**This is the 13th post in a lengthy series taken from my MMA blog. Be sure to check Fight Rankings for more in this series, which includes cumulative fight and fighter rankings from the first thirteen UFC events.**
In December 1995, some of the all time UFC greats competed in an all star, single night tournament called the Ultimate Ultimate. At the end of the night, it was Dan "The Beast" Severn who came away as the tournament champion. And now nearly one year later, we will be treated to a second Ultimate Ultimate event with even more of the greatest stars in UFC history.
That's right, it's the Ultimate Ultimate Ultimate!! Actually, this event is just called the Ultimate Ultimate 1996, as apparently three "ultimates" is overkill. I'm remiss to say that Dan Severn will not be back to defend his Ultimate Ultimate crown, but we'll still see some great action in this tournament.
After UFC 11, we know that Ken Shamrock, Don Frye, Tank Abbott, and Mark Coleman will be in action - however, one of these men will be forced to pull out of the tournament due to illness. The UFC seemed to be pushing for Shamrock vs. Abbott and Coleman vs. Frye in the semifinals, but those plans have immediately been thrown out.
There is still much up in the air, as we still don't know for sure what other fighters will fill out the field of eight. I can't drag this out any longer, I need me some Ultimate Ultimate!!
UFC Ultimate Ultimate 1996 – December 7, 1996
The UFC is in Birmingham, Alabama for what is the thirteenth UFC pay-per-view. This event is actually at the Alabama State Fairgrounds, which is surely the most appropriate location for one of these early UFC shows. Where would you look to find people beating each other up inside of a steel cage in 1996? The Alabama State Fair sounds like a pretty good guess to me.
Bruce Beck informs us right away that the undefeated Mark Coleman has been forced to withdraw from this event due to "a virus", which is extremely disappointing. Jeff Blatnick is back, and it's good to know that his face is as round and his teeth are as fucked up as ever.
Blatnick does reveal that Kimo Leopoldo vs. Paul Varelans will be one of the opening round fights. It looks like Kimo vs. Coleman would have been a quarterfinal fight, which surely would have guaranteed Kimo's third straight loss in the UFC. Kimo has apparently lost 40 pounds while Varelans has gained 40-50 pounds of his own. Is there any way these two could fight to a draw? Brian Johnston and Cal Worsham will also be in action tonight.
Tony Blauer, who looks like a muscular Toby Flenderson, is now doing backstage interviews for the UFC. Blauer talks about how well-rounded the UFC fighters have become and how the sport is evolving towards fighters with multiple disciplines. Yeah, no shit Flenderson. It's not like Don Wilson, Tank Abbott, and Jeff Blatnick have all discussed this during previous UFC events.
Hey, somebody found some new fonts and backgrounds for MS Paint! The graphics actually aren't particularly exciting, but the fights certainly are. We've got Ken Shamrock vs. Brian Johnston, Tank Abbott vs. Cal Worsham, Don Frye vs. Gary Goodridge, and Kimo vs. Varelans.
Bruce Beck introduces "Big" John McCarthy, but interestingly says that McCarthy is refereeing his 90th "reality combat sport" event. It sounds like we're still in a period before the term "mixed martial arts" was really a part of the lexicon, so it's interesting to hear this alternate term. When I search for the term "reality combat sports", all I can really find are synopses for a Ratchet and Clank video game.
As usual, the UFC has jobbed us all by not airing three preliminary fights. Mark Hall defeated Felix Lee Mitchell, Steven Nwlmark choked out Marcus Bossett, and Tai Bowden defeated Jack Nilson with headbutts. I would love to see that win via headbutts, so I hope to at least see a highlight of this finish.
The very first quarterfinal match should be a big one: Brian Johnston will fight Ken Shamrock. Johnston has looked impressive in the past and should be an interesting opponent for Ken Shamrock. Johnston looks to have added some muscle to his already large frame. Shamrock is out and he looks as intense as ever making his way to the octagon.
We won't hear Rich Goins doing the announcing tonight, but there's no Bruce Buffer either. Manny Garcia will be handling the introductions, but I'm just glad that it's not Rich Goins. Garcia isn't big on eye contact or showmanship, but he does seem pretty intent on staring at his index cards. If I remember correctly, Garcia spent some time announcing in the WWE back in the mid-1990s.
Big John wastes no time and begins this fight. Johnston and Shamrock briefly exchange uneventful strikes before Shamrock lands the takedown. Shamrock manages to push Johnston against the cage and throws some heavy punches while standing over his opponent. Johnston tries to pull Shamrock close, but Shamrock is still able to pull back and throw a number of right hands.
Shamrock keeps a really wide base while continuing to throw right hands to Johnston's head. Johnston is forced back against the cage and is in a really bad spot. Shamrock is warned to keep his hands out of the fence, as apparently, that is a new rule in the UFC. We can thank Jerry Bohlander and Tank Abbott for that, as both fighters used the fence as part of their gameplans at UFC 11.
Three minutes in and Shamrock seems to have tired slightly, but he's still well in control of this fight. He's staying active with punches, but Johnston is doing his best to answer back with elbows and punches from the bottom. These blows don't seem to phase Shamrock, who now starts throwing lefts to Johnston's head.
Shamrock is using his head to push Johnston's head back against the cage, which can't feel very good. Shamrock manages to slip his forearm under Johnston's chin, almost undetected. Within seconds, Johnston is forced to tap out to Shamrock's forearm choke. Ken Shamrock is the winner of this fight at 5:49 and he advances to the tournament semifinals. Shamrock fought a very nice, very aggressive fight against a very dangerous opponent. This is perhaps the best that Shamrock has looked in many UFC events.
After some highlights of the finish, we go to the second semifinal fight which is a rematch between Don Frye and Gary Goodridge. These two fought in the finals of UFC 8 with Frye coming out on top. As Goodridge approaches the cage, one of his cornermen begins to slap Goodridge in the face. Considering he's 1-2 in the UFC and facing an opponent who has defeated before, Goodridge needs all the help he can get.
Don Frye makes his way to the cage and gets a nice hand from the crowd. This is the first time I've noticed Don Frye without wrestling shoes, as I believe he's worn them in previous fights. Perhaps we'll be seeing more kicks from the greatest American to ever live?
Before prefight introductions, Bruce Beck reveals that Ken Shamrock will not be continuing into the semifinals of the tournament. Little else is revealed, but we're told that Steve Nelmark will be the replacement. Very disappointing news, especially since we've been all looking forward to a potential Tank Abbott/Ken Shamrock fight.
As this fight begins, Goodridge rushes at Don Frye and gets caught by a right hand. Frye follows up by grabbing Goodridge's gi and moving to the clinch. Frye lands a knee that seems to do damage and forces his bigger opponent against the cage. Goodridge briefly reverses Frye against the age, but Frye escapes. He moves back to the clinch with Goodridge against the cage.
Frye and Goodridge trade a bit, with Frye utilizing knees to the body and some uppercuts while Goodridge lands some powerful rights to the head. Goodridge moves away from the cage and Frye lets go of the clinch. Gary Goodridge starts to taunt Frye, gesturing for Frye to hit him in the face. Frye briefly obliges and moves to the clinch again. "Big Daddy" has spent the early part of this fight with his back against the fence and he's not doing a lot of damage. He'll really have to change things up if he wants to win this fight.
Goodridge attempts to control Frye's head, but he's not doing much of anything. He throws a two or three punch combo here or there, but Frye is consistently busy with knees to the body and punches to the head. Frye is grabbing onto Goodridge's gi around the collar and lands with some nice uppercuts to the head. Frye's striking seems to be very efficient and effective, while Goodridge is swinging wildly and with little positive consequence.
Despite his efforts to control Frye by holding his head, Gary Goodridge is having little success. Frye is consistently landing uppercuts and knees and he would have to be ahead on the judges scorecard. Out of nowhere, Goodridge is able to take Frye down from the clinch and moves to side control. Almost immediately, Goodridge is warned about putting his fingers in the cage. Goodridge is actually grabbing the fence more than anything, as his occasional weak punches to the head and body barely constitute offense. Goodridge lands maybe one worthwhile punch, but has very little success in such a dominant position.
Goodridge is using short headbutts that appear to do little damage, and Frye readjusts which forces Goodridge into full guard. Goodridge seems to spend his time resting in guard, but Frye finds an opening and attempts an armbar. The attempt is quickly thwarted by Goodridge who returns to full guard where he seems interested in taking a nap.
We're ten minutes in and it's obvious that Goodridge is exhausted, as his offense is just about nonexistent from this point. We'll see a single punch every thirty seconds and that's all. Frye fails with another armbar attempt and ends up giving his back to Goodridge. Good thing for Frye that Goodridge is exhausted and can't do a thing with it. Frye quickly grabs a leg and pulls his opponent to the mat, prompting Goodridge to immediately tap out. "Big Daddy" is so exhausted that the mere thought of spending time on his back is enough for the Canadian to call it quits.
To anyone who fights Gary Goodridge in the future: he will wear himself out after about three or four minutes. That this fight went more than 11 minutes is surprising. Big John confirms the submission was due to "exhaustion", which is so far winning the most obvious statement of the day contest.
Tank Abbott and Cal Worsham will be the third quarterfinal fight. Cal Worsham specializes in taekwondo, while Tank's fighting style is "punch you in the face until you can't continue." Actually, we know that Tank is a bit of a wrestler, but cardio limitations have kept Tank from higher levels of success.
That said, Tank is now billed at 273 pounds, which appears to be considerably less than at prior events. Tank is looking pretty svelte, especially compared to his appearance at UFC 11. Jeff Blatnick says Tank was dealing with a knee injury at that event that prevented him from training as needed, which explains a lot.
Worsham and Abbott briefly trade punches to start the fight, but Abbott quickly attempts a slam. Worsham illegally grabs the cage for protection, which Big John does little to halt. Worsham throws some punches while hoisted high against the cage which allows Tank to land the slam. Abbott quickly moves past guard into side control. Tank appears to consider some kind of leg submission, but loses position and goes back to guard.
Tank seems to be taking his time while on top, patiently waiting for his opening. Worsham is doing his best to throw punches off of his back but has little success. Tank isn't throwing a whole lot from the top, but lands some nice punches...and Worsham taps? It's unclear what happened, but Worsham's tap out may be due to position or frustration. It didn't seem like Tank was doing enough to stop the fight, but Worsham felt the need to submit.
Immediately after the fight is stopped, Worsham pops up and starts to cause a stink. He cusses out Tank and screams that he should be disqualified. The dialogue between Worsham and Big John consists of Worsham yelling "DISQUALIFY HIM" and McCarthy yelling back "KNOCK IT OFF."
Apparently, Worsham is upset about Tank throwing some punches after he had already tapped out. The replay shows that as Big John separates the fighters, Tank throws in one last left to the head for good measure. It definitely appears to be a good bit late, but is it enough to warrant disqualification? I think Worsham's egregious grabbing of the cage during the fight was worse than Tank's extra strikes.
The fourth and final quarterfinal match pits Kimo and Paul Varelans. It's clarified that Kimo is actually the replacement for Mark Coleman and not Paul Varelans. How on earth would Varelans/Coleman be the preferred quarterfinal fight over Kimo/Coleman? I would have loved to see Kimo vs. Coleman, if only to see Kimo flailing on his back after being taken down by "The Hammer."
Kimo has lost a bit of weight and is at 235 pounds, while Varelans has eaten a small child since we've last seen him and weighs in at 340 pounds. That's exactly what Varelans needed to do to be more competitive in the UFC - not improve his skills, but gain a lot of weight. Then again, it's possible that Varelans has improved. He wasn't much of a fighter to begin with and has nowhere to go but up.
Bruce Beck reveals a lot about Paul Varelans prior to the fight. First, he alleges Varelans is the "Rodney Dangerfield of the UFC", as he doesn't get any respect. Perhaps that comes from the fact that he's just a gigantic turd who wouldn't be in the UFC if he wasn't 6'8" and 300 pounds.
Beck also claims that nobody will train with Varelans as, according to Varelans himself, trainers fear what would happen if such a big man became very skilled. It's not like Paul Varelans is some kind of robot you worry about gaining sentience and turning on you. What kind of ridiculous idea excuse is that? It's more likely that people won't train with Paul Varelans because he doesn't listen or work well with others.
Kimo is looking very good at 235 pounds. He looks extremely cut at that weight, which might benefit Kimo if he wants to advance deep in the tournament. It's amazing to think that Varelans outweights Kimo by more than 100 pounds, but you can't discount how fat Paul Varelans really is.
On with the fight. Kimo immediately lunges for a takedown, but big fat Paul sprawls and begins punching Kimo in the head. Kimo stands out of the position and pushes Varelans back against the cage. Kimo is basically bear-hugging Varelans and not mounting any offense while getting punched in the head. Kimo unsuccessfully tries a trip and ends up with Varelans on top of him, but Kimo escapes that position.
Kimo continues holding Varelans against the cage, but he seems really intent on the idea of taking Varelans down. Kimo attempts to throw Varelans, but Varelans is too heavy and ends up on top of Kimo in half-guard. Varelans appears to be smothering Kimo, putting all of his weight on the Hawaiian while throwing punches.
Kimo adjusts which moves Varelans back to full guard. Kimo unsuccessfully attempts an armbar and spends a significant amount of time being punched by Varelans, who opens up a cut just above Kimo's left eye. Kimo is trying to control Varelans' wrists to keep from being punched and he has some success. Varelans is still able to land some strikes, but he appears to have slowed down due to fatigue. Kimo is even able to land some big strikes from the bottom while Varelans throws strikes become lumbering and ineffective.
At the seven minute mark, Paul Varelans is out of gas. He'll occasionally throw a strike, but there's nothing behind his punches. Kimo seems interested in reversing or escaping, but Varelans' weight appears to be too difficult to move. Varelans ends up getting too high in guard and perhaps even falls asleep on top of Kimo - it's difficult to tell at this point.
With Varelans pinned against the cage, Kimo ends up in some kind of modified mount position. It's like full mount, but at an angle given Varelans' size and position. Kimo begins to throw some big punches that go unanswered by Varelans. It doesn't take long for Big John to step in and stop the fight in Kimo's favor. Varelans didn't seem to have any interest in defending himself, so Big John was smart to stop the fight.
Both men appear to be completely spent after this fight, which doesn't bode well for Kimo's chances of advancing in the tournament. It doesn't seem that losing 30 or 40 pounds has done much to prevent Kimo from getting completely blown up after a single fight, but I guess it didn't help having a 340 pound monster lay on top of him for five or six minutes. As of now, the semifinals feature Steve Nelmark vs. Tank Abbott and Don Frye vs. Kimo.
Strangely enough, Big John is interviewed backstage about the last two fights. He doesn't reveal anything particularly interesting, but confirms that Cal Worsham was upset about a cheap shot from Tank Abbott after the tap out. We then get to see some footage of Steve Nelmark's earlier submission win over Marcus Bossett. It looks like Nelmark made quick work of Bossett with a takedown, some headbutts, and then some kind of arm choke for the win.
But now it's time for the first semifinal between Steve Nelmark and Tank Abbott. Nelmark and Tank are around the same height, while Nelmark is only about 20-25 pounds less than Tank. He's a karate practitioner, but Tank is a fat dude who likes to indiscriminately punch others. To me, this is a push.
There's no sign of Tito Ortiz in Tank's corner tonight, but there are a couple of dweeby looking guys in the crowd taunting Tank. For those who can't read them, the signs say "HEY TANK, don't hurt your hand when you're TAPPING" and "HEY TANK, get beat by any alternates lately?" Snarky, dorky, hardcore MMA fans from 1996 are terrifying. If you combine every MMA Underground and Sherdog forum post, turn them into two people, and send them back in time 15 years, this is what you get.
Nelmark and Abbott are slow to approach, but Tank lands a quick punch that staggers Nelmark. Tank pursues Nelmark as he backs away, holding him against the cage. Tank picks Nelmark up and scores with a huge slam. Unlike Cal Worsham, Nelmark doesn't find the need to cheat by grabbing the fence.
Nelmark quickly grabs Abbott's head, but Tank abandons the ground and stands back up. Tank is swinging like a maniac and Nelmark has no clue how to stop this. He tries to grab Tank by his head, but it does no good. Nelmark covers up, but Tank is pounding him with heavy punches. Nelmark is staggered on a couple of occasions and is not doing well.
Nelmark is running backwards, perhaps forgetting that there is a cage on all sides of him to prevent escape. Steve Nelmark has just realized that he is stuck inside of a cage with an angry, nasty man who is trying to kill him. This man is desperately finding a way to survive against a very dangerous opponent.
But things can't go that bad, right? After all, Tank Abbott and Steve Nelmark are both human beings. And let's not forget that Nelmark is a capable fighter with a karate background who already has a win tonight. He may be in a bit of trouble, but he can find a way out of it.
Okay, so I think Tank Abbott killed Steve Nelmark. I think we just saw the first death in the octagon. Tank pulverized Nelmark with a huge right hand and hurled his opponent to the mat. Steve Nelmark is bent in ways that the human body doesn't usually allow. Doctors tend to Nelmark as Tank is declared the winner of the fight (duh).
Cameras are avoiding Nelmark and they've yet to show a replay of what is surely the most brutal knockout in the history of the UFC to this point. Jeff Blatnick clarifies that Nelmark just got his legs pinned under him and is bent against the fence, since many fans probably feel like they just witnessed a man die. Thankfully, Nelmark is back on his feet and is not deceased. Now that we know Nelmark is safe, the UFC can show replays!
For the second semifinal fight, Kimo is officially and unsurprisingly out and Mark Hall will take his place against Don Frye. Mark Hall seems a little too loose when he gets to the cage. He's shadow boxing, having a laugh with Big John, and doing some over the top pose when he's introduced. Does he remember their previous UFC fight, where Frye won via TKO. Or maybe he doesn't remember their U-Japan fight, where Frye choked him out. Hall has never seemed like the brightest fighter and this just confirms it.
Here's the entire fight recap in one sentence: Frye scores a takedown, grabs Hall's ankle, and forces him to tap out to an ankle lock. Frye didn't use very much energy there, tapping Hall out in a matter of twenty seconds. Hall appears to be in a significant amount of pain, having significant difficulty standing on his own. For some reason, Paul Varelans comes out to help Mark Hall leave the cage. If this was professional wrestling, Varelans would turn on Hall to set up a big money feud. That, unfortunately, doesn't happen.
The UFC couldn't have been happy with Shamrock and Coleman both missing out on the semifinals here, but they must be thrilled with the final match. Don Frye and Tank Abbott are two of the biggest stars in the UFC. It should also be fairly competitive, since Tank has only spent four minutes fighting thus far. He hasn't been in any danger and might have an easier time keeping up with Frye.
As he enters the cage, Jeff Blatnick summarizes Tank's fighting style by saying "[he] likes to punch people in the head." Jeff Blatnick: astute analyst. Bruce Beck says the winner here will get $150,000, and I can only hope that the UFC harkens back to days of yore with a giant novelty check.
Both men approach the center of the cage - and Tank lands a big left hand! Frye is staggered and drops to the mat, but Frye recovers and is back to his feet! Abbott continues to assault Frye with big punches as Frye tries to move around the cage and avoid Tank's power. Frye is landing strong punches of his own, but Tank seems to be getting the best of these exchanges.
These two are trading heavy shots and doing some serious damage! Frye moves in for the clinch, but Tank lands a big uppercut to back Frye off. Frye clinches again but is getting pounded by Tank Abbott. Frye tries to back Tank against the cage, but Tank slips! Frye quickly takes Tank's back and is working for a rear naked choke! Tank appears to twist Frye's ankle in an attempt to break the hold, but it isn't working.
Frye has been bloodied by Tank's attack and his face is looking bad, but he sinks in the choke! Tank realizes he has nowhere to go and taps out! Don Frye withstood the heavy offense of Tank Abbott and benefited a bit from luck, but he has submitted the Tank to win the Ultimate Ultimate 1996.
The fight lasted less than 90 seconds, but that was as dramatic a fight as there has been in the UFC. Tank Abbott seemed to be in control and landed some big shots, but Frye hung in there and took advantage when Tank slipped to the mat. Frye was bloodied badly, but kept his cool and took advantage of the one big mistake made by Tank.
On the replay, it looks like Frye used the cage to pull himself onto Tank's back but Big John didn't see that happen. Given how little the fence grabbing rules was enforced, I doubt it would have mattered had Big John noticed.
In the post fight interview, Frye admits that his strategy of not getting hit by Tank failed pretty much right away. Frye gives a lot of credit to Tank for being a great fighter and speculates that he may have broken his hand while punching Tank. Frye says he's been working on his submissions and that paid off for him tonight. Jeff Blatnick reveals that Don Frye will be fighting Dan Severn next, surprising since these men are training partners. I can only hope that conniving Greg Jackson goes back in time and works his magic to get these two in the cage!
Tony Blauer interviews Tank Abbott, who is obviously displeased with the result of the fight. Tank says winning and losing doesn't matter much, since he might "have a cocktail and maybe get in another fight tonight." Tank says he doesn't respect Don Frye, but that's just because he doesn't respect anybody.
With that, the second Ultimate Ultimate has come to a close. The bad news is there was no novelty check presented to Frye after the win. The worse news is that this is the last time we'll ever see Don Frye fight in the UFC. After this event, Frye will fight at a smaller MMA event before moving on to the world of professional wrestling, something I'll be discussing in another post. Nonetheless, it makes me sad to know that Don Frye's days in the UFC are done.
In a way, this event is perhaps the end of an era for the UFC. In 1997, the UFC will work to introduce weight classes and new rules to protect fighters while working against mounting political opposition. Many familiar faces are also leaving the UFC. Ken Shamrock won't be back to the UFC for another five years as he also will be moving on to pro wrestling. Gary Goodridge and Kimo will be taking extended leaves from the promotion, while UFC staple Paul Varelans is gone from the UFC for good.
The Ultimate Ultimate 1996 seemed like an average event, but Don Frye and Tank Abbott closed out this chapter of the UFC with an outstanding fight. The Ultimate Ultimate 1996 didn't disappoint, if only on the strength of a thrilling finals contest. Going forward, it's disappointing to see the landscape of the UFC changing, but these changes are all necessary for the evolution of the UFC to continue. UFC 12 will likely be a very different event, but I'm looking forward to seeing the impact of changes made in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Greatest Fights of Ultimate Ultimate 1996
- Don Frye vs. Tank Abbott
- Don Frye vs. Gary Goodridge
- Kimo Leopoldo vs. Paul Varelans
- Tank Abbott vs. Steve Nelmark
- Ken Shamrock vs. Brian Johnston
- Tank Abbott vs. Cal Worsham
- Don Frye vs. Mark Hall
Top Ten Fights Through Ultimate Ultimate 1996
- Royce Gracie vs. Kimo Leopoldo - UFC 3
- Don Frye vs. Tank Abbott - UU96
- Royce Gracie vs. Dan Severn - UFC 4
- Royce Gracie vs. Keith Hackney - UFC 4
- Oleg Taktarov vs. Tank Abbott - UFC 6
- Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock - UFC 1
- Ken Shamrock vs. Dan Severn - UFC 6
- Marco Ruas vs. Paul Varelans - UFC 7
- Don Frye vs. Brian Johnston - UFC 10
- Ken Shamrock vs. Christophe Leininger - UFC 3
Greatest Fighters of Ultimate Ultimate 1996
- Don Frye (3-0)
- Tank Abbott (2-1)
- Ken Shamrock (1-0)
- Kimo Leopoldo (1-0)
- Steve Nelmark (1-1)
- Mark Hall (1-1)
- Tai Bowden (1-0)
- Paul Varelans (0-1)
- Gary Goodridge (0-1)
- Jack Nilson (0-1)
- Brian Johnston (0-1)
- Felix Lee Mitchell (0-1)
- Cal Worsham (0-1)
- Marcus Bossett (0-1)
Top Ten Fighters Through Ultimate Ultimate 1996
- Royce Gracie (11-1-1)
- Dan Severn (9-2)
- Ken Shamrock (6-2-2)
- Mark Coleman (5-0)
- Don Frye (9-1)
- Oleg Taktarov (6-2-1)
- Marco Ruas (4-1)
- Tank Abbott (6-4)
- Patrick Smith (4-2)
- Gerard Gordeau (2-1)