FightWatch Vault: UFC 40
In an effort to increase MMA content on the blog, we're going to take a dive into the vault for some classic UFC shows. UFC 40 was an extremely important event in the company's history. The parent company of the UFC, Zuffa, was losing some serious money on the investment they made in January 2001. Mixed martial arts had yet to capture the hearts and minds of the general public, and it suffered from a lack of sponsors and mainstream attention, yet to shake the perception of "human cockfighting".
In November 2002, the turnaround began. Subtitled "Vendetta", UFC 40 was headlined by an anticipated grudge match, with the young brash Light Heavyweight Champion Tito Ortiz, defending against UFC legend Ken Shamrock. This rivalry was heated- like if WWE was real- and had the perfect "rookie vs. legend" storyline to go along with it. Taking place in Las Vegas, the UFC went all out with the production, using pyro and a staging set-up quite similar to pro wrestling. It almost seemed like UFC were trying to capture some crossover wrestling fans- not a bad strategy really, considering Shamrock's (at the time) somewhat recent run as a WWF Superstar in the Attitude Era.
On a personal note, this was the first UFC event I ever watched. I remember asking my uncle to get Survivor Series 2002 on PPV, and being mad when he got this instead. I decided to watch it anyway, because I knew who Ken Shamrock was. I liked it a fair bit, but I didn't get fully stuck into MMA fandom until a few years later- when Brock Lesnar joined. So, this trip down the UFC vault is going to be mostly new to me, as we work through the 2000s in the UFC on Fight Pass in the coming months. I saw a few fights and a few cards over the years, through YouTube and the occasional video shop rental, but overall it's going to be pretty cool to experience the careers of guys like Tito, Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture in their prime.
Alright. To quote Bruce Buffer, IT'S TIME!
We begin with a video package with a Mike Goldberg voiceover, saying that this "is the biggest fight in UFC history". The dude was prone to hyperbole but in this case it was accurate. Roman gladitorial music plays over highlights and soundbites of Shamrock and Ortiz trash talking each other. The music switches to nu-metal, and the old "Face The Pain" theme blares. The nostalgia! As we flick through clips of other fighters on the card, among them we see Matt Hughes in his prime, and a SUPER baby-faced Robbie Lawler. Bruh.
Mike Goldberg introduces his colour commentator, "Fear Factor's Joe Rogan". Whoa. Rogan is tiny... and he has hair! Long before the TRT days, young as hell. After showing the Vegas odds- Ortiz, Hughes and Liddell are HUGE favourites in their fights- we go to more video hyping the main event. Shamrock turns 39 shortly after this event, but looks at least 49. I'm currently watching 1998 WWF, how did Ken age that badly in 4 years?!? A clip from a press conference shows a young Dana White, and he also doesn't look great. Has hair, but a terrible receding hairline, and is skinny as hell- his suit is wearing him!
Observations about ageing aside, we're here for some fights, so let's get to them!
Fight 1: Welterweight (170lbs)- Robbie Lawler def. Tiki Ghosn via R1 KO (at 1:29)
Thoughts: Lawler threw bombs immediately, Tiki kept his composure and chipped away at Robbie with some snapping leg kicks. Tiki backs Robbie up to the fence throwing a nice flurry of punches and kicks, but Lawler retaliates with a massive right hook that drops him! Follow up ground and pound knocks him out cold!
Post-fight, an interviewer (not Rogan) talks to both men. They ask Tiki if he takes back his pre-fight words that Lawler is overrated. Tiki says, "No, they stopped the fight because of a cut." Uhh, he was knocked the fuck out. Crowd boos, and both the interviewer and Robbie seem to roll their eyes. Robbie says he was just waiting for an opportunity to land the overhand right, and when you step in the cage with him, that's what happens.
Fight 2: Welterweight (170lbs)- Carlos Newton def. Pete Spratt via R1 Submission (kimura) (at 1:45)
Thoughts: Newton is announced as being a "Dragonball Jujitsu" expert. So he's my automatic favourite here. Spratt throws a kick, and Newton gets an immediate double leg takedown off it. Right into side control. Little bit of jockeying for position before Newton wrenches the arm for the tap. Total domination. Nice bounce-back win for Carlos Newtin after title fight losses to Matt Hughes.
Speaking of Matt Hughes, he's up in the next fight defending the UFC Welterweight Championship. BJ Penn joins Mike Goldberg to do guest commentary.
Fight 3: UFC Welterweight Championship- Matt Hughes def. Gil Castillo via R1 TKO (doctor stoppage) (at 5:00)
Thoughts: Hughes is an accomplished wrestler, but shows improved striking and jujitsu ability as well. Huge double underhook slam gives Hughes control for Round 1, and he spends the 5 minutes landing significant ground and pound. Castillo has a cut on his eyebrow, which is identified as coming from an accidental headbutt. At the end of the round, the doctor calls a stop to the fight due to the cut. Pretty ridiculous in all honesty, it was a tiny cut that was barely bleeding. I think that's the Vegas athletic commission being overly cautious given the magnitude of the event. Can't take away from the dominance and well-rounded skill that Matt Hughes displayed in this one, though.
Joe Rogan interview with Dana White. Fuck, I can't get over how weird he looks. White, not Rogan. Dana announces that while we have a legend returning tonight (Shamrock), there's another one on the way back- Tank Abbott. Apparently he's not impressed with the current crop of UFC talent. He talks about fighters "dying their hair blonde like women" and having "flames coming out of their ass onto their shorts". Obvious shots at Tito Ortiz, but Tank is a clear heavyweight while Tito is the light heavyweight champ, so I'm not sure what the point of that was.
Ooh, judging by the Wikipedia page, the next fight airing is actually from the prelims. We're gonna have some heavyweight action!
Fight 4: Heavyweight (265lbs)- Andrei Arlovski def. Ian Freeman via R1 KO (at 1:25)
Thoughts: Arlovski is only 23 here. Damn, he's been around for a long time! The big boys waste no time trading strikes. Andrei has a clear striking advantage, mixing the big punches with leg kicks, with one kick sweeping Freeman off his feet. Big right hand drops Freeman, he pops back up right away but is clearly on shaky legs. Arlovski smells blood and crushes Freeman against the fence with another big right hand, shutting the lights off!
Goldberg touts the event as being star-studded, and Joe Rogan interviews Vin Diesel in the crowd. Diesel says he's a big UFC fan and is there at the invite of UFC Heavyweight Champion Ricco Rodriguez. Vin Diesel was absolutely a major star at this point, around the time where The Fast And The Furious (the first one!) and XXX (the action movie, not a porno) came out. So that's a big endorsement for the UFC there.
Fight 5: Light Heavyweight (205lbs)- Chuck Liddell def. Renato Sobral via R1 TKO (at 2:55)
Thoughts: Chuck was in absolute predator mode, stalking "Babalu". Consistently throwing crisp punching combinations. Babalu tried to keep him at bay with leg kicks, but to no avail. Liddell cracks him with punches a few times, and then switches things up with a head kick for the highlight reel. Great showcase for the Iceman. I only really saw him towards the end of his UFC career where his chin was gone against Rashad and Franklin, so it's really cool to see him in this dangerous form here. And as I type this, Joe Rogan refers to Liddell as a "predator" in the replays. Great minds...
We've got time to kill with all these quick finishes, so it's time for another prelim fight!
Fight 6: Middleweight (185lbs)- Phillip Miller def. Mark Weir via R2 Submission (rear naked choke) (at 4:50)
Thoughts: This was the most competitive and technical fight on the card. Weir had a clear striking advantage, and cracked Miller hard every time he had an opportunity on the feet, but on the ground, both men had a lot of skills, trading positions and working ground transitions nicely over 2 rounds, a lot of back and forth. Miller looked like he was on the way to being finished after some ruthless ground and pound, then Weir letting him up to blast him with a front kick. Miller managed to gut it out, slam him down and work him over until the opportunity for the choke presented itself. Great fight that displayed every facet of MMA. A nice departure from the rest of the card, which has been a fun watch but essentially the MMA equivalent of squash matches.
Weirdly, we cut from interviews with various fighters giving their main event picks to Shamrock and Ortiz standing in the Octagon, ready for battle. For whatever reason (maybe copyright issues?), they completely cut the entrances of both men out of the Fight Pass video. I remember Tito's music and flame pyro being all kinds of bad-ass.
Fight 7: UFC Light Heavyweight Championship- Tito Ortiz def. Ken Shamrock via R3 TKO (doctor stoppage) (at 5:00)
Thoughts: Total domination. It was new school vs. old school, and Tito showed he was in a whole other class. His base MMA skill was wrestling, but he worked Shamrock over with a Muay Thai clinch, blasting the veteran with punches and knees. Then the wrestling took over. It was the prototypical gameplan of double leg takedowns and ground and pound, and Shamrock just had no answer for it. It was a little bit sad at times. Shamrock had heart, and in R2 and R3 he managed to explode off the mat and get to his feet, but couldn't make anything happen after getting busted up so badly. The torch was passed, and a MMA superstar was born here.
Post-fight, Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz hugged and showed respect (after some initial reluctance). The commentators and the interviewer bring up Chuck Liddell as the next challenger. Apparently Liddell and Ortiz were friends at this stage... that absolutely did not last through the years.
UFC 40 was absolutely a turning point in the history of the company, and a really fun event to watch. In this era of mixed martial arts, we still had specialists rather than well-rounded fighters excelling in multiple martial arts disciplines. So, the fights for the most part were far less competitive than modern UFC, but still provided a plethora of exciting moments. UFC were off to the races from here. The schedule back then was much lighter though- the next event, UFC 41, took place on February 28, 2003! 3 months between shows! None of this having a UFC either every weekend or every second weekend, no sir.
Until next time, take care,