Listen to our December 1996 UFC podcast, reviewing UFC Ultimate Ultimate 1996.
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Live from Birmingham Alabama, billed as the ‘Tournament of Champions’ we have UFC 11.5, more commonly known as The Ultimate Ultimate 1996!
The premise behind this show is pretty much the same as the original Ultimate Ultimate last year, with some of the most popular UFC Fighters of the year in one elimination tournament. The winner will receive $150,000 as well as a shot at Superfight Champion Dan Severn at UFC 12.
Our host, Bruce Beck, opens the show by explaining that Mark Coleman has been forced to withdraw due to a virus, much to the relief of every other fighter in this tournament. However, we still have a pretty stacked field, featuring Don Frye, Ken Shamrock, Tank Abbott, and Kimo to name a few. Joining Bruce Beck we have Jeff Blatnick, and Tony Blauer, who discusses how many of the top fighters in the UFC are now training in multiple disciplines and as a result are becoming increasingly multi-facetted and well rounded.
We had three alternate bouts for this tournament, with the idea being to guarantee avoiding a repeat of the anticlimactic finish to UFC 11. First up, Mark Hall defeated Felix Mitchell by TKO in 1:45. Steve Nelmark defeated Marcus Bossett in just 1:37 by submission and Tai Bowden defeated Jack Nilson, also by submission.
Quarter-final 1: Ken Shamrock vs. Brian Johnston
Brian Johnston, wearing his signature American flag trunks, enters the tournament with a 2-2 record, a losing semi-finalist at both UFC 10 and UFC 11. The kickboxer stands at 6”4 and weighs in at 238lbs.
Ken Shamrock enters the Ultimate Ultimate with a 5-2-2 record in the UFC (23-5-2 MMA). The first ever UFC Superfight Champion makes his first appearance since his infamous split decision loss to Dan Severn at UFC 9 in May. The smaller man here, Shamrock stands at 6”0 and weighs in at 220lbs.
Both these guys are looking much bigger than normal. We are told Johnston will look to keep things standing, but Shamrock is a master of submissions and will look to take the fight to the ground. Once again, we have no Bruce Buffer, with Manny Garcia running through the formal introductions. Big John McCarthy gets us underway!
After a brief feeling out process, Shamrock catches a kick from Johnston and drives him back towards the cage, taking him down in the process. Johnston gets guard, but Shamrock postures up and begins pummelling through it with some heavy punches. Johnston has his head pinned against the cage and looks in real trouble here. Shamrock continues to reign down with hard shots from the top, and Johnston doesn’t look like he is going anywhere anytime soon.
Johnston absorbs a plethora of right hands as he desperately tries to hold on. Shamrock is just grinding him down, taking no damage as he tries to power his way through and end this fight as quickly as possible. The commentators note that Shamrock seems to have ‘punched out his right hand’ as he is now only throwing strikes with his left. More on that later.
At the five minute mark, Shamrock begins landing some brutal looking headbutts. Shamrock shoves his forearm across the throat of Johnston and presses down hard, and Johnston taps out there after 5 minutes and 48 seconds.
Really dominant performance from Shamrock. He overpowered the larger man with relative ease. Johnston is a bit of a conundrum, he now has a 2-3 record, his losses coming against Frye, Coleman and Shamrock who are all top guys, but he has looked really impressive against people just below that level.
Quarter Final 2: Don Frye vs. Gary Goodridge
Don Frye enters the Ultimate Ultimate with a 6-1 record, coming off his loss to Mark Coleman in the UFC 10 final. He has previously defeated Gary Goodridge via submission in just 2 minutes and 14 seconds in the final of the UFC 8 tournament. The 31 year old weighs in at 217lbs, the much smaller man.
Gary ‘Big Daddy’ Goodridge enters the tournament with a 3-3 record, and he is also coming off a loss to Mark Coleman at UFC 10. He weighed in at 263lbs.
The size difference is unlikely to faze Don Frye, who was the victor of the David vs. Goliath UFC 8 tournament final between the two men.
Just as the fight is about to start, Bruce Beck announces that he has just received word that Ken Shamrock is out of the tournament due to injury and will not advance in the tournament. We aren’t given a reason, but it is later revealed that it is due to an injured hand. Shamrock had apparently suffered a broken right hand while reigning down punches with Johnston pinned against the cage, which explains why he switched to his left hand during the opener. Steve Nelmark will take his place.
They meet in the middle; Frye lands a right hand as they clinch. Frye forces Goodridge back against the fence, landing a knee and some uppercuts inside. Goodridge is able to counter, spins and pushes Frye back against the cage, using his size to his advantage. They break off, and after a brief exchange they clinch again.
Both men trade uppercuts in the clinch, before Goodridge lands a knee to the body which backs Frye off. They separate in the centre of the octagon, but Frye ties it up and drives the action back against the cage. Both men are landing their fair share on the inside. Blatnick notes how Frye is able to use Goodridge’s Gi to his advantage by holding onto it to control Goodridge in the clinch.
Holding onto the collar of the Gi, Frye unleashes a flurry of uppercuts which all land cleanly. Goodridge closes the distance in the clinch and recovers quickly. Out of nowhere, Goodridge is able to get a really surprising takedown into side control. Frye scrambles into half guard and holds on tight. Goodridge lands a powerful right hand and follows it up with some short headbutts. Frye looks in trouble here. Frye manages to transition into full guard. Goodridge isn’t really doing much here. Suddenly, Frye looks for an armbar from the bottom in a lovely submission attempt, but Goodridge is able to avoid it. Goodridge is looking exhausted despite being on top here.
Frye looks for another armbar and rolls through onto all fours as Goodridge avoids it. Frye grabs a single leg and is able to take Goodridge down and put him on his back. Goodridge immediately taps out in that position after 11 minutes and 19 seconds.
It was really impressive that Frye was able to survive on the bottom for as long as he did, yet alone being able to escape and take Goodridge down. Pretty anti-climactic ending to an exciting fight, but Goodridge was exhausted and didn’t want to take any unnecessary punishment when he knew he would be unable to defend himself.
Quarter Final 3: Tank Abbott vs. Cal Worsham
Tank Abbott enters the octagon with 4-3 record, coming off a loss to Scott Ferrozo at UFC 11. The ‘streetfighter’ weighs in at 273lbs, having lost 25lbs since his last fight.
His opponent, Cal Worsham specialises in Tae Kwon Do and enters the octagon with a 1-1 record. His last fight came at UFC 9 in December 1995. He is the much lighter man, weighing in at 230lbs
The announcers are pushing this one as the ‘Good Guy vs. The Bad Guy’.
I was initially sceptical of how Worsham qualified for this tournament, but I think he was the Mark Coleman replacement. Winner of this goes on to face Shamrock replacement Steve Nelmark.
Worsham throws a big right hand to open, but Tank charges forward swinging and forces Worsham back into the fence. Worsham lands a hard knee to the body, but Tank lifts him up attempting the takedown and nearly throws Worsham out of the cage.
Worsham hangs on to the top of the octagon desperately, but eventually ends up on his back in the guard. Tank gets into side mount, manoeuvres for position before standing and diving back into the guard. Worsham manages to defend a barrage of strikes from Tank. Tank slowly grins his way through, lands a couple of big punches and Big John steps in to end the fight after 2 minutes and 51 seconds.
Worsham goes nuts after the right, charging forward towards Tank, and Big John has to man handle him and hold him back. Worsham is clamouring for Tank to be disqualified, with Big John telling him to ‘knock it off’. Replays eventual show that Worsham tapped out after Tank landed the first big right hand, but as McCarthy was stepping in, Tank continued to throw, and land more punches for good measure. You can understand Worsham’s frustration there, but I’m not sure DQ is particularly justified.
Crazy start to the fight with Worsham nearly being thrown out of the octagon which provided a stunning visual. After that, Tank just ground him down fairly comfortably. There were a few late strikes by Tank but they didn’t seem significantly late, there would be no justification for the DQ there.
Quarter-final 4: Kimo vs. Paul Varelans
Kimo enters this fight with a 0-2 record in the UFC, but is 5-2 in MMA. The pankration specialist has dropped a lot of weight since the last time we saw him, in a loss to Ken Shamrock, weighing in for this one at 235lbs.
His opponent, ECW shootfighter Paul Varelans, enters this with a 4-3 UFC record, coming of a decision victory at UFC 8 in February. He is by some distance the heaviest man in the tournament, weighing in at a mammoth 340lbs and standing at 6”8.
We are underway and Kimo shoots for a single leg immediately, but Varelans sprawls back and lands some elbows to the head. Kimo is actually able to overpower the much larger man, and forces Varelans towards the fence. Varelans is able to avoid the takedown and land some punches of his own. Kimo tries a shoulder throw, pretty inexplicably, and just ends up on the bottom in half guard.
Varelans lands some hard left hands, and is able to avoid an armbar attempt from Kimo by clubbing away with his right hand. Varelans end up back in Kimo’s guard and continues to reign down with punches. Kimo is cut and bleeding quite badly by his left eye. Varelans begins to slow down his strike rate, clearly tiring, and Kimo continues to survive on the bottom.
The fight continues in this pattern for some time, with Kimo hanging in there and landing some of his own strikes from the bottom. Suddenly, Kimo is able to slide out to the side and reverse into full mount. He opens up, unleashing some heavy punches to Varelans face to earn the TKO victory when Varelans corner throw in the towel. The crowd pop big for that finish, having been behind Kimo throughout the fight.
What a fantastic performance from Kimo, who looks absolutely exhausted after the fight. Varelans didn’t have the skill to do anything once he had Kimo down, but Kimo showed amazing heart to survive to over 100lbs weight difference, escape the bad position and come away with the victory. Both guys are absolutely spent.
We are shown highlights of Steve Nelmark’s alternate victory earlier in the evening, with him successfully getting a takedown, landing a brutal flurry of headbutts before securing the submission victory.
Semi-final 1: Tank Abbott vs. Steve Nelmark
Tank comes out fast with a big left hand, backs Nelmark against the cage and lands a huge body slam down onto Nelmark’s head right out of the gate. Nelmark grabs a headlock in half guard, but Tank powers out and the action goes back standing. Tank lands a brutal barrage of punches, which send Nelmark staggering backwards.
Tank presses forward and lands a huge right hand which knocks Nelmark out cold. He drops at a sick angle, which is difficult to watch, with his neck bent at seemingly 90 degrees against the fence. The fight is over after just 1:03.
That was so devastatingly brutal. The camera cuts away from Nelmark as Tank Abbott is officially declared the winner, and there is real concern about Nelmark’s wellbeing here. Eventually, Nelmark is able to be helped to his feet and the tension is relieved. The visual of that knockout was sickening.
A wild, frantic fight that is typical of what you get from Tank Abbott. The angle of nelmark’s head and neck against the cage is haunting.
Scott Ferrozzo interview: Ferrozo cuts a stero-typical arrogant heel style promo, wearing shades for good measure. He says he is frustrated that he isn’t in there whopping Tank Abbott again. He says he is being held back by the UFC brass because he doesn’t fit their profile of a star. He says he doesn’t want to discuss his losses because they are history. Beck is rebutting almost everything Ferrozo says. This was such a hilarious segment.
Semi Final 2: Don Frye vs. Mark Hall
Mark hall is in replacing Kimo who was withdrawn due to exhaustion.
These two guys have fought twice before, once in the UFC and once in Japan, with Don Frye winning both fights. Frye took nearly 11 minutes to defeat Mark Hall back at UFC 10 in July. Hall valiantly held on as Frye pummelled away at his ribs on the ground in that one.
We are underway. Hall comes forward into the clinch right away, but Frye grabs him and is able to get the takedown straight away. They stand; Frye grabs a leg, drops down and is able to get a heel hook for the victory in just 20 seconds.
Paul Varelans appears and helps Hall out of the octagon, who seems to be in great pain.
There is a lot of controversy about this fight. Mark Hall would later claim Don Frye and his manager came into his dressing room before the fight, and convinced him to throw the semi-final. Hall says that Frye was concerned that Tank Abbott had advanced to the finals so quickly, whereas Frye had been in there for over 11 minutes in the quarter final alone, and he wanted to save his energy for the final. Frye and his camp implied that, before Frye had already defeated Hall twice in recent months, he was most likely going to win anyway and another loss to Frye wouldn’t significantly impact Hall’s career. Hall says he reluctantly agreed to go alone with it.
Big John McCarthy commented on this in his autobiography, saying; “This was the second time in my life I felt I was refereeing a fixed bout. In their UFC 10 bout, Frye had had to beat the piss out of Hall, who refused to give up. Here though, Frye ankle locked him to advance without breaking a sweat. It struck me as odd. Frye was a bread-and-butter wrestler and swinging for the fences puncher, he had never won a fight via leg lock. Hall practically fell into the submission. It also struck me how both fighters were managed by the same guy’.
If this was fixed, there was some good pro-wrestling style selling from Hall at the end, a lot of modern day wrestlers could learn a thing or two from it!
The Final: Tank Abbott vs. Don Frye
Frye comes out looking to box, but Tank comes in and catches him on the chin with a left jab, sending Frye staggering backwards and tumbling down. Tank smells blood and closes in looking to finish the fight but Frye is able to get to his feet with both men landing wild punches. Tank gets the better of these exchanges as Frye is busted open.
Frye looks in serious trouble here and Tank continues to land bombs. I have no idea how Frye is still standing. This is an absolute slugfest. Suddenly, Tank slips as he misses with a wild swing, and Frye quickly pounces on his back. Crowd are going mental. Frye is able to sink in the rear naked choke, and Tank Abbott taps out after just 1 minute 22 seconds. Don Frye is the Ultimate Ultimate 1996 Champion.
What a fight that was! Tank was landing some bombs, I couldn’t believe Frye wasn’t going down. That was some serious heart he showed. As soon as Tank made a mistake, however unlucky it was, Frye capitalised on it immediately and it paid off in the biggest way possible.
Post-fight interviews: Don Frye confirms that Tank Abbott does infact hit like a mach truck. He says Tank is an animal and he thinks he has a broken hand by punching Tank’s head.
Tank Abbott is asked if he respects Don Frye following that fight, and he replies ‘nah, I don’t respect anybody’. Fair enough.
We come to an end of the show with a plug for the upcoming UFC 12 PPV, which is scheduled to feature Dan Severn vs. Don Frye.
This was an exciting show despite injuries and withdrawals robbing us of a few really mouth-watering matchups in Frye vs. Kimo and Tank vs. Shamrock. Despite that, the actual action inside the octagon was all great. There are loads of talking points throughout the cards filled with marquee names. None of the fights went the distance, and the Nelmark KO is one of the most brutal in UFC history. I would highly recommended this show.