How Wrestling Changed the Game: Part 1(Pre ZUFFA UFC)

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On December 16th, 1997 Dan Severn would make his UFC debut at UFC 4: Revenge of the Warriors. Though not the first wrestler to compete in MMA by any stretch of the imagination, he would be the first to make an impact of worth in the UFC. Severn would utterly decimate his competition through the tournament with his size, strength, will, and a wrestling background.

Severn controlled his opponents without any trouble, submitting Anthony Macias via Rear naked choke at the 1 minute 45 second mark of the fight. Followed shortly by an Arm triangle submission of Marcus Bossett only 52 seconds into the contest. When the finals came it was the legend Royce Gracie. They met in the center, Royce throwing flailing front kicks doing little to no damage and Severn waiting for his chance to shoot. Less than a minute in Severn scores the take down and proceeds to attempt to smother and punch Royce. Royces offense consists of butt kicks early on, and punches, and palm strikes to the body attempting to make Severn adjust, but continued with out success.

As the fight continued on a triangle was attempted by Royce though unsuccessful. Punches are exchanged from both men yet still nothing. Then Royce throws up one leg over the shoulder, locking the other over the ankle, he has a triangle. At 15 minutes and 49 seconds Dan Severn slaps his hand down to the mat 3 times. Gracie is the victor. Though the Gracies again were successful, they had someone to fear and that man was Dan Severn the Wrestler.

At the Following tournament UFC 5: Return of the Beast Severn would defeat all his opponents again in overpowering fashion, catching Jon Charles with a Rear naked choke, followed by TKO of Oleg Taktarov, and in the finals submitted Dave Beneteau via Keylock in only 3 minutes. This was the key, wrestling was now a force in the MMA world, and Dan Severn would set the paradigm for wrestlers to come. One the earliest being Don Frye fellow ASU wrestler and training partner. Though wrestling did not dominate the era, it emerged as a viable skill set that could be used quite effectively. With Frye he would integrate his wrestling into his fight game far better. Frye also had experience as a Pro Boxer(record:1 win 0 losses) as well as a 2nd degree black belt in Judo. His game was one of the most diversified, but what gave him the choice to Stand and bang or shoot and go for submissions lied in his take down abilities honed on the wrestling mats.

Frye would go undefeated through UFC 8: David vs. Goliath winning the tournament. Defeating none other than the future star Gary Goodridge via submission (punches) in the tournament finals. Frye would stay undefeated until the UFC 10 tournament finals being defeated by future world beater, and Olympic wrestler Mark Coleman via TKO at 11 minutes and 34 seconds into the fight.

So began a cycle of dominant wrestlers in Ultimate Fighting Championships, as well as MMA. While Coleman would battle on and win UFC 11: The Proving Ground tournament defeating Scott Ferrozzo, and Frye would be victorious at Ultimate Ultimate 1996 defeating Tank Abbot in the tournament finals. With their success proven a plethora of wrestlers would jump on to the scene.

Randy Couture won the UFC 13: Ultimate Force Heavyweight tournament with his dirty boxing, and extensive back ground in Greco/Roman wrestling. Tito Ortiz would make his MMA debut going 1 win to 1 loss in the Light Heavyweight tournament losing to guy Mezger. As well Royce Alger 2 time D1 NCAA Champion would lose to Enson Inoue via armlock.

Mark Kerr Division 1 All american, and Kevin Jackson 4 time All American made their UFC debuts at UFC 14: Showdown running through the their tournaments. Kerr would run through the UFC 15: Collision Course Heavyweight tournament in similar fashion, while Couture would defeat rising phenom 19 year old Vitor Belfort. Couture would win the Heavyweight Championship at UFC Japan: Ultimate Japan 1 against Maurice Smith only to be stripped due to contract disputes.

At UFC 16: Battle on the Bayou former collegiate wrestler Pat Miletich would win the Lightweight tournament(under 200 Lbs). At UFC 17: Redemption three wrestlers would fight. Mark Coleman would lose to Pete Williams, but Prospect and Division 1 wrestler Chuck Liddell would win his UFC debut, and Dan Henderson former an Olympic wrestler would win the UFC Middleweight tournament.

At UFC Brazil: Ultimate Brazil Pat Miletich would become the Welterweight Champion. While Coleman would lose via Split decision to Pedro Rizzo, Ortiz would be victorious against Jerry Bohlander via TKO(cut). Lastly future Champion Evan Tanner a former State Champion wrestler would make his debut submitting his opponent Darrel Gholar via Rear Naked Choke.

As well joining the wrestling ranks of the UFC and Ron Waterman(Ohio state wrestler, and Wrestling Coach) at UFC 20: Battle for the Gold, and Travis Fulton(Iowa state wrestler) at UFC 21: Return of the Champions.

At UFC 22: Only one can be the Champion; Future Champions and former Collegiate Wrestlers Jens Pulver and Matt Hughes would make their UFC debuts.

Shonie Carter and, and Ted Williams both Division 1 all Americans made their debut as well as being victorious at UFC 24: First Defense.

At UFC 28: High Stakes we would see Matt Hughes twin brother Mark Hughes victorious in his debut, as well as Indiana state and collegiate wrestler Chris lytle, and High school wrestler Josh Barnett making their debuts.

At the last event hosted by SEG; UFC 29: Defense of the Belts, Washington State champion wrestler Dennis Hallman would debut defeating again fellow wrestler Matt Hughes, as well Matt Lindland Olympic Silver medalist, and Jeff Monson Div 1 wrestler made their debuts.

Between UFC 1 and UFC 29 30 notable wrestlers competed in the UFC. 8 would become tournament Champions(Severn, Frye, Coleman, Couture, Kerr, Miletich, Jackson,Henderson). 1 super fight champion (Dan Severn). 3 Heavy weight Champions(Couture, Randleman, Coleman), 1 Welterweight Champion(Miletich Never Lost under the SEG owned UFC), 1 light heavyweight (Ortiz won the belt then defended 1 time under SEG).

What separated these men from their opponents was the mental strength, and will that wrestling brought to the table. The anguish of the weekly tournaments, and impending weight cuts customary of High School and Collegiate wrestling; gave these men a mental edge over their opponents, something you can't get from just training or fighting. Though many of the early wrestlers did have ugly or completely lacked a stand up game and submission game, but they persevered and used what they knew to put their opponents on their back.

They gained several wins by Exhaustion out working their opponents because when they were beaten, battered, and tired beyond words what set them on a level above their opponent was their power of will, and mental toughness drilled into them during practices on the mat. The countless shots, and sprawls they did in practice gave them control over the fight a kick boxer or a pure submission artist didn't have. They could see where they were lacking against an opponent and decide where to take a fight. Wrestling gave them a choice others didn't have.

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\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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