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The USA TODAY/Bloody Elbow Top 50 MMA Fights in History II: 1996-1997

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3689053010_473217edb6_mediumHere's our second installment of the USA TODAY/Bloody Elbow Top 50 MMA fights in modern history. Sergio Non has written up the next block at USAT's Fighting Stances blog. To start, here's our criteria:

Some of the 50 fights we'll list aren't necessarily the best MMA bouts, but all of them are milestones for one reason or another, for better or for worse. The idea is to show how the sport has evolved. These are the fights that made the sport what it is today.

Here's the next 5 fights, covering 1996 to 1997 (the links go to pieces that discuss the fight in question):

  • Mark Coleman def. Don Frye, July 12, 1996 — UFC 10
    This fight introduced the term "Ground and Pound" to the MMA universe. Coleman wasn't the first wrestler with serious amateur credentials to enter the UFC, that honor goes to Dan Severn. But Coleman was the first wrestler to combine his finely honed position control skills with a brutal and relentless striking attack on the ground. Watching him roll over Don Frye in the tournament finals, at a time when Don Frye's wrestling/boxing combo was state of the art left no doubt that a new era of MMA history had dawned. Still a fun fight to watch.

  • Mark Coleman def. Dan Severn, Feb. 7, 1997 — UFC 12
    This fight put a capstone on the Coleman era of mega-wrestlers. Dan Severn, the holder of the Superfight belt that he took from Ken Shamrock at UFC 9, came in as the reigning champ. Severn's win at the first Ultimate Ultimate had further sealed his status at the crest of the first wave of UFC stars. After Coleman dismantled him in a one-sided bout, Mark Coleman left the Octagon as the first official heavyweight champ in UFC history. This fight showed that the second wave of UFC stars had a clear leg up on those of the first wave who were still active.

  • Maurice Smith def. Mark Coleman, July 27, 1997 — UFC 14
    It was a short reign. Just when it looked like Mark Coleman (and his peer the equally hulking Mark Kerr) was an unstoppable force and that no one would have the combination of power and grappling skill to stop the new wave of monster wrestlers, kickboxer Maurice Smith came to the UFC. Smith had already KO'd the heavyweight BJJ fighter Marcus "Conan" Silveira to win the Extreme Fighting Championship title. He came to the UFC after a couple of years in Pancrase and, more importantly, after putting together a new camp with Japanese RINGS star Tsuyoshi Kohsaka and Frank Shamrock. Maurice Smith had a forumula for beating the grapplers -- learn enough jiu jitsu to defend yourself on the ground, survive the early assault, drill some escapes, get back to your feet and have a kickboxing match with an exhausted grappler. The formula worked perfectly in this fight except Coleman survived to lose by decision rather than being KO'd. The highlights of the bout are well worth a look, the whole thing is a bit much. In retrospect its amazing how static the groundfighting was, even in a landmark bout. This fight firmly established the rock-paper-scissors dynamic of modern MMA and proved there was a place in the game for top strikers who were willing to learn enough groundfighting to compete.

  • Renzo Gracie vs. Eugenio Tadeu, draw, Sept. 27, 1997 — Pentagon Combat
    I was watching American Top Team head man Ricardo Liborio on Inside MMA last night and he was talking about how he sees the other big MMA camps as "rivals, not enemies." That was not how the exponents of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Luta Livre saw each other back in the 1990s. The feud went back to the 1940s and had political and cultural implications that went way beyond gi vs no-gi grappling. This fight was the end of the feud. Tadue was one of the standard bearers of Luta Livre who had participated in two of the biggest Brazilian MMA events of the 1980s and 1990s, splitting the pair. He'd also fought Renzo's cousin Royler Gracie to a stand-still in a dojo match. This bout ended in a riot that finally ended the BJJ vs Luta Livre feud. It also ended NHB/MMA as a viable business proposition in Brazil. Luta livre would go on to fade as a distinct style with its biggest prospects like Renato "Babalu" Sobral and Alexandre Franca "Pequeno" Nogueira going on to be more associated with BJJ than their old style.

  • Rickson Gracie def. Nobuhiko Takada, Oct. 11, 1997 — Pride 1
    By 1997, Rickson had already established himself as the most feared name in Japanese MMA through his sweeps of the 1994 and 1995 Vale Tudo Japan tournaments. Combined with the exposure his brother Royce's UFC wins had gotten in Japan and the Gracie myth was in full-effect in the Land of the Rising Sun. Nobuhiko Takada was one of the biggest pro-wrestlers in Japan. As a protege of Antonio Inoki, Takada was part of a generation of Japanese pro-wrestlers who pushed their form of sports entertainment closer and closer to becoming "real." Unlike his peers who founded Shooto, Pancrase, and RINGs, Takada's UWFi was a 100% worked promotion that simply traded on an image of toughness and real catchwrestling skills. To burnish their reputation, Takada had dispatched his protege Yoji Anjo to Rickson's LA dojo to challenge the top Gracie. Rickson battered the unfortunate Anjo and sent him home. In 1997, PRIDE put on the biggest MMA show of all time and signed Takada, the biggest pro-wrestling star of his generation to face Rickson Gracie, the invincible MMA legend. The 47,000 fans packed into the Tokyo Dome didn't get to see much of a fight as Rickson armbarred Takada in short order, but PRIDE was born and Takada's protege Kazushi Sakuraba was waiting for the Gracies.

This has inspired me to get back to my MMA History series which still hasn't gotten thru 1997 (a helluva year for MMA). I'm also putting together a list of 25 or so fights that didn't make our top 50 list -- the hardcores top mma fights.

Read Parts One and Threee and the Prequel.