Retro-Review: UFC: Ultimate Ultimate 1996

UFC: Ultimate Ultimate 1996

Birmingham, Alabama

-Premise behind this one was pretty much the same as the original Ultimate Ultimate, with some of the UFC’s most well-received fighters in an elimination tournament, this time to decide who would go on to face Superfight champion Dan Severn at UFC 12.

-Video package to open highlighting some of the bigger name fighters in the tournament, namely Ken Shamrock, Don Frye, Tank Abbott, and Kimo.

-Your hosts are Bruce Beck and Jeff Blatnick, who immediately explain that Mark Coleman has been forced to withdraw from the tournament citing a virus. They show us the brackets, and then we go backstage to a guy called Tony Blauer who talks about the benefits of cross-training the various disciplines.

Quarter-Finals: Ken Shamrock vs Brian Johnston

This show would be Ken’s final appearance in UFC until his return in 2002, as he departed following this and headed to the WWF for his run there. He looks ready for WWF here too, as he’s about as big as I can recall seeing him in his UFC career, while Johnston’s not exactly small too; both of these guys are looking like gassed-up pro-wrestlers to be honest, Johnston looking slightly bigger. Announcers mention that Shamrock has promised to be uber-aggressive here following the horrible fight with Dan Severn at UFC 9.

They press forward to open and sure enough Ken catches a kick and aggressively drives Johnston back into the fence, putting him on his back. Johnston gets guard, but Shamrock just plows through it with some heavy punches, clubbing away as Johnston retains guard, but has his head pinned into the fence and doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere. Ken continues to land some big right hands, with little defence from Johnston. More punches to the body and head land, and five minutes in Ken opens up with the headbutts for good measure. Few moments later Ken shoves his forearm into the throat and Johnston taps out there.

Seriously dominant performance from Ken; he looked really strong there and just overpowered a big, strong guy like he was nothing.

Quarter-Finals: Don Frye vs Gary Goodridge

Before the fight Beck announces that Shamrock’s pulled out of the tournament, I didn’t catch a reason but regardless, after the way Ken looked in the first fight that sucks. Anyhow – this fight was a rematch of the UFC 8 finals, with the larger Goodridge taking on the man who beat him in that match, arguably the favourite to take this tournament, Don Frye.

They meet in the middle and Frye lands a right hand as they go into a clinch and muscle for position. Frye lands a knee and then works some uppercuts inside, as Goodridge answers and they trade inside the clinch. They break off briefly and then exchange back into the clinch, and more uppercuts and short hooks follow with both men landing their fair share. Frye breaks off, but Goodridge lands a combo so the Predator goes back to the clinch, and now both men are beginning to look tired. Goodridge suddenly gets a surprising takedown to side mount, but Frye gets half-guard quickly and holds on tight. Goodridge works him with some short headbutts, and a clubbing right hand, but Frye gets to full guard and then tries an armbar from the bottom. Goodridge manages to avoid it, but after landing a couple of rights Frye tries it again and ends up rolling to all fours as Goodridge avoids. Frye goes for a single leg, and Goodridge tries to block, but Frye ends up getting the takedown and putting Goodridge on his back, and from there Gary decides to tap out due to exhaustion.

Bit of an anticlimactic ending; Goodridge’s tap came out of nowhere, but I guess he just didn’t want to take the inevitable punishment if he was too out of it to defend. Goodridge controlled the fight when it hit the mat, but didn’t really do all that much damage, and Frye seemed fresh enough when the fight ended. Pretty solid stuff with a lot of action in the clinch – Frye at this point is always good to watch I think.

Quarter-Finals: Tank Abbott vs Cal Worsham

The announcers are pushing this as a big “Good Guy vs. Bad Guy” match with the former Marine Worsham taking on the street fighter Tank, but I’m honestly not sure how Worsham qualified for the tournament – maybe he was the replacement for Coleman? Anyhow – winner takes on an alternate in the next round regardless, as Shamrock’s already out.

Worsham throws a big right hand to open, but Tank keeps coming forward swinging, and bulls him into the fence, where he lifts him up for the takedown and DAMN NEAR THROWS HIM OVER THE FENCE. Jesus Christ. Worsham hangs on for dear life, and finally ends up on his back in guard. Tank manages to get into side mount, but then stands up over him and goes back into the guard. Worsham manages to defend most of Tank’s early barrage, but a couple of big punches land and McCarthy comes in for the stoppage. Suddenly though Worsham loses the plot and goes after Tank post-fight, and McCarthy has to restrain him.

Announcers are pretty confused as the camera angle wasn’t the greatest, but a replay shows that Worsham tapped out after the first big right landed, and Tank threw a couple more punches in for good measure as McCarthy was stepping in, despite Worsham already submitting. Pretty shitty behaviour and you can understand Worsham’s frustration I guess. Usual early-round squash match on the part of Tank.

Quarter-Finals: Kimo Leopoldo vs Paul Varelans

Man, huge size difference here as Kimo is down to a career-low of 235lbs, looking seriously skinny compared to his normally muscled look, while Varelans had ballooned up to 345lbs, and doesn’t look all that overweight at that either.

Kimo goes for a single leg right away, but Varelans sprawls back to avoid and lands some elbows to the head. Kimo keeps pushing though and actually overpowers the big man, forcing Varelans back towards the fence, but Varelans continues to block the takedown and lands some punches. Kimo inexplicably tries a shoulder throw, but ends up on the bottom in half-guard. C’mon, he had to see that coming with a guy Varelans’ size. Kimo looks for a reversal, but Varelans lands some left hands, and when Kimo tries an armbar from the bottom Varelans breaks it right away with some clubbing rights. Varelans ends up back in Kimo’s guard and keeps clubbing away, bloodying Kimo up, but to his credit Kimo hangs in and lands his own shots from the bottom. Things slow down as Varelans begins to fatigue, and Kimo looks to side out, eventually managing to escape out to the side, and from there he reverses into full mount, and opens up with some heavy punches to Varelans’ face for the TKO.

Big crowd pop for the finish, and rightfully so; Varelans might not have been all that skilled, but he was still over 100lbs heavier than Kimo and Kimo showed a ton of heart to escape a bad position and end up coming away with the victory. Post-fight though his cornermen practically have to help him to the back, and right away they’re questioning whether he’ll make the semis.

-Big John McCarthy joins Tony Blauer backstage for a little chat, where he explains that Varelans basically got caught by fatigue, while Worsham was indeed angry over Tank’s late punches following the tapout.

-They explain that alternate Steve Nelmark will be replacing Ken Shamrock, and show a quick highlight of his earlier victory in the alternate bout.

Semi-Finals: Tank Abbott vs Steve Nelmark

I think pretty much everyone has seen the ending to this fight at some point – it’s on practically every UFC highlight reel.

Tank comes roaring out with a big left hand and closes in, and Nelmark tries to grapple with him, but receives a BIG slam onto the head and shoulder for his troubles. Nelmark grabs a headlock in half-guard, but Tank’s having none of that and they come back to their feet where Tank knocks him silly with a barrage of punches, sending him staggering backwards. Tank keeps coming though and then LEVELS him with a BIG RIGHT HAND, and Nelmark drops at a SICK ANGLE, his neck bending at practically 90 degrees against the fence.

Announcers immediately go into the trademark hushed “oh shit, he’s dead” style of calling the action that they did with John Matua at UFC 6, while we get some replays of the knockout, and finally the tension is relieved when Nelmark manages to be helped to his feet. Seriously sick knockout though – it looked like his whole body just went so limp that the neck bent unnaturally as he hit the fence, rather than any trauma on the spine – but the visual was absolutely disgusting and remains one of the most jaw-dropping moments in UFC history. Tank’s crowning moment? Yeah, probably.

-Scott ‘The Pitbull’ Ferrozzo joins Bruce Beck and cuts a hilarious arrogant heel promo, wearing shades for good measure. Ferrozzo claims he’s frustrated, and basically talks shit on Tank Abbott who he beat at UFC 11, while complaining that he should be in the tournament instead of Tank and saying that the UFC brass are “holding him down” because he doesn’t fit their vision of a star. Beck meanwhile keeps getting in Ferrozzo’s face and rebutting all of this. Hilarious stuff and I have no idea whether this was an act, but Beck looks like he’s trying to hold in laughter throughout, so I’m thinking it was. Regardless, it’s great stuff.

Semi-Finals: Don Frye vs Mark Hall

Unsurprisingly we get the news that Kimo has pulled out of the tournament citing fatigue; I think everyone was expecting that after his fight. Anyhow, his replacement is Mark ‘Giant Killer’ Hall, the guy who beat the sumo at UFC 9 and then lost to Frye at UFC 10 in that weird fight with the dialogue between the two guys while Frye whacks him in the ribs.

Hall comes forward into the clinch right away, but Frye grabs him and gets a bodylock takedown, before standing and grabbing a leg, and from there he drops down and gets a heel hook for the tapout in 20 seconds.

Hall looks in a lot of pain post-fight as if Frye cranked the hold extra-hard, and even has Paul Varelans help him out of the Octagon. A story did go around though that Hall took a bribe to take a dive here, and if that were true you could see his walking out as selling pro-wrestling style; but Frye’s denied it heavily and who am I to question Don Frye?

-We get a bit of downtime now, presumably to give Frye and Abbott a chance to recover before the finals, and so they show us a highlight video of both men’s route to the finals, before taking a step away from the action and giving us a long interview with Jeff Blatnick talking to Dan Severn about his extensive amateur wrestling background.

Finals: Don Frye vs Tank Abbott

Tank’s got quite the size advantage here, but the skill advantage is firmly with Frye. And despite Frye having fought the longer bout by far with Goodridge, I’d say cardio is probably even given Tank’s penchant for gassing out quickly. Winner here gets £150,000 and a shot at Dan Severn for the UFC Heavyweight Title.

Frye comes out looking to box, but Tank comes in and catches him on the chin with a left jab, sending Don staggering back before falling down. Tank smells blood and closes in swinging, but Frye gets to his feet and they exchange punches, with both men landing, but Tank getting the better of the exchange and bloodying Frye up quickly. Frye looks in deep trouble as Tank continues to land BOMBS, rocking Frye’s head all over the place, and you’ve got to wonder what keeps the guy standing at points. Somehow though Tank ends up slipping as he misses a punch, and Frye quickly pounces on his back! Crowd are going APESHIT at this point as Frye slaps his hooks in and works for the rear naked choke, getting it sunken in, and Tank taps out!~!

Holy God, what a fight that was. Lasted barely over a minute, but what a minute. Seriously, Tank hits HARD and he was hitting Frye with some absolute sledgehammers there, but somehow Frye managed to hang on and the moment Tank made a mistake – an unlucky one, at that – he pounced and capitalized in the ultimate fashion. Frye showed absolutely tremendous heart and an incredible ability to take a punch here – while that was nothing new in a way, this was probably the best showing of those attributes he’d had thus far – and Tank acquitted himself well too, and was unlucky to lose in a way. Tremendous main event.

Post-fight Frye confirms that yes, Tank hits like a mach truck, while in his own post-fight interview, Tank is asked whether he respects Frye following the fight, and in classic Tank form simply replies “Nah. I don’t respect anybody”.

-And we end with a plug for the upcoming UFC 12 show, apparently featuring Severn vs. Frye – which of course never happened, I’m guessing due to Severn’s long-time connection with Frye as a mentor of sorts. Mark Coleman – who had the win over Frye anyway – stepped in and ended up beating Severn, for those wondering.

The Inside Pulse
: Ultimate Ultimate ’96 is a tremendous show for the time in terms of exciting fights and finishes, with nothing bad on the card and none of the fights going the distance. Varelans-Kimo drags at points but really that’s the only somewhat slow fight here, and any show with Don Frye fighting three times is guaranteed to have some fireworks. While the injuries and withdrawals robbed us of what would’ve been two really interesting match-ups on paper (Frye-Kimo and Tank-Shamrock) the show itself didn’t suffer from it, as Abbott’s knockout of Nelmark is a classic and the final that ensues between Tank and Frye is a one-and-a-half minute frenzy that’s probably the most exciting UFC finale up to this point. Definitely a highly recommended show, especially for fans of Frye or Tank.

Coming Soon….

Pride: Total Elimination 2005, Critical Countdown 2005, Final Conflict 2005, and 30.
UFC: Ultimate Japan, Ultimate Brazil, 68, 69, and 70.
WEC: 10 and 11.
WFA: 1, 2 and 3.
Strike Force: Shamrock vs. Gracie.
Rumble On The Rock 7.
Gladiator Challenge: Summer Slam.
King of the Cage: 23, 29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 42, 48, 52, and 58.
Best of Shooto 2003 vols. 1 & 2.

Until next time,

Scott Newman: