Do you remember the year when FIFA decided to stage the entire World Cup in a single afternoon? No? Yeah, that never happened because the people who organise the tournament aren't complete morons.
And so, the chickens finally came home to roost for UFC. The idea of cramming an entire tournament into a 90 minute slot was already toeing the line between ambitious and moronic, compounded by this absolute farce of an event.
Brian Kilmeade sets the tone with his opening line: "Happy to be back here in Charlotte, North Carolina . . . actually, this is here for the first time, we've been in Denver for the first two." NFL hall of famer Jim Brown is back, complete with ridiculous hat, along with Ben Perry who is sporting a quite extraordinary perm that can't possibly have been fashionable even in the mid-90s.
"Let's look at the Octagon! It's like no other! If you saw us in Denver, it's the same thing!" Wait, what?
There is a nice little feature before the fights which illustrates the burgeoning concept of MMA, as it divides fighters into two categories: Punchers v Grapplers. The latter has proved superior during the last two events, as this gem testifies: "A nasty choke or joint lock puts an opponent away for good." Yes, the seven men killed by Royce Gracie will agree with that.
But it's the last line in this feature that brings up the most interesting thought: "The nature of real combat makes it impossible to call either approach a lock on victory. It's far more certain to say that the fighter trained in both strategies stands the best chance of surviving and winning." And that, boys and girls, is where MMA was born.
Shamrock and Gracie are back for this year's slugfest, as are the atrocious production values. These are so poor and so disorganised that footage switches between a graphic of the tournament tree and the pundits discussing said fights eight times in the space of two minutes.
There's a wild card in this year's tournament: Kimo. A man who, according to Kilmeade, doesn't have a last name. Until about 15 minutes later, when he introduces himself as Kimo Leopoldo. Good job, Brian. More on Kimo:
Jim Brown: He's a streetfighter, very tough, 240, he's got muscles, he has an attitude. And he has one of those things on the back of his head that scares me to death.
Kilmeade: Oh, he's got the little ponytail.
It's true, hairstyles can be frightening. Big John McCarthy makes his second UFC appearance, along with a big change in the rules—the referee now has the authority to stop the fight. And lo, the TKO was born.
The first round of matches on this card are fantastic entertainment. Sumo champ Emmanuel Yarborough, for want of a better word, is a big fat bastard. 6'8", 616 lbs. Think of Viscera, then think of a Viscera who let himself go. The guy can barely climb up to the Octagon. His opponent is Keith Hackney, who is rocking the mullet, the true sign of a warrior.
Onto my favourite ring announcer - the whiney, nasal voice of Rich Goins. When is Bruce Buffer coming? As Goins introduces the fighters, it appears that Yarborough is now 618 lbs. He's managed to put on two pounds over the last 60 seconds. Goins likes to introduce everybody by repeating their surname ("Emmanuel Yarborough . . . Yarborough.") I'd mention Ken Anderson here, but I don't want to get trolled by the anti-pro-wrestling nuts. So I don't know who Ken Anderson is.
This fight is all kinds of awesome: Yarborough is floored by a single punch, but then proceeds to throw Hackney around like a ragdoll and even slings him through the gate of the Octagon for good measure. Kilmeade announces that "Yarborough's coming in with sumoo and judoo". Whatever that is. The big fat porky mess nearly executes a drop toehold but is battered with a vicious flurry of elbows and fists to the neck and the spine.
Yarborough taps out before he's crippled for life. Hackney's hand is consequently smashed to pieces, and he is unable to compete in the next fight. Thus highlights one of the emerging flaws in the UFC setup. Gloves were not mandatory at this point, but Hackney wasn't the first person to break his hand during a fight.
A couple of guys run in to wipe up the blood, and we're ready for fight number two, Mr Kenneth Shamrock v Christophe Leininger. Ken was unable to compete in UFC 2 due to a broken wrist (we've all been there), and the dangerous shootfighter is feeling confident:
Ken Shamrock v Christophe Leininger
"Hi. I'm Ken Shamrock. I lost in the Ultimate Fighting Championship 1."
Could work on your opening gambit, Ken. He's clad in a lovely scarlet silk dressing gown, and the announcers can barely contain their excitement that he's wearing shoes!
I love the little promo videos where the fighters are kicking seven shades of shit out of some poor sparring partner. Who agrees to that job? The announcers are also cooing over Shammers' "great body." His opponent, Leininger, has his surname pronounced two different ways by Goins in the space of about a second.
And so follows another good fight, with some nice mat grappling and an eventual submission victory for Shamrock, whilst Leininger looks like he's actually curled up and died in the corner of the Octagon. Goins announces our winner as Ken Wayne Shamrock Shamrock.
Harold Howard is up next, also sporting a wonderful mullet. "Look at the eyes on Harold Howard," Kilmeade urges us, as viewers stare at the tournament tree graphic. As Goins runs through the intro for Howard, the camera is fixed on his opponent, Roland Payne. The camera hilariously cuts away from the 5'8 Payne when Goins mentions Howard's height of 6'2.
This is another exciting brawl, finishing when Payne submits after brutal right hook from Howard. The fight is also memorable for Howard's fighting stance making him look like a giant chicken.
Kilmeade excitedly points out Gary Busey in the crowd, as the camera focuses on nobody in particular. Kilmeade composes himself enough to introduce the next fight: "Who will face Harold Howard? It'll be this man, Royce Gracie . . . who has to beat Kimo first".
The afterthought that is Kimo, part-time minister, is a monster of a man with some truly frightening bacne. He's ready to dish out some Kimotherapy, so Royce Gracie might end up losing all his hair. His ring entrance is literally the most tasteless, over-the-top spectacle I've ever seen in sports history (and that includes Triple H's Conan shenanigans at Wrestlemania 22). Kimo comes out to the ring carrying a CROSS, dressed in a Jigsaw robe. Royce, it should be noted, does not look impressed.
The fight is a scorcher, the best in UFC so far. Royce struggles to take down Kimo, as Kilmeade tells us "this is the longest we've seen him standing up on his two feet." Not like the time he was standing on his three feet then. Royce even yanks on that little ponytail that so frightened Jim Brown. This is an excellent back-and-forth match, and Kimo lasts far, far longer than any man has against Gracie before he ultimately taps out. The fact that Kimo lasts 4:40 with Gracie is a huge, huge upset.
The rest of this card is notable for the fact that the returning fighters for each progressive round look absolutely gassed. Hackney pulls out due to a broken hand, and although Shamrock beat the subsequent replacement fighter, Shamrock himself withdraws from the final due to injury. The second semi-final between Howard and Gracie is seconds away from starting before Gracie pulls out due to a mixture of fatigue and dehydration. Kimo runs into the ring to celebrate what he sees as a de-facto victory, despite tapping out like a bitch, as this event begins in descent into madness.
The final sees Harold Howard, winner of one fight, against replacement Steve Jennum, winner of zero fights. Jennum, a Nebraska police offer/ninja, wins after an exhausted Howard taps out due to strikes after just under two minutes. And so, Steve Jennum, the flipping alternate, becomes the Ultimate Fighting Champion after winning one fight.
This is an absolute farce.
The sheer lunacy of this outcome highlights an event that started so well, but ended in insanity.
The first round was truly excellent, with Hackney beating a man literally over twice his size, a fine technical grappling match between Leininger and Shamrock, an entertaining slugfest between Howard and Payne and a thrilling match between Kimo and Gracie, which is without a doubt the finest UFC match so far.
The format of the competition is surely unsustainable in its current form.
Fighters cannot be expected to compete at the highest level three times in one evening—modern-day fighters can get away with that many matches in a year.
At any rate, there is noticeable improvement. The fights look more like today's MMA than they did in UFC 2, and it was clear that fighters were working hard to improve the weaker aspects of their game in order to become better all-rounders. The fighters involved were definitely a step up from the previous event, with the obvious 618lb exception.
Overall, this was much more entertaining than the previous events, with significantly more competitive matches, which was ultimately undone by the ridiculous outcome of the tournament. But for sheer farcical comedy, I can't help but give it a big thumbs up.