– So with this show, we officially come into the modern era of UFC, as the Dana White-led Zuffa LLC bought the dying company and immediately began a public relations campaign to distance themselves from the previous owners. Unfortunately this eventually led to the Zuffa Myth, which was spread by news reports looking for a quick soundbite version of the company’s history. Essentially the version of the story most often published (and still today in fact) is that Zuffa bought the company and outlawed the barbaric eye-gouging and headbutting and various other horrifying things that were done in the SEG version of the company. Plus they instituted rounds and weight classes, goes the story. Obviously none of these are true (as we’ve seen that most of these changes were implemented in the previous 12 or so shows in this series) but it made for a good story, I guess.
– Live from Atlantic City, NJ.
– Your hosts are Mike Goldberg, Jeff Blatnick & Frank Shamrock.
– There is an immediate and stunning improvement in the presentation, with modern-looking graphics and a new logo. James Werme interviews new president Dana White, who has HAIR and about 40 less pounds, and gives a very humble and soft-spoken promo. Boy, he sure came out of his shell later on.
Heavyweights: Mark Robinson v. Bobby Hoffman
The graphics list him as “Mark David Robinson” but that makes him sound like a serial killer, so I’ll go with the announced name. Another change, which didn’t last, is that Bruce Buffer announces the fighters as they enter, rather than doing the traditional in-ring ones. That speeds up the show (a LOT, actually!) , but makes it seem like a pro wrestling show rather than a sporting event, so I can see why they wouldn’t keep it. Robinson pushes Hoffman into the fence and they hug it out. Robinson is a former champion sumo wrestler, and he’s fighting like it here, not doing anything more than pushing Hoffman into the fence. Did someone explain the point of the sport to him? Hoffman grasps at Robinsion’s love-handles to try to dislodge him, but Robinson’s suckage is not to be denied so easily! Hoffman finally shoves him back and gets a couple of good shots in, then DROPS him with an elbow to the temple for the KO at 3:27 to thankfully end this shitty fight. Here’s a free strategic hint for Robinson if he fights again: Do something other than pushing the guy against the fence next time.
Middleweights: Elvis Sinosic v. Jeremy Horn
This is Sinosic’s first UFC appearance and he would of course go on to be a star. They trade some shots to start and Sinosic pulls guard after getting double underhooks. Sinosic ties him up and prevents much in the way of offense from Horn. Horn gets sloppy and Sinosic hooks in a triangle choke for the shocking upset at 2:59. That was SICK. He was nearly twisting Horn’s arm out of the socket while choking him out. That’s almost unfair.
Heavyweights: Josh Barnett v. Pedro Rizzo
Wow, they’re bringing the big matchups early on! They do some tentative standup and Rizzo backs off a lot before going into the clinch and trading with Barnett. Barnett throws some hard leg kicks, and Rizzo responds with his own. Barnett comes in with a flying knee, and Rizzo hits him right in the nose with a jab, as this gets really good. They trade from close in and exchange until the end of the round. Incredibly tough to score that one. I’d go 10-10 personally, but I think official word would be 10-9 Barnett.
Second round and they’re swinging again, with Barnett telling Rizzo to bring it. They’re both hitting right on the button but neither will go down. Rizzo tries a high kick and Barnett catches it and JUST about finishes with a jumping knee, but Rizzo wiggles away. Another crazy exchange with Barnett getting a series of uppercuts. Rizzo backs off and Barnett follows with a couple of good swings, so Rizzo switches to leg kicks, trying to chop down the giant. Barnett hits his own high kick and then follows with a combo, but Rizzo ROCKS him with one shot and knocks him out at 4:21. Holy SHIT! What an awesome fight that was. I don’t remember if this was on the Top 100 Fights collection, but it should have finished high if it was. Replay shows Rizzo nearly knocking Barnett’s jaw out of place with the punch.
Lightweights: Fabiano Iha v. Phil Johns
Iha has been rolling in the last couple of fights, and this doesn’t look like it’ll be much different. Iha with a kick to the ribs and he fights hard with a takedown, then finishes FAST with an armbar at 1:47. Give this man a shot at Miletich NOW!
Bantamweight title: Jens Pulver v. Kaoru (Caol) Uno
Not sure why “Kaoru” became “Caol”, but it’s the same guy. Even more mysterious: Why does Word’s spellchecker accept “Kaoru” and not “Caol”? This is to establish the first Bantamweight champion, although the division would be renamed “Lightweight” with the very next show. Another note on the upgrade of ownership, as the actual belts are now the more familiar modern versions, which look about 100 times cooler.
Uno tries for a takedown and Pulver pounds him to block it. Uno backs off and then tackles him, getting the back quickly and sinking in a choke, but Pulver fights him off. They circle and Uno throws a few leg kicks, but Pulver gets a good combo in as the round expires. 10-9 Uno for his aggression on the ground.
Second round and Uno is trying some spinning back kicks, but Pulver stuffs a takedown attempt and works for a guillotine. That goes nowhere and they do go back to tentative standup, but Uno is trying for the rear choke again when it goes to the ground. Pulver stands up to get him off his back, and throws a couple of good knees from the clinch. Uno goes back to the perimeter and throws leg kicks, backing off every time Pulver makes contact. Can’t blame him, really, but it doesn’t make for a great fight. Pulver stops another takedown and hooks in a facelock, and that’s the round. 10-9 Pulver, clearly.
Third round and Uno still can’t get that takedown, as Pulver fights him off with a knee. Uno tries again and Pulver just pushes him down into the mat to stop him. If Uno is getting frustrated he shows no sign of it. Finally Uno gets a takedown with single-leg, but Pulver stands it up and gets some shots in. Uno keeps backing off and trying for the takedown, and Pulver keeps stopping him. Hard one to score. 10-9 Uno?
Fourth round and Uno is now starting to show frustration. Pulver now chases Uno and gets him to the ground, pounding the back of the head and trying for the choke. Uno gets out quickly and decides to go toe-to-toe with Pulver, but that’s not going to work for him. Uno tries to take it to the ground, but Pulver won’t play. Uno tries a high kick and Pulver catches the leg and gets a solid shot to the face. Uno takes another wild swing with a high kick, but misses and lands on the mat. Pulver won’t go down with him, and that’s the round. 10-9 Pulver there.
Fifth round and Uno wants to go into the guard, but Pulver wants none of it. Uno finally engages standing and tries for the single leg again, but Pulver stuffs it. Uno tries throwing and Pulver responds with a combo, and they trade equally until Pulver gets a big shot that probably wins him the title as the round ends. Very close round, but I think the judges will go 10-9 Pulver, for a total of 48-47 on my scorecard. The judges agree, giving the unanimous decision to Pulver and the first Bantamweight title. You never know which Pulver you’re getting here — the vicious KO artist or the tentative fighter.
Middleweight title: Tito Ortiz v. Evan Tanner
Good to see Tito defending against a real contender this time. Tanner tries for a takedown, but Tito DESTROYS him with a bigger takedown and puts his lights out at 0:43. WOW. OK, Tito might be for real. I was actually hoping for a better fight given the caliber of opponent, but that was certainly memorable.
So a great start to the Zuffa era with a must-see Barnett v. Rizzo standup fight that makes it a worthwhile purchase for that alone. Next time: Randy Couture defends the heavyweight title against Pedro Rizzo!