mma / Columns

The History of the UFC: UFC XII – Judgement Day

July 9, 2007 | Posted by Matt McEwen

Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to the dark(er) ages.

As 1996 rolled into 1997, the UFC was staring a whole new set of challenges in the face. Controversial from their beginnings, the UFC rode the wave of sensationalism to a huge national profile and counter culture icon status. The promoters were making big profits off of then record PPV buy rates and in turn had used that money to put together what would become a high profile roster of fighters.

Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Don Frye, Tank Abbott and Mark Coleman all became household names to varying degrees as the UFC entered into and achieved a high spot in the national conscience. Gracie would be the first to leave, but as 1997 dawned, the UFC had unknowingly seen the final fights of many of their biggest stars in the Octagon.

Longtime boxing fan and opponent of what would become MMA, Arizona Senator John McCain had succeeded in dealing the UFC a major, if not fatal, blow. Using many of his FCC and media connections, McCain convinced nearly ever major PPV provider of the era to give up on the UFC. Following in their big brothers’ footsteps, many of the smaller local providers followed suit and ceased showing the events. The only cable provider to stick by the UFC in these troubled times was DirectTV. While it still provided a lifeline for the struggling promotion, it was a thin one. It is hard to estimate what the entire PPV universe was at the time, but to say the UFC had access to about only 10% of the customers in 1997 that they did in 1996 would not be outlandish.

Of course, less potential customers means less actual customers, and less customers meant massively less income. It was this cut in profit that would lead many fighters to move on to more lucrative fields – whether that meant fighting in Japan, moving to pro wrestling or both – or just to move on from competitive fighting altogether.

But finding a PPV audience wasn’t the only problem the UFC was having at this point. They were banging their heads against the wall just trying to find a place to hold UFC XII: Judgment Day.

Originally, they had planned to return to New York for the first time in several years, after already having to move UFC XIII to Puerto Rico after problems with the state legislature. This time, they worked closely with the New York State Boxing Commission, even having their fighters taking medical exams. These exams led to a change in the original main event, which was to be Don Frye taking on his mentor, Dan Severn. Frye had suffered a broken hand in defeating Tank Abbott in the main event of the Ultimate Ultimate 96 though, and could not gain clearance to fight. He was removed from the card (and would never fight in the Octagon again) and replaced with Mark Coleman, who was recovering from an ailment that affected his pituitary gland. Of course, before the show ever took place, the boxing commission would decide that it would not sanction a UFC event in New York state, forcing the show to be moved to Oregon. Well, at least they planned on moving the show to Oregon until the Oregon Athletic Commission banned the event as well. Faced with a dilemma, they chose their old stomping grounds of Alabama – this time in Dothan – and put on the show.

UFC XII: Judgment Day

The show took place on February 7th 1997, live from the Dothan Civic Center as they finally found a home for the first show of what has become known as the “underground” era of the UFC. From the overall tone of the show, it seemed that they believed their PPV problems were temporary and that they would be back in the arms of a national audience soon. Of course, the problems they had finding a state willing to host the show had to be deeply concerning as well.

On top of the forced business changes, there were several changes that would affect the on screen product as well. For the first time, there would be two separate tournaments as rudimentary weight classes are introduced here. There would be a four man tournament to decide the heavyweight (200+lbs) champion, a four man lightweight (199lbs and less) tournament, as well as the crowning of the first ever UFC Heavyweight champion. The former “SuperFight” championship is no more, as the final “SuperFight” champion Dan Severn would take on undefeated Mark Coleman for the first heavyweight championship. A keen eye will see that this is essentially a name change that means nothing other than getting rid of the asinine “SuperFight” title, but a little progress is better than none.

They have been able to keep Bruce Beck and Jeff Blatnick around in the broadcast booth despite the coming cutbacks, and both seem quite excited about the introduction of weight classes to the UFC, which they feel will allow many smaller but skilled fighters to compete. Making his UFC debut at this event is future fixture Joe Rogan, who will be doing backstage and in ring interviews tonight. Just to get an idea how long ago this was, the introduce him as “Newsradio” star Joe Rogan – Fear Factor was just a twinkle in some under talented producers eye at this point.

Lightweight First Round

Jerry Bohlander (2-1) vs Rainy Martinez (0-0)

Ken Shamrock is sitting in on commentary for the lightweight tournament, and he knows Bohlander quite will since he trains him. I’m interested in how this will go as Bohlander is as big as he can be here at 199lbs, which is in stark contrast to the David he usually plays to the Goliaths of the Octagon.

Martinez’s goal in the fight is to take the fight where Bohlander doesn’t want it. However, since he is essentially a wrestler with little stand up, I can’t see him wanting to go anywhere but to the ground, which is exactly where the Lion’s Den trained Bohlander is at his best.

Bohlander feels his experience gives him an edge over the three debuting lightweights tonight, plus he is pretty happy to be fighting guys his own size now. As he makes his way out, Frank Shamrock is in his corner. Trainer Ken thinks that Bohlander’s determination and heart will make the difference.

Manny Garcia makes his second straight announcing appearance. Somehow over the years I’ve managed to forget every other announcer but Bruce Buffer, but there certainly has been a motley crew of them over time. I know since I’m the ostensible expert on these things I should know this if I’m going to mention it, but I wonder what the story with Buffer getting the job is anyways. He was around for one show in a non-announcing capacity, then did one show, and hasn’t been seen since.

As for the fight, Bohlander uses the front leg kick to set up his shot, and ends up in side control with Martinez pinned up against the fence. Martinez is able to roll but Bohlander gains his back and chokes him out for a quick and impressive victory. The fight was really short, but Bohlander looked good as he controlled Martinez with ease. I think he likes be the big dog in the fight.

Before the next fight, they have a shot of a great T-shirt with the saying:

”Why is the UFC in Dothan?

Because New York only allows street gangs to kick your ass!”

It’s funny because it’s true.

Wallid Ismail (0-0) vs Yoshiki Takahashi (0-0)

Two debuting fighters for the UFC, but both guy have made names for themselves outside of the Octagon. Takahashi was a longtime Pancrase competitor who had actually fought Ken Shamrock four times by this point, while Ismail would go on to become a BJJ legend after choking out Royce Gracie in under five minutes. He now runs JugleFight out of Brazil and is considered one of the best grapplers of all time.

Ismail is intense looking to say the least, and actually looks a lot like Manny Gamburyan with a case of the crazy eye. After his intro video, he takes about five minutes to make his way out for some unexplained reason.

The story of the fight for Ismail is his failed attempts at a takedown. He spends the first 8 minutes of the fight fighting hard for the takedown, either not being able to get Takahashi off his feet, or being stymied by the Japanese fighter holding the cage. And that is the other story of the fight – Takahashi not knowing the UFC rules and fighting like it is a Pancrase fight. At one point he drops Ismail with a punch, but instead of trying to capitalize on it, he tells the ref to give him a count. Eventually, Ismail spends his tank trying for the takedown and Takahashi starts teeing off on him, but not being able to finish the fight. They end up going the full twelve minute time limit and the three minute overtime with Takahashi winning a unanimous decision.

Heavyweight First Round

Scott Ferrozzo (2-1) vs Jim Mullen (0-0)

Mullen says that he has seen himself winning 10 different ways with the help of a hypnotherapist, so his victory is already decided and he is just living the motions now. He is a pro kickboxer and boxer, so that means he is crazy and likes to punch. Also, he doesn’t look be in the best of shape as his little love handles and belly cover the top of his shorts.

Mullen, however, does not have the biggest belly in this one, as Ferrozzo’s belly takes the cake…several cakes actually. Even though he’s dropped about 25lbs since his last appearance, he is still hitting 323lbs.

Tank Abbott is doing the color commentary for the heavyweight tourney, and despite bad mouthing the hell out of Ferrozzo the last time he had a mic in his hand, says he doesn’t hold a grudge. He also thinks weight classes only exist since little men suck.

As for the fight, Ferrozzo dominates the striker here. He pins him against the fence and uses various knees, elbows and punches with Mullen pinned against the fence. He gets a moment reprieve when John McCarthy wants to have a look at his badly swollen eye and is able to land a single punch on the restart, but then runs away, gets taken down against the fence again and eats a knee before McCarthy stops it. This fight takes more than eight minutes, but this is essentially all the action that takes place here. Complete mauling by Ferrozzo, but he looks exhausted at the end of the fight.

Vitor Belfort (0-0) vs Tra Telligman (0-0)

This one could be fun. Both guys are debuting here so I don’t think they know just how fun this might be.

Telligman – he of the single pectoral muscle – is another Lion’s Den product, so they push him as another submission fighter, despite his boxing experience. Belfort meanwhile, is a Gracie jiu jitsu product, so despite showing some Vale Tudo highlights of his excellent boxing skills, they all believe he will be looking to work out of the guard as well. We’ll see about that….

Telligman circles Belfort to start as the Brazilian takes the center of the Octagon to start the fight. Belfort engages first with a stiff jab that staggers Telligman and then tries for a takedown, only to pop up and unload several big punches. Telligman tries to come forward again, only to get nailed and dropped again. Belfort jumps past guard into side control and starts dropping elbows until Telligman verbally submits. All that in under a minute and twenty seconds. Great debut by Belfort, showing amazing hand speed, destructive power and good work on the ground. And all that against a guy 30lbs bigger than him. We’ll see if what he can do against a man more than 120lbs bigger if Ferrozzo is able to make it out for the finals.

Joe Rogan lets us all know that Takahashi broke his hand and will be replaced by Nick Sanzo – who beat Jackie Lee in under a minute in a prelim – in the finals against Bohlander.

Lightweight Finals

Jerry Bohlander (3-1) vs Nick Sanzo (1-0)

Sanzo is a jiu jitsu practitioner but they don’t seem to know much else about him. He is weighing only 190lbs, so I think he might be in danger of being another Bohlander mauling victim.

Sanzo comes out with an odd stance, holding his arms straight out in front of him, but he shoots quickly. Bohlander stuffs the attempts and tosses Sanzo around like a rag doll. He ends up taking Sanzo down and using a crucifix to gain a quick tap and become the first ever lightweight champion. Shamrock mentions that Bohlander learned the crucifix in practice just three weeks prior to this event.

The under credited head of SEG, Bob Meyorwitz makes what I believe is his on camera debut as he congratulates Bohlander in what would become a tradition after championship wins over the next few years.

Heavyweight Finals

Vitor Belfort (1-0) vs Scott Ferrozzo (3-1)

Vitor takes the center of the Octagon to start the fight and waits on the mammoth Ferrozzo to come to him. Big left by Belfort stuns the big man, and a second one drops him. Belfort pounces and takes his back, and McCarthy has to stop the fight after five or six unanswered punches. Ferrozzo doesn’t realize the fight is over and tries to take Belfort down until McCarthy and help pull him off.

Belfort and crew celebrate in the ring like he just won the Olympics, and gets interviewed by Joe Rogan in the Octagon. Joe’s valiant attempt at insightful journalism is severely hampered by the fact that Vitor’s English is barely intelligible. Of course, Joe still does his best even today to get good interviews out of people who can barely speak the language.

Post fight, they ask Tank about Shamrock, as apparently Shamrock laid out a challenge a while ago. I think they’re making that up. Tank says that Shamrock needs to at least make it to the finals of a tournament before he makes challenges, and I must say that I totally agree. Tank says he will call the shots and has no interest in fighting “Glamrock” right now, which I would imagine is not what the brass was hoping to hear. Oh well…..once the money dried up here Shamrock was onto the WWF quicker than you can say “I got beat up by the Nasty Boys.”

They have a lot of time to fill in here I guess, as they show about 6 past fights featuring Severn and Coleman . That would be more exciting if I hadn’t watched all these fights within the last month. Of course, if this was 1997 and I was still ordering the PPV, I’d be pretty annoyed that I saw more taped old matches than new ones if I just paid my $25.

Heavyweight Championship Bout

Mark Coleman (5-0) vs Dan Severn (9-2)

I have some fears about how this might go. Both men are coming off of substantial layoffs, and Severn has never been the most exciting fighter in the world, and while Coleman has been aggressive and active in his fights, this is the first time he will be going against a bigger opponent.

Don Frye is sitting in on commentary here since this was supposed to be his big fight, and they are angling for him to go up against the winner in the next title fight, which as I’ve mentioned, won’t be happening.

Before the fight starts, Severn has a really strange exchange with McCarthy as Big John tries to give his last minute instructions. Severn responds by asking a jumble of junior high arithmetic questions involving two trains leaving different towns at different speeds and who has the most apples left at the end. WTF?!?!

Anyhow, drunk or not, Severn starts the action out with a shot that Coleman stuffs pretty easy. He lands a few punches and stuffs another takedown attempt and easily takes Severn’s back. He rides him for a few minutes, landing a few rabbit punches in the process. Severn rolls to his back to try and shrug Coleman off but ends up mounted for his troubles. Coleman locks in a side headlock with Severn’s arm trapped, which eventually turns into a nasty triangle choke which forces Severn to tap not even three minute in.

Now, I would assume that Severn was having some issues coming into the fight judging from whatever nonsense he was babbling to Big John, but even still, he was totally dominated here. This was Severn’s last UFC appearance for a few years, and the last time he was a serious contender in the Octagon. Coleman staked claim to being the top fighter in the UFC with this victory, and signaled a big time changing of the guard here as the second generation of UFC star emerged to go along with the UFC’s new “underground” era.

The 411: This is a pretty hard show to judge really. Most of the fights are all action, but most of them go pretty quickly forcing them to fill time with a lot of old fights. For the most part though, the show is a decent way to start the new year and the new era, as the switch to four man tournaments limit the amount of injuries and tired out fighters. A bit too much filler for it to be a great show, but the fast forward button helps out a lot here.
Final Score:  6.5   [ Average ]  legend

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Matt McEwen
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