In the early days of the UFC, there was very little talent. However, there were a few big names. In this set we see a few of them including Dan Severn, Ken Shamrock, Oleg Taktarov, Tank Abbott and Marco Ruas.
Things were very different when the UFC was getting started. Instead of the short rounds, the combatants fought to the finish. The first DVD in this set, UFC 5: Return of the Beast is the first time since UFC 1: The Beginning that there was even a time limit. The DVDs advertise There Are No Rules, and the rules that began to be implemented after these events caused the legendary Gracie family to depart the promotion based on their belief you should be allowed to do anything to win.
UFC 5: Return of the Beast involved a tournament featuring eight men, including Dan Severn returning from a short break, and concluded with a super fight between Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie. NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown was one of the co-hosts of the event.
- Jon Hess vs. Andy Anderson is considered one of the worst fights in UFC history. Hess was fined $2000 for two violations of eye gouging, which he has since defended by claiming it was advertised as no rules. The breaking of the rules did not interfere with the match, though, as only fines could be the result. Hess won the fight and then withdrew from the tournament with a hand injury following the match. Rumor has it he was blacklisted following the fight and would only compete in one other MMA match following this incident, losing that fight. Forget the cheating; the match involved a fat guy swinging at his opponent like a bitch. It was brutal.
- Todd Medena beat Larry Bureton by submission while spending most of the match in the mounted position and delivering numerous head butts until Bureton couldn’t handle it anymore.
- Oleg Taktarov is the first solid fighter appearing on the card and took out his first round opponent, Ernie Verdicia, with a choke submission in just over 2 minutes. Dan Severn, the best fighter on the card, took out his first opponent, Joe Charles, with a rear naked choke in just over one minute. The problem with tournaments is the best fighters usually don’t even fight in the finals and this was no different as Severn faced Taktarov in the second round, making the final seem like a letdown.
- Dan Severn and Oleg Taktarov fought in the semifinals, in the longest match of the tournament, going over 4-minutes before Severn won by TKO after Taktarov got a cut over his eye and the referee stopped the fight. The fight was an interesting contrast of styles, pitting Severn’s striking against Taktarov’s grappling. Taktarov was busted open pretty bad and Severn just pummeled him at the end. This was a great fight.
- In the tournament, there are alternate bouts (not shown on the DVD) and the winners of these bouts are alternates in case a combatant can’t continue. Because Jon Hess broke his hand, Dave Beneteau, who won his match in 21 seconds, was chosen to face Todd Medina. The alternate went on to win the match by TKO when he started blasting punches and the towel was thrown in, ending the match.
- The Super Fight was between Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie and the fans shit all over this match. This is a legendary match between the first two men inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame that went to a 30-minute draw. They got extra time, but after 5 more minutes, the match ended a draw. Gracie was the undisputed champion coming into this match and the two began grappling. The fans had spent much of the card watching fighters charge each other and fight like they were on a school playground. Gracie and Shamrock actually wrestled and grappled and the fans hated it. It was boring at points, but these guys knew how to fight and they were out to win. Fans were stupid at this time and didn’t really understand the intricacies of this style of fighting. The fans started chanting “Stand Up” and if the fans preferred “fighters” like Jon Hess, then they deserve that junk style.
- After the fans shit on Shamrock and Gracie, they finished the night off with Severn getting a clear win to take the tournament championship. Severn was a monster back in the day. He dominated his opponents on this card. It’s funny after the win when he held the title belt from the tournament and his NWA Professional Wrestling Championship belt over his head at the same time.
UFC 5 lasted 2 hours but the tournament bouts combined for less than twenty minutes of action, with the Super Fight going for 35 minutes. If the Shamrock vs. Gracie match had not went the limit, there could have easily been less than 30 minutes of actual fight action on the card. That almost happened at UFC 6: Clash of the Titans, as the Super Fight went 2:14, but luckily the finals of the tournament was much better than UFC 5, as Tank Abbott and Oleg Taktarov went at it for almost twenty minutes. Michael Buffer is our ring announcer.
- The card started off with the vicious Tank Abbott knocking out John Matua in eighteen seconds, leaving Matua lying in the ring convulsing. Abbott called it a cakewalk as he left.
- Paul Varelans was a mountain of a man, over 300 pounds, wearing a t-shirt to cover his fat. He won with a hard elbow to the back of the head of his overmatched opponent, Cal Worsham. Varelans would gain notoriety when he signed up for a shoot fight again ECW Professional Wrestler Tazz and then threw the fight in exchange for a promised blow job by wrestling diva Missy Hyatt. Hyatt wrote in her book she then refused the BJ because Varelans was a loser. The fight sucked by the way.
- In a similar scenario to UFC 5, Patrick Smith beat Rudyard Moncayo but, due to an injury sustained in the fight, had to pull out of the competition after his win. Smith was the most athletic looking fighter on the card so far but the guy is a punk, arrested in 1999 for fondling a 14-year old girl.
- Oleg Taktarov was next up against UFC 5 alternate underdog Dave Beneteau. Beneteau never stood a chance here as Taktarov took him out in less than one minute with a front choke. The match was delayed because the physician was in the back with Smith, and Baywatch star David Hasselhoff was shown in the audience. The match is very interesting as Beneteau was on fire but Taktarov remained calm and took the submission.
- I was looking forward to the next match because I wanted to see Tank Abbott kick the crap out of Varelans. That is exactly what happens as Varelans charges and Abbott tackles him to the ground and just beats on him until the referee calls for the bell. I know Abbott is an asshole but watching him as he acts nonchalant about the win is still funny. While Abbott is beating Varelans he smiles to the audience. Abbott: “He said earlier in his little preview thing, he likes to take people down and tickle them. I just wanted to tickle his brain a little bit.” Awesome.
- The announcers mention how Abbott should have plenty of energy left because he only fought for a little over two minutes in his two matches. The final would remain even though, as Taktarov would match the time with a 12 second submission win over alternate Anthony Macias. Macias charged in and got caught immediately by Taktarov in a choke for the win. Domination. Jim Brown was very angry after this quick win. I think he believed Macias, a friend of Taktarov, might have thrown the match. From the look Taktarov gave Macias after the match, it is clear to me he believed there was something shady about the match as well.
- The next fight was the Super Fight between Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn. While Shamrock went to a 35 minute draw in UFC 5, this match was over very fast in just over 2 minutes as Shamrock made Severn submit to the guillotine choke. The match was pitting the two best UFC fighters at the time against each other and the match started with the two wrestling, trying to get the advantage. Even in a short match like this, it is clear these two men were head and shoulders above most fighters. Shamrock just looked dominating here and Severn seemed to be a bit outmatched. Shamrock was amazing in his prime.
- Following the short Super Fight, the fans got a longer, more competitive tournament final between Oleg Taktarov and Tank Abbott. With the scrubs out of the way, this final was much more competitive than the last card. The matchup was intriguing with the grappler Oleg against the brawler Tank, the crowd solidly behind Abbott. Tank tired himself out early with fast strikes but was still strong enough to escape an early choke attempt by Oleg. I didn’t see how it happened but Tank got busted open early. Oleg was also bleeding from his mouth early on, but Tank was already gassed by this time. Abbott dominated lesser fighters on the card but could only delay the inevitable against good technical grappler like Oleg. This was Abbott’s debut card in MMA but he showed he could be a dominant brawler against lesser competition and had an arrogance that helped him remain a fan favorite. Taktarov would win a tough 17 minute fight to end the card on a high note. This was a fantastic fight and it is interesting to note Taktarov remained lying on the mat getting oxygen while Abbott was able to walk out on his own. Phenomenal matchup.
UFC 7: The Brawl in Buffalo set up a main even Super Fight between Ken Shamrock and the winner of the UFC 6 tournament Oleg Taktarov. Shamrock had beaten Dan Severn in quick fashion at UFC 6 and Severn beat Taktarov decisively at UFC 5, so it should have been clear Shamrock held the advantage here. That would not matter as, for the second time in three cards, the match would go the limit. Interesting trivia is the card ran over the three hour limit and the Pay-Per-View audience never got to see the final match. This DVD eliminated the extended introductions to the fighters and post match interviews as well. Jim Brown is also gone, which is a good thing.
- The card starts with Paul Varelans facing Gerry Harris. Varelans looks in much better shape here than on the last card, where Tank Abbott beat the crap out of him. Varelans used his weight to take the advantage and beat Harris and then got a submission with elbow strikes. Interesting as he forced the tap out with striking instead of a hold.
- Harold Howard was last seen at UFC 3 when he slipped into the finals after winning only one match and then lost to an alternate who never had to fight a tournament match, thanks to both Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock succumbing to injuries. He would lose here by submission to Mark Hall and only fight one more match before retiring due to injuries. It would be the second of two matches to end by submission due to strikes as Howard was a bloody, beaten mess after 1:41.
- Remco Pardoel and Ryan Parker fought in the third match. This was a matchup of Jiu-Jitsu (Pardoel) and Karate (Parker). Both fighters were wearing their Gi’s and I couldn’t tell them apart half the time. The fight went over three minutes and ended with Parker tapping out to a forearm choke. It was another match where the fans began to boo the match’s emphasis on a ground submission game. Fans in 1995 really only cared about the striking game.
- The next match introduced the UFC to a new kind of fighter in Marco Ruas. As I have mentioned, much of the fighting in the UFC at this time was a sloppy brawling style outside of the Shamrocks and Taktarov’s of the world. Ruas brought something different, something special with a style that combined various techniques and allowed him to adapt to situations in unpredictable ways. He would go on to fight great matches in his career with Oleg Taktarov, taking a Unanimous Decision at Ultimate Ultimate 95 and then fighting him to a draw in late 1996. He would beat Larry Cureton here by submission at 3:23. Ruas took down Cureton early and just controlled the entire match, making Cureton expend all his energy trying to escape.
- Varelans took on Mark Hall in the first semifinal match. Hall tried to use his quickness to keep Varelans off balance but he couldn’t overcome the weight disadvantage and tapped to the key lock.
- Marco Ruas took his unique style against Jiu-Jitsu fighter Remco Pardoel. Pardoel locked in a chin lock on the cage wall that lasted almost four minutes until Ruas stomped on his toe a few times and flipped him to the ground with Ruas taking the advantage. Ruas would win by submission with a heal hook at 12:27. I didn’t understand the end to this match because Pardoel tapped out despite not being in any type of hold. It was like he just decided he didn’t want to fight anymore. The announcers didn’t even understand why Pardoel gave up.
- Tank Abbott was interviewed and said the only reason he lost at UFC 6 was because only he beat himself. He said the reason was because he was not prepared for the oxygen levels of the altitude at the card. He then was questioned about people who call him cocky and he said only loser’s call people cocky and he is confident.
- Next up was the Super Fight pitting Ken Shamrock against Oleg Taktarov. The two would go to the limit, with three minutes of overtime and finish the match with a draw. Shamrock went with the same technique he used against Royce Gracie, jumping on Taktarov and holding him down, trying to wear him out. Just like at UFC 5, the fans turned on Shamrock for this “boring” style. The match was hard fought and both men brought it all in the hard fought draw. This would be the match that finally broke the camel’s back and convinced the UFC they needed judges to guarantee a winner. I’m still not sure why the overtime was only three minutes, instead of the normal regulation five. Both men were beaten and exhausted at the end and I was very impressed with both.
- Marco Ruas, the awesome fighter, went up against Paul Varelans, the big brawler. Ruas was coming off a long match compared to Varelans, which made his win after 13 minutes look even better. This might be where they got the idea of David vs. Goliath for UFC 8 because Ruas used his speed and unusual fighting style to keep the larger Varelans off balance. Ruas made Varelans bleed early and used kicks to hurt the big man’s legs. The announcers actually referred to this as David vs. Goliath. The leaner Ruas was still going strong, hitting and running against the bigger, exhausted Varelans. This is the match that seemed more like the UFC we know today as Ruas used so many kicks and strikes instead of just forcing his power on his opponant. Ruas finally chopped down the big Varelans with hard kicks and then knocked the big man out. Awesome performance by Carlos Ruas.
UFC’s Ultimate Ultimate 95 is missing in this set, as it took place between UFC 7 and UFC 8. It featured Dan Severn defeating Oleg Taktarov in Oleg’s last UFC fight. He was no longer competing in the UFC by the time UFC 8: David vs. Goliath came around. I don’t think a fighter like Oleg would fit into this format as the entire card was a gimmick tournament, pitting fighters against men outweighing them by over 100 pounds. Ultimate Ultimate was the first card to feature judges and that continued in UFC 8, as there were three judges to make sure the draws from UFC 5 and UFC 7 would never happen again. This was also the card UFC wanted to use to bring in fresh talent to carry the company to the next level.
- Don Frye was making his UFC debut at this event and did it in style. Frye is a true mixed martial arts fighter, with judo, wrestling and boxing experience and is managed by Dan “The Beast” Severn. He is also the smaller fighter in this match. That didn’t matter since he knocked out his 410 pound opponent Thomas Ramirez in 10 seconds. It should also be noted that they were in Puerto Rico and the fans booed Frye since Ramirez was the hometown fighter. Frye charged early and knocked out Thomas with two punches. Amazing.
- Paul Varelans, the UFC veteran, takes on Joe Moreira in the next match. The two fighters went to a 10-minute draw which, if you know Varelans by now, means he is probably finished. Varelans wins the match by the judges Unanimous Decision. As I figured, Varelans got hurt somehow during the match and could not continue in the tournament.
- Jerry Bohlander faced 330 pound Scott Ferrozzo in the next match and became one of the men who would be one of the new faces of the UFC. He would go on to later win the first ever lightweight tournament, but here he defeated a man who outweighed him by over 100 pounds by submission using a guillotine choke. Bohlander proved to be competitive against anyone, regardless of weight, by holding on against the big man and winning with less than a minute remaining in the match.
- Paul Herrera took on the big Gary Goodridge, a monster. Goodridge was not a big fat guy like the other two unknown Goliaths. Goodridge was a tank who walked into this match and knocked the crap out of Herrera. Goodridge would have a long career in MMA, fighting for UFC, Pride and K-1, a streaky fighter who was flamboyant and dangerous when he was on his game. This match lasted 13 seconds as Goodridge walked in calmly, took Herrera down in a crucifix and then knocked him out with elbows to the head. This was a scary, dominant performance.
- Don Frye continued his dominance as a newcomer against alternate (replacing Varelans) Sam Adkins in another very quick match when the doctor stopped the match after Frye took Adkins down, pummeled him with punches and then when Adkins was busted open Frye went to work on the cuts. Frye won his first two matches in a total of 58 seconds.
- Jerry Bohlander and Gary Goodridge faced off next. Bohlander would have a shorter career but a more successful one than Goodridge. On this day, it was Goodridge who would hand Bohlander one of his four career losses. It would be a five minute match that would end with a referee stoppage and a TKO due to Goodridge strikes. This was a nice showing for both men as they both showed signs of promise they would one day build upon.
- The Super Fight was next and looked to be a huge disappointment after the last three Shamrock fights (Gracie, Severn, Taktarov) as he would face Kimo in a fight that promised there would be a winner thanks to the judges. Kimo was best known at this time as the man who ended Royce Gracie’s consecutive title wins. He lost to Gracie at UFC 3: The American Dream but took Gracie to the limit, forcing the defending champion to pull out of the tournament. Shamrock came into the match undefeated in Super Fight competition (with two draws) and wouldn’t need the judge’s help to win this match as he took Kimo down with a knee bar submission win at 4:24. The fans once again turned on Shamrock but at this point in his career he was too damn good. The fans did pop for Shamrock after he won, probably because they were happy he actually won a match instead of holding on for a draw.
- The final match was powerhouse Gary Goodrich against Don Frye. Goodrich looked like a monster in his first two matches but Frye was dominating and fresh after two matches lasting less than a minute apiece. This is the best tournament finale of the four DVDs, with only Abbott vs. Taktarov as close competition. This was an interesting match. It looked as though Goodrich was about to win the match when Frye reversed it and turned it around for a quick win due to strikes. This was a fun, little match for a really solid card.
Over the four cards, the UFC clearly grew as an organization. In UFC 5, the fighters were sloppy, out of shape and really nothing more than street fighters. By UFC 8, more combatants were fighters with solid technique who looked like actual athletes. We also got a good look at Royce Gracie as he was on his way out, Ken Shamrock as he moved his way to the top, and the start of the careers of Tank Abbott, Don Frye, Jerry Bohlander, Gary Goodridge and Marco Ruas. If you are a fan of MMA fighting, this is a set worth your time to check out.
UFC 5: Return of the Beast includes a retrospective that starts out with Dan Severn talking about having to sign a release form that keeps the company from being held liable in case of accidental death. As I said earlier, things have come a long ways. It is short and to the point, mainly focusing on Severn and Taktarov. The UFC 6: Clash of the Titans retrospective is another short one, again featuring Taktarov who describes his fighting style and training regime. They also go into the Shamrock vs. Severn match, although once again they did not talk to Shamrock about the card. Severn had a great comment as he said “If you’ve never lost, how can you appreciate winning?”
UFC 7: The Brawl in Buffalo finally offered deeper special features than the previous two. We get the interview with Oleg Taktarov as he continues to look back on his career and the three cards in a row he appeared. However, we also get another feature over fighter Marco Ruas, either with voice-over audio or the original Portuguese audio with subtitles. The King of the Streets (08:02) looks at the career of Ruas and his Brazilian fighting style. He also mentions he predicted MMA would soon overcome boxing in popularity.
UFC 8: David vs. Goliath includes two features. Predator and His Prey with Don Frye (05:04) looks at his life from college wrestler to professional boxer to firefighter to ultimate fighting. He talks about how the $50,000 he won for winning the event helped him pay off his divorce and then he was broke again. The David vs. Goliath Recap with Scott Peterson (8:28) goes into detail about the new style of fighting, how they were trying to get away from fighting long matches. He said no one cared about the long matches Ken Shamrock fought at both UFC 5 and UFC 7 and they wanted to make the matches shorter to keep fans interested. Peterson, a writer, gives the best talk in all the features on these discs.