Did Anderson Silva Take a Dive? A History of Fishy MMA Fights
As soon as Anderson Silva's head bounced off the canvas, the whispers began. Most prominent was Bloody Elbow blogger and Fight author Eugene Robinson, but he was not alone. In comments, tweets and blog posts, a chorus of writers let their voices be heard. And their message was clear:
The fix was in.
In some ways, I can forgive their incredulity. Silva, after all, had never lost in his UFC tenure. For seven years he had met the test each and every time he stepped into the cage. Silva, employing the same style that made a young Muhammad Ali so successful, seemed to avoid blows like magic.
But there is no such thing as magic.
Silva, hands by his sides, leaned back, way back, to avoid consecutive right hands from Chris Weidman. When the left hook followed, there was nowhere left to hide. It was just Silva's chin and Weidman's balled up fist. That's not an equation any fighter can win, not even one of the greats like Anderson Silva.
Weidman's win was as legitimate as they come. But not every fight in MMA history has been. From the Land of the Rising Sun, where professional wrestling and MMA walked hand-in-hand, to the middle of the UFC Octagon, there have been a handful of fights that have raised suspicions and created whispers.
Here are six of the most notorious. Have some more in mind? Share them in the comments.
Oleg Taktarov vs. Anthony Macias (UFC 6)
In the old days, the UFC was built around a one-night tournament at each event. At UFC 6 in Casper, Wyo., Taktarov was part of said eight-man tournament, one to crown a new Ultimate Fighting champion. Macias was one of the alternates.
Things went hinky when Oleg's opponent in the semifinals, kickboxer Pat Smith, got a case of the nerves. Claiming stomach cramps, he pulled out of the fight. Famously, he was seen eating ham sandwiches later that night at the after party.
So Macias it was. Waiting for the winner in the finals was street fighter David "Tank" Abbott. Everything seemed normal on the surface. Alternates were a fact of life in the UFC and one, Steve Jennum, had even managed to win UFC 3.
But things aren't always as they seem.
You could tell there was going to be trouble before the fight even started when announcer Jeff Blatnick ominously informed the audience that Oleg and Macias "both have the same promoter, Buddy Albin, who has chosen to go in Taktarov's corner for this particular fight."
That's what you might call a conflict of interest.
Andy Anderson, who was in Anthony's corner, explained how it went down in the locker room in Clyde Gentry's book No Holds Barred:
Everyone knew that Oleg was going to need every ounce of strength he had to beat Tank. Buddy Albin told Macias that if you don't lose this fight, you will never fight again in another no-rules fight, ever.
Macias, a striker, charged in immediately for a takedown. Taktarov caught him in a choke and, like that, it was all over. It took only nine seconds.
"You have to wonder," Blatnick said.
"You've got to be honest," color man Jim Brown agreed, going further, calling the legitimacy of the bout into question.
"Jim, I know what you're thinking," play-by-play announcer Bruce Beck added, siding with Brown. "I'm thinking the same thing."
"I wasn't really happy about the whole thing of friendship," Brown concluded.
After the bout, Guy Mezger, who trained both men, consoled a despondent Macias. Oleg beat Tank in the finals when the big man ran out of breath. The precious seconds Macias bought him paid off brilliantly.
For his trouble, Macias would never fight in the UFC again.
Matt Hume vs. Ken Shamrock (Pancrase: Road to the Championship 2)
Pancrase and Rings, two early Japanese fight promotions, lived in a strange purgatory between pure contests and pro wrestling. The founders, Masakatsu Funaki and Akira Maeda, respectively, were both once considered the next big thing in pro wrestling. Both were proteges of the legendary Antonio Inoki. And both got tired of the ridiculous theater that was threatening to turn the business they grew up with into a circus sideshow like its American cousin.
Their hearts were in the right place, but neither man could quite give up the control he enjoyed as pro wrestling matchmaker. After all, it's easier to build a star when you control who wins and who loses.
Sometimes, in Pancrase especially, the finish was left up to the athlete to decide. Other times, like when Ken Shamrock dropped the King of Pancrase title to Minoru Suzuki or when Shamrock beat Matt Hume in the video above, outside forces helped decide the outcome.
"They had works," Shamrock confidante and Pancrase fighter Scott Bessac told me. "It would be a fight right up until the predetermined ending...That's just the way it was. They would come to you personally and ask for a work and you'd get paid a little bit more."
It's instructive to note the difference between a "work" and a "dive." In a worked fight, both fighters are in on it and work out the finishing sequence in advance. What takes place is essentially a pro wrestling match.
When a fighter takes a dive, his opponent might not necessarily even be aware the fix is in. Former UFC champion Bas Rutten insists that he didn't work any of his Pancrase fights. Some opponents have told me they were asked to take a dive for him.
In this case, both can be right.
Don Frye vs. Mark Hall (Ultimate Ultimate 96)
Say it isn't so, Don Frye.
The beloved fireman turned fighter is best known for his mustache and his face-punching extravaganza against Yoshihiro Takayama in Pride. Few remember this alleged low light from his early UFC career.
Once again, another tournament was involved. And, once again, poor Tank Abbott was the ultimate victim.
The Ultimate Ultimate 96 was not just any tournament. It was a tournament featuring champions and standouts from the UFC's first 10 shows. There would be no easy fights.
That meant Don Frye had a very serious problem. Battling a bad cold, he was already exhausted before his grueling first-round bout with Gary Goodridge.
Then it got worse.
Staring across the way from him in the semifinals was a man he was sick and tired of seeing—Mark Hall. The two had fought twice already that year. In both bouts, Hall gave Frye all he could handle.
Not this time. Within 20 seconds, Frye caught Hall with the first and only leg lock of his career. Announcer Jeff Blatnick, so skeptical of Taktarov, was all on board Frye's big win as Hall writhed in pain and had to be carried from the arena by Paul Varelans.
"He might have actually broken his fibula," Blatnick told a concerned audience at home.
In September 1997, Hall revealed to the fight world what really happened that night. According to Mark, powerhouse manager Robert DePersia, a man who guided the careers of both Hall and Frye, had demanded he throw the fight.
"Well Mark, sometimes you do what you have to do," Hall claims DePersia told him. "We're a team. This is Don's day, not yours."
Frye, for his part, denies the allegation.
"If you're fool enough to believe him, believe him," he told ESPN's Jake Rossen. "If you've got enough common sense not to believe him, I don't need to waste my breath trying to convince you."
Joe Charles vs. Vitor Belfort (Ultimate Japan)
Before the fight, all the announcers could talk about was Vitor Belfort's fast hands. But once the cage door closed, his hands were a non-factor. Belfort, one of the UFC's best knockout artists, didn't throw a single punch at his opponent Joe "Ghetto Man" Charles.
This UFC "superfight" ended up being anything but.
"He has come out here with an attitude," announcer Jeff Blatnick said. "He's going to show the world what he's capable of with his jiu-jitsu skills."
That, to put it kindly, was looking at the bright side.
Over and over again on the mat, Belfort had opportunities to whack away at Charles. The big man had plenty of chances to smack Belfort, too. Instead, the two just demonstrated some basic grappling technique before Charles practically begged Belfort to finish him with an armbar.
When it was later revealed that the two men were training partners in Los Angeles at LA Boxing, it was hard to even pretend surprise. It looked like glorified sparring. It turns out it may have actually been just that.
Mark Coleman vs. Nobuhiko Takada (Pride 5)
The title of any given YouTube video can be hit or miss. Sometimes the grammar fails alone are worth the price of admission. But other times? Other times the poster hits the nail directly on the head.
This is one of those times.
"Mark Coleman Disgraces America."
I say that after apparently throwing this fight to Japanese pro wrestling sensation Takada, Coleman is getting off easy.
Think I'm jumping the gun here? Not convinced it was a work? No less an authority than MMA Fightting's Dave Meltzer was consulted on what the finish should be. And when I confronted Coleman about the fight, he didn't deny the accusations.
"It was what it was," Coleman said when I asked him about the fight for my book Shooters. "I needed to support my family. They guaranteed me another fight after that and I needed that security. It was what it was. I'm going to leave it at that."
There were plenty of other fishy matches in Pride, but this is the only one I can make a definitive case for. Former star Gary Goodridge confirms, without naming names, that the list of fixed fights was extensive:
Yes that type of stuff happened all the time in Pride. There are some pretty famous examples that the old fans all talk about. Chances are if you think it’s shady, it might have been. Naoya Ogawa’s camp offered me money to throw the fight but I didn’t want to sacrifice my integrity for a buck.
Dan Severn vs. Travis Fulton (WEC 1, June 30, 2001)
UFC Hall of Famer Dan Severn fought 127 times during the course of his long career. He speculates there are many more fights that aren't accounted for on any official database.
How many of his fights were real, however, is anyone's guess. Severn has been accused many times of working cooperatively with his opponents. In 2001, what had been private speculation blew up publicly, when the IFC suspended Severn and opponent Travis Fulton for "predetermining the outcome" of their June 30, 2001 fight.
Fulton defended himself years later in hilarious fashion. While he acknowledged working a bout with Severn, he claimed the bout in question was legitimate. It was actually their match the previous October for Severn's own DangerZone promotion that had been a work.
"Dan has done a few works, but...has never done a work that hurt a promoter. Either the promoter knew, or it was his own event," Fulton wrote on the Underground forum, before going on to list the Severn fixes he knew about:
Severn has a financial interest in keeping the works secret. Severn is a good guy though. His works are as follows: vs Kohler vs Japanese guy in U Japan vs Butterbean vs me in DZ and then 2 more that I am not at liberty to speak about. But I know for a fact that they were works. I can't tell though because I'd lose friends in the process. Other than that everything else Severn has done is legit. Wins over Oleg, Shamrock, Tank, Braga, Griffin, Conan, Neto, Buentello, Vale, Sims, and Eilers are very impressive. Not many people have defeated so many big names.
Four years later, Severn was back in the news with similar shenanigans. Ring announcer Jeff Weller was furious about a match between Severn and perennial punching bag Shannon Ritch, telling MMA Weekly Radio that both men were pulling a fast one, repeating a bout they "fought" in Alaska the previous month almost move for move:
They know each other so well, or they had it scripted. They were just rolling with it. I mean to a trained eye a work is so obvious. I mean the crowd. I mean the tape doesn’t lie. Lets put it that way. All I’ve got to say to anybody that refutes what I’m saying, and what the crowd saw, is all you’ve got to do is look at the tape. I mean the tape don’t lie. You know they’re going to have to live with this.
Severn finally retired last year at the age of 54. He went out with a "win."