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The story behind Gary Goodridge's knockout debut at UFC 8

"Big Daddy" Gary Goodridge left a mark at his MMA debut at UFC 8 against Paul Herrera - what led up to that explosive first match that left fight fans craving more of Goodridge?

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UFC 8 in 1996 was the first, and last, event held in Bayamon, Puerto Rico for the promotion, which was coming fresh off it's first "Ultimate Ultimate" event that pitted winners and fan-favorites from previous UFC shows. Headlined with a super fight where Ken Shamrock would defend his Super Fight championship against Kimo Leopoldo, the theme for the eighth UFC tournament, which featured a completely fresh talent pool of newcomers, would be "David VS Goliath". Capitalizing on the "no weight classes" gimmick, the brackets for UFC 8 set up quarter-final bouts that had a 200 lb. weight difference (and sometimes more) between each of the competitors, with the exception of one match that would leave an impact to this day in the MMA world: Paul Herrera VS Gary Goodridge.

An All-American wrestler from the University of Nebraska and two-time Judo champ, Paul Herrera had been training Tank Abbott for his UFC bouts (along with Tito Ortiz who had yet to make his MMA debut at this point) before this, and weighed in at 185 lbs.,the smallest combatant in the tournament. His opponent was the Canadian Kuk Sool Won fighter, Gary Goodridge.

Standing 6' 3" and weighing in at 250 lbs, Goodridge found his way into the UFC after winning Yukon Jack arm-wrestling championship in 1995. His friends were watching UFC 2 on VHS and decided that Gary could compete in NHB fights. With no agents or managers, Gary simply dialed the UFC merchandise hotline and asked who to speak to in order to fight. He soon heard the voice of Art Davie, one of the founders of the UFC, who recognized Goodridge from his arm-wrestling competitions. In that short span of a single conversation on the phone, Gary was entered into the next UFC tournament. The only problem was, the only fighting he knew was when he fought with his sister.

At the time, Goodridge was working at a Honda Factory, where he had a good friend that trained in martial arts. In order to train like a fighter, and get proper credentials to compete, Goodridge checked out a Kuk Sool Won gym, that incidentally also had a fighter hoping to make it to the UFC. Gary was forced to fight against the other fighter, and won in a dominating fashion to earn his spot to train at the gym.

In less than a month, Goodridge was wearing a fourth degree black belt over his gi, which he agreed to wear at the UFC event to represent the gym. Soon, he was ready for his octagon debut. In Gary's book, Gatekeeper: The Fighting Life of Gary "Big Daddy" Goodridge, Gary discussed his motivation against Paul Herrera:

"In the lead-up to the fight, some of my friends told me that Tank Abbott was a racist skinhead who was involved with the KKK. Of course it wasn't true, but my friends said it so I would train harder... Going into the Herrera fight, I wasn't confident at all in my technical fighting abilities; however, I was confident that I wasn't going to lose to this guy. I swore up and down that I was not going to lose to a racist jerk. I didn't care what I needed to do because, in my mind, I was now fighting for all Black people."

Before the bout began, commentator Jeff Blatnick read off the attributes of Herrera, claiming that Herrera considered himself a "street-fighter" and might bleed from an older cut. Herrera would not need to worry about opening up old wounds, as he was about to gain a few new ones.

"One thing that you don't see under that gi is a huge set of arms," Blatnick said as the match began, "He clearly is way more powerful than Paul Herrera." Herrera lunged for Goodridge's legs, but the Canadian deftly sprawled away from the shot. Using that power that Blatnick mentioned moments earlier, Goodridge trapped one of Herrera's arms with both of his, and used his legs to wrap around the other, and took the wrestlers off his knees and onto his back. Goodridge formed a human crucifix across Herrera's shoulders, and once he was in position, slammed his right elbow into the side of his opponent's head. The first shot rocked Herrera, the second put him to sleep, the remaining six punctuated the ferocious debut of "Big Daddy".

The crucifix maneuver was not a fluke, as Goodridge explained, but was in fact a tactic that was drilled and worked on before the match. "From the time we got into Puerto Rico and got down to the beach, we saw Paul Herrera and his group," Goodridge reminisced. "And he was going over the same move all the time, just the one move, the fireman's carry. So, even when i wasn't even there, my corner was there saying "hes going to shoot and he is going to fireman's carry. So, we spent all night in my hotel room learning how to combat the fireman's carry so that i didn't look like an idiot. " However, the knockout was not planned, as the goal of that position that they planned on was to apply a submission on his wrist until he tapped out. Unfortunately, Gary got caught in the moment and instead opted to cave in the side of Herrera's face.

"Big" John McCarthy, who refereed this match, wrote about the insane ending in his book, Let's Get It On. "I learned a valuable lesson from this fight too, which was to not anticipate a fight's outcome too far ahead. I'd known Herrera was a decent wrestler at the University of Nebraska, and I'd doubted Goodridge's credentials beyond his arm wrestling. This had led me to believe Herrera would control Goodridge on the ground." Upon seeing Paul take the shot on Gary's legs, McCarthy re-positioned himself to get a better view of where he thought the action would go with the grappler seemingly in control. Unfortunately, he had miscalculated and to this day feels that he could have ended the fight sooner had he been in the right place at the right time, something he has since made up for.

After being tended to by the ringside physicians, Herrera would walk out of the cage, refusing help from medical officials to prove that he could leave on his own power. Goodridge would continue on in the tournament, reaching the finals where he lost to Don Frye (whose debut and trio of matches against Goodridge we will leave for another day). According to an article in People magazine done during the timeline of the event, Herrera seemed to be alright (as much as possible) days after having his brain rattled:

"I'm fine," says Herrera, who spent the night in the hospital with a concussion and a broken cheekbone. "I've had my ass stomped worse than that before. I spent the next day drinking Stoli martinis and getting loaded."

UFC 8 would not be the last time Herrera stepped in the cage, as he competed again much later on in life, defeating Joe Moreira (who also competed and lost at UFC 8) by decision in 2002 in Paul's first promotion, "HFP" (Hitman Fighting Promotion). In the past few years, he became one of the trainers at Empire MMA in California, and stepped back into the promoting world, creating an amateur MMA organization called "Hitman Athletics MMA", or HAMMA for short, although the lack of updates on that site (and the non-existent one for the other) do not indicate just what Paul is up to in 2013.

As for Goodridge, he had a long and storied career in the sport full of highlights and lowpoints, many of which we will check out in the near future!