So, here I am. It’s a Saturday night, and I’m sitting here not watching a fight. I can’t believe I used to wait four or five months for another UFC to roll around, but now I go two weeks and I’m about ready to pay the neighborhood kids to fight in my empty swimming pool out back. While I love having a nearly constant stream of fights on my over-priced cable package, one thing bothers me about the modern age of MMA. All these damn fights are fair!
Don’t get me wrong, fair is what makes a sport competitive and interesting in the long-term, but sometimes I like to see a good old-fashioned mismatch. You know the kind I’m talking about. You have a legitimate walking nightmare of muscle and fury; a beast whom has trained for nothing but turning his fellow-man into a wreckage of bloody bone shards, locking eyes with his opponent. And that opponent is a part-time line cook at Dairy Queen who had two amateur boxing matches fifteen years ago and hasn’t so much as seen a pair of running shoes since.
As awesome as it was to see Mr. Human Buzzsaw rip Mr. Soft Serve to pieces in epic fashion, every once in a while, we got a surprise. Mr. Soft Serve, perhaps having saved up a lifetime of good karma or perhaps being crazy enough to think he was as dangerous in person as he was at Mortal Kombat, would somehow completely smoke Mr. Human Buzzsaw. So, let’s all go grab a Peanut Butter Chocolate Carmel Cookie Pie Blizzard and take a little trip down memory lane, because this one’s for you!
MMA Campfire Tales Presents: The Greatest Upsets of Early MMA
The Year: 1999
The Event: UFC 21
The Fight: Andre “The Chief” Roberts vs. Ron Waterman
It was 1999, and the UFC Heavyweight division was in turmoil. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “When the fuck ISN’T the UFC Heavyweight division in turmoil?” to which I reply “Touché.” This time it wasn’t failed drug tests or injuries though, but Randy Couture bailing on the division for a better contract that wouldn’t materialize for another three years. For time, the UFC ran a “Road To The Gold” Heavyweight tournament, which was supposed to crown a new champion at UFC 20. That champion was none other than Bas Rutten, who then promptly retired, and thus the cycle of never-ending Heavyweight bullshit continued anew.
At this point, the UFC was mighty pissed off about all the Heavyweight shenanigans, and started trying to mold some new talent in the division, with perhaps the idea that they’d actually stick around for a while. The debate of “Striker versus Grappler” was still hotly contested at the time, and the UFC was loading up on as many of both as they could get, but had their eye on guys who could dominate in all areas. Enter the next big thing in Ron Waterman, a respected wrestler out of Colorado with a knack for concussing people. In an era of fat heavyweights fighting undersized heavyweights, Waterman was the ultimate cage fighter, walking around at a lean 265lbs and looking like the next guy to win the title. With a combined 2:30 of cage time in four fights, the UFC was ready to rush this guy into title contention, and put him on back-to-back cards, taking on local favorite Andre Roberts at UFC 21.
A dead ringer for Bebop from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame, Andre Roberts put the “plus” in the 200lb+ Heavyweight division. At 6’2″ and 350lbs, he had amassed a decent win streak in his career, mostly on virtue of being twice the size of anyone he fought. All of his fights to date had consisted of simply walking up to his opponents, shoving them into a corner and then punching the shit out of them, which worked like a charm until he ran into Gary Goodridge at UFC 17. Goodridge laced Roberts in his pumpkin-like head until he shattered his nose, causing Roberts to tap out while the doctor checked on his wicked broken face. Being as Roberts was a regional fighter, he seemed like a great opponent to push Waterman to the top, and the fight was set.
The bout started just like anyone would expect, with Waterman using his wrestling skill and raw physical power to throw Roberts around at will and immediately re-broke his nose with a series of punches. The referee called time to have the doctor check his nose, but this time things were different. Roberts went out like a bitch against Goodridge, but he was seething to get back into the fight while the doctor looked him over, even if he was getting the shit kicked out of him.
The fight continued in the same fashion, with Waterman making a statement for the Heavyweight championship at the expense of Andre Robert’s sternum and face, when it all came apart.
Roberts threw an uppercut.
This uppercut looked less like a punch, and more like he was underhand tossing a juice box to a five-year old, but still it landed. With all the impact of a wadded up tissue hitting a trash can, Robert’s tapped Waterman’s chin, and through some miracle of physics, completely knocked Waterman the fuck out.
No one on Earth was more surprised by this KO than Andre Roberts, who turned to his corner and did his best impression of the N64 kid as he ran around the cage screaming and hugging everyone that got within arm’s reach, including members of the athletic commission. I don’t think the big man could have been happier if his punch had turned Ron Waterman into a 265lb basket of cheese fries. The UFC brass at the time knew a fluke when they saw one and continued to push Waterman, though he never produced the results anyone expected of him. Despite the win, Roberts was never given another fight in the UFC, proving once and for all that hard work never actually pays off.
The Year: 2001
The Event: Pride 14
The Fight: Daijiro Matsui vs. “Pele” Jose Landi-Jons
Japanese MMA has never made much sense, and this is a trend Pride FC was happy to take to its grave. Pride 14 was a pivotal show for the Japanese promotion as their only rival promotion at the time, the UFC, was injected with new life having been purchased by ZUFFA. So, what did Pride do to cement its place as the leader of the MMA world? It continued to push pro-wrestlers down our fucking throats.
I’ll be the first man to admit that Kazushi Sakuraba is about the only fighter you could call a legend in this sport, and would also be the first to point out that he was cut from a completely different cloth. Pride didn’t seem to understand this though, and continued to bring the world of “catch-style” pro-wrestling into legitimate fighting, oftentimes with hilarious consequences. One such tragic figure was Daijiro Matsui, a training partner of Sakuraba who had all of the heart, but absolutely none of the talent. In JMMA, the heart is the only thing that matters though, so with only one legitimate win in ten fights, Matsui was set to face Brazilian killer “Pele” Jose Landi-Jons.
While Wanderlei Silva will always be the resident bad ass of Chute Boxe, Jose Landi-Jons was the original lunatic in the Chute Boxe fold. Having gotten into Vale Tudo around the time of UFC 1, Pele cut a swath through Brazilian MMA, using a highly explosive fighting style filled with head kicks, flying knees and wild punching combinations. Not only was he a punishing striker, but his truly sadistic nature made him a terror to fight as he’d be more than happy to snap your leg or cause horrific cuts to take a win. Having been fighting internationally for the last two years, Pele found himself debuting in Pride against the sorely over-matched Matsui.
Pele kicked this fight off in dramatic fashion, standing stark still and launching flying attacks out of nowhere, immediately knocking Matsui out with a flying knee seconds into the fight. The thing is, this is Japan, so unless the referee can actually see ZZZZZZ coming out of your mouth, you’re not actually unconscious. Pele dicked around while the nearly comatose Matsui blindly grasped at his hopes and dreams on the mat, allowing Pele to take his back and work a choke. Matsui beautifully defended this choke for five minutes by holding his arm straight up in the air and not moving, which I’m sure didn’t help enrollment in Chute Boxe’s BJJ classes, but did drive Pele utterly insane. Having no idea how to deal with his opponent, Pele decided to loosen up Matsui’s defense by severing his spinal cord, delivering an illegal downward elbow to the spine that forced a foul and put the fight back on its feet.
With the match back on equal footing and with a fire in his belly, Matsui took the fight to Pele by going full Sakuraba mode; dogging a single leg and unleashing the most confusing ground and pound sequences he could muster up. Punches and hammerfists seamlessly fused with shoulder butts and belly flops as he blasted Pele with every body part not specifically mentioned in the pre-fight rules meeting. While Pele would occasionally get the upper-hand, Matsui’s heart, tenacity, fortitude, heart, conviction, toughness, and heart would win him a contentious decision over the Brazilian. This wouldn’t be the last gift wrapped fight he’d receive; being awarded a win over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson due to a knee to the groin in the first attack of the fight, but this never stopped him from capturing the hearts and minds of fans for years to come.
The Year: 2002
The Event: UFC 35
The Fight: Jens “Lil’ Evil” Pulver vs BJ “The Prodigy” Penn
Having entered the dark ages and come out the other side as a fully functioning promotional machine, the UFC came to the Mohegan Sun Casino, not to spend their rent money and lie to their wife and say their debit card was stolen and that all the withdrawals at the casino must be the thief and that calling the police would just be a waste of time because they’ll never find the guy so let’s just forget about the whole thing, but to put on UFC 35: Throwdown. With several fully fleshed out divisions, this event featured two title fights, a slew of future champions and other important figures in the sport. It also featured several dozen confirmed cases of food poisoning.
At this time, the UFC would provide a buffet meal to fighters during the rules meeting and post-weigh-ins, because the best thing to do before a fight is to carb-load on warm mac & cheese and chicken fingers. One fighter who managed to avoid the deadly meal was BJ Penn, who was making what would be the first title bid in a long career with the promotion.
BJ Penn was initially a BJJ competitor who had a meteoric rise through the ranks of the sport, winning multiple titles competing well out of his belt category and being handed a belt as an embarrassed afterthought. The excitement for his entry into the MMA world was high right away, but reached a fevered pitch when it turned out he was just as much of a natural striker as a grappler. Earning his title shot with an insane eleven second KO against Caol Uno after hitting him with a series of running uppercuts, Penn was set to rip the title out of his opponent’s hands.
The champion of that time was a tortured fighter named Jens Pulver, who had come from a nightmarish upbringing and scraped by in life on pure grit. Possessing a fair amount of wrestling and some ridiculously heavy fists, Pulver was one of the first sprawl and brawlers to hit the scene, having forced some seriously amazing grappling talent into a slug fest they couldn’t win. The problem here was that not only was Penn the best grappler Pulver had ever faced; he was probably the best striker as well. The other problem was that he was squatting over the toilet while puking in a trash can right up until the fight started.
Penn has always had a hell of an arsenal, and we got to see every bit of it in this fight. Pulver was beaten standing, beaten on the mat, beaten against the cage, and perhaps even beaten in mid-air as Penn had his way with him for ten minutes. The second round of the bout ended with Pulver gutting out an armbar as his elbow came a part, but there wasn’t a tap out to be seen from the champion, nor would there ever be. As it turns out, having your father beat you every day of your life makes you reluctant to show someone you’re hurt, and Penn wasn’t winning this title unless he planned on driving a stake through Pulver’s heart.
In one of the greatest hype train derailment of all time, Pulver came out for the ensuing rounds and completely turned the tables on Penn, out-grappling the BJJ world champion and picking his offensive spots on the fading challenger. In the best fifth round in championship history, Pulver and Penn went toe-to-toe and Penn simply couldn’t handle the fury in Pulver’s gloves. With a majority decision and one of the first feel-good stories of the sport, Pulver retained the title no one thought he could, having defeated BJ Penn and Salmonella poisoning in one spectacular bout.
So, as you can see, your ranking systems are all well and good when you’re LOLing all over the internet, but sometimes reality can bite you in the ass. After all, if this fight game played out like it was supposed to every time, it would be pro-wrestling, and that shit hasn’t been cool since 1985. Thanks for listening to an old man reminisce, and feel free to come by whenever you’re sick of watching TUF: Luxemburg or whatever they’re on now. I checked out a lot time ago.