UFC 7: The fighter redux (part 1)

A glance at half the men that made up the UFC's seventh tournament event.

UFC 7 was a surprisingly big tournament. While they would never again run another sixteen man open draw, this was a pretty close second. Featuring sixteen fighters spread across a one-night eight man tournament, three alternate bouts, and a superfight title match, UFC 7 was as grand a spectacle as anything put on before it. Fans were introduced to "The King of the Streets" Marco Ruas and enticed with the promise of an exciting super fight between Ken Shamrock and Oleg Taktarov.

Last time out we talked about Paul Varelans and Joel Sutton, who will both be back for this event so be sure to check that article out too for more information. There's a lot to talk about here though, so I won't waste time. On to the fighters of UFC 7!

Scott Bessac - Scott Bessac's career in MMA got off to a rough start. One of the first Lion's Den fighters, he started training with Ken Shamrock in 1991 following a college baseball and football career at California Sate University. His Lion's Den connections brought him to Pancrase where he would start out 0-4 before a three fight win streak (capped by a victory over Takafumi Ito) saw him make his stateside debut with the UFC. He went 1-1 in his UFC career, with a loss in Pancrase sandwiched in between, before retiring from the sport.

He spoke to Jonathan Snowden about his time with the Lions Den:

"Back then, Ken didn't know any better and I certainly didn't know any better. I was just a fighter out on the streets. We did sparring with no pads. With just kempo gloves and no shin protection. It wasn't until Maurice Smith talked to us one day in Japan. 'What do you mean you don't spar with equipment?' I said, 'No we spar shin to shin.' And that was like two years later, after we'd been doing it for years. We used to kick shin to shin. It was basically just Ken beating the hell out of us. On, we were all young and stupid. And two, he had been trained by the Japanese in submission. And they whooped the hell out of him. They worked him hard and beat the heck out of him. They would lock him in submissions until he was black and blue. That was the only way he knew to pass that on. So that's what he did to me. And it's what I did to everyone else. And when Vernon White came in, that's what he did to Vernon. So, that's what Vernon did to everyone else. it just went down the line that way." (via the MMA Encyclopedia)

Post fighting, he attempted to open a new Lion's Den training facility in Lodi, California, but the facility was moved to Reno, Nevada. I've heard rumors that he still coaches at a Lion's Den affiliate, but can't find him listed at any of their gyms.

Onassis Parungao - Parungao entered the octagon a black belt in Hung Gar and Taiji Kung Fu with a background in Tung Kong Kalan, wrestling, and Judo. He entered the UFC after finding frustration with the point systems in most martial arts tournaments, and his tendency to get DQ'd for excessive aggression. He fought three times in 1995, winning his one UFC appearance and going 1-1 in an Absolute Fighting Championship one-night tournament before getting married and retiring from MMA to start a family.

Here's what he had to say about his experiences in the sport:

Of course I learned much about the ugly business of the sport, the shady people, drugs, even prostitution. I also learned about my strengths and weaknesses. I came to some realizations about my Kung Fu. No, I’m not about to be one of those guys who does a complete 180, gives up and goes straight to BJJ and Muay Thai. To the contrary I used those experiences to help me understand how to apply traditional kung fu in a more real world setting. Starting from entry methods down to escaping, notice that I didn’t say finishes? Anyway, applying the traditional kung fu is what I’m best at and that is what people usually want me to do seminars on. (via darkwingchun.com)

Outside of martial arts, he is best known for his role of Onassis Sweeps in the 2004 Kung-Fu movie Kwoon. He also does Hung Gar seminars and instruction at his Cheng Yee Kung Fu School in Connecticut.

Joel Sutton - Sutton is something of an enigma in the MMA history books. Trained in Praying Mantis Kung-Fu his UFC 7 appearance saw him author one of the bloodiest matches in MMA history. Outside of the UFC he played host to future Pancrase Champion Yoshiki Takahashi for Takahashi's UFC debut, and spent several years living and training with Christopher Caile, the father of Karate in Finland.

Apart from these connections Sutton has one other notable martial arts distinction, as one of the first men to ever compete in the Abu Dahbi Combat Club no-gi submission championships. He was part of the first ever tournament held in 1998, where he faced off against Larry Parker. After his MMA career Sutton reportedly moved on to new martial arts and is now a Krav Maga instructor.

Marco Ruas - "The King of the Streets" as he was known, was one of the first fighters with real vale tudo experience to enter the UFC. Trained in Luta Livre, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Osvaldo Alves, and Capoeira under Meistre Camisa. He was also one of the first men to ever receive a promotional push from the UFC before making his debut. His appearance was teased in an interview at UFC 6 where he talked about his inclusion in the next tournament.

Ruas' actual MMA career is something of a mixed bag. He won the UFC 7 tournament, but lost to Oleg Taktarov at the Ultimate Ultimate 95. He then moved on to World Vale Tudo and Pride to decent, but not especially exceptional results. While he owns wins over Pat Smith and Gary Goodridge he also came up empty in two tries against Maurice Smith and Oleg Taktarov. He retired for five years after defeating Jason Lambert at Ultimate Pankration 1, but would return to fighting briefly as a coach of the IFL's Southern California Condor's fighting opposing Coach Maurice Smith. Since the folding of the IFL he has not returned to active competition.

In his post MMA career he is the owner and head instructor of Ruas Vale Tudo gym and clothing company in Aliso Viejo, California. There he promotes his hybrid style of submission grappling and Kickboxing. The gym has produced the notable UFC title challenger Pedro Rizzo as well as several UFC and IFL veterans.

Larry Cureton - I've already covered much of Cureton's athletic career, so I'd like to take this opportunity to talk about his poetry. Cureton has written a book of his collected works called A Life Experience (A Man's View). Because he currently spends much of his time not only as a poet, but as a motivational speaker as well, his writing tends to be targeted towards a specific audience. His first book looked to reach young kids who listen to rap music.

"If I'm talking the language, they listen. You take out the music and all they hear are the words," he said. (via Jennifer Amato)

Future works are planned for a book that speaks to young woman in need of positive role models.

Remco Pardoel - It feels like forever since I've talked about Pardoel. Initially part of the second UFC tournament he was also a participant in the first ever Mundials upon the invitation of Carlos Gracie Jr. After his experience in UFC 7, where he advanced to the quarter final round, he was involved in a terrible judo accident in which he broke his leg in four places. The incident would sideline him from the sport for two years and see an end to his UFC invitations. Interestingly Pardoel also claims that his UFC 7 match was problematic due to Marco Ruas greasing before the fight:

Marco Ruas: This is a different story. He was not really fair. He used grease. So at that time I did not had the experience to fight a guy with oil over his body. I loved to get a rematch. He declined. (via sherdog)

...

Ruas has to live with the fact that he is a cheater. My Gi was full of grease.

Maybe I can say that my technique wasn’t refined enough. But if he didn’t use any grease whatsoever, it would have been a different ending. I made an official complaint after the event and it was clear to feel that my Gi was greased up. A rematch never came. This fight, the one against Smith in the UK and one Pancrase fight I regret. All others I just won or lost fair and square. (via ironforgesiron.com)

Ryan Parker - A 3rd degree (at the time) blackbelt in Ryukyu Kempo Karate, Parker trained under Hayek shinshi. His focus, much like that of Marcus Bossett was on traditional Okinawan Karate techniques. However, unlike Bossett who made several MMA appearances, Parker was one and done losing to Remco Pardoel via lapel choke at UFC 7.

Following his loss at UFC 7 Parker was slated to compete at a future event, but a change in the contract wording that sought to disallow throat strikes apparently caused him to exit the competition, feeling that his technique would be overly limited. Currently he has a blog, Ryukuma, where he talks about the history of various Okinawa Karate styles.

Harold Howard - Interestingly, apart from his legal struggles, and apart from his point fight Karate background, Howard was also a world Jiu Jitsu champion. It's not the modern Brazilian version, but the classic Japanese Jiu Jitsu system. In fact he claims the title not only of Jiu Jitsu champion, but of being the worlds first champion. He won individual and team gold medals at the world's first Sport Jujutsu championship as a member of the Canadian Jujutsu team in 1984.

One of the more fascinating side notes of his career was that, after Royce Gracie pulled out of the UFC 3 semi-finals Howard was supposed to face Ken Shamrock. While Ken Shamrock would himself pull out due to injury, leaving alternate Steve Jennum to come in, the series of events was not quite so clear cut.

Howard talked about his experience of Gracie pulling out of the fight:

"When I won the first fight, all we were saying was, ‘We got to Gracie.’ That was the only thing we wanted to do; that was the biggest disappointment," Howard said. "I remember after Kimo fought Gracie, he came in, and he’s no preacher. I remember they were swearing and I opened the curtain and said, ‘Shut the [expletive] up.’ When Gracie didn’t fight me, that was so disappointing. I remember saying, ‘At least we got Shamrock.’ Shamrock’s entourage was behind me when we got into the ring. I bowed to him, and I thought he was gonna get in. We got Jennum in there instead." (via Sherdog)

It's understandable how disappointed Howard would have been to miss facing not one, but two of the sports' great fighters. Where it gets interesting is hearing why and when Shamrock pulled out of the fight.

And Helio Gracie, the 82-year-old patriarch, standing just inches from his suffering son, performed an act of both compassion and courage, considering his family's magnificent fighting tradition. He took the white towel from around is shoulders and threw it to the center of teh octagon. Gracie had surrendered. howard would advancce to the final of UFC III to face Ken Shamrock.

So now Shamrock stood in the artificial mist, on the precipice, his knee aching, wondering what he was doing in this place, at this time. What would he prove, fighting Harold Howard, a large and game fighter, but a relative amateur? Shamrock was a professional. he had prepared, he had hungered, to fight another professional, a man name Gracie. Now there was nothing to prove. No reason to test his injured knee further. His pride had been stripped by Gracie, not the golden-haired Canadian.

He looked at his father. "I can't do it," He said. (via Inside the Lion's Den)

It's surprising how two men sharing similar emotions can come into this situation and leave at such opposite angles. Both had been training to face Gracie, but supposedly, for Shamrock that was the only fight worth having. For Howard, his desire to compete and potentially become a tournament champion kept him going. Ironically, years later, the fact that Shamrock never won a UFC tournament title is still one of the strongest criticisms of his early career.

That's the first eight competitors from UFC 7. Stay tuned next time when I talk about the rest, including Ken Shamrock, Mark Hall, Oleg Taktarov, and Geza Kalman.

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