mma / Columns

History of the UFC 12.10.07: UFC XXVI – Ultimate Field of Dreams

December 10, 2007 | Posted by Matt McEwen

Last time out in Japan at Ultimate Japan 3, the UFC crowned a new middleweight champion in the form of their new poster boy for MMA, “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz. They needed a new face of the company as Frank Shamrock – who management very likely preferred in that role over Ortiz – was becoming both bored inside the Octagon and a business problem outside of it.

With champions in all three divisions for the first time in quite a while, the UFC continued to charge forward in the face of their continuing – and growing – financial problems by continuing their ramped up event schedule, here presenting their third event in the first half of 2000.

The financial problems were growing, however, mostly as a result of distribution issues. Ever since lifetime boxing fan John McCain began a national campaign to have what he saw as barbaric contests banned nationwide, the UFC found both its popularity and available audience shrinking.

First, the PPV universe shrunk to the point that only one national distributor – DirectTV – continued to air every event in the US, while international markets such as Canada also suffered varying levels of interruption.

Hardcore fans that were not part of the DirecTV network were able to keep up with the UFC through the home video market – albeit on several months delay. That avenue was shut down after UFC XXIII though, as at that point parent company SEG lost its home video distributor and UFC videos (VHS….remember those?) disappeared off Blockbuster shelves everywhere. While hardcore fans were upset, casual fans essentially disappeared.

To combat these issues, SEG was making efforts – some might say last ditch ones – to gain the acceptance of the nation’s two major state athletic commissions – those being New Jersey and Nevada – in order to gain both legitimacy and access to the two most popular fight destinations in the US.

Not yet having cleared the athletic commissions, SEG continued to bring the Octagon to states that were less scrupulous about where their fees were coming from, mostly taking place in Louisiana and Alabama, but also going international by creating the (sort of) separate entity of “UFC-J”, created to open up the Japanese market and in time become its own promotion. With SEG on the verge of bankruptcy running one promotion, the second was doomed to fail. (Side note: In my last article, I said Ultimate Japan 3 marked the end of the UFC-J experiment, but there will actually be one more show there at the end of 2000. My bad.)

So, in the face of all this doom and gloom, the obvious best medicine would be to put on the best fights possible. To their credit, they were trying. Matchmaker John Perretti was trying to put together top-level fights, but they were either foiled by unexpected circumstances (Randleman vs. Rizzo at UFC XXIV) or by a clashing of styles that left fans wanting more (Ortiz vs. Silva at UFC XXV). Perretti was definitely a knowledgeable fan of MMA, but his interest in matching wrestlers versus strikers sometimes led to boring cards.

So, in the face of all this adversity, the UFC would turn to its heavyweight championship (for better or for worse, the heavyweight title will always be the focal point of a promotion) to deliver the goods as the long awaited – and once delayed – title fight between champion Kevin Randleman and top challenger Pedro Rizzo would finally step into the cage to decide who was the top heavyweight in the UFC. The first time this fight was scheduled, Randleman took a spill in the back before the fight and knocked himself out. The fight was announced as cancelled at the end of the PPV, leading to fans actually suing over the event. Yet another black eye for the organization.

And, since this event was taking place in Iowa, at this point the most legitimate athletic commission to allow MMA fights, hometown hero and lightweight champion and legend Pat Militech is on the card as well.

So with two title fights on tap, we head to Cedar Rapids and UFC XXVI: Ultimate Field of Dreams (it’s a bad name, I know, but it is what it is.)

The most important note coming out of the opening of the PPV is that there is now a fourth weight division recognized by the UFC, as a new 155lb and under bantamweight division has been created. To show off this new division, out opening fight takes place at this weight.

Bantamweights (155lbs and under)

Jens Pulver
(1-0-1, 5’7,149lbs),
vs.
Jaoa Roque
(0-0, 5’4, 149)

Pulver’s game plan is to punch Roque hard and see how good his grappling is when he is groggy. From that comment, you can guess that yes, to show off the new division, we get another “classic” striker vs. grappler contest. Pulver, of course, is a sort of local boy as he trains with Militech, while Roque is a BJJ black belt.

Round 1

Pulver comes forward right off the bat and Roque wants no part of the stand up, so he is shooting immediately. Essentially, Roque has no interest in getting punched while Pulver has no interest on being on the ground in any way shape or form. They also mention that anyone wearing shoes tonight – as Pulver is – will not be allowed to kick at all. Good rule, that.

Back to the fight, and it’s like a Mexican standoff. Roque can’t set up a good takedown as Pulver has zero respect for his standup, while Pulver can’t do any damage on the ground if he’s afraid of Roque’s guard.

10-9 round for Pulver thanks to the stuffed takedowns in what can best be described as a feeling out round.

Round 2

Roque is actually able to score an early takedown in this round, but Pulver quickly sweeps to gain top position. From here, does he use some ground and pound? Does he try to pass to mount? Some submissions? Some thrilling lay and pray? Nope, he stands up. Roque spends the rest of the round trying to pull Pulver down to the ground, but it isn’t happening. The fans are getting restless, and Pulver isn’t helping the situation by being so hesitant with his strikes.

If the first round was about feeling each other out, this round was about boring the crowd.

10-9 for Pulver again.

Round 3

Blatnick says we have to give Roque credit for his persistence for continuing to try and shoot for the double leg. Personally, I say he should learn to set up his shot, or maybe even how to box a little.

Pulver wins yet another boring round, as Roque’s entire offense consists of falling backwards and begging Pulver to jump into his guard.

Pulver wins a unanimous decision and the UFC brain trust has to be wondering if this bantamweight division was a good idea after all.

We head backstage with Kevin Randleman, and he is intense. He throws out a couple of F-bombs, and he is ready to go tonight. Personally, I’m glad to see he is sitting down, so that if he does fall, he won’t go that far down.

Lightweights (156lbs to 169lbs)

Marcelo Aguiar
(0-0, 5’10, 169lbs)
vs.
Matt Hughes
(1-0, 5’9, 169lbs)

Everyone’s favorite arsehole makes his PPV debut. Hughes won his UFC debut in a prelim a few shows ago, but he is one of the more experienced competitors out there, as this is his 16th pro fight.

Aguiar is a Muay Thai expert, so he’ll want to stay standing up. Good luck with that.

Round 1

They slug it out for a bit to start, but Hughes takes him down into Aguiar’s guard. He sets him up with some short rib shots, then starts landing some head shots. They are right in front of his corner, and his corner men are giving out some great advice. To his credit, Hughes listens well, as he puts in practice everything they are shouting out to him. They tell him to throw some elbows, and he does, one of which opens up an ugly cut on Aguiar, which ends the fight.

A nice TKO win by Hughes in his PPV debut here. Should be fun to watch his game (and ego) grow as his career progresses.

Tito Ortiz – wearing a pair of those stupid yellow-lensed glasses that were all the rage among discerning douche bags in 2000 – joins in on commentary. He doesn’t say much he hasn’t said several times before, but I had to mention those idiotic glasses.

Middleweights (170lbs to 199lbs)

Alex Andrade
(0-0, 5’11, 196lbs)
vs.
Amaury Bitteti
(0-1, 5’6, 195lbs)

Goldberg hypes up Andrade as being one of the best in the world in this weight class. He’s fighting out of the Lion’s Den in Dallas, so he has some decent training partners. On commentary, Ortiz says he has never heard of him before. Nice.

Bitteti is making his return to the Octagon for the first time in 4 years, as he was beat up by Don Frye way back at UFC IX.

Round 1

Bitteti has developed a nasty front leg kick, and he uses it early to try and set up the takedown. Andrade is able to stuff it, but he ends up eating some knees in the clinch. They separate and Bitteti is smacking him pretty good on their feet, which is a bit of a surprise. A right hook lands flush on Andrade’s eye, which probably resulted in Excedrin headache # 453. Bitteti gets pretty confident at that point, only to get caught with a left hook. Bitteti does the desperation shoot of the stunned fighter, but Andrade steps away and then kicks him in the head. This is bad for two reasons – firstly, he kicked a downed opponent, which is a no-no, but also because he’s wearing shoes. Double no-no results in a foul and a point being taken away. Perhaps worst of all, is that he had Bitteti hurt and now he gets a chance to recover.

On the restart, Andrade unloads and drops Bitteti again, but they end up clinched against the fence, where the place slows a bit. They come off the cage and Bitteti lands a lot of short shots in the Thai clinch. They separate again, and Andrade closes out the round by throwing a leg kick. The kick lands, but unfortunately for him he is still wearing shoes, which means he gets a second point taken away.

9-8 round for Bitteti based on the knockdowns and the fouls.

Round 2

They box to stat, and Andrade concludes the exchange by throwing a high kick.

In the words of Elmer Fudd, “Th…tha…..That’s all, folks!” Andrade is disqualified in a nice show of mental stupidity. Too bad, as the first round was a good fight, but what the hell are you doing kicking a third time after getting two fouls in the first round? Jeebus.

Lightweight Championship (156lbs to 169lbs)

Pat Militech
(5-0, 5’10, 169lbs)
vs.
John Alessio
(0-0, 5’9, 169lbs)

The Champ comes back from a 10 month injury layoff, only now he might be more known as the top trainer in MMA rather than as its top competitor.

Alessio (who was in the corner of Mac Danzig last Saturday at the Ultimate Finale) says he started watching the UFC three years prior to this, started training two years prior to this, and now – at the ripe old age of 20 – gets a title shot.

Personally, I find it annoying that each of Militech’s defenses have been against guys that are making their UFC debuts, but I’m beginning to see that outside of the heavyweights, that seems to be part of the marketing strategy of the UFC.

Both guys are the same size as of the weigh in, but Militech is noticeably the bigger man, let alone the fact that an in shape 32 year old man will be naturally stronger than a in shape 20 year of , all things being equal. Of course, Militech cuts to get to 170, so I’m sure that helps too.

Round 1

Militech gets an early takedown, but Alessio catches a good guillotine and locks it in while in full guard. It looks quite tight and dangerous for a second, but Militech is able to pull free. He has Alessio’s head against the cage, but the young Canadian’s guard is good enough that no strikes land the rest of the round.

10-9 for Militech mostly for deciding where the fight would take place, but you could score the round the other way based on the submission attempt.

Round 2

They come out throwing a little bit to start, then they end up in the clinch. Militech uses his strength to lift and slam Alessio, taking full mount once they land. He transitions nicely into a different looking armbar for the submission.

So Militech returns with a tap out victory and looks like he felt out both his opponent and his body in the first round, then finished at will in the second.

Post fight, Militech (after talking to the eerily Vincent Price – circa the Hilarious House of Frightenstein – like SEG president Bob Meyerwitz) says this was the first time he stepped into the Octagon in top shape and been able to show how good he really is. Since that was his best showing easily, I completely agree.

Middleweights (170lbs to 199lbs)

David Dodd
(0-1, 6’2, 199lbs)
vs.
Tyrone Roberts
(0-0, 5’9, 199lbs)

Roberts is the (considerably) little brother to Andre “The Chief” Roberts, and trains with the Militech camp, though he is a natural boxer.

Dodd lost to Travis Fulton in heavyweight prelim fight at UFC XXI, but has dropped a few pounds and is looking to use his BJJ to pick up his first win.

Dodd looks to be the bigger fighter, as he comes in good shape, while Roberts looks a little doughy.

Round 1

Roberts snaps Dodd’s head back with a right early on, but Dodd seems happy to box in spite of that. He tries to mix in a kick, but Roberts grabs it and takes Dodd down. He uses some short elbows from the bottom, and opens up a little cut on Roberts. Dodd starts looking for a kimura, but can’t lock it in and the round ends amid a bunch or rabbit punching.

Probably 10-9 for Roberts, but he comes out with a busted nose for his troubles.

Round 2

Roberts scores a quick takedown, and they spend about a minute and half laying there until Dodd reverses and they both get back to their feet. Roberts lands a combo and Dodd looks tired. He walking in and backing up straight, so he’s in danger of getting caught…that is he would be, if Roberts ever decided to throw a punch.

Another 10-9 round for Roberts, but both guys looked very tired at the end. Not an exciting round.

Round 3

Dodd wants the fight on the ground, but Roberts punishes him for trying. That sums up the entire round, as not much goes on here.

I don’t really know how to score that round, but it doesn’t matter as Roberts wins a unanimous decision in a boring, boring fight.

Heavyweight Championship (200lbs and over)

Kevin Randleman
(2-1, 5’10, 219lbs)
vs.
Pedro Rizzo
(4-0, 6’1, 232lbs)

We’ve seen style clashes make for bad fights tonight, but hopefully this striker vs. wrestler match up bucks that trend.

Side note – They seem to have a promotion going on with the movie version of “Fight Club.” I want to go on a rant about how the fighting was really an unimportant part of that story, but this might not be the time nor the place.*

One the keys to this fight might be size, as while Randleman is a freak of nature physically, he is really a middleweight fighter, while Rizzo is a legit heavyweight.

Round 1

Randleman rushes out to take the center of the Octagon, but one full minute into the round neither guy has thrown a thing and the fans start to boo. My concern is that we’re about to see the tentative, hesitant counter-fighting version of Rizzo as opposed to the aggressive version. Randleman explodes into a double leg and scores the takedown. Rizzo’s guard is good enough to avoid punishment and Randleman can’t pass.

10-9 Randleman in a less than awe inspiring opening round.

Round 2

Another slow opening minute, and ref Big John McCarthy feels the need to call time and tell them to “fucking go.” Blatnick invokes the ghost of Severn/Shamrock II from Detroit, and I shiver at the thought.

With 30 seconds left in the round, Rizzo throws a high kick that just misses, and lands a leg kick onto the massive thigh of Randleman.

Awful round, but I’ll say 10-9 Rizzo for the bigger shots at the end of the round.

Round 3

This better be better.

Nope, it’s not.

They do nothing of note for the opening minute again, until Randleman clinches and an accidental head butt opens a cut on Rizzo’s head. Other than that, no action in the clinch. They separate and stare at each other some more. Rizzo finally throws another leg kick, but then goes back to staring.

Somehow, Rizzo’s eye is swelling shut. He throw a surprise high kick which connects, but Randleman shoots and gets the takedown and a nice punch on the way to the ground to finish off the round.

10-9 Randleman for the takedown. Except for the last 10 seconds, awful, awful round. One of the worst I’ve seen.

Round 4

Another opening minute of staring. This is painful to watch. A second minute of nothing. Randleman initiates the clinch, but nothing doing. He does land a right hand late in the round.

Dear God….how do you score that crap? Can they both lose a round? Randleman is up a round or two I think, so he’s in the lead, but I really can’t score this.

Round 5

Will they finish with a bang? No, no they won’t.

They just stare again, and McCarthy threatens to call fouls on both of them. It’s that bad.

Randleman clinches again, and they waltz around the cage once or twice, which makes this round essentially competitive hugging.

Fans throw garbage into the cage, and I can’t really blame them. That was the worst main event in the history of the UFC, with only the aforementioned Shamrock/Severn II battle coming close to stinking as bad as this.

Marco Ruas looks quite disappointed in Rizzo’s corner, and that makes two of us.

The crowd chants “Bullshit” as Randleman wins by unanimous decision to retain the tile. They try hard to hype him up as being brave to try and stand with a better striker in Rizzo, but I would be more impressed with that strategy had Rizzo tried to strike.

The 411: So, standing behind the 8 ball, needing a good show to help pull them out of the doldrums and keep at least a bit ahead of financial ruin, we get this show. While Pat Militech comes out of this looking the best he ever has in the Octagon and ready to make a long run as champion and Matt Hughes looks good in his PPV debut, the Bantamweight division debuts with a dud, the best fight of the night ends in a dq before it can get really good, we get a boring throw away middleweight fight, and then the most anticipated heavyweight battle in quite some time results in an absolutely awful fight. This is certainly not a good way to keep fans happy....
 
Final Score:  3.0   [ Bad ]  legend

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Matt McEwen

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