Battle of the Styles: Wing Chun vs. Sambo
Battlecade Extreme Fighting II was held on 26 April 1996, at the Kahnawake Indian reservation in Montreal, Canada. Wing Chun stylist Steve Falkner tested his skills vs. division champion, Sambo stylist Igor Zinoviev.
A former student of Wing Chun, the match maker John Perretti had high hopes for Falkner.
“He’s never faced anyone who blocks, punches, and kicks like this guy does, all simultaneously,” said Perretti.
Zinoviev won handily. A single fight does not prove anything more than on that day, one man was the better. Let it be enough that two men were brave enough to enter a cage and defend their style.
To seek greater meaning, look to the entire event.
Through a circuitous arrangement, Penthouse magazine founder Bob Guccione Sr came to bankroll the pioneering MMA show Battlecade: Extreme Fighting. Although the promotion only put on four events before ceasing operations, it remains unheralded but important in the early history of the sport. This is largely due to matchmaker John Perretti, a black belt student of “Judo” Gene LeBell.
Consider that for the first show, Perretti brought in two Gracies (Carlson Jr and Ralph), plus Conan Silveira and Mario Sperry, and John Lewis, and Igor Zinoviev. Extreme Fighting was the first North American MMA promotion with weight classes (Lightweight/-159 lbs, Middleweight/160-199 lbs, and Heavyweight/200+ lbs). And Extreme Fighting 2 was the first North American MMA event that required all fighters to wear fingerless, MMA-style gloves.
Battlecade 1 was driven from a planned debut in New York due to pressure from both a State Senator and from then UFC owner Bob Meyrowitz. So the second event was held at The Kahnawake Mohawk Indian Reservation in Quebec, Canada. While the reservation had the right to conduct combat sports events, the provincial authorities threatened to arrest both staff and fighter, and blocked the television signal. And then UFC parent company SEG tried to rent the arena away from them.
But the show went on, barely – a satellite truck arrived just 30 minutes before start time.
Zinoviev, a regionally decorated Sambo and Judo player, was coming off a win over Mario Sperry, that earned him the inaugural Extreme Fighting middleweight championship. He faced Wing Chun stylist Steve Falkner.
The match went about as you would expect.
Late that night a number of the fighters were arrested at their hotel. Perretti, who had already departed, returned and asked that he be arrested, too. Guccione got the charges dropped and gave everyone $1,000 each for their trouble. Due to the fighters who did not make it due to threats and arrests, the event was not long enough to meet the PPV minimum.
There would be two more events, that were each in their way important to the development of the sport. For example, EF3 saw the debut of 3×5 minute rounds. The subsequent shows had not yet reached profitability, and with Penthouse magazine experiencing financial issues of its own, the league closed shortly after EF4 on March 28, 1997.
The road of exploration is littered with the bodies of brave explorers. Extreme Fighting featured world class athletes, wearing mandatory fingerless gloves, fighting for three, five-minute rounds. It would take the rest of the sport years to catch up.
Falkner still teaches Wing Chun privately and through seminars. He can be reached at falknerwingchun.com. Zinoviev went on to fight internationally, and, in his final fight to challenge for the UFC middleweight title vs. Frank Shamrock. He then became a coach, most prominently for the IFL Bears. He now lives in New Jersey, and has son who is skilled in Judo. Perretti lives in New York, and can be reached via johnperretti.com.