Listen to our May 1997 UFC show, reviewing UFC 13.
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May 30th 1997, live from the Augusta Civic Centre in Augusta Georgia, it’s UFC 13: Ultimate Force!
Despite their age difference, UFC legends Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture, who were 22 and 33 respectively, both made their MMA debuts on this show.
Our host are Bruce Beck and Jeff Blatnick, who run down the format of the show. We have two four-man tournaments, one in the lightweight division (200lbs and under) and one in the heavyweight division (over 200lbs). Our main event is a superfight between Vitor Belfort and Tank Abbott. Big John McCarthy is of course the man in charge in the octagon, Bruce Buffer is the ring announcer and Joe Rogan is on hand for the backstage interviews.
We kick things off with the lightweight tournament semi-finals, but not before the camera pans over a sign in the crowd which reads ‘Shamrock is a sell-out’ in reference to his recent WWF debut.
Lightweight Tournament Semi-Finals
The first semi-final is the longest fight on the show, featuring two guys with previous UFC experience in Christophe Leininger and Guy Mezger. Leininger lost to Ken Shamrock at UFC 3, with Mezger picking up wins at both UFC 4 & 5.
This wasn’t a great way to kick off the show, Leninger was incredibly defensive with Mezger comfortable in dealing with an opponent who barely made a single proactive movement in the fight. At this stage in MMA, it is evident that wearing a gi in the octagon is a bad idea, as Leninger struggled with his throughout. We had the full 12 minute regulation and 3 minute overtime period in this one, before the judges awarded Mezger the unanimous decision victory.
In our second Lightweight semi-final we have two guys making their UFC debuts with Enson Inoue vs. Royce Alger.
In his pre-fight hype video, Inoue spoke about how he feels Alger is clueless about submissions, and he was right on the money. After just 1:36, Inoue was able to pick up the victory via submission after locking in an armbar from the bottom. Alger tried to deadlift Inoue to escape but didn’t have the strength to fight out of such a compromising position. This was a short yet exciting fight that was a much needed change of pace after the opening fight plodded along.
Heavyweight Tournament Semi-Finals
After a Tank Abbott video package which looks back at his UFC career so far, we move straight into the heavyweight tournament semi-finals as Steven ‘3D’ Graham takes on Dimitri Stepanov.
3D stands for doom, despair and destruction and with that I am completely sold on Steven Graham. Just 23 years’ old, 6’1 and weighing 290lbs, he has the absolute look of a star.
Graham immediately landed a ferocious body slam into side mount. He seemed so agile closing in for it, and showed serious power in getting the takedown. Graham traps Stepanovs’ arms, worked for a keylock and slowly ground him down for the submission victory after just 1 minute and 30 seconds. Graham really lived up to my personal pre-match hype here. I am so surprised that he never fought in MMA again after this night. He looked right at home here, and alternatively seems tailor made for professional wrestling.
We head straight to our second heavyweight semi-final, which sees a 33 year old Randy Couture make his MMA debut on just 3 weeks’ notice. The UFC legend would go on to become the first of only three men to hold UFC Championship’s in two different weight divisions.
His opponent is also noteworthy: Tony Halme, who was listed as a shootfighter but is probably best known as Ludvig Borga, who appeared in the WWF in 1993-1994.
As Bruce Buffer runs through the introductions, the announcers plug his recent appearance on Friends, which you can hear us discuss in great detail on the May 1997 MMA 20 Years Ago Podcast.
There’s a reason Randy Couture is known as 'the natural'. This was a very impressive debut as he decisively beat an opponent who significantly outsized him here. Couture took him down with ease, controlled every aspect of the fight on the ground and picked up a submission victory via rear naked choked in just 60 seconds flat. The legend begins.
That MMA went about as well for Halme as it for the Bam Bam Bigelow fight we reviewed on the podcast last year. The way Halme immediately galloped straight into the takedown also reminded me of CM Punk’s MMA debut against Micky Gall.
We get a UFC flashback to ‘UFC 7’, which was our first MMA podcast, with highlights of Marco Ruas defeating ECW shootfighter Paul Varelans.
Lightweight Alternate Bout
Joe Rogan informs us that Enson Inoue is out of the lightweight tournament finals due to and injury, citing vision problems. Tito Ortiz, the winner of the earlier alternate bout, is in. The announcers explain that Ortiz is still in college, so is fighting as an amateur and isn’t even being paid for fighting tonight.
They decide to show us the full alternate bout, which is the first UFC fight I’ve seen not refereed by Big John as Joe Hamilton takes charge.
Tito picked up a 31 second victory over Wes Albritton after his corner rightly threw the towel in. This fight could have stopped a lot quicker with Hamilton slow to react as Tito reigned down with brutal punches, elbows and hammerfists. He looked like an animal in there.
We return to the regular show and it is time for the Lightweight finals as Tito Ortiz takes on Guy Mezger. Ortiz is really over with the crowd in the arena.
This was a great fight, with a lot of drama. The first minute was chaotic, with Tito in complete control. He secured a front facelock and landed some vicious looking knees to the head, with the announcers incorrectly calling that Mezger may have tapped at one point. After 66 seconds, McCarthy broke things up to check a couple of significant cuts on the side of Mezger’s head.
After the action restarted, Ortiz shot for the takedown and left his head up, meaning Mezger was able to secure a guillotine and pull guard. He locked it in tight, and Ortiz taps after exactly 3 minutes to crown Mezger the UFC 13 Lightweight Tournament winner.
Both guys came out of this fight more over with me than they were heading into it. Mezger did exceptionally well to turn his fortunes around and come back to win this from a very precarious position, and Tito, the 22 year old amateur, showed a hell of a lot of potential in the first half of the fight.
With that we move swift into our heavyweight tournament final between Steven ‘3D’ Graham and Randy Couture.
As we all know, the best is yet to come with Randy Couture, but this was superb. Couture was able to take the much larger man down very quickly, but Graham showed exceptional manoeuvrability for a man of his size scrambling as he tried to escape. Couture shows incredible strength as he holds Graham in place.
After some picture perfect transitions, Couture spun behind and took Graham’s back; getting both hooks in and flattening Graham out. He rained down with strikes to the back of the head and Big John dived in after 3 minutes and 13 seconds to crown Randy Couture the UFC 13 Heavyweight Tournament winner.
This was the most elite display of wrestling I have seen in the UFC up until this point. Mark Coleman is close, but is often the larger man in his contests. Couture had a 65lbs weight disadvantage. I would love to have seen this Randy Couture take on the Mark Coleman of 1996.
Before we get to our main event, we cut to another UFC flashback. We take a look back at both Tank Abbott at the Ultimate Ultimate 96 and Vitor Belfort’s showing at UFC 12.
They’ve really played up the face/heel dynamic here, with Belfort always respectful in his pre-fight promos and Abbott talking smack how only he can at every opportunity.
This was as good a 53 second fight you are ever going to see. Vitor gets a takedown to start us off, but Tank manages to scramble out, grabbing Belfort ankle and tripping him onto his back. Abbott decides to stand off and let Vitor back to his feet.
Back on the feet, Vitor opens up with his trademark machine gun punches, putting Tank down. Tank covers up while lying on his stomach and Vitor gets behind him. Tank tries to roll away but is unable to do so and ends up flat on his front again. Vitor continues to punch away, and after just 53 seconds Big John McCarthy jumps in to declare Vitor the winner.
Vitor’s entourage again chant ‘jiu-jitsu’ but despite his 3 incredible UFC performances we are yet to see Vitor have to demonstrate any of his BJJ prowess as he can just put people away with his exceptional striking. His hand speed is sensational; he is the best striker we’ve seen in the UFC up until this point. You can really see why people make such a big deal out of ‘the old Vitor’ and he is even an exceptional promo for his age/nationality, thanking the fans and all his team. He seems so natural in this sport. He cuts an exceptional promo for his age, in his second language of English to close out the show.
If you want to a watch a full UFC show in 2017, from prelims to main event, you’re signing up for a 6 hour stint. This show felt like a breath of fresh air as it flew by, feeling slick and watchable. I enjoyed mostly everything on it, the production values were the best they’ve ever been, but there were no instant classics. The only thing holding this back is the lack of a ‘great’ fight, but there are no bad fights on this show. This is almost required viewing for the historical significance regarding the debuts of both Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz as well as the development of Vitor Belfort.