MMA History VIII: From Russia With Leg Locks

So 1995 was a big year in MMA History. That should be obvious since I've already written four or five posts that touch on events of the year. We've covered Rickson's return to Japan at Vale Tudo 1995, the surprise win of a striker over a BJJ star at a Brazilian Vale Tudo tournament, the improbable rise of Dutch kickboxer Bas Rutten through the ranks of the Pancrase promotion, and a tumultuous year for the UFC. But don't think this post is an afterthought, this is the main course, covering some key moments in the evolution of MMA: the continuing growth of the Brazilian scene, the first major MMA events in Russia, and the launch of two American competitors to the UFC.

While BJJ hotshot Amaury Bitteti may have been KTFO by Mestre Hulk on New Year's Day, another BJJ fighter, Jorge "Macaco" Patino roared through a series of smaller events. Macaco combined an aggressive wrestling technique to BJJ, ensuring that he would have top position to unleash a really devastating brand of Ground and Pound. Macaco reeled off five first round victories in 1995 and really looked unstoppable. Check one of his early fights in the extended entry.

Meanwhile in Russia, the International Absolute Fighting Council put on their first two events. I wish I still had my old VHS tapes so I could upload some of those classic fights. There were some gnarly brawls in the first event as Mikhail Ilioukhine, a sambo trained fighter with experience in the Japanese RINGS shoot wrestling promotion, ran through 5 fights to win the title -- winning 4 by achilles lock. But none of the other fighters were really notable, although several gave Ilioukhine a tussle going down.

The second IAFC event in September was a different kettle of fish. Not only did Ilioukhine and the man he beat in the finals of the first IAFC event, Victor Yerohin, return, they were joined by a much tougher field -- including tournament winner Ricardo Morais -- a 6'8" Renzo Gracie BJJ student -- and a Ukrainian kickboxer named Igor Vovchanchyn who would go on to be an MMA legend. Igor crushed BJJ star Adilson Lima in an early round (see the extended entry for YouTube of that fight) -- and for some reason the language barrier obscured, had to beat him up twice to advance. Igor also KO'd tough sambo fighter Mikhail Avetisyan who would go on to a storied MMA career. But than Igor lost in the semi-finals to a game Ilioukhine who capitalized on Igor's lack of grappling experience and won with an improvised chin-in-eye submission. Here's the fight, it's a classic:

This fight doesn't entirely convey the brutal atmosphere of the early Russian No-Holds Barred matches but whatcha want? Ilioukhine went on to get crushed by Morais, who never lived up to the potential he displayed in this first tournament. Funny how being a foot taller and 75 pounds heavier than most of your opponents makes you look like a bad ass.

It wasn't just in the mother country where Russian fighters made a real impact in 1995. Not only did Oleg Taktarov win a UFC tournament that year, but another Russian fighter Igor Zinoviev broke the myth of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu invincibility. It was on an event called Battlecade: Extreme Fighting where Zinoviev, a sambo and judo trained fighter, found himself facing BJJ legend Mario Sperry in the middleweight finals -- that's right I said middleweight, EFC was the first MMA event to feature weight classes.

Here's that fight, the ending has always kind of baffled me, I presume the ref was stopping it due to Sperry's cut:


This
Village Voice article about Igor Z. has a pretty good take :

In 1995, he opted to try his hand at the above-ground form of this fighting during the World Extreme Fighting championship in Madison Square Garden. But New York officials put a stop to the affair--mixed martial arts continues to be illegal in New York--and at the last minute the venue was switched to Wilmington, North Carolina. He faced a Brazilian jujitsu master named Mario Sperry in a caged, circular ring, a match-up in which Zinoviev was thought to be a huge underdog. For much of the battle the tenacious Sperry wrapped Zinoviev in a succession of grappling holds, in hopes of forcing the Russian to cry uncle. But Zinoviev jarred himself free and cut Sperry above the eye with a blow that drew blood, ending the fight.

"It was a great upset, one of the defining moments of the sport," says Joel Gold, editor and publisher of Full Contact Fighter magazine. "Mario was the king from Brazil. He was this superstar. You know what made the victory greater? Here was a guy who didn't speak much English and was quiet and intense--there was a mystery about him."

Zinoviev successfully defended his title until 1998, when the extreme-fighting organization went under. "He always maintained his composure and was able to measure his opponents with deadly accuracy," says Brett S. Atchley, a writer and photographer for Ultimate Athlete magazine. In March of the same year, Zinoviev challenged Frank Shamrock, the holder of the middleweight title of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but lost the bout in 24 seconds to a fighter who's regarded as one of the best in the history of the sport.

The Battlecade event was put together by matchmaker John Perretti and was the first event to be booked by a full-on MMA nerd. Not only did Igor Zinoviev take out Mario Sperry, but BJJ heavyweight Marcus "Conan" Silviera put on a show and John Lewis fought Carlson Gracie, Jr. to a draw. A great event.

The other major event to challenge the UFC in 1995 was a one-off, the World Combat Championship. It featured great production values and a young Renzo Gracie who rolled through the tournament. But the best fight by far was an ugly brawl between Mike Bitonio, a 190 lb grappler with balls of steel, against Bart Vale, a 250 lb karateka with a background in Japanese shootwrestling. Vale won but was too trashed to continue in the tournament. He'd been expected to face Renzo in the finals. Dig this:

Igor Vovchanchyn vs Adilson Lima

The most intense one day tournament ever:

Jorge "Macaco" Patino rolls over the competition:

Macaco's Greatest Fight

Star-divide

Previous installments of MMA History:

XXII: Catch Wrestling and Kazushi Sakuraba's Early PRIDE Run
XXI: The Amazing UFC Championship Run of Frank Shamrock

XX: Kazushi Sakuraba and Frank Shamrock Emerge at Ultimate Japan
XIX: The Humbled PRIDE of Nobuhiko Takada
XVIII: The Losses of Luta Livre
XVII: The Lion's Den Roars
XVI: Rico Chiapparelli and the RAW Team
XV: Pancrase, RINGS, and Shooto 1996
XIV: Boom and Bust in Brazil
XIII: Coleman Gets His Kicks
XII: End of the UFC Glory Days
XI: Carlson Gracie's Mighty Camp
X: The Reign of the Wrestlers
IX: Strikers Attack
VIII: From Russia With Leglocks
VII: A New Phase in the UFC
VI: A Dutch Detour
V: The Reign of Royce
IV: Rickson Brings Jiu Jitsu Back to Japan
III: Proto MMA Evolves Out of Worked Pro Wrestling in Japan
II: The Ur-Brazilian MMA Feud: BJJ vs Luta Livre and the Style They Never Saw Coming
I: UFC 1 Pancrase meets BJJ

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