20 YRS AGO: Fascinating look at MMA’s struggles as Shamrock jumps to WWF, two Olympic wrestlers make MMA debuts on EFC Battlecade PPV

By Wade Keller, MMATorch editor

Twenty years ago this week, the Torch Newsletter cover story detailed Olympic wrestlers shining at an Extreme Fighting MMA pay-per-view event, one of a handful of upstart aspiring competitors to the UFC organization, and the debut of UFC star Ken Shamrock on WWF’s pro wrestling TV show. The following are two stories from the newsletter published 20 years ago this week detailing the EFC Battlecade 4 event, the debut of two Olympic wrestlers for the first time on a significant MMA event, and the entire sport’s continued struggle to avoid being banned by government and attempts to gain mainstream acceptance. Note the term “Mixed Martial Arts” had yet to be settled on as the descriptive name for this “ultimate fighting” competition. These early stories documented MMA’s early attempts to not just gain acceptance, but avoid being banned and remain financially viable.

(MMATorch editor Wade Keller is one of the pioneers in MMA journalism, covering MMA in the Torch Newsletter on a regular basis in the 1990s, predating UFC 1, before there were any full time dedicated MMA reporting entities and any dedicated mainstream coverage of MMA.)

HEADLINE: Olympic wrestlers shine at Extreme Fighting

By Wade Keller, Torch editor

Despite promoting its best event to date, EFC faces up hill battle to survive against growing opposition to sport

More people watched top calliber athletes fight in the Octagon of no holds barred hybrid fighting over the weekend than ever before. Unfortunately for the Extreme Fighting Championship, promoters it had little to do with their pay-per-view on Friday night, Mar. 28. Instead, it had everything to do with the WWF showing highlights of Ken Shamrock’s Ultimate Fighting career during the Mar. 31 episode of Monday Night Raw.

The symbolism of Ken Shamrock wrestling for the WWF despite being among the top two or three drawing cards on pay-per-view for hybrid fighting sums up the state of that sport in the U.S. The tenuous future of hybrid fighting took another blow last week when Time-Warner cable affiliates in parts of the country blocked the PPV broadcast of EFC at the last second after advertising it up until match time.

The frustration of the hybrid fighting world is even greater after Friday’s EFC Battlecade IV event if for no other reason than EFC4 was among the best hybrid fighting events on PPV to date. The success of legitimate Olympic superstar gold medalists Kevin Jackson and Kenny Monday introduced an entire new element into the fascinating sport. Despite promoting its best event to date and despite establishing two new stars and building up intriguing rematches, there may not be another EFC event.

EFC Battlecade has been unable to close the gap on the originator of hybrid octagon fighting in the U.S., UFC. If EFC4 doesn’t show an improved buyrate, financial backer Penthouse may grow weary. EFC5 event was advertised for July, but a poor buyrate for EFC4, more cable company boycotts, and increased political pressure could end EFC after four events. UFC’s future is only slightly more stable.

Early last month Tele-Communications Inc. announced that after EFC4, its 3.6 million cable homes would no longer be offered hybrid fighting events. Leo Hindery made the move shortly after assuming his new post as president of TCI. Hindery left InterMedia Cable to go to TCI. While president of InterMedia, he was among the first to boycott hybrid fighting events. In a small consolation to hybrid promoters, as soon as Hindery left, InterMedia began airing UFC and EFC events once again.

The political pressure continues to hover over the future of the sport. Alabama shelved the bill to ban UFC style events in the state, but that may prove to be only a temporary reprieve. Hawaii is considering a bill to ban UFC style live events in the state and the broadcast of any events in any form within the state. In February the New York State legislature passed a bill banning the sport, only three months after legalizing it. A spokeswoman for Gov. George Pataki told Multichannel News: “The governor has always felt that the sport was overly violent. (It) doesn’t have any positive social impact or entertainment value.”

UFC’s Bob Meyrowitz conceded: “We’re going ahead with the show. There are plenty of places we can distribute that event. We never looked for a fight. If the law says we can’t do it (in new York), then we won’t.” The law does not ban New York citizens from ordering UFC events on cable as the originally vague bill indicated.

Regarding TCI’s boycott, EFC’s Donald Zuckerman said: “I’m still hopeful that we can educate Leo and some of the states on the sport itself.” Meyrowitz said he has an open dialogue with Hindery and hopes to change his mind.

Michael Klein, vice president of Viewer’s Choice which decided not to carry ECW’s initial pay-per-view later this month, defended UFC. “We still feel that the shows have rules, that they feature trained, professional athletes, and that no one has been seriously injured.”

With around one-third of the pay-per-view universe blocking UFC and EFC events, being profitable enough to pay what top fighters demand to be part of these events becomes more and more difficult.

And Maurice Smith’s devastating knock out punch of Murakami Kazunari on Friday night’s EFC event gives opponents one more graphic reason to continue their stance against the sport.

HEADLINE: Maurice Smith retains title with huge KO

By Wade Keller, Torch editor

Maurice Smith (35, 6-2, 220) scored a one punch knockout of Murakami Kazunari (23, 6-2, 212) in the main event of the Mar. 28 Extreme Fighting Championship event on pay-per-view live from Des Moines, Iowa. The knock out blow is matched only by Tank Abbott’s knock out of Steve Nelmark at last year’s Ultimate Ultimate event. Kazumari gained fame in Japan for scoring a convincing win over Bart Vale at EFC3. Smith captured the EFC Hvt. Title by beating Conan Silviera with a round kick at EFC3. Kazunari attacked fast and hard at the bell, but Smith held off and when they stood for the second round, Smith surprised Kazunari with as hard a right punch as has been seen in hybrid fighting competition. Kazunari went down and was out for several minutes, although he did leave the ring on his feet without a stretcher.

The bigger story of the event was the stellar debut of two Olympic gold medalists. The results of their fights should stir quite a bit of discussion in the martial arts community as jiu jitsu fell to amateur style wrestlers. Kevin Jackson (32, 5-10, 190) beat John Lober (28, 5-11, 199) via tapout at 6:12. Jackson was a 1992 Olympic Freestyle Wrestling Gold Medalist. He showed it, defeating Lober, who just two months ago beat Frank Shamrock in Hawaii convincingly. Before the match Lober declared himself “close to the top of the food chain” of the sport. He fell a peg after the match. Lober tapped out as he was pummelled with a series of punches after being ridden the whole match by Jackson.

Later the powerful Kenny Monday (35, 5-10, 179) upset John Lewis (29, 5-11, 179) at 9:14 to capture the EFC Welterweight Title when the referee stopped the fight after a series of unanswered punches to the head. Monday, a 1988 gold medalist for the U.S., withstood what looked like a sure loss early in the match when Lewis applied a strong armbar. Monday surprisingly escaped and controlled most of the match. Lewis defended himself with the guard until absorbing too many punches late in the second round.

In other bouts: Allan Goes (25, 6-1, 199) beat Todd Bjornethun (31, 5-9, 184), Erik Paulson (29, 5-11, 195) fought Paul Jones (34, 5-9, 196) to a 15 min. draw, and Matt Hume (30, 5-10, 177) beat Pat Miletich (28, 5-10, 179) via decision. The decision was controversial since the broken nose Miletich suffered usually isn’t grounds for stopping a fight, but the ringside doctor made the ruling.

NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS FLASHBACK: 5 YRS AGO – UFC President Dana White says Miesha Tate vs. Ronda Rousey bout changes his mind about women’s MMA

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