Will there be life after Royce?
Much scepticism abounds after the departure of the most famous fighting family in the MMA world, but I for one think this could be the "saving Gracie" (sorry) of the UFC after last year's 36-minute stinker.
UFC 6 has an intriguing card, along with another superfight, this time between Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn.
Royce Gracie's absence is unfortunate, given how big a star he was at this point. On the other hand, I was beginning to find his fights at best predictable, and at worst dull.
His departure presents an exciting power vacuum, with the opportunity for new faces and new styles to leave their mark. Think of the World Cup without Spain—a drop in quality, perhaps, but would definitely make for a more competitive event.
UFC 6 takes place at high altitude in Casper, Wyoming. Given how much footballers struggle with such conditions, I can't help but feel this could be a factor.
Beck, Blatnick and Brown are back, as we learn that it is the heaviest roster yet, with Brown following up on that by talking about how it's the mental attitude that's gonna win all the time, if everything is equal, and that size is unimportant. This news will be a crushing blow to Emmanuel Yarborough's hopes of a comeback.
Our alternate tonight is the returning Anthony Macias, last seen getting suplexed through the floor by Dan Severn at UFC 4. Brown tells us that Macias learned striking to go along with his great grappling, despite being a professional Thai boxer. Keep up the good work, Fireball.
Macias has also been training alongside Guy Mezger and Oleg Taktarov, the latter also competing in the tournament. And yes, this is going to end in disaster.
The big rule change this year that was surely inspired by last year's Royce v Shamrock stinker is the referee's newfound ability to restart the match if neither fighter is working hard enough on the ground. It's interesting to see when, how and why all these rules originate, so we can blame Shamrock and Royce for this one.
Tank Abbott vs John Matua
Up first is the hulking, toothless, beer-bellied Tank Abbott. I don't know much about Tank except that he's big and he's mean. He's also wearing gloves, which is a smart move considering the number of dropouts from busted hands.
We are told these guys don't like each other, but this is never elaborated upon. Maybe they just haven't met yet.
Tank declares himself the most athletic competitor the UFC has seen yet (until the lithe gazelle Roy Nelson took his crown recently) which is a little hard to believe considering the fact that he has a huge belly. Tank is also a Pitfighter, which may or may not have been taken from the appalling Atari game of the same name.
Michael Buffer is our announcer which is another nice step up in terms of professionalism. I still prefer Bruce, but Michael is certainly an improvement on Goins/Ron Jeremy, and lends a 'big fight' aura to the whole show.
Tank is 280lbs, Matua is 400lbs. Tank looks like a big fat bastard, but Matua looks like half a ton of solid muscle.
Big John starts the fight, and Tank comes out swinging. Matua doesn't have a clue what to do, obviously expecting Tank to be a subtle grappler as we have come to expect from the long, rich history of pitfighters past and present.
Matua takes a huge shot to the face and drops like a sack of potatoes as his head bounces sickeningly off the canvas. The fight is over, and Matua looks in serious trouble, appearing to be convulsing with his arms and legs totally rigid and raised above the mat. Tank may have actually killed this guy, and shows his classy side by mocking his fallen opponent.
A 21-second KO. What a start to your UFC career. Post-match, Tank declares that punching is the weakest part of his game and that he has all sorts of skills we haven't seen yet. Like him or not, Tank is a great personality and has singlehandedly livened up the event from its post-Gracie slump.
Paul Varelans vs Cal Worsham
Varelans is a "trapfighter" from Alaska, is also known as the Polar Bear, is a monster of a man at 6'8", 300lbs, and clearly has some kind of learning difficulties. Making up fighting styles seems to be all the rage.
This match is another gruesome slugfest, which ends when Varelans catches Worsham with an elbow to the back of the head. What follows is an impressive hat-trick of finishes as Worsham taps, Big John intervenes and the towel is thrown in simultaneously. Every fight should end like that.
Jim Brown shits all over this one, sneering at both fighters for employing a lack of technique. The man seems to have a bit of a Gracie fetish, but does point out the limitations of the tournament format, suggesting superfights could be the way to go.
Rudyard Muncayo vs Pat Smith
The returning Smith wins with a rear naked choke, and has obviously been working on his ground game, stating post-fight that "if you can't fight on the ground, then you can't fight". This interview is also notable for Blatnick repeatedly yanking the mic away from Smith every time he starts speaking.
The Hoff is in the crowd, although I'm not sure if this was before or after he went mental.
Dave Beneteau vs Oleg Taktarov
Beneteau, the runner-up from UFC 4, faces the highly-fancied (not in a gay way) Taktarov.
The Russian wins with a guillotine choke, after showing some good ground defence and a marked improvement on his defeat to Severn last year. His skills will be tested to the limit in the next round (dramatic irony alert: they won't).
A highly entertaining first round, with the longest fight (Smith vs Muncayo) clocking in at 1:15.
Tank Abbott vs Paul Varelans
We are told that Tank has "real world experience," hinting at why Tank a) has no teeth, and b) is slightly psychotic.
Tank is dominant here, and ends up forcing the giant Varelans up against the fence, grinding his face against the steel like how they do in Hell in a Cell matches. Neither guys blade though. Damn PG-13.
At one point, Tank presses his knee against Varelans' face and starts grinning like a mentalist. Big John rightly stops the fight as Tank begins to unload punches on a not-intelligently-defending-himself Varelans, who is incensed by the decision, but is also clearly a bit thick.
Brown condemns Tank's lack of respect and that he is from the street. He's no Joe Charles though.
Post-match, Tank states that he wanted to tickle Varelans' brain, and then declares he is sexually aroused by the replay. This man is a straight-up nutcase, a heel in the purest sense of the word. I love him.
The pundits are justifiably impressed by the manner in which Tank can back up his trash talk, and Brown decides that he is flat-out evil. Normally, Jim Brown's definition of 'evil' is anyone displaying a less-than-perfect BJJ grappling skill set, but in this case he might have a point.
Oleg Taktarov vs Anthony Macias
Pat Smith pulls out because he's got diarrhoea or something. His replacement, and Taktarov's semifinal opponent, is...Taktarov's training buddy, Anthony Macias.
Taktarov is a grappling expert. Macias is a kickboxer.
So what does Macias do? Immediately shoot for a takedown, and subsequently get rolled into a guillotine and submitted.
Time of fight, 0:10.
Brown and Blatnick make a thinly-veiled suggestion that Macias threw the fight, which is a bit like saying Qatar might have bribed FIFA for the 2022 World Cup.
Taktarov is throwing Macias some filthy looks post-fight, but he's apparently just upset that he didn't get to submit Smith. This event is beginning to resemble pro-wrestling more and more.
To follow this up, we have an interview with Marco Ruas, who bigs up the the superiority of Brazilian fighters over their American counterparts, citing the 60-year history of Brazilian grappling. I'm starting to wonder how much of this event is scripted.
Ken Shamrock vs Dan Severn
Onto the superfight. Shamrock vs Severn is, as all casual sports fans know, the King of the Ring 1998 final we should have had, were it not for the interference of D'Lo Brown in Severn's semi-final against The Rock. But pro-wrestling is stupid and I never watched it so I don't even know what you're talking about.
In this fight, Shamrock locks Severn in a guillotine for the submission after two minutes.
Very impressive victory from Shamrock, who intelligently explains how he took advantage of Severn's tendency to drop his head when shooting for the leg.
Shamrock is now the superfight champion, and will defend his title against the winner of this year's tournament. This appears to be the precursor to the UFC heavyweight title. Ken's King of the Ring crown was arguably more prestigious, but this one isn't bad.
Taktarov takes on Tank in the final. If they fused together like in Dragonball Z, then they'd be Tanktarov.
It's an interesting fight, as Taktarov surprisingly begins with punches, and is taken down by Tank, who subsequently lets him back up. Tank is favouring a striking match, whilst Taktarov is initiating clinches.
The fight eventually goes to the ground, where Tank is on top but unable to capitalise due to Taktarov controlling his head. Not much happening, but definitely more interesting than last year's superfight, where nothing was happening.
After five minutes, both guys look knackered.
Big John stands them up a couple of times, but neither seem to have the energy for a standup fight and end up back on the mat. Blatnick declares that Tank ought to mount and finish Taktarov with punches. If only he'd thought of that!
Both fighters are running on fumes, and Taktarov finally locks in a rear naked choke for a submission at 17:46.
Tank and Taktarov both collapse onto the ground, unable to move from exhaustion. Taktarov is brought oxygen, while Tank manages to leave the ring on his own. Brown suggests that at a lower altitude, Tank might've won. I tend to agree with him.
Here is your winner, and new UFC champion: Oleg Taktarov.
Overall, a highly entertaining event that was definitely more exciting than the last. The quality of the technical grappling might have suffered due to the lack of Gracies, but it's made for a much more enjoyable competition.
Technique and skill eventually won out over powerful brawlers and street fighters, but all competitors were pushed to the limit in the best event yet.