Just over 20 years ago, UFC 10 took place in Birmingham, Ala. during a time of turmoil for UFC where critics in government and the media were speaking out against the new sport, trying to get banned or at least prevent it being officially legalized. Having an Olympic contender Mark Coleman come out on top in the main event helped add legitimacy to the sport at a time when many saw it as a blood sport for untrained tough men. I covered the event for the Torch Newsletter, one of the earliest sources of regular coverage of the sport of mixed martial arts. The following is my report written at the time the event took place, along with some Torch columnist analysis at the end.
COVER STORY: Olympic contender Coleman wins UFC10 – UFC gains new level of prestige with highly credentialed Coleman’s impressive showing
By Wade Keller, Torch editor
Twenty-three spectators were injured and six participants died over the weekend during two auto races in the U.S. and France. In boxing, dozens of participants and observers were injured after a series of low-blows by a boxer led to a full-fledged riot at Madison Square Garden.
Meanwhile, in Birmingham, Ala., UFC, forced out of Providence, R.I. by government officials, ran its eleventh event during which no observers were injured and no participants died. Rather, a finalist to make this year’s Olympic wrestling team, Mark Coleman, won UFC’s 10th pay-per-view tournament, beating previously undefeated Don Frye in a grinding finals. Nevertheless, Ultimate Fighting will likely remain the primary target of media and politicians whose emotions override the facts.
UFC 10 was by no means a ballet. Bloody finalist Frye was taken to the hospital after the event suffering from exhaustion. Coleman, making perhaps the most impressive UFC debut since Royce Gracie, beat Frye at Frye’s own game – by battering him and out-toughing him throughout the entire 12 minute finals.
Despite being dominated in the main event, Frye’s overall gutsy showing probably solidified his stature in UFC as a top-tier competitor, placing him probably in the same tier-two group as Oleg Taktarov, Tank Abott, and Marco Ruas, who have yet to beat any of UFC’s Big Boys. UFC isn’t short on Big Boys (a group Coleman is on the verge of joining given his debut), but is short on Big Boys willing to put their reputations on the line for UFC’s relatively meager payoffs. Coleman’s winnings were a mere $50,000. Considering UFC only runs four tournaments a year, that leaves the potential for only one fighter to make $200,000 a year, mid-level pay in pro wrestling. To win four tournaments, a fighter would have to essentially train year-round and risk his well-being each time.
The Big Boys – Royce Gracie, Dan Severn, and Ken Shamrock – want big money guarantees to lend their name to a UFC pay-per-view. UFC official Art Davie invited Royce to a UFC tournament on the air, but didn’t mention that UFC’s ever-changing rules and relatively meager payoffs are the key reasons Royce is holding out.
UFC was sent a message by their viewers who voted Royce Gracie the best UFC fighter of all time with 46 percent of the votes on a Compuserve poll. Severn and Shamrock finished with 21 and 16 percent. Credit UFC for announcing those poll results with Severn sitting next to them and Gracie unsure of returning.
In other big news coming out of UFC 10, Tank Abott was announced as the first marquee name entered in the September UFC 11 tournament. Abott was interviewed and then did color commentary during the semi-final between Frye and Brian Johnston. Abott was his usual carelessly brash self, putting down everyone he mentioned, from absent color commentator Don Wilson to Severn and Shamrock for their SuperFight performance to Royce Gracie for “needing a carrot dangled in front of his face” before he’ll show up and defend his reputation.
At the end of the tournament, Art Davie announced that UFC officials are working on signing Mark Shultz to make his second tournament appearance in September, plus two other Olympic-level wrestlers have sent in applications to join Severn and Coleman on the list of amateur wrestlers who believe they can fare well in the hybrid fighting’s Octagon. With the absence of submissions specialists such as Gracie, Shamrock, and Taktarov from frequent competition, UFC may soon be dominated by great amateur wrestlers who finally have an outlet to make a living practicing their skills. More than ever, UFC is taking on the characteristics of a real version of pro wrestling.
ULTIMATE FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIP 10 FULL RESULTS
When: July 12, 1996
Where: Birmingham, Ala. – State Fair
What: UFC10 pay-per-view
Live Attendance: n/a
“This is where the Big Boys come to play… and this is their playground, the Octagon.” UFC sounded a bit like WCW during the opening. After a highlight video of closed fist and elbow blows, they aired a nicely done piece on historical sites in Birmingham, including the oldest standing baseball stadium. Bruce Beck then opened the program with a brief preview of the show, uttering the dangerous words “anything goes.”
They cut to Jeff Blatnick who didn’t know he was on as he impatiently said, “Are you talking to me? Well, I can’t hear you.” When he realized he was on, he pasted on a smile and interviewed Don Frye. Frye then said being the favorite is like being an attack dog, “You see someone, you kill them.”
The three judges (Steve Neklia, Michael DePasquale Jr., Marc Denny) were introduced, but weren’t needed as no fights went to a time limit draw.
(1) Don Frye (4-0 record, Wrestling/Boxing, 30, 214, 6-1, Sierra Vista, Ariz.) beat Mark Hall (3-1 record, Moo Yea Do, 35, 198, 6-0 Murietta, Calif.) at 10:23. Hall opened with a reverse sidekick that didn’t budge Frye. Frye immediately bearhugged and powerslammed Hall to the mat. For the next 10 minutes, Hall lay on his back with his arms and legs wrapped around Frye as Frye laid in a series of a punches and elbows to Hall’s ribcage. Hall’s ribs on both sides were red and bruised. At 9:50 the mic picked up someone (either Hall’s trainer or Frye) telling Hall to quit and Hall saying, “I can’t.” The person said, “You can… Do it with honor.” Seconds later the ref stopped the bout. Afterward Frye and Hall hugged, talked briefly, and smiled.
(2) Brian Johnston (Kickboxing/Judo, 26, 222, 6-4, San Jose, Calif.) beat Scott Fiedler (Kickboxing/Kempo, 29, 235, 6-4, Pacific, Mo.) at 2:25. Fiedler will be remembered for his horrible hairstyle. Johnston reversed a bearhug by Fiedler and judo threw him to the mat. Fiedler got right up, but Johnston took him down again, although not as cleanly. Fiedler went for a choke from behind and rode on Johnston’s back, but Johnston escaped and when on top threw a series of punches. Fiedler covered up his head as the ref stepped in to stop the bout.
(3) Mark Coleman (Wrestling, 31, 245, 6-1, Columbus, Ohio) beat Moti Horenstein (Survival (hybrid full contact karate), 31, 230, 6-2, Spring Valley, N.Y.). Coleman is a two-time All-American, 1988 NCAA Champion, two time Pan Am Games Gold Medalist, 1992 Olympic competitor, and finished sixth in his attempt to make the 1996 Olympic team. Coleman may be the biggest and strongest serious UFC competitor to date. Horenstein, born in Israel, was a 3-time Israel karate champion and taught self-defense in the Special Forces of the Israel Army. At the start, to avoid being thrown, Horenstein dropped to his back. Coleman threw a series of punches as Horenstein covered. Horenstein slithered out of target range. Coleman didn’t seem to know how to finish him, but after more than two minutes of struggling on the mat, Horenstein opened his head to a couple of hard blows and the ref stopped it.
(4) Gary Goodridge (Martial Arts, 20, 245, 6-3, Barrie, Ont.) beat Mark Campetella (Kempo/Wrestling, 27, 235, 5-9, New York City) at 1:27. They locked up at the start. Campetella threw punches in the opening minutes. When Goodridge turned his back to grab the fence, Campetella hit him with uppercuts. Goodridge them took it to the ground. Goodridge got Campetella against the fence and threw four very hard left hooks to his face and Campetella tapped out, prompting the ref to step in. The fans booed, not knowing Campetella had tapped out.
After a highlight video aired of Tank Abbot in UFC, they showed him benching 600 pounds. Tank joined the announcers at ringside. He shot that boyish smile and gave a friendly greeting, but from there reaffirmed his reputation as a real loose cannon. Blatnick asked Tank what happened in Puerto Rico to get him suspended. Tank said someone mouthed off to him and he couldn’t stand there and take it. When Bruce Beck said Tank has to have an ability to keep his head so he gets a chance to fight, Tank responded: “Well, that’s very true, so let’s throw down some IQ points and face some of the mental giants you have around here and see who comes out on top.”
Tank said he will fight Sept. 20 unless “another Art Davie situation arrises,” i.e. he gets suspended. Tank made fun of Frye for going from a “nice guy” in past UFC’s to being marketed as a “mean guy” now. After Tank said the only way to win a fight is to hurt people, Blatnick said, “But so much about martial arts is about honor, discipline, and respect. What do you think of those words?” Tank said, “Well, that’s for Don ‘The Dragonfly’ Wilson. Where is he at? He’s probably doing a Gorilla voiceover that you’ll probably see at three in the morning.” Beck said, “He’s making some cash. Give him some credit.” When Blatnick called Tank a “walking contradiction” because he shows no discipline or respect for anyone, Tank cracked himself up as he said, “I respect myself.”
Tank referred to Dan Severn and Ken Shamrock as Glam Rock and Freddie Mercury. “They fought for 27 minutes and they hid behind a second hand of a clock. They weren’t there to fight. When I go out there, I don’t go out to win, I go out to fight.” He then mocked Royce Gracie, saying, “My father says (Tank said sarcastically). Get off that crap, step into the Octagon and fight. You don’t need to wave a giant carrot in front of my face to get in there. I don’t need excuses. I will be in there. Quit keeping me from being in there.” Tank concluded by mentioning how excited Blatnick must be because it’s Olympic time and called Beck a consummate professional. “I’m not a villain. I’m just myself,” he said.
(5) Don Frye beat Brian Johnston via tapout at 4:38 in a semi-final match. After a minute of clasping and walking from one end of the Octagon to the other, they separated on their own and boxed. They locked up again and Frye ended up on top. After a hard elbow by Frye, Johnston realized he had no defense and tapped out to save himself from more damage. Tank was pretty well behaved during color, if not entertaining (referring to Frye as “Superman in Superman underwear”). He said, “Anybody who steps into the Octagon’s got to have major sized balls.” A moment later, after Dan Severn was shown signing autographs, he said, “I had a bad dream I was getting raped by Freddie Mercury in the Ultimate Ultimate.” After a replay of Johnston’s tapout, Tank talked about Johnston maybe saying he’ll come back to fight another day, “looks like a pussy today.” After Tank left, Beck said with a laugh, “It’s questionable if he’ll ever be welcome back on the airwaves.”
(6) Mark Coleman beat Gary Goodridge at 7:00 in a semi-final match. Coleman backed away from an approaching Goodridge, but then shot in with the double-leg takedown. Coleman threw some headbutts. At 2:45 Goodridge grabbed the fence and rose to his feet. Coleman had Goodridge by the waist and was going to back suplex him. Coleman threw some uppercuts from behind. Goodridge moved around the cage to his corner, wanting to get tips regarding when uppercuts were coming. It didn’t help as Coleman turned it on with a series of uppercuts. Goodridge then turned toward a heavily breathing Coleman. Goodridge threw some knees, but Goodridge turned and grabbed the fence again and absorbed more uppercuts. Blatnick said Coleman’s Ohio State coach told him that he thought UFC was the perfect event for Coleman, who didn’t have perfect technique, but did have strength, heart, and brawling skills. At 5:42, a frustrated Coleman let go and backed to center ring where both fighters squared off again. Coleman appeared to be the more tired of the two. Both men missed on punch attempts. Coleman then shot in with the double leg takedown. Coleman had Goodridge on his stomach on the mat but didn’t seem to know where to go to finish him off. Goodridge, though, knew he had nowhere to go and with his head exposed, tapped out.
In a post-fight interview, Coleman said he planned on saving his hands, but once he gets someone on the ground, there is nothing to do but throw punches. Coleman said he has a lot to learn and wants to win the tournament and then go back to training preparing for the next fight.
Beck interviewed referee John McCarthy. McCarthy said only once has a fighter disagreed with his decision to stop a fight – Paul Varelans. He said Varelans came back ten minutes later and thanked him, though. He said he tends to give a fighter he has seen in the Octagon before an extra second or two to get out of a bad situation before stepping in to stop the fight.
Beck and Blatnick then interviewed Severn at ringside. Severn talked about his SuperFight against Shamrock. He said he fought that way because he believes Shamrock is a counter- fighter. He said he was waiting for Shamrock to shoot in on him rather than play to Shamrock’s strength, but it didn’t happen. Severn said it would be a big factor that he is friends and trains with Frye if he were to have to fight Frye.
(7) Mark Coleman beat Don Frye at 11:36 to win the tournament. Because they aired soundbites with both fighters talking about making it to the finals, Beck said that they had all the fighters talk about making it to the finals and “this is far from choreographed.” When Coleman shot in at 0:14 for a double-leg takedown, Frye threw his legs backward and out of range. Coleman, though, escaped Frye’s headlock with a short drag and ended up on top. Coleman didn’t give Frye an inch of breathing space and even landed a couple of punches before Frye pushed him off with his legs. Coleman threw a lot of punches, but Frye deflected them with his arms. At 4:20 Frye finally escaped after a failed headlock attempt by Coleman. Both fighters stood and breathed a bit, before squaring off for more punching exchanges. Coleman backed to the cage. Frye appeared the fresher of the two. At 5:05 Coleman moved in with the double-leg takedown again. At 6:10 the ref stopped the fight to check Frye for blood. McCarthy told Frye as he wiped blood away, “You’ve got to do something son, you understand me?” Frye said, “I’m all right.” Coleman was bent over catching his breath. When the ref ordered that Coleman turn around and stand up, Coleman turned around and asked how much time remained. McCarthy said, “I don’t know.” The total break time was just under one minute. Frye moved in on Coleman and went for a left hook and then a guillotine choke, but the sweaty Coleman slipped out. Frye grabbed Coleman’s legs, but opened himself for some shots to the head. At 9:20 Coleman went for a choke, but couldn’t lock it on. At 9:45 Frye slipped to the top, but Coleman literally picked him up off his feet. Frye grabbed the fence for balance and Coleman laid in a heavy forearm to his face. Coleman landed a couple more hard punches and then ended up on top of Frye again. Coleman couldn’t finish him, but he stayed in control. Frye had clearly run out of gas. When Coleman hit Frye with a headbutt and Frye didn’t react, McCarthy stepped in to stop the fight. Coleman was jumped by his trainers and friends before he could hug Frye. Dan Severn on color proved to be the opposite of Tank – he was quiet and diplomatic to a fault. He wasn’t happy either since Frye, whom he helped train, just lost.
Blatnick interviewed Coleman. Before the interview Blatnick again was caught “being himself” not knowing he was on camera, snapping orders to Coleman of where to stand for the interview. Coleman said he was surprised how many punches his opponents can take. He again said he can get a lot better. “I’m very pleased with this,” he said. “I did this for my freestyle buddies and wrestling in general. We don’t get enough credit… I think this is my calling in life, right here.” Coleman said he’d like to come back to defend his title.
Afterward Blatnick and Severn discussed UFC. Severn said he’d rather take a grappler and teach him striking than take a striker and try to teach him grappling. Blatnick said anyone can punch and whether it’s effective or not is indifferent, but not anyone can take someone down. Where is Don Wilson when you need him?
Beck interviewed Art Davie. Davie gave credit to Rich Hamilton for his success training UFC fighters, including Coleman. Davie discussed the selection process for UFC. Davie later said, “The Gracie’s know where the UFC is. I think at this point the Gracies have established a great reputation. At this point it’s up to the Royce Gracie’s of the world to call us and say we want to be in the next show.” Blatnick asked if it’s true Mark Kerr (wrestled Coleman in the Olympic trials) and Tom Ericson (Blatnick: “Perhaps the greatest wrestler of all time.”) have sent in applications. Davie said they have received applications from them.
Chris Zavisa, columnist: Coming on the heels of the scenes of outright barbarism that came from Friday night’s Madison Square Garden card, it was a pleasure to see a rather sedate, well-behaved crowd attend Sen. John McCain’s favorite sport. I wonder if the good Arizona senator will attempt to legislate his beloved boxing out of business due to the rowdiness of some jerks in the Big Apple? Don’t count on it.
UFC totally destroyed my plans for a review. Even before the finals I was mentally writing it in my head. It began with the assertion that Don Frye had joined the trio of Royce Gracie, Dan Severn, and Ken Shamrock as the elite fighters in the sport. Well, thanks to newcomer Mark Coleman that scenario went down the drain quickly. At evening’s end, Gracie, Severn, and Shamrock were poised at the top of the UFC pyramid and everybody else is far underneath.
And that is one of the big problems UFC now faces. None of those three men were on the UFCX card. Frye was the only marquee fighter and he ended up losing. Gary Goodridge gets less and less impressive every time he fights. It was one of the least interesting UFCs to date. They badly need to find a way to bring Gracie back into the fold. He was the one this event was built on in the beginning and neither Severn nor Shamrock can emerge from his shadow until they defeat him in the Octagon. But with the rule changes that work against a fighter like Gracie, that day seems more remote than ever.
And speaking of those rule changes, does it seem like the main finish in the UFC has become “ref stops bout”? There is little doubt the promotion has adopted this as a way to prevent any serious injuries, either to the fighters or to the public image, in the wake of the controversy. But go back and look at tapes of the first few events and it has become apparent the event has changed. I wonder how long this sanitized UFC can go on until many of their fans realize they are not getting the extreme ultra-violence they crave and once were promised on delivery?
The one interesting match came behind the microphone and not in the ring. Tank Abott proved he is an immature blowhard who has little self control or respect for anyone. His use of several different slang terms on the air was reminiscent of a seventh grade boy smirking in front of the classroom. Contrast that with the class performance of Dan Severn behind the mic. Tank should turn professional wrestler as fast as he is able. The man is a walking, talking work and the world of Hulk Hogan seems like it would suit him well.
Bruce Mitchell, Torch columnist: The pathetic irony is that permitting gloves makes the action much more brutal, rewarding strikers over the more safe submission experts while simultaneously making the “do-gooders” happy.
This event may have lacked the star power of previous UFCs, but it had plenty of bloody, meat and potatoes action to make up for that last Shamrock-Severn snoozefest. The tournament created another star in Olympic wrestler Mark Coleman who was obviously bigger, meaner, and more skilled than previous tourney winner Mark Frye. Frye, though, had a gutty performance in defeat and could certainly be brought back.
Speaking of returns, Tank Abbot’s reappearance complete with footage of his out of ring brawl in Bayoman, Puerto Rico was completely obnoxious. Tank and live mic is a bad combination.
SEG has an interesting choice to make in the mindset of a worsening political minefield. Are they the promotion where the most skilled and effective fighters in the world must prove themselves or is it the promotion that just provides fans with some wild, bloody action? SEG appears to be leaning toward the latter to the long term detriment of the promotion.