mma / Columns

History of the UFC – Ultimate Japan

August 6, 2007 | Posted by Matt McEwen

Well, this one is a bit of a milestone. The powers that be at the UFC must have gotten tired of southern fried cooking, and got a hankering for a little sushi as the Octagon left the United States for the first time and took up residence in Yokohama, Japan on December 21st 1997. Certainly a good way to deal with three quarters of the country banning your event.

On tap tonight, Randy Couture gets his reward for exposing Vitor Belfort as he receives a heavyweight title shot at Maurice Smith. Both Frank Shamrock and the middleweight title debut tonight, as Ken’s younger brother takes on former Olympic gold medalist Kevin Jackson for the newly formed title. Belfort returns in a “SuperFight” against early UFC veteran Joe Charles, and Tank Abbott jumps into a heavyweight tournament that features a future Japanese legend.

As the show starts, there is another familiar face making his debut tonight, as Bruce Beck is gone and gets replaced by a younger, slimmer Mike Goldberg for the first time. It might sound cheesy, but Goldberg’s voice is as much a part of the UFC for me now as anything else, so it’s very nice to hear his voice calling the action.

It looks like I have an edited for commercial resale copy of this event, so we’re straight to the fights. There was a heavyweight tournament alternate match up that did not make my copy, as Tra Telligman (0-1) defeated Brad Kohler (0-0).

Heavyweight Tournament Semi Final

Tank Abbott (6-6) vs Yoji Anjoh (0-0)

A bit of a different start here, as we go backstage to get a look at Tank waiting to be announced. From my puroresu experience, I believe that is a Japanese thing they like to do.

As far as the fighters go, Anjoh is a pro wrestler – and wears his wrestling singlet and full tights. So, we have an undersized – 5’10, 220lbs – pro wrestler taking on an oversized – 6’, 265lbs – brawler. I have a bad feeling for Anjoh in this one.

Goldberg says that Tank is in his best shape ever, but it looks like he’s been doing at least some of his training at Burger King as his gut is getting big. Once the fight begins, Tank comes out typically aggressive and actually takes the fight to the ground quickly, where he proceeds to land some solid strikes. While he is supposedly skilled on the ground, Anjoh has no answer for Tank on the ground. And that is pretty much the story of the entire fight, which goes the distance. Tank takes him down pretty quickly after every restart, punches Anjoh a few times and Anjoh takes it. He tries a leg lock or two, but Tank wins an easy unanimous decision.

After the fight, Tank says that he hurt his left hand and thinks that it could be broken. OhOh.

Marcus Conan Silvera (0-0) vs Kazushi Sakuraba (0-0)

Sakuraba – he of the future legendary status – debuts here after the other representative of Kingdom Pro Wrestling had to withdraw. Sakuraba had defeated Tank Abbott protégé and UFC veteran Paul Herrera two weeks prior to this event and was chosen to be the replacement here. One problem though – the lower weight limit for the tournament was 200lbs and Sakuraba probably weighed only 185lbs here. Easy solution though – LIE. So, we get the undersized – 5’9, 203 lbs(nudge, nudge, wink, wink) Japanese pro wrestler against the fairly large – 6’2, 240lbs – Brazilian jiu jitsu specialist.

Silvera takes the center of the Octagon to start the fight, but Sakuraba is able to score a pretty easy takedown. Silvera is pretty relaxed fighting from the bottom though, as he lands up kicks and punches from his guard. They spin and Silvera is able to get up and gain Sakuraba’s back, but the Japanese competitor is able to spin away and get free. Once they are free of each other on their feet, Silvera starts to land punches with Sakuraba pinned against the fence. He lands a nice left and Sakuraba drops and grabs an ankle and…….McCarthy steps in to stop the fight? He judged that Sakuraba was KO’d by the left hand, but on the replays it is pretty clear that he was attempting a single leg.

After Silvera is announced as the winner via KO, Sakuraba tries to grab the mic from Bruce Buffer, but he twirls that thing like a baton and keeps it out of the Japanese’ hands.

One nice thing I just realized though, is that everyone is getting real entrance music. I can’t tell what half of it is, but it’s a nice change from the usual.

Next up is the middleweight title fight, but before we get that, they announce that the decision of Sakuraba/Silvera has been changed to a no decision, and they will fight again. Tank Abbott DID break his hand, so he is out of the tournament, which will make the Sakuraba/Silvera rematch now the tournament final. Wow….that’s messy.

Middleweight Championship

Frank Shamrock (0-0) vs Kevin Jackson (2-0)

Shamrock makes his UFC debut here, but was well known to the Japanese fans as the King of Pancrase. The hype up his association with Maurice Smith in the “Alliance” as well.

Jackson made an impressive debut at UFC 14 by winning the middleweight tournament. Afterwards he said he wanted the best 200lb fighters in the world, and gets that tonight.

As the fight starts, Jackson immediately shoots but doesn’t set it up at all and eats a right. Johnson does manage to get a single leg takedown, but Shamrock transitions easily to an arm bar and the fight is over in 23 seconds. THAT is how you make a debut.

Post fight, Shamrock is actually humble and thanks everyone he has ever met for helping him reach this point. He even says he got lucky winning so quickly. Wow….Frank without the ego.


Vitor Belfort (3-1) vs Joe Charles (2-1)

Charles comes out to a little Metallica and is making his return to the Octagon for the first time since December 1995. At 38, he is a bit long in the tooth, but he is large at 6’1, 265lbs, but he is a judoko, which so far has not resulted in particularly great results.

He is going up against Belfort, making a quick return to the Octagon after losing for the first time. They are already talking about what he needs to do to reach his potential. That is a big change from his previous appearances.

Belfort initiates, grabbing double under hooks gets a takedown into side control. He quickly mounts, but instead of looking for punches he tries for a kimura. Charles is able to roll, but Belfort takes his back, only to be shrugged off. Belfort regains side control and goes for the kimura again. Transitions from there to taking his back, and this time gets his hooks in. He begins looking for the choke.

Charles does a pretty good job in defending himself, and eventually manages to get free of the attempt. Belfort spins to the mount, but again does not look for punches. Instead, he spins for an arm bar and gains the tap out victory.

That was a really fun grappling display put on by Vitor. Post fight, he says he intended to throw no punches and showcase his grappling skills. Mission accomplished I would say.

Heavyweight Tournament Final

Marcus Conan Slivera (0-0-1) vs Kazushi Sakuraba (0-0-1)

Well, this is the only time I have ever seen an immediate rematch actually be immediate. Slivera was starting to dominate on his feet when the last fight was stopped, so it will be interesting to see if that is his plan again.

Silvera, probably confident from the first fight, comes out aggressive, while Sakuraba is attempting to clinch to get inside his punches. Silvera scores with a takedown, but Sakuraba is able to grab an arm and has a possible kimura. While Silvera more or less has Sakuraba’s back in this position, he can’t do much as he is quite concerned about the kimura.

Eventually, Silvera gets to his feet and tries for a rear naked choke, but Sakuraba drops and for a moment it is hard to tell who is in control. Silvera ends up on his back and Sakuraba buries his head in Silvera’s thighs. That sounds bad, I know. Silvera ends up trying for a kimura, but Sakuraba counters beautifully into an arm bar and the Ultimate Japan tournament championship is his. Another great grappling display

And a legend is born……..

Heavyweight Championship

Maurice Smith (2-0) vs Randy Couture (3-0)

Classic Striker vs Grappler match up, except both guys have shown the foresight to cross train, thus helping to usher in the era of the modern mixed martial artist.

As Smith makes his way out, Goldberg gets to mention how his kicks are like swinging a baseball bat at 85mph…..ahhh….the first of thousands of such references.

For some reason, they play the US national anthem prior to the fight. Why?

Randy is wearing full length black tights, which look a little odd. On the bright side, his hair is slowly receding to present levels. For his part, Smith has only his right foot taped up, which is also odd. In a funny in hindsight comment, they make mention of how Couture’s age doesn’t work against him due to his conditioning. And they are STILL saying that today.

As for the fight, Smith starts with a few leg kicks, and makes Couture come to him. Couture has an exaggerated defensive stance, with his arms completely covering his head to ward off high kicks. Good strategy there. Once he is able to get in range, he shoots and easily takes Smith down.

Much like the Tank fight earlier, this is the story of the fight. Couture is able to take Smith down at will, and control him on the ground. The difference here is that Smith is defensively sound enough to tie Couture up for the most part and avoid most of the shots.

The fight goes 21 minutes – 15 minute regulation and tow 3 minute OT’s – and I would say that 18 of it is Couture on top of Smith controlling him. There is one exchange at the start of the second OT where Smith lands a really solid leg kick, but that is more or less his only real offense. With the takedowns and controlling the tempo of the entire fight, I would say an easy, if not resounding, victory for Couture.

One judge calls it a draw, but the other two give it to the winner, and NEW heavyweight champion, Randy Couture.

Post fight, Smith feels it was more a draw than anything, while Couture is quite humble and very pleased that he won. Unfortunately, he was not so pleased with his UFC contractual status, as this would be his last fight in the Octagon for nearly three years.

The 411: Great show with good matches and lots of controversy and intrigue. That is, of course if you like ground fighting. If you do, this show is a real treat, especially the final three matches. I really like ground fighting, so I think this might be my favourite UFC yet.
411 Elite Award
Final Score:  9.5   [  Amazing ]  legend

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Matt McEwen
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