When did knees on the mat become an international incident? These days, a fighter will take a full knee from a plum clinch just fine, but if you tap him with it when he has his fingers on the mat, he’ll act like he’s taken an ice pick to the face. There was a time in MMA when a knee to the face while you were on all fours was a good thing. It meant the guy wasn’t smart enough to soccer kick you in the throat. The good old days of MMA were full of brutal insanity, but there are a few fights that really take the cake, whether for sheer violence or some Hannibal Lector style creativity.

Let me tell you a few stories about the wonderful days. Today, we’ll discuss:

The Top 3 Bizarrely Violent Bouts of Early MMA

SAFTA: Sane Assault? Fuck That! ATTACK!

The Event: UFC 5

The Year: 1995

The Fight: Jon Hess vs. Andy Anderson

UFC 5 was in a grey area of early MMA. While it was growing in popularity fan wise, it wasn’t to the point where fully cognitive humans were willing to compete yet. While there are certainly a handful of legitimate combat sports professionals that got on at the first stop of this MMA crazy train, there were some actual crazy people who happened to make a transfer at the train station. UFC 5 would kick off their tournament with two such individuals, as Andy “The Hammer” Anderson faced “Big” Jon Hess.

Andy Anderson came into the UFC as a millionaire, which automatically makes him crazy. Having made a fortune as a business man, Andy Anderson claimed to have an 86-0 record in bare-knuckle Tae Kwon Do matches, and wore a spaghetti strap tank top to the cage. He also owned a “totally nude steakhouse” in Texas that was eventually shut down. This wasn’t due to the full-on bush of women from the 90’s, and finding a short hair on your NY Strip, but because the state paid him to make it go away. Good call Texas.

Jon Hess wasn’t a millionaire, but was certainly crazy. A 6’7″ man who trained in a made-up martial art called SAFTA which I’m sure stands for something, Hess made sure everyone knew he was going to murder his way to the top of the UFC. Despite the fact Hess attended the same rules meeting as everyone else; he decided that there actually were no rules, which played out poorly for Anderson’s face.

I imagine Krav Maga practitioners are extremely proud of Jon Hess’ performance here, as their motto of “All Weapons Forward” was followed as literally as physics would allow. At no point in this fight was Hess not throwing two hand strikes and a leg strike; hopping around in a bizarre imitation of a Cossica dance. The 1-2-3 combo of yesteryear was replaced with a karate chop over the skull, thumb to the eye and knee to the balls. Anderson had no idea what was going on, so he lashed out with his fists while Hess tried to simultaneously fish-hook his sinus cavity while clubbing him in the neck. The fight was mercifully stopped when Anderson went down, followed by 300lbs of flailing idiot bashing his face in.  Hess was ultimately fined for his actions and had to pull out of the tournament due to having broken his wrist on Anderson’s head.  He later went on to face Vitor Belfort, whom he threatened to kill before the fight and ended up getting poleaxed by the young Phenom. Anderson went on to still be rich and referee MMA on the side, with his eyeballs only slightly worse for the wear.

All Offense, No Defense, No Tactics, No Problem!

The Event: Pride 6

The Year: 1999

The Fight: Carlos Newton vs. Daijiro Matsui

If you spend a lifetime watching fights, you develop a keen eye for certain traits commonly held among fighters. Guys who turn their back during a fight aren’t used to sparring, guys who keep their head on the mat on bottom aren’t used to ground and pound, and guys who come to the ring wearing pro-wrestling masks aren’t used to vaginas. In this fight, we see two men who are primarily grapplers, but who learned to strike against a heavy bag. You can tell this because while their combos are sound, their idea of defending strikes is to leap backwards with their hands at their waist. This is merely one facet of this forgotten classic though between two Pride icons.

Carlos Newton came to Pride after a short career in the UFC and abroad, bringing with him a wealth of non-Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu experience and nearly inhuman athletic potential. Newton claimed to have never touched a weight in his life, but instead would do hundreds of reps of body weight exercises to give him a huge functional strength edge in his fights, combined with gymnast-like flexibility for snapping up submissions from any angle.

Daijiro Matsui came to Pride because he was a fucking pro-wrestler. Despite this, Matsui was from the much more legitimate “catch wrestling” style of pro-wrestling that stable mate Kazushi Sakuraba came from. While his skills were generally in question against top talent, he had heart and an inventive offensive style similar to Saku as well. A common theme between these two men was intelligence and wits inside the ring, making this a symphony of violence.

From the first whipping overhand right from Matsui, you knew this fight was going to be painful to watch, in the best way possible. While both fighters were able to wing monster punches from inconceivable angles, neither of them seemed to understand how to not get hit by them. Not willing to play the striking game with each other just yet, this fight turned into a crazy slopfest of grappling that has to be seen to be believed. At no point did either man think to actually defend a god damn thing, but rather find desperate ways out of every submission and takedown they found themselves in. From Matsui prying his arm out of an armbar by standing on Newton’s neck to Newton avoiding a single leg by axe kicking Matsui in the kidney, this fight became a contest in ridiculous offense.

With the proverbial scorecards tied coming into the final round, both men forgot about grappling and decided to just swing for the fences against an opponent that didn’t understand how to block. The fight became a live action version of Tekken, with Matsui and Newton stringing together four and five punch combinations at will, landing with such frequency that Compubox thought it was watching two Floyd Mayweather’s fight inside a casket. The final telling blow of the fight came after Newton scored with a running uppercut that sent Matsui to his knees, and momentarily stood over him. Both men locked eyes for several seconds, before Newton decided he wasn’t a nice guy after all and front kicked Matsui in the jaw. Take that unified rules! With that exclamation point, Newton took the decision win in one of the most inventive displays of violence ever seen. Carlos Newton went on to be famously power bombed into a coma by Matt Hughes in the UFC, and had an up and down career as a fan favorite. Matsui did the same, minus having his spine fractured by a farmer.

Side Dish vs. Side Dish

The Event: Rumble On The Rock 8

The Year: 2006

The Fight: Eric “Butterbean” Esch vs. Wesley “Cabbage” Correira

Technically this isn’t “old school MMA”, but considering it happened in Hawaii where you’re still allowed to fight with boat paddles, I’ll let it slide. With Hawaii having no athletic commission, you can essentially have any kind of bout you’d like with all kinds of outrageous rules, and this one was no exception:  MMA rules striking, but you could only be on the ground for ten seconds. Considering both men involved were invincible to strikes, I can’t decide if this was genius match-making or a mad scientists attempt to create a perpetual motion machine-made out of fat guys.

Butterbean vs. Cabbage

Fat guy number one was legendary tough man and 4 round boxer Eric “Butterbean” Esch. A man with absolutely no trace of a neck, he made a name for himself by clobbering his way across the country and became a star attraction of boxing, as someone who guaranteed fireworks in the ring. His trip to kickboxing was far less prosperous due to that whole kicking thing, and his trip to MMA was even more far less prosperous due to that whole grappling thing, yet he was a gamer just the same. With a reputation for being nearly indestructible in a toe-to-toe fight, Rumble On The Rock pulled out their not-so-secret heavyweight weapon.

Wesley “Cabbage” Correira was a novice fighter in all honesty, but a novice fighter you’d have to suplex into the sun to finish in a fight. While he did carry some heavy hands, it was his ability to go punch for punch with anyone that won him that day, or lost to him that day in spectacular fashion. No one actually thought he could beat elite competition, but we certainly loved to watch him try. This attitude also earned him a dubious record in the UFC for absorbing the most power punches in a single fight against Tim Sylvia. If Cabbage fought Terminator at UFC 1, Terminator would have lost via TKO (depleted battery) after forty years of combat.

So, two men who couldn’t be knocked out entered the cage looking to do the impossible, and the result was exactly what you’d expect: unrelenting violence. Cabbage immediately charged towards Butterbean and started putting together combinations on his unyielding head while tenderizing his lead leg with crushing kicks. This got a smile out of Butterbean, who then started throwing shovel hooks that would cave in a battleship’s stern. After a takedown, Cabbage used all ten seconds of ground control to its fullest, landing a dozen 12-6 elbows on Butterbean’s eye, just because he could do that in Hawaii. In the clinch, Cabbage started putting together vicious combinations of punches and elbows while holding Butterbean stationary, and thus a pivotal moment played out.

Holding Butterbean to the fence, Cabbage reared up and slammed an elbow directly into Butterbeans mouth, and then backed off with a three punch combination. With the same calm composure you or I would have while combing our hair, Butterbean removed his mouthguard, shook his broken teeth out of it and put it back. Oh, he also told Cabbage to fucking bring it. Over the course of two rounds, Butterbean took everything Cabbage could give and answered back with body shots that left Cabbage curling up against the fence in agony. Finally, the fight came to an unexpected end between rounds, when the doctor forced a stoppage. Why? Because Cabbage had broken his elbow on Butterbean’s teeth! This is only slightly less crazy than breaking your foot on someone’s scrotum. Thus ended a battle of the ages, and the most bizarrely violent bout of early MMA.

That’s all I’ve got for today, but keep me in mind whenever you want to relive the glory days of this proud sport. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to convince Bjorn Rebney to set up an open weight tournament next season. All these weight classes are giving me a headache.

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