Best UFC Fights From the First 10 Years

November 2003 marked the end of an era for the Ultimate Fighting Championship—and by extension, the mixed martial arts in the United States. Over the course of those 10 years, the sport saw more evolution than Darwin's notepad. And through it all, despite rumors of banishment, mortality rates, political machinations or simply the laws of attrition, the UFC has stood its ground. You don't get this far without being persistent—or dramatic. Unlike the stolid world of boxing or the over-dramatized world of professional wrestling, the UFC found its primal appeal in letting the show takes its own course. Feuds fanned their own flames, favorites rushed to the top and plummeted to the bottom, and underdogs made us believe in the impossible. Be it through world-class wrestlers or strikers, or the sheer heart of the pioneers, there is no purer evidence to be found of the warrior's heart than in the stories of the octagon. Let's open up the gates:


UFC 3: Keith Hackney vs. Emmanuel Yarbrough

By the time UFC 3 rolled around, the event was a pay-per-view sensation, creating a spectacle with enough bluster to challenge pro wrestling. The height of such promotion was when 5-foot-11- inch, 215-pound Keith Hackney was paired with 6-foot-8-inch, 600-pound Emmanuel Yarbrough. Despite being nearly swallowed in Emmanuel Yarbrough's girth, Keith Hackney managed to unwind with hammer fists to the side of the sumo's head, resulting in referee intervention. The UFC may never come closer to the fabled gladiatorial spectacles of the Roman Empire. Though many self-important observers were loath to admit it, this was must-see TV.

Don Frye with "Big" John McCarthy

UFC 6: David “Tank" Abbott vs. John Matua

For five installments of the UFC, it was Royce Gracie's formidable finesse that drove the fights and the stories. Enter David “Tank" Abbott, the complete antithesis of the martial artist: a street brawler with an ego as big as his belly. David “Tank" Abbott sauntered in and proceeded to decimate John Matua in seconds, sending him to the canvas with such force that the impact induced a seizure. It was an ugly moment for the UFC, but another reality check. Sometimes the graceless slugger got by on pure bad vibes. David “Tank" Abbott would go on to become the first real villain—and antihero—of the promotion.

UFC 10: Mark Coleman vs. Don Frye

Nearly three years old, the UFC had already begun to weed out the weekend warriors whose sensei had drilled in false hopes of athleticism. Dan Severn was the first to arrive wielding a lifetime in wrestling, but it was decade-younger collegiate star Mark Coleman who married ground control with devastating striking. His first tournament bid was a demolition ending in a weary Mark Coleman pounding out an even wearier Don Frye. Submission experts—the former front men—would now have to contend with Olympic-level conditioning and the threat of a powerhouse grappler steamrolling them into the mat.

UFC 14: Maurice Smith vs. Mark Coleman

A cakewalk? Hardly. Just listen to an inebriated Mark Coleman talk about “grounding and f—in' pounding" kickboxer Maurice Smith in the evening's main event. Mark Coleman had been an unstoppable wrestler; Maurice Smith was merely an Extreme Fighting vet who had picked up a ground game from Frank Shamrock. The outcome was never in doubt. Good thing no one told Maurice Smith, who weathered an early storm and then picked his shots against an exhausted—and aghast—Mark Coleman. Now strikers who could play a good defense were suddenly dangerous. The sport again insisted on never sitting idle.

UFC 3: Royce Gracie vs. Kimo Leopoldo (above)

After two tournament victories, Royce Gracie was every bit the star as the UFC itself. And again promoters sought a heavily muscled action figure for him to manipulate. Kimo Leopoldo had little formal training, but being tenacious—and heavily tattooed—earned him a slot. For seven minutes, the two nearly abandoned all pretense of sportsmanship and worked each other over. An exhausted Kimo Leopoldo tapped from an arm lock, and an exhausted Royce Gracie dropped out of the show. It was the first time the invincible Brazilian revealed a dent in his armor.

UFC Japan: Frank Shamrock vs. Kevin Jackson

Up until this point, no quintessential mixed martial artist had sprung up—none with the ability, charisma and drive to act as a figurehead for an emerging sport. That all changed in the 15 seconds it took Frank Shamrock to armbar Olympic gold medalist Kevin Jackson. The adopted younger brother of Ken Shamrock immediately made a name for himself, the action inside the ring had come full circle for the umpteenth time and Shamrock could back up his cross-trained ways with a bravado that the crowd ate up.

UFC 12: Vitor Belfort vs. Scott Ferrozzo

With dismal compensation in relation to boxing, there was little incentive for world-class strikers to test their chin in the UFC. But there was plenty of motivation for 19-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter Vitor Belfort to supplement his groundwork with naturally fast hands. In a four-man tournament, the muscular Brazilian smashed his way through Tra Telligman and Scott Ferrozzo like a bulldozer, offering up the most accurate punching the young sport had seen. Belfort would go on to become a star, and not a single fan watching his debut performance could claim disappointment.

UFC 1: Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock (above)

The sight of a slender, gi-clad Royce Gracie ambling into the cage is now virtually iconic, thanks in large part to his three stunning tournament victories. However, it wasn't his plodding quarterfinal round with Art Jimmerson that stirred interest; it was when he proceeded to manhandle the chiseled Ken Shamrock in under two minutes in the semifinals that same night. The sight of Royce Gracie—built as unspectacularly as any of us—dismantling the Charles Atlas figure was a sensation that sent enough shockwaves to create the jiu-jitsu boom of the 1990s and push “ultimate fighting" into mainstream consciousness.

UFC 4: Royce Gracie vs. Dan Severn (above)

Still at a point where a UFC without Royce Gracie was unthinkable, promoters looked to his quest to regain the title as the selling point. After a tough battle with Keith Hackney, Royce Gracie entered the finals against the mammoth Dan Severn, a decorated collegiate wrestler who had used his mat skills just as Royce Gracie had used his. This time, the two played a chess game for nearly 15 minutes until Dan Severn's lack of submission awareness lulled him into a triangle choke. A deadly-dull draw with Ken Shamrock in April 1995 was Royce Gracie's literal finale, but this performance takes the cake.

UFC 43: Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell

As he had heard many times before, 39-year-old Randy Couture was in no position to contend with his opponent. As in the case of Vitor Belfort, Kevin Randleman and Pedro Rizzo, he would be outclassed by a combination of age, cardio and skills. MMA pundits decreed that Chuck Liddell would simply hurt Randy Couture. But did he even get a shot in? To the amazement of all, Randy Couture out-boxed and then finished off his hapless foe in three rounds, taking yet another belt to become the only multiple weight-class champion and embarrass the naysayers. In equal measure, Randy Couture would prove to be the ultimate fighter, champion and gentleman.

UFC 40: Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock

With the UFC back on pay-per-view television and among the most profitable sporting events in Vegas, the only thing missing was a marquee bout—something with history and opportunity for mainstream interest. That came in the form of returning favorite Ken Shamrock, who had cultivated a following from his WWF days. After light-heavyweight champ Tito Ortiz had taken on Ken Shamrock's students (Guy Mezger [twice] and Jerry Bohlander), it made perfect sense for him to face their mentor. Pummeling Ken Shamrock for three merciless rounds, Tito Ortiz led the charge of the new school against the old guard and prompted Zuffa's biggest success to date.

UFC 22: Ken Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz

Still stagnating in just a handful of satellite-equipped houses, SEG nonetheless pressed on with a marquee fight that has yet to find an equal. After both men had demolished middleweight contenders in succession, champion Frank Shamrock stepped up to Tito Ortiz when slumping business could've seen both men heading for the door. For four rounds, Ken Shamrock forced the stronger athlete to wear himself down before unleashing a flurry and bringing Tito Ortiz to his knees. From the insane crowd reaction for Ken Shamrock to his defiant flip-off of nemesis John Lober, no fight has told more of a story than this one.

Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock photo by Shin Ichi Anzai

Kimo Leopoldo and Royce Gracie by Clay McBride

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Judo
Saddleburn

Two-Time Black Belt Hall of Famer Hayward Nishioka has been campaigning for judo in the United States to harvest more shodans (1st degree black belts) Shodan literally means student. It's analogous to being a freshman in college. It's not the end but the beginning according to Jigoro Kano, the Founder of Judo.

A very dear friend and sensei of mine the late Allen Johnson, may he rest in peace made a home at Emerald City Judo. In Redmond, Washington.

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Destinee Tartuffe

My friend Destinee Tartuffe a 4th dan and Head Sensei at Good Time Judo in Santa Rosa, CA has always been a pioneer and developer in all her life endeavors. She first took over the judo program at Santa Rosa Junior Collegestarted by my old friend Terry Kelly upon his retirement then went on to complete getting her law degree, JD.

Recently Destinee contacted me about a new training tool she’s invented. Upon my investigation, I was so impressed with this product that I asked her to write something about it for this week’s Black Belt Blog.
Judo Equipment

Members of Good Time Judo using Judo Jaime Training Tools.

As judo practitioners we know judo is an exciting dynamic Olympic or recreational sporting activity that offers social interaction, stress relief, and tons of fun. However, we also know that judo can be a dangerous, and potentially deadly activity when used for self-defense or when not practiced safely.

For all the fun and benefit that judo provides an enthusiast it seems to be the world’s best kept secret from the general populace. My coach and mentor taught me that judo is an inclusive, not an exclusive activity. So, I look for ways to get more people interested.

One of the biggest issues relates to the very idea of inclusiveness, which for me translates to one dojo cannot be everything to everybody. The age old saying jack of all trades, and master of none comes to mind.

Recently, I watched YouTube videos of three respected Judo coaches discussing the state of Judo in the United States. One of their common observations is that students who come to train with them lack the fundamental skills which would allow them to actually help those students reach a level of Judo expertise whereby the student could compete at an elite level of competition.

While I was disappointed to hear their dire opinions, they were similar to what I was experiencing in my college classroom. Honestly, I have been concerned for many years about how to continue when so many of the students come to class with an attitude of being a “super ninja” when in actuality they are often uncoordinated and seemingly unwilling to follow even the simplest of instructions. This creates a situation or environment where “bullies” prevail, injures occur, and students are lost. This attitude seems a direct conflict to the principle of Mutual Benefit and Welfare, and it made me think about hanging up my judogi.

Then, COVID caused programs to close, but as a college Judo instructor I was tasked with creating an online curriculum for my students and doing so within one week! I knew my students did not have the proper safety equipment in their homes to continue with the rolls and falls that we were practicing in class. We spent the last eight weeks finishing out the semester via Zoom class. I found the biggest challenge to be communicating to the student how they needed to correct their postures, or their ability to visualize the skill and apply my instructions for any given lesson.

The last night of class of had a vision of how these issues could be addressed. That’s when I created the Fundamental Directional Movement Mat and a Proximity Training Device that I call Judo Jaime: Your Training Uke. These tools can be used together or separately. The benefits conferred to the user by using the tools together can greatly excel the beginning students understanding of the application of Judo.

These tools are not just for beginners, it is important for even the most experienced judoka to review the fundamental movements regularly. Think about it there are pre-arranged forms (katas) that specifically address movement!

The Fundamental Directional Movement Mat is a durable vinyl mat with an elliptical design (mapping the movement of the Judoka in the plane of applied Judo). The instructor whether in-person or in an online class can assist the student by directing them to orient either along the horizontal or vertical 180 degree lines, which are also used to demonstrate and solidify 90 degree turns/pivots that are important to the fundamental movements for application of Judo. The mat also has indicators for the student to see the 45 degree angle of technique application easier.

Judo Jaime: Your Training Uke is a proximity training device that allows beginning Judoka to develop the proper posture and understanding of the proximity for applying judo techniques without the resistance, frustration, or fear that working with a partner initially brings. My years of teaching adults have shown me that despite what the student says, they often approach contact with another with fear and the mistaken belief that over-powering or resisting their partner is the proper thing to do; however, one-half the goal of Judo is that someone falls down! With Judo Jaime the student has the opportunity to develop the confidence and skills to make an actual attack when they are ready to engage with a person.

The device weighs no more than five pounds and is approximately 53” in height (when assembled). It is easily transportable and fun to use vs. the usual training dummies which are awkward, heavy and unsafe to use without proper instruction or direct supervision. While either product can be used alone we recommend using the tools together. This allows the student to fine-tune visualization skills and apply techniques, here again, without resistance from a partner. The student will develop an understanding and integration of the techniques for proper response timing more quickly.

The Fundamental Directional Movement Mat and Instructional material is copyrighted by Destar Productions, Inc.

Judo Jaime: Your Training Uke is a proximity training device with a patent pending by Destar Productions, Inc. For questions regarding orders and other product descriptions email Destinee Tartuffe at senseidestinee@gmail.com or visit our online store directly.

Judo Jamie

Judo Jaime

Fundamental Direction Training Mat

Fundamental Training Mat

Good Time Judo Outdoor workout with Judo Jaime

Outdoor Judo Jaime2

Judo training Without a Partner/ Introduction of Training Tools for Standing

This video introduces some new training tools for practicing, maintaining and gaining skills for application of Judo technique.Be sure to check out the Demon...

Demonstration of Judo Jaime: Your Training Uke

Demonstration of Judo Jaime: Your Training UkeBe sure to check out our video Judo training while social distancing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heSY5VGeA6M

I’m always looking for new subjects to write about regarding judo as well as contributions from my readers. Please send them to gary@garygoltz.com, thanks.

Gary Goltz
Xiaolin Gruv
Photo Courtesy: Carmichael Simon

Title Image: XiaolinGruv Masters 2005 : Nigel Bolton, Carmichael Simon, Kory Watkins, Anthony Gooch, and Jeriel Bey

During the 1980s as BBoys (Breakers), Poppers, and Lockers share their creative spirits within the New York City transit line, Los Angeles nightlife, and media platforms such as Soul Train, we travel a few miles from Bruce Lee’s nostalgic school where the “Arts & Soul” of Oakland, California harmonize. Orchestrating the culture of their roots, heritage of movement, and diversity of social economics, we find the Alice Arts Center.

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