn’t signing the contract to fight Kerr, despite the fact it likely included a clause about grief counseling for his family.

This fight began like all of Kerr’s fights; with a double leg slam that makes your liver fail. Borisov immediately started his guard game, which consisted of clinging to Kerr like a baby koala to avoid any real danger. At this point, Kerr remembered his nickname was “The Smashing Machine” and figured he’d ground and pound Borisov into a living death. First though, he had to break his guard, so he applied a simple can opener. A can opener is a technique where you lever your opponent’s head towards you when inside their guard, causing them to open their guard and allow you to advance position. The defense to this move is to do exactly what the other fighter wants; Open your guard. Can someone please build a time machine, go back to the year 2000, and tell Borisov this? Thanks.

The Error: Toughing it out

On this fateful night, Borisov invented the “Submission Rope-a-Dope”; allowing Kerr to continue to apply his can opener while never opening his guard. It was a valiant effort as Borisov’s spinal column played a deadly game of cat-and-mouse against the 260lb wrestler’s entire upper body strength. Did I say cat-and-mouse? I meant machine-that-pulls-a-mouse’s head-off-and-mouse. Despite the fact all Borisov had to do was open his legs to stop the spinal fluid from geysering out of his ears, he hung in there until something in his neck went off like a firecracker. While information about Borisov is lacking, the fact he was stretched out of the ring and never heard from again leads me to believe he wouldn’t recommend anyone try this again. I’m an optimist though, and I’d like to imagine Borisov eventually became a millionaire by betting against Kerr in every single fight he ever had after this.

So you see? While no one had an idea about how MMA was going to work back then, some guys had even less of an idea than anyone else. The warriors of today learn from the warriors of the past, and I dare say we won’t see these three mistakes repeated.  That doesn’t mean Clay Guida shouldn’t get a haircut, mind you.  Damn kids….

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  1. Ian says:

    Great stuff, as always.

  2. Rica says:

    boris have probems in your spin what hapened to him?

  3. Mike Hammersmith says:

    @ Rica:

    Not sure if you mean what happened to him in the ring of after the fight, so I’ll answer both.

    In the ring, he was in a can opener and just sat there clinging to Kerr for an unhealthy amount of time. He suddenly tapped out frantically and was put in a neck brace, strapped to a stretcher, and carried away. If I had to hazard a guess, he likely suffered a fracture or herniation in the upper back or neck.

    He was literally never heard from again as far as I know, so he may hve actaully been crippled or injured to the point he could never compete in sports.

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