Birmingham, Alabama in November of 1996 hosted an event called MARS – Martial Arts Reality Superfights. The event was seen on PPV in the United States, and many of the fights that occurred on that night have become part of MMA lore. The show was to feature an eight man tournament, with no weight classes, and it was also to feature three superfights. The main event Superfight was Renzo Gracie, who was coming off a tournament victory at the WEC, and UFC Champion Oleg Taktarov. The eight man tournament would see the MMA debut of wrestler Tom Erikson and the card would have a lot of Brazilian talent. The Superfights as well as the 8 man tournament had many people consdiering the event to be higher quality than the UFC’s offerings at the time.
I enjoy these retrospectives, because the sport was so completely different back then. The hardcores were hoping this promotion would compete with the UFC and bring in fighters from all over the world. Unfortunately for MARS, they spent a lot of money but one of those things where they skimped was on promotion! When the numbers came in, only 200 people saw the event live and the PPV buy when all was said and done was a .08. So MARS would join the WEC as the early ‘One show and done’ promotions in MMA.
This was when BJJ still had that snarl, that aura of invinsibility, and the three practioners in the superfights, Carlos Barreto, Mario Sperry and Renzo Gracie as well as tournament representative Murilo Bustamante would all flash different aspects of the BJJ game.
Bustamante was by far the most impressive. In the opening two fights, he took roughly a minute each to eliminate Australian Chris Haseman and American Juan Mott. He would reach the finals where he would face behemoth wrestler Tom Erickson. The match would go 40 minutes in total after a 10 minute overtime was added to the single 30 minute round, and in the end the fight was declared a draw.
Bustamante would absorb some punishment during the fight, but he would use his guard and the butt scoot to befuddle Erikson, who seemed to have no answers. In the end, Erikson was tired and it certainly appeared that he did not have the technique to take Bustamante out. Despite the draw, Bustamante would walk away with the moral victory – if the match had gone on with no time limit, it appeared that Bustamante had a real chance.
Renzo and Oleg would close out the night in a completely different style, as their match ended in a furious whirlwind. Here is Renzo Gracie versus Oleg Taktarov.
Overall, another excellent event to watch and see how the sport looked back in the old days.