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'Ultimate' Fight Lives Up to Name : Television: Pay-Per-View Battle, Instead of Being Merely Gory and Funny, Gets Interesting After the First Two Bouts

HOWARD ROSENBERG

November 15, 1993|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Yes, as a regular television viewer, I'd seen my share of violence.

But this time, leaning forward on the edge of my chair in front of my TV set shortly before 6 p.m. Friday, I was poised to wince, flinch, shudder and scream out in terror as never before.

To say nothing of laugh.

And no wonder, for about to enter my home from Denver's McNichols Arena was the "Ultimate Fighting Championship," a live pay-for-view cable event ($14.95 a pop) in which "eight of the deadliest fighters in the world" would be competing for $50,000 in a fenced-in, eight-sided ring designed for . . .

\o7 NOHHHHHH ESCAAAAAPE!!!\f7

The eclectic field of "deadlies" for this SEG-produced spectacular consisted of a sumo wrestler, savate champion, kick boxer, karate specialist, jujitsu whiz, cruiserweight prizefighter, "shootfighter" and tae kwon do expert. Everyone was here but David "Kung Fu" Carradine.

Having survived the prelims, these guys would pair off in single-elimination bouts, with the two finalists meeting to decide who was the "ultimate fighter." A win would occur when there was a knockout, a "chokeout," a doctor's intervention, a corner throwing in the towel or a fighter giving up by tapping on the ground four times.

As for rules, except for eye gouges, groin shots, biting--and of course using knives, guns or explosives--no tactic was forbidden. Not even spitting?

"If you think you know tough," shouted an advance promo, "you ain't seen \o7 nuthin'\f7 yet!"

Ring announcer Ron "The \o7 G-Man\f7 " Goins was ready. TV commentators Bill Wallace, Kathy Long (a former kick-boxing champ) and Jim Brown (the community activist and former pro football great) were ready. I was ready.

And so were the first pair of contenders, savate champ Gerard Gordeau of the Netherlands and Teila Tuli, a 410-pound sumo wrestler from Hawaii. Like all the fighters, they and their entourages entered the arena the high-concept way, through a haze of smoke and colored lights.

"I see the perspiration, I see the anxiety," Brown said. "But you also see the respect," Wallace said.

Soon they were seeing the massacre. After 26 seconds, punctuated by a savage kick to the already grounded Tuli's face that sent a tooth flying and blood pouring from his mouth, Gordeau advanced to the next round when the doctor stopped the fight.

Next, karate expert Zane Frazier of North Hollywood was worn down in less than a minute by kick-boxer Kevin Rosier, a roly-poly 265-pounder from Buffalo, N.Y., who wore his trunks over his belly like Martin Short's Ed Grimley. After exhausting himself by repeatedly kneeing Rosier in the head and the groin \o7 area\f7 , Frazier helplessly collapsed onto the canvas, and his corner threw in the towel when Rosier stomped on his head.

"The crowd seems to be enjoying it," Wallace said.

The crowd would have enjoyed the Christians and lions. Fights broke out throughout the evening, not only in the ring, but all around the announcers and elsewhere in the arena. "This is the most alive group of people I've ever seen," Brown said. "In fact, I'm kind of worried."

After defeating Frazier, meanwhile, Rosier disclosed his strategy to an interviewer: "Let him hit me." Very shrewd. And incredibly, it worked.

Yet a curious thing happened after the first two contests. Instead of merely gory and funny, the "Ultimate Fighting Championship" began getting interesting.

St. Louis cruiserweight boxer Art Jimmerson didn't get to throw even one punch before giving up. He was swiftly taken down and dispatched with a chokehold by jujitsu master Royce Gracie, whose family is synonymous with the sport in their native Brazil, where mixed-martial arts championships like this one are commonplace.

In the battle of 220-pound strongmen that followed, Lockeford, Calif., shootfighter Ken Shamrock looked invincible in getting tae kwon do battler Pat Smith of Denver to submit to a painful ankle twist, setting up an intriguing semifinal with the much-lighter Gracie.

The Shamrock-Gracie winner would face Gordeau. Even though he had broken his hand against the sumo wrestler Tuli, the Dutchman easily battered the blimpish Rosier, who again succeed in getting his opponent to hit him, but unfortunately in all the wrong places. Defenseless on the canvas, Rosier took a rib kick from Gordeau that made your own ribs ache.

The semifinal between Shamrock and Gracie was the evening's best, with the Californian getting an early advantage, only to be taken down by Gracie and choked into submission. Like a constricting anaconda that is unstoppable once it has you in its coils, Gracie used the same breath-stopping technique to easily cut off the windpipe of the much-bigger Gordeau in the final, winning the championship and the $50,000.

Refreshingly, "The Ultimate Fighting Championship" featured little of the obligatory bravado and trash talking that usually accompanies prizefighting. In fact, the sportsmanship in post-match interviews was striking, with Shamrock praising his conqueror, Gracie, for example, and the gregarious Rosier--this event's Mr. Congeniality--repeatedly lauding the man who had clobbered him, Gordeau. Obviously, they had recalled Key Luke's "Kung Fu" advice to Carradine: "The wise man walks away with his head bowed, humble like the dust."

That humility also applied to Gracie, who afterward celebrated his family instead of himself. His brother, Rorian, founded a jujitsu academy in Torrance.

It was fascinating to watch Gracie strategize and employ his jujitsu moves in his matches, which were all one-sided. "I found my sport," Brown said. Me, too.

And we thought we knew tough.

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