We've been trying to keep up with Yahoo's excellent historical series on UFC 1 to 100. But over the weekend we got distracted with UFC 97 coverage and this one almost slipped past. But it ain't happening. UFC 16 was the first of two UFC's I saw live in Kenner, Louisiana (just outside New Orleans) and I'm not going to let it go by unremarked.
Dave Meltzer does the Yahoo write up:
An overflow crowd of 4,600 fans packed an arena with a capacity of 4,300, sold out days in advance, and was the most enthusiastic in company history. UFC 16 was probably the first time UFC drew a crowd that was there to see what UFC the sport had evolved into, as opposed to the earlier crowds who went based on the fantasy of what an anything-goes fight would look like.
The show was built around Frank Shamrock, who had become the UFC’s first under-200 pound champion, which was at the time called middleweight but morphed into the current light heavyweight division, by beating 1992 Olympic wrestling gold medalist Kevin Jackson in 14 seconds with an armbar, on December 21, 1997, in Yokohama, Japan. Shamrock made his first title defense in what was billed as a unification match with Extreme Fighting champion Igor Zinoviev, an unbeaten Russian kickboxer and sambo specialist.
Semaphore Entertainment marketed the show, and the promotion around the 25-year-old Shamrock in all television ads, trying to make him the new face of the promotion. Shamrock came through, taking Zinoviev off his feet with a high double-leg takedown, and slammed him down so hard Zinoviev was knocked out cold in only 23 seconds. Zinoviev became the first fighter ever leaving the cage on a stretcher after four years, suffering a broken clavicle and a fractured C-5 vertebrae.
Its easy for newer fans to sleep on just how great Frank Shamrock was at his peak. There are several reasons for this:
- He fought at the beginning of the dark ages of the UFC. They were still on PPV but just barely. So many fewer people saw Frank's glory days than saw the Royce Gracie/Ken Shamrock era or even the Don Frye/Mark Coleman period.
- His biggest fights have never been released on DVD in the states (track down the Australian versions on EBay).
- He walked away from the sport at his physical peak (age 28) and barely fought for the next ten years. He almost signed with PRIDE but never stepped in the ring there.
- Many casual fans confuse him with his adopted brother Ken Shamrock.
- Most of his biggest wins were over fighters who either never lived up to their potential (Olympic gold medalist Kevin Jackson), retired after losing to Frank (Igor Zinoviev) or went on to suffer long declines that make them seem less impressive in retrospect (Enson Inoue, John Lober).
- Finally, his feud with Zuffa has caused them to write him out of the official history of the UFC. Don't hold your breath waiting for Frank to be inducted in the UFC Hall of Fame although no fighter deserves it more.
Coming in to this event, no one expected Frank to take out Igor Zinoviev quickly. Igor had been the first to beat a top BJJ black belt in a major event in the states (Mario Sperry). Igor had DESTROYED Enson Inoue -- a fighter who had just given Frank the fight of his life. And Igor had gone to a hard fought draw against John Lober -- whose win over Frank had yet to be avenged.
And yet Frank saw something the commenters didn't. Igor Z. had a terrible habit of responding to a shoot by grabbing a headlock and curling around his opponent's body. Frank had clearly been watching for that because his slam was the perfect way to solve the otherwise very difficult Igor Zinoviev problem.
It wasn't just the Frank Shamrock show either, the card was stacked with great GREAT fights:
The show also featured three of the best matches in company history, a brutal slugfest where Mikey Burnett put away Brazilian Eugenio Tadeu in a match that featured exchanges of some of the hardest punches ever in the octagon. In a battle of former tournament winners at under-200, Jerry Bohlander beat Jackson with an armbar, although ref John McCarthy stopped it before Jackson tapped, resulting in a furious Jackson storming out of the cage. The other saw the debut of Japanese pro wrestling star Tsuyoshi Kosaka, who scored a unanimous decision over Kimo.
I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of UFC 16. Just fast forward through the uber-boring Pat Militech stalling his way to the first 170lb title and you're in for a great night of fights.
Gif by Chris Nelson from UFC 16.