mma / Columns

The History of the UFC: The Ultimate Ultimate 1996

July 2, 2007 | Posted by Matt McEwen

It is the end of another year and once again the UFC presents what could be the biggest show of the year as, on December 7th 1996, they presented The Ultimate Ultimate 96. Just like last years event, this is a tournament of champions and almost champions – or at least guys fans would recognize.

The forced southern tour continues here, as they emanate from Birmingham, Alabama, which is at least a town everyone has heard of, which can not be said for all future events. The reason fro this continued Deep South tour was the continued political pressure being applied by Senator McCain and like minded friends. That pressure would also make this the final UFC available to the entire PPV world until the Zuffa purchase nearly five years later.

As to how much they knew about their pending issues, I really can not say. I would imagine though that the pressure to put on a good, exciting show was here to please both the fans and the PPV companies they were hoping to stay on.

So, the status quo stands, and the UFC is in yet another near make-or-break situation. How would they do this time? On to the show……

…but before the PPV, there were two prelim fights, as Steve Nelmark (1-0) defeated Marcus Bossett (1-1), and Mark Hall (3-2) beat Felix Mitchell (0-2).

The Ultimate Ultimate 96

If they did know this would the last UFC most people would see for a while then they want to go out with a bang – Ken Shamrock, Don Frye, Tank Abbott and Kimo are all on hand for the tournament, along with a bunch of familiar faces. Bruce Beck does inform us very quickly that defending tournament champion Mark Coleman is off the show due to a virus, so the tournament is weakened a bit, but it is still a deep and interesting field.

Jeff Blatnick is still in the booth, but no Don Wilson tonight, so we get Tony Blauer as a very uncomfortable backstage interviewer. Blauer does make some very nice points about the martial arts cross training most competitors have been doing as the UFC has “evolved into it’s own fighting discipline.” I wonder how much longer until the words “mixed martial arts” gets mentioned. Of course, they still haven’t figured out “side control” yet, so I guess I shouldn’t hope for too much too soon.

1st Round

Brian Johnston (2-2) vs Ken Shamrock (5-2-2)

This should be a big test for Shamrock right off the bat here, as Johnston has had some good showings in his two events so far. They actually refer to him as possibly the best all around competitor in the UFC, combining his kickboxing, judo and wrestling skills. I wonder what Don Frye would think about that. He also looks a bit bigger to, as they mention that he has put on 5lbs or so of muscle on. Still got his American flag shorts too.

As Shamrock comes out, they refer to him as the favorite tonight, which I find funny since he has never made it through an entire one yet. In interviews leading up to this event, Shamrock did say that he was not going to be so much of a counter fighter and would be much more aggressive. As for this match up, I would say if he is able to bring the larger Johnston down to the ground he will have a good chance to win.

Our ring announcer tonight is a guy named Manny Garcia, who is no Bruce Buffer but is at least better than the “G-Man.”

As for the fight, they circle each other to start, with neither guy willing to engage. Johnston eventually throws a low kick and gets taken down with his head pinned against the cage. Shamrock unloads a barrage of punches but Johnston is able to hold on for a while. He doesn’t look hurt at all, but he is not doing a whole lot from the bottom. At one point, Shamrock holds onto the fence, which earns an admonishment from Big John. Apparently that is a new rule they have neglected to tell us – no more grabbing the fence.

Shamrock slows a little bit and Johnston is able to land a nice elbow from the bottom, only to have Shamrock slide a forearm across his throat and force the tap out. Good, aggressive win for Shamrock but I can’t imagine someone pulling off a win with that technique today.

So, now that Shamrock has won, I will guess that he is going to pull out of the fight. And I would be…….RIGHT! Shamrock claims a broken hand and pulls out of the tournament. He also becomes a causality of the reduced income stream generated by future UFC events, as after this it is almost 6 years before Shamrock steps into the Octagon again. It’s off to the WWE with Ken….

Don Frye (6-1) vs Gary Goodridge (3-3)

This is a rematch from the finals of the David vs Goliath tournament, and while Don Frye seems to have improved and evolved his skills in each successive appearance, Goodridge still seems to be the one dimensional striker he was in Puerto Rico. Let’s see if the rematch goes different than Frye’s two and half minute victory in their first fight.

Goodridge rushes Frye right away but eats a big right hand for his troubles. Into the clinch, and Frye starts to land some knees. They end up clinched against the fence with both guys landing blows but Frye getting the best of it utilizing knees and some good dirty boxing. He also makes use of the gi that Goodridge continues to wear, holding onto the shoulder of the jacket and using it to control Goodridge’s dangerous right hand. Frye really shows how much he has been working on his clinch skills, varying his attack with elbows, knees and headbutts.

Frye eventually tires of holding the bigger man against the fence and lets him off of it., only to clinch and force him to the fence again after a short boxing exchange. Goodridge is actually able to take Frye down and starts to work out of his 1/2 guard. We get a good bit of lay and pray at this point, as Goodridge’s stamina is still not good and he is tired. Frye tries for some submissions, but eventually sweeps Goodridge and gets into the top position. An exhausted Goodridge taps out rather than take punishment, and Frye is onto the semis.

Pretty interesting fight, which proves to be the final UFC appearance of Goodridge, who leaves with a losing record and some unfulfilled potential.

Tank Abbott (4-3) vs Cal Worsham (1-1)

I will give Worsham credit for taking the UFC seriously, as he shows up in even better shape than he did last time, which itself was a huge improvement over his debut.

Tank may not show up in great shape every time, but he is 25lbs lighter this time, coming in at 273 and looking decidedly less soft. Well, as “less-soft” as Tank can get really. As he comes out, you can see Tito Ortiz make his UFC debut as a cornerman.

This could actually be a pretty interesting fight as both guys enjoy swinging for the fences. Sure enough, they come out swinging. Tank shoots for a takedown and lifts Worsham up for a body slam. Seriously, this looks like a pro wrestling move. Worsham grabs the top of the cage to avoid getting slammed, and Tank decides to throw him out of the cage. If he was a bit taller, I think he would have done it too. Tank eventually slams him to the ground. Very fun opening to the fight.

Tank ends up in side control, and goes for an ankle!?!?! Tank going for submissions??? This fight is now officially nuts. He fails at the ankle attempt, and ends up in Worsham’s guard. Worsham’s defense mostly consists of keeping his hands in Tank’s face, while his corner calls Tank a “fat slob.” I’m not going to say they are wrong, but that might irritate the big man and might not be the best idea.

Worsham suddenly taps for no obvious reason and then stands up yelling at Tank. He is so angry that Big John has to restrain him in the corner. On the replay, you can see that Tank hits him a bit late with a punch, but had no way of knowing that he tapped. Worsham wants him dq’ed, but Big John tells him it is not happening.

Three fights in, and three departures, as this is the end of Worsham’s tenure in the UFC. He has fought as recently as 2006, but hasn’t really had any fights of notes, and has an overall record of 10-9.

Kimo (0-2) vs Paul Varelans (4-3)

Varelans claims that no one will work with him since they fear how good he could be if he learned all the proper techniques. I’m sure it has nothing to do with his reportedly lovely personality.

For his part, Kimo is coming in nearly 40lbs lighter than his last appearances, showing up as a leanly muscled 235lber. Of course, it looks like Varelans has been finding all the weight Kimo has been losing, as he is HUGE at 340lbs.

Originally, Mark Coleman was scheduled to take on Varelans, which would have been an intriguing match up.

The story of this fight is Kimo trying to take the 100lbs bigger Varelans down, as he has been working on his wrestling skills. It is hard to take that much weight down though, and Varelans sprawls and lands elbows to the back of the Hawiian’s head and back. After about three minutes of hard wrestling and clinching, Varelans falls onto Kimo and starts to work out of his 1/2 guard.

Varelans lands a few punches but nothing major, while Kimo attempts some submissions which go nowhere. We stay in this position for about five minutes, as Varelans is tired and Kimo has to deal with 340lbs laying on him. Kimo is able to roll the big man and mounts him as the end up wedged against the fence. A few big rights by Kimo and Big John stops the fight.

Not a lot of action in this one, but these guys were exhausted. There was a lot of effort by both guys throughout the full nine minute fight, with each guy really giving it his all to gain control.

Kimo advances but pulls out of the tournament due to dehydration, while this is – you guessed it – Varelans final UFC appearance. He would hang around the MMA world until late 1998, but hasn’t been heard from in almost 10 years now.

Semi Finals

Steve Nelmark (2-0) vs Tank Abbott (5-3)

Highlights are shown of Nelmark’s victory over Marcus Bossett in the prelim fight, which he won with what I would call “bouncy” headbutts. You have to see this if you get a chance, as both guys heads pogo off the mat together. Almost looks like a dance.

As for the fight, while Nelmark is a fairly big guy at 250lbs and looks mean, Tank eats him alive. Tank cracks him with a huge right at the start of the fight, slams him to the ground but gets caught in a guillotine. He pulls free and Nelmark stands up against the fence until Tank’s massive right cross drops him. His knees buckle and his head wedges against the cage in one of the ugliest looking scenes yet in the UFC. He would walk out of the cage on his own though, as it only looked bad.

Decisive win for Tank, and the sped of it will only serve him well for the finals as stamina has always been his Achilles heel.

Mark Hall (3-2) vs Don Frye (7-1)

Frye gets his second straight rematch, and the last time these two fought in the UFC it was all Frye. They had fought a second time a month before this fight at U-Japan, with Hall losing that one by submission in just over five minutes. So this is their third fight in five months

This one is over quick, as Hall tries to pull guard only to have Frye drop down and pull a heel hook for a quick submission, leaving Hall unable to stand up. This takes all of 20 seconds.

As Hall is helped from the Octagon, you can clearly see the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer in the crowd.


Don Frye (8-1) vs Tank Abbott (6-3)

I foresee some brawling here.

They walk out and meet in the center of the Octagon, where Tank promptly lands a straight left jab that nearly floors Frye. Tanks rushes in and is landing some good shots, and eating only a few. Probably a 4 to 1 ratio here.. Tank is a bit over anxious though, as in his rushes, he slips, allowing Frye to hop on his back. Tank fights off the first rear naked choke attempt, but can’t avoid the second one, and it is over.

Ultimate Ultimate 96 Champion – Don Frye.

This fight was short but all action. Frye looked greatly improved in his submissions, while Tank looked like he was going to win until he had a bit of bad luck and slipped.

Post fight, Frye says that it was a concentrated effort on his part to go for more submissions, as he does not like being though of as one dimensional. Now, it wouldn’t be the UFC if this wasn’t Frye’s last appearance. It was also his last MMA fight for five years as he moved on to the wonderful world of Japanese puroresu for a few years.

For his part, Tank spends most his time bad mouthing Scott Ferrozzo. I think he felt a bit redeemed from his bad showing in that fight.

The 411: A pretty solid show overall with several good fights. Even the quickie fights were pretty exciting. A deep field really made for some interesting match ups. Historically, we say goodbye to a lot of familiar faces here, and the UFC says goodbye to most of its fans for the next five years as PPV providers nationwide drop them. So, in hindsight this is a pretty imprortant show on top of being a pretty good event in and of itself.
Final Score:  8.0   [ Very Good ]  legend

article topics

Matt McEwen
comments powered by Disqus