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ESPN looks back at the UFC's 1996 Ultimate Ultimate 2 tournament

Jake Rossen of ESPN has put together an excellent oral history of UFC: Ultimate Ultimate 96, the last 8 man tournament the promotion ever put on. The event featured Don Frye, Ken Shamrock, Tank Abbott, Kimo Leopoldo and Gary Goodridge.'s Jake Rossen has put together an incredible oral history of the UFC's 1996 Ultimate Ultimate 2 event.

Here's Rossen's description of the event:

For February 1997's UFC 12, fighters would be split into two separate weight divisions and four-man brackets, an attempt to appease a New York legislature that would ultimately prove pointless.

But before that happened, SEG planned a going-away party for the Octagon's original format. For the Ultimate Ultimate 1996, held Dec. 7 in Birmingham, Ala., the promotion managed to secure the most talent-rich lineup of any show of the era. Shamrock would make his first appearance as a seeded fighter in years; Abbott, a volatile street fighter, was at the height of his popularity; and onetime firefighter Don Frye, the UFC 8 winner, was eager to prove his mauling at the hands of Coleman at UFC 10 was a fluke.

When it was over, Frye was the last man standing, but by only a slim margin. Abbott delivered the UFC's most gruesomely unsettling finish to date, and one athlete started bleeding before the event even began.

Rossen gets quotes from fighters Don Frye, Ken Shamrock, Tank Abbott, Paul Varlens, Cal Worsham, Brian Johnston, Gary Goodridge, alternate Mark Hall, original UFC executives David Isaacs and Art Davie and commentators Bruce Beck and the late Jeff Blacknick.

The article is the definitive account of one of the most pivotal events in UFC and MMA history.

Here's a taste of the article, a post-script where they talk about the failure of the original promoters to ever get Ken Shamrock and Tank Abbott into the cage opposite one another:

DAVIE: Every time we tried, circumstance and the universe seemed to intrude and prevent us from getting those two guys together. It would've been a wonderful match.

ABBOTT: We were supposed to fight in 2009. He had a bum that weighed 360 pounds and probably couldn't even tie his own shoelaces. I had a B-level fighter. I knocked that guy out. Ken fights the other guy and then he tests positive for steroids. It's like, are you kidding me? Why would you take steroids to fight that guy?

ISAACS: Abbott would definitely fight Ken. He always thinks he would kill Ken in a fight. His version is Ken was always hopped up on 'roids, and a naturally strong man such as himself would have a tremendous advantage.

SHAMROCK: My style would've been horrible for him. When it gets to the ground, the only thing he knows how to do is go to the referee's position. I wish it would've happened. I think most people realize I would've won.

ISAACS: Abbott saw Ken at some wrestling event of some sort. They were older and were talking like, "It'd be great, we could talk up the old rivalry." They're talking about it like professionals.

ABBOTT: I was at an autograph signing in Philadelphia. Ken comes up and he's like, "Everybody takes steroids!" I was drinking a cocktail and I rubbed my stomach and said, "Not me, big daddy." He walked off. My girlfriend has no idea about the fight business. She said, "Who was that?" I go, "That's Ken Shamrock." "Oh, my gosh! He's like a midget! He's 185 pounds!" I go, "Yep."

SHAMROCK: The representation Tank gives is not the representation I would give on steroids. The problem with this is it's there. No matter how many times government or Congress wants to put in a law, it's here and it's not going anywhere.

Go read the whole thing, it's a brilliant contribution to the history of mixed martial arts.