The History of the UFC: UFC XIV – Showdown
When last we left the world of the UFC, Randy Couture debuted and dominated the heavyweight tournament, Tito Ortiz debuted and came up short in the lightweight tournament and Vitor Belfort destroyed the myth of Tank Abbott’s invincibility. It was a great show that not too many people got to watch on PPV, but a great show nonetheless.
On the heels of that artistic – if not financial – success, the UFC returned to satellite PPV on July 27th 1997, at the sold out Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham, Alabama. The format is the same as the last few events, with a heavyweight tournament featuring the debut of the “Smashing Machine” Mark Kerr, a middleweight (the same as the previous lightweight tournament, just renamed) tournament featuring Olympic gold medal wrestler Kevin Jackson and a main event for the Heavyweight Championship as the seemingly unstoppable Mark “The Hammer” Coleman takes on top level kickboxer Maurice Smith, making his UFC debut in the most hyped match in quite some time.
The opening hype video is all about the Smith-Coleman contest, which is smart since not a lot of UFC fans knew much about Smith. While he was making his UFC debut here, Smith was a top ranked kickboxer as I mentioned, but was also a champion in his own right. While sporting a lackluster 1-4 record in Pancrase, Smith was the Extreme Fighting heavyweight champion and had scored some respectable wins in that smaller promotion. They hype the fight as the best wrestler in the UFC taking on the best striker to ever enter the Octagon. This was a theme they would play up all night long.
As he welcomes us to the broadcast, Bruce Beck actually refers to the UFC as the original “Mixed Martial Arts” competition, marking the first time that phrase had been uttered on a UFC show. Somewhat fitting, since 1997 seems to mark the major change from “spectacle” to “sport” in the history of the UFC.
Prior to the broadcast, there were two alternate fights. In the middleweight division, Anthony Fryklund (0-0) defeated Donnie Chappell (0-0), while heavyweight Alex Hunter (0-0) defeated Sam Fulton (0-1).
There are a few rule changes going into effect for this event, each of which is fairly important. Gloves are mandatory for all fighters from this point on, while pulling hair, kicking your opponent in the nuts or kicking on the ground are now officially illegal. Credit to them for actually announcing these rules, instead of just mentioning them as they came up, which they did in the past.
Joe Moreira (0-1) vs Yuri Vaulin (0-0)
Vaulin is a pro boxer, who they report has had more than 270 fights combined between amateur and professional. He is very tall at 6’4, which could be good for his striking since they report that he has zero ground skills.
That lack of skill could be problematic since he is taking on a BJJ black belt in Moreira. If anyone is happy about the new weight divisions, it is Moreira, who had to deal with a 330lb Paul Varelans in his debut at UFC VIII.
The story of the fight is two fold – Vaulin’s inability to do anything at all on the ground, and Moreira’s inability to finish the boxer. The entire fight – which goes to the 15 minute distance – takes place on the ground, with the exception of the short periods of time it takes Moreira to get the takedown. Vaulin really had no business being in the Octagon, as he had no chance here.
Moreira wins possibly the most one sided decision in UFC history, though I almost feel like he disappointed since he didn’t finish the fight. There’s no excuse for someone as accomplished as Moreira not finishing someone like Vaulin on the ground. Either way, a win is a win, and he advances to the final.
Grapplers 1, Strikers 0
Todd Buttler (0-0) vs Kevin Jackson (0-0)
Butler is a karate expert, while Jackson is a 1992 Olympic gold medalist wrestler. I can guess how this is going to go.
To his credit, Butler knows he can not come out balls to the wall against a wrestler with Jackson’s skill. Blatnick also mentions that Butler has some college wrestling experience, but that really won’t matter much against a gold medalist.
For his part, Jackson says that he is most curious about how he will be able to take a punch, since he has never really been hit in the face before. Since he already fought in an extreme fighting tournament that is saying something about his dominating wrestling ability.
Both guys come into the fight in tip top shape, but Jackson really looks to have a lot of muscle packed into 199lbs. I think a lot of the dominance of the wrestlers at this point – at least since the weight classes were introduced – was their ability to cut weight.
Butler plays it smart and is very patient, trying to make Jackson come to him. Eventually, they end up in a clinch against the fence. Butler does a good job fending off the takedown for a bit, but not for long as Jackson grabs a double leg and slams Butler down. Butler gives up his back quickly, and is forced to tap after Jackson hammers him in the back of the head a few times.
Grapplers 2, Strikers 0.
Before the heavyweight tournament, we get a hype video for Smith. They really lay it on thick about his conditioning, saying he is in the best cardio shape of anyone in the sport.
Mark Kerr (0-0) vs Moti Horenstein (0-1)
Most current MMA fans know of Kerr, whether from his time here in the UFC, his PRIDE appearances or the excellent and sobering documentary „The Smashing Machine“. This would be his North American debut, as he had won a Brazilian Vale Tudo tournament the previous January in his MMA debut.
Horenstein still looks like Jean Claude Van Damme, but now believes he can handle himself on the ground after being beaten by Mark Coleman in his UFC debut. Since he is giving up almost 40lbs to the 255lb Kerr, he’ll need to.
Another patient start here, until Kerr shoots and immediately has side control. He lands some big knees and punches as Horenstein has no answer for either Kerr’s strength or wrestling. Kerr jumps to ½ guard and demolishes Horenstein with more punches until McCarthy steps in for the stoppage. Complete and total domination by Kerr.
Grapplers 3, Strikers 0
Post fight, Kerr is confused as to why Horenstein would want to wear a gi into the ring, but is glad he got an easy win. When you look at Kerr here and see the veins literally popping out all over him, how can you NOT think he is on the juice?
Joe Rogan fills us in that Moreira has a concussion and won’t be allowed to fight in the finals, therefore Anthony Fryklund will be taking his place. In a discussion with Moreira, he is either REALLY concussed, or his broken English makes it seem that way.
Dan Bobish (0-0) vs Brian Johnston (2-3)
Johnston has slimmed down a bit in an effort to be faster. Of course, the first opponent he gets after doing that is a 310lb beast.
Bobish is HUGE. He was a late cut by the Cleveland Browns at the nose tackle position, and that is exactly what he looks like.
As opposed to the other fights, these two both come out swinging. They both land good shots, with Johnston initiating the clinch. Bobish pushes him against the fence and lands a few more shots when he gets some space. He gets a nice takedown and pins Johnston’s head against the fence. Combine that uncomfortable position with a forearm the size of my thigh across Johnston’s throat and he is forced to tap out. Impressive debut by Bobish.
Grapplers 4, Strikers 0
Before the middleweight finals, they shows us the alternate bout that put Fryklund in the finals.
Anthony Fryklund (0-0) vs Donnie Chappell (0-0)
Chappell is the obligatory hometown fighter, so you know he is going to lose badly even before the fight starts. He also has a dirty teenage mustache, which makes me want to see him lose. And he is going to fight in his t-shirt. Strike 3.
Fryklund has both jiu jitsu and striking skills, so should be well rounded. I guess that was redundant. He is still active today, having just fought (and lost) to Cung Le at the Shamrock/Baroni Strikeforce show.
As for this fight, there’s not much too it. Chappell charges and gets quickly taken down and mounted. He tries to strike from the bottom, but has to tap out after eating a few shots from Fryklund.
There is drama after the tap though, as Fryklund punches Chappell, then literally walks on him as he gets up. McCarthy – who wasn’t the ref here – rushes the Octagon and gets in Fryklund’s face.
Post fight, Fryklund doesn’t make excuses for his actions, saying that he didn’t differentiate between a street fight and competition. He seemed legitimately embarrassed by his actions, which he very well should have been.
Grapplers 5, Strikers 0
Before the finals, they give a rundown of the top five middleweights in the world of MMA as of July 1997.
1. Guy Mezger – they say he might fight at heavyweight the next time we see him
2. Jerry Bohlander – they say he will be back in the Octagon soon
3. Mark Schultz – they say he has retired. Why is he ranked then?
4. Enson Inoue – back in Japan now, but is scheduled to return. He never does, but it is nice they scheduled it.
5. Yoshiki Takahashi – back in Pancrase, but will return when his schedule permits
Anthony Fryklund (1-0) vs Kevin Jackson (1-0)
The crowd doesn’t like Fryklund based on his actions after the alternate fight.
Fryklund comes forward to start the fight, and gets taken down by Johnson quickly. Johnson takes his back but seems to have a hard time sinking in the choke, but Fryklund taps just 45 seconds in.
Johnson says he will fight anyone, and wants the toughest out there. Good attitude, and a pretty dominant UFC debut here.
Both guys were essentially grapplers here, so my running score of Grapplers vs Strikers takes a break on this fight.
Mark Kerr (1-0) vs Dan Bobish (1-0)
Seeing Kerr at his biggest being dwarfed by his opponent is a bit of an intriguing visual. Should be interesting to see how he deals with a man more than 50lbs bigger than him.
Kerr starts with leg kicks, and they look like they hurt. Kerr keeps his distance, but only long enough for him to shoot. He gets the takedown and works out of side control. Bobish is strong enough to avoid punishment, but seems to have no submission skills as Kerr is leaving himself open for armlocks.
Instead, Kerr crosses over and grabs a side headlock for a tapout win. He handled the bigger man disturbingly easy here in scoring his first tournament victory.
As for Bobish, he never stepped foot in the Octagon again, but still fights today. After several PRIDE and King of the Cage appearances, he has mostly been on smaller shows lately.
Before the main event, we get a hard sell from Beck and Blatnick to call cable systems and PPV providers and demand they bring the UFC back. I guess they finally realized that they were in trouble without a full PPV universe, and that the restrictions weren’t just going to go away.
Also, we see our heavyweight rankings:
Champion: Mark Coleman
1. Don Frye – his return was delayed by a broken hand (in fact, he would never fight in the Octagon again), and was pursuing pro wrestling in Japan
2. Vitor Belfort – would be fighting in a heavyweight elimination match at the next PPV
3. Marco Ruas – they say he is negotiating to return
4. Maurice Smith – debuting in the next fight with a title shot
5. Dan Severn – the most likely opponent for Belfort
What? No Randy Couture? The most interesting thing about that top five is that 3 of them were more or less gone from the UFC entirely.
Mark Coleman (6-0) vs Maurice Smith (0-0)
The slightly subtle theme of the evening has been the dominance of wrestlers in MMA, as both tournaments were won by wrestlers and all the hype videos concentrated on the dominance wrestling had been showing in the MMA world.
Before the fight, Smith says Coleman “hits like a girl”. Not so much in power, but in technique. While it is a bit of a harsh way to say it, if you look back at Coleman’s early fights, Smith was right.
Coleman says this is a grapplers game, and unless Smith has learned to wrestle, he is going to lose.
They circle each other to start, with both hesitant to commit or get caught. Coleman shoots, and Smith interestingly pulls guard instead of letting fully control the slam. Beck and Blatnick miss that, and end up quite impressed at the skill Smith shows from his back in avoiding Coleman’s blows. Around the four minute mark, and after Coleman has been working fairly hard on top, Smith begins to land some elbows to the top of Coleman’s head. While they may not be knock out blows, elbows from the bottom are a lot more effective than the rabbit punches you usually see from there.
Coleman must not have liked them much, as he jumps out of their way and into side control, where he is able to gain a scrambling Smith’s back. Coleman eventually ends up in the mount position but Smith either blocks or avoids most of the punches he throws from there. Some more scrambling by Smith leads to giving up his back again, but eventually works his way back to his back, with Coleman in side control 7 minutes in.
Blatnick says he is shocked with how good Smith’s jiu jitsu is, and I would imagine most of the MMA world would have been as well. He also points out that Coleman is expending a lot of energy on top, but has very little to show for it. As he mentions that, Coleman tries to maneuver for a side headlock, but Smith – who has won the crowd over by this point – is able to scoot and stand up 9 minutes in.
Back on their feet, Coleman looks exhausted, and even starts to bend over with his hands on his knees. He tries a shoot, but eats a kick to the face. McCarthy rules that he was down at the time, and gives Smith a warning for the illegal blow and Coleman time to shake it off before continuing.
As they restart, Smith first lands a leg kick, but then just misses a high kick. Coleman ducks under the leg and gets a takedown again.
Back to the guard, Smith starts with the elbows again. Coleman, being as exhausted as he is, is not working as hard on top now. Most of the action comes from Smith with the elbows as Coleman is mostly laying and trying to gain some wind. At one point, Smith actually covers Coleman’s mouth and nose with his hand, obstructing his breathing. This pays off as Coleman tries to shrug him off, giving Smith the chance to roll and actually gain Coleman’s back with 35 seconds left in the first 15 minute period. Smith decides to let him stand up and lands a big left jab on the exhausted champion as regulation expires.
The first 3 minute OT starts on their fee, with smith utilizing leg kicks. Coleman tries a very weak looking shoot attempt, as he has no explosiveness left in his legs. Smith seems hesitant to go for the kill, which is probably a combination of being a bit tired himself and still respecting Coleman’s wrestling ability. Right before the end of the round though, he lands a big right and couple of leg kicks.
The second OT is more of the same, as Smith starts pinpointing leg kicks as Coleman can’t even move out of the way. The lights actually go out at one point and, when McCarthy tells them to keep going, Coleman looks almost disappointed. He eats some more punch/kick combos as the fight comes to an end.
With the domination he showed over the last 10 – 15 minutes of the fight, no one is surprised that it is a unanimous decision for the new champ – Maurice Smith. Before the fight however, this was probably the least likely outcome.
Post fight, Smith thanks Frank Shamrock and the Lion’s Den. A keen observer would realize that by working with Shamrock, Smith would have learned some grappling, but they never made any mention of it until the end of the fight, perhaps wanting to play up the drama a bit more.
The 411: A really great show overall. Good fights, and a really fun storyline running through the whole show, as they really pimped the dominance of wrestlers over all other disciplines, only to have Smith stand up at the end and expose the weaknesses in the wrestler's game by winning the heavyweight title. Someone in the video department must have had an idea on how the fight would go though, as they really hyped up Smith's endurance, which was the deciding factor as much as anything. This fight would lead to a further evolution of MMA - which the sport is actually starting to be called at this point - as wrestlers learned they needed to added more to their game in order to remain competitive. Beyond that, impressive debuts by Jackson and Kerr, some drama thanks to Fryklund and an exciting show thanks to everyone. It may be that getting kicked off of most cable schedules was the best thing to happen to the UFC, as the shows since have been great.
|Final Score: 9.0 [ Amazing ] legend|