I started martial arts in 1973, opened a full time professional gym in 83, and watched UFC 1 in 93, and have done little besides MMA since. Martial Arts is my passion, for now nearly 40 years. I also read to relax, and need to relax a lot.
ESPN's Jake Rossen did an extended piece on an early UFC event, the Ultimate Ultimate 1996. It is hugely entertaining and informative, covering MMA's brief defacto union, throwing fights, eye gouging, gang brawls, and more.
This is one of the very best pieces of fight writing I have ever come across.
If you love MMA, this is a must read, truly a work of martial art. Brief excerpts appear below.
In the 1990s, when the Ultimate Fighting Championship had its feet held to the fire for perceived acts of brutality, most politicians and critics focused on the broken bones and bleeding scalps. But the most savage component of the sport might have been the emotional attrition required to fight three times in the span of an evening.
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. Ken Shamrock would make his first appearance as a seeded fighter in years; 'Tank' 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.
For the first time, all of the participants and deal-makers provide their perspective -- in their own words -- on the UFC's last great tournament and the subsequent fallout.
Sixteen years later, it's still a night no one has any problem remembering.
Cal Worsham: After my fight with Zane Frazier at UFC 9 [in May 1996], I had a heart contusion, collapsed lung, three broken ribs. I was being kept awake in the ICU for two days without knowing if I would live or die. When I finally got home, I was scared to fart.
Paul Varelans: My first UFC, I had four months of training. No one wants to believe it, but it's the truth. I never really had a coach. I'd get videotapes, watch what they were doing and then modify it for myself.
Mark Hall: I couldn't talk growing up. I stuttered real bad. I couldn't even say one word. I was made fun of every day, ridiculed every day. Talking is how you tell people who you are. If you can't tell someone who you are, you're really nobody.
Ken Shamrock: I went after him one time behind the curtain. He said something to me. People got in between us. I'm very high-strung. If someone says something, they're going to get a response. Tank had the mouth, I had the volatile personality. It didn't mix.
Tank Abbott: I would fight him in a bathroom where no one would see it. He'd run out of the bathroom, because he fights so people can think he's a fighter. I fight because that's part of my soul.
Art Davie: Tank's not irrational. But if he decides he wants to kick your ass, and Pat Smith is a good example, he'll jump you in a hotel elevator and he'll kick the s--- out of you. He doesn't think twice about it. There's no sense of morality.
Don Frye: I cheated even though there was no cheating back then. I brought a buddy of mine that was a paramedic, and after the fight he put three bags of IV fluid into me. It rehydrated me immediately, so I was good to go right away.
Cal Worsham: Tank turns to McCarthy and says, "He's eye-gouging me." John says, "Watch the fingers, Cal." Well, I wasn't! But every time he said that, his left hand was on the right side of my face and his thumb is below my eye, so he's digging his thumb into my eye and for some reason there's not a single camera angle that catches it. At that point, while he was doing that, I reached out and tapped.
Steve Nelmark: They told me Shamrock broke his hand and couldn't fight. I had fought Marcus Bossett first. I delivered 36 head-butts in that fight. The only reason I know that number is because afterward the announcer asked if my 36 head-butts contributed to me winning. They asked about Tank and I said, "Sure."
I wasn't even knocked out. If you watch the fight, it looks horrible because I just collapse. He hit a part of my nervous system that knocked my motor functions out. I collapsed because I couldn't move. But I never lost consciousness.
David Isaacs: Most of the time, if the fix is in, the promoters are the ones doing the fixing. We never fixed fights. I thought about it, to be honest. But we never did. It probably would've helped our business to come at it from that perspective.
Cal Worsham: We kind of pioneered a sport that had no shape yet. Now it's legit, mainstream. It's crazy. I'm in awe of the group that was assembled for that night. You'll never see it again. For back in that day, it was a who's who. To think I even had a small part is just an absolute honor. Like I tell people, I was mediocre, but I was mediocre at a world-class level.
Don Frye: I saw Abbott a couple years ago at a fan fest. He said, "I came over here just to see you, partner." He shook my hand and gave me a big hug. Made me happier than a pig in s--- to have that kind of respect from that man.
Tank Abbott: The beginning of the UFC, there's that little clique of guys that, for the most part, I call clowns, but by the same token, it was like a little brotherhood where we did something not too many people in this world would do. I tip my hat to them. Even Shamrock.