UFC was facing difficulties out of the ring during early 1997 when the federal government tried to make the sport illegal. They released back-to-back cards that brought the worst (UFC 11) and the best (UFC 12) of the UFC.
UFC 11: The Proving Ground continued with the tried and true tournament style fights but the results continued to prove change was needed. A strong example from the past was UFC 3: The American Dream when both defending tournament champion Royce Gracie and future champion Ken Shamrock had to pull out due to exhaustion and injuries. An athlete’s body cannot take this kind of punishment for prolonged lengths of time. As exciting as tournaments can be, it is not the same when your best fighters can’t make it to the finals. It was even worse at UFC 11 because all the alternates were injured and there was no one left to face Mark Coleman in the finals.
- Former Olympian Mark Coleman was coming off a big win over Don Frye in his debut at UFC 10 and was back for UFC 11, trying to make it two-for-two. In his pre-match interviews, he said he doesn’t think Tank Abbott holds much of a challenge because he isn’t skilled enough to match up to a real wrestler.
- Tank Abbott in a pre-card interview said he is a street fighter and people who call themselves Pit Fighters are just using a made up term while he is for real. As always, Abbott is “confident” in his abilities.
- Mark Coleman beat Julian Sanchez by submission in 44 seconds with a choke. This was Sanchez’s first MMA pro match and got his ass handed to him.
- Brian Johnston wins the next match, also in quick style, with a TKO over Reza Nasri in just 30 seconds. When the referee stopped the barrage of punches, it looked like he busted open Johnston’s nose and Johnston threw out a few explicatives as he left the ring.
- Tank Abbott took on former professional boxer Sam Adkins in what you would assume would be a battle of strikers. Tank took down Adkins early and grinded his face into the fence and then kept him there in the fence until Adkins tapped out. A young Tito Ortiz was one of Abbott’s corner men.
- Jerry Bohlander faced Fabio Gurgel. Gurgel is an 8-time Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Champion. He took young UFC star Bohlander to the limit in a 15-minute draw. A rule in UFC states you can’t kick an opponent while they are down if you are wearing shoes. Bohlander broke that rule early after Gurgel opened a cut on his head. This was a solid, hard fight, with Bohlander controlling most of the match and he won by Unanimous Decision. Bohlander left the match with an injury and had to withdraw from the tournament.
- Mark Coleman and Brian Johnston fought in the first match of the semifinals, both men winning short matches in the first round. Coleman took his time and waited until the time was right to take Johnston to the ground, drive him into the cage and then beat him into submission.
- Scott Ferrozzo, an alternate to the injured Jerry Bohlander, beat Tank Abbott by Unanimous Decision. However, due to the fatigue from such a long match, he could not continue. Ferrozzo was a huge, fat man, and I am both surprised he lasted the limit against Tank but not surprised he had no gas left in the tank for the final. The crowd turned on Tank when he refused to fight offensively for much of the match and got behind Ferrozzo for the overtime minutes. Tank looked like absolute shit the entire match. Ferrozzo won because he beat on Tank the entire time Abbott had him in a bear hug in the corner. You could tell Tank had given up. After the match, Ferrozzo said Abbott was overrated and hadn’t fought anyone and then said he owed his win to his coach Don Frye.
- There was no Super Fight on the card and there was no final match. Ferrozzo was not able to fight in the final (he was being taken to the hospital) and they stated alternate Roberto Traven would fight instead. While waiting they interview Tank Abbott, who makes an excuse for not being prepared to fight a bigger man. “I don’t really care about my fans because I let myself down.” When the interview ended, they declared Coleman the winner because Traven had a broken hand. I can’t imagine how the people who bought the Pay-Per-view felt after this.
My argument that tournaments can be trouble was proven with UFC 11 and this DVD is not worth the buy because the card was cut so short and wasn’t good at all. Something had to change because more finishes like this would kill the sport. UFC 12: Judgment Day implemented minor changes as the sport continued to evolve. It would be the first UFC event to feature weight classes; heavyweights (200 lbs and over) and lightweights (199 lbs and under) and they were split into two separate smaller tournaments with four competitors in each. The Super Fight also returned and the UFC crowned its first official UFC Heavyweight Champion. The match was supposed to be Mark Coleman (5-0) against Don Frye, but Frye was injured at the previous event and never fought in UFC again. Taking his place was Dan “The Beast” Severn. This event also marked the first UFC appearance of Joe Rogan, who handled backstage interviews for the event.
In a small back story, Senator John McCain found the sport abhorrent and led a campaign to ban Ultimate Fighting. As a result, the UFC was dropped from Viewer’s Choice, a major cable pay-per-view distributor, and a number of smaller cable carriers. Thirty-six states enacted laws that banned “no-holds-barred” fighting including New York, on the eve of UFC 12. The promotion had to move fast to find a new venue and found it in Dothan, Alabama. The UFC continued to air on DirectTV, but at the time their audience was tiny compared to cable. The weight classes were the first step in the UFC’s effort to legitimize the sport.
- Jerry Bohlander took on Rainy Martinez in the first round of the lightweight tournament. Martinez is a newcomer to the UFC. Bohlander just worked himself into position for a rear naked choke and won by submission in 1:24.
- Funny moment as a shirt says “Why is the UFC in Dothan, Alabama? Because New York only allows street gangs to whip your ass.”
- Wallid Ismail takes on Yoshiki Takahashi in the other first round lightweight match. Ismail trained under Carlson Gracie and is best known for holding Jiu-Jitsu victories over four Gracie family members. He was undefeated in MMA fights coming into UFC 12. Takahashi was a veteran MMA fighter with a record of 9-7-1 coming into this event. Takahashi won by Unanimous Decision after going the distance. He broke his hand during the fight and was unable to continue the tournament. Takahashi held the advantage the last five minutes of the regular time period. Before overtime, the referee had to tell both men to stop holding the fence, which both men did too much during regulation. Ismail was completely worn out going into overtime. Takahashi clearly didn’t understand UFC rules but still dominated enough to take the decision.
- The heavyweight tournament began with Scott Ferrozzo, the guy who made his name at UFC 11, battling Jim Mullen. Mullen was a current North American Kickboxing Champion at the time of this fight. Tank Abbott was brought in to be a color commentator during these matches. Abbott is a riot, calling Ferrozzo “the rotund one, a WWF wannabe.” Mullen is a standup fighter and Ferrozzo is just too big. The match lasted 8:17 but Mullen never had the chance and only fought to survive while Ferrozzo just beat the hell out of him.
- Vitor Belfort made his UFC debut in the next match against Tra Telligman, also making his UFC debut. Telligman looks disgusting, as he is missing his entire pectoral muscles (from an accident as a child). Belfort was trained by Carlson Gracie and won this match in 1:18. Belfort just let the fists fly and Tra couldn’t stop the punches finally losing by TKO. Belfort just beat him into a bloody mess.
- Bohlander came in for the finals of the lightweight championship tournament against alternate Nick Sanzo. Thanks for playing Sanzo, as Bohlander won with the crucifix in 35 seconds to become the first ever lightweight tournament.
- Scott Ferrozzo battled Vitor Belfort in the heavyweight finals. Belfort was the fresher man, with a quick victory, while Ferrozzo, a much heavier fighter fought for over eight minutes in his match. Nineteen year old Belfort got most of the pre-match attention and I think the UFC was really pushing him as the next star. Ferrozzo couldn’t use his weight because Belfort was so fast and it ended in 0:52 with a TKO. During Belfort’s exuberant celebration, Tank Abbott quipped “What, he just win the Olympics or something?”
- The Super Fight to determine the first ever UFC Heavyweight Champion was next as undefeated Mark Coleman took on Dan “The Beast” Severn. Severn went for an early leg but Coleman was too fast for him. Severn looked shocked when he saw how fast Coleman was coming after him. You could see in Severn’s eyes he was beaten early and Coleman took him out at 2:57 with a headlock choke. Severn, a legend, was overmatched and dominated in this match.
After a very disappointing UFC 11, the UFC rebounded with UFC 12. It is unfortunate it received so few views thanks to the U.S. Government’s attempts at breaking the sport. The card gave us two great young fighters in Bohlander and Belfort and proved they were ready for the future. There would be a lot more ground to cover over the next year with rule changes but UFC 12 proved they were growing as an organization. UFC 12 is also an important PPV as it crowned its first ever UFC Heavyweight Champion in Mark Coleman. I would say skip UFC 11: The Proving Ground but all real fans should pick up UFC 12: Judgment Day.
UFC 11: The Proving Ground has two features. The first is Bios & Records and includes Tank Abbott, Mark Coleman, Jerry Bohlander and Scott Ferrozzo. This is a text based feature that includes an up-to-date bio of the athletes and their career fight record up to 2008. There is also an Interview with Mark Coleman (05:21). He talks about his cocky and arrogant attitude going into the event. He talks about how he knew he could have beat Tank Abbott if he could have faced him because Abbott was unmotivated. He was also disappointed there was no final match. This interview was conducted before UFC 87, because Coleman was talking about his upcoming fight with Brock Lesner, a fight that never occurred due to an injury Coleman sustained while training.
UFC 12: Judgment Day has fighter bios & professional records for Dan Severn, Jerry Bohlander, Mark Coleman, Scott Ferrozzo, Tra Tellingman and Vitor Belfort up to 2008. The second feature is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Basics with Shawn Williams (19:35). In this feature, Williams demonstrates 10 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu maneuvers from the 5 basic positions. This is a nice training video which shows you the moves and then he takes you through it step-by-step.