Oh, the experts are out there calling the UFC 139 main event between Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua and Dan Henderson the greatest fight of all time. It was a great fight, and with the number of eyeballs that the UFC is getting the match is going to be talked about for a long time. Because the sport is gaining acceptance, a fight like that is sure to make an impression on new fans that will leave them wanting more.
The Stephan Bonnar versus Forrest Griffin fight had similar appeal, being a war that helped move the sport forward. Fifteen seasons into ‘The Ultimate Fighter’, it is hard to argue that the Finals of that first season changed the face of the sport.
Let’s not talk about which fight is the best, as we all have fighters and techniques we like and that can be debated ad nauseum. But there are fights that happen at the right point and time. The promotion is at a watershed and needs a spark, and the fighters come in peaking in preparation and popularity. The Cain Velasquez versus Junior Dos Santos fight is likely more important than Hendo-Shogun because of the FOX deal.
I want to go back to another of those fights that changed the face of the sport. Because it happened more than twelve years ago, many people didn’t see it or have forgotten about it. Very historically important, and a terrific fight.
September of 1999 saw Frank Shamrock take on Tito Ortiz. Ortiz was young and marketable, and he had returned to the UFC earlier that year and he had buzz sawed Jerry Bohlander and Guy Mezger, both fighters with ties to Shamrock. Shamrock at that point was probably considered the pound for pound best fighter in the world.
And it was a war, a great fight that Shamrock won in the 4th round, firmly establishing himself as the UFC’s top guy. I remember watching this fight octagon-side and thinking how far the sport has come. But that was the last time that we saw Frank in the UFC. Frank wanted more money than SEG could pay, and then when ZUFFA purchased the UFC, they wouldn’t pay Frank either, instead electing to push and build Ortiz.
So why was the fight so important? It established that no one (Frank) was bigger than the sport or the UFC. It also showed that Ortiz could be made into a star, a concept that ZUFFA got. By the time Ortiz faced off against Ken Shamrock after season 3 of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ series, he was the UFC’s biggest star.
If Ortiz had not been built up in this way, his 2 battles with Chuck Liddell would have just been fights. Instead, he handed the UFC Star torch off to Chuck Liddell who took the sport to a whole new level.
Without the Shamrock-Ortiz fight in September of 1999, we might be looking at a very different product.