UFC 20: Decisions, decisions
When Randy Couture left the UFC in a contract dispute after winning the heavyweight title (sound familiar?) at UFC Japan, the company was left in the lurch.
The solution was an ongoing series called “The road to the heavyweight title,” with the ultimate goal of crowning a new champ. But the tournament, which spread out over four cards, was a disorganized mess, in part because of the UFC’s financial situation, as big names bolted the company for the bigger money offered by Japan’s fledgling PRIDE Fighting Championship.
The tournament finally ground to a halt at UFC 20 on May 7, 1999, as Bas Rutten defeated Kevin Randleman via a controversial split decision to claim the crown.
Rutten was a much-touted kickboxer from Holland who was a three-time King of Pancrase champion in Japan. The UFC saw the personable Rutten as a potential superstar, and Rutten, who wanted to try his hand at acting, saw the UFC as his chance to make a name for himself in the United States.
The match, which consisted of a 15-minute time limit and two three-minute overtime rounds, saw Randleman, an NCAA wrestling champion at Ohio State, take down Rutten several times.
Rutten benefited from two standup calls by referee “Big” John McCarthy. The first came about five minutes in, when McCarthy called for the doctor to check Rutten’s nose, which was busted in Randleman’s ground and pound assault. Five minutes later, with Randleman continuing to control the fight, McCarthy again called a standup, and Rutten was again cleared by the doctor.
For the remainder of the fight, Rutten managed to get in his share of offense from the ground, neutralizing the effects of Randleman’s takedowns. This was enough to sway the opinions of two of the three judges, who in those days judged the fight as a whole, as opposed to today’s matches, which are judged round by round on a 10-point must system.
To this day, some of the longest-term hardcore fans argue about whether the judges made the right call, proving some things never change.
UFC’s heavyweight title woes continued after this card, as Rutten’s title victory turned out to be his last UFC match. “El Guapo” tore his knee when he returned to training, effectively ending his career, though he returned to fight for the ill-fated WFA in 2006 and defeated Ruben “Warpath” Villareal. Rutten is best known in the MMA world these days for his work as a color commentator and as the co-host of HDNet’s “Inside MMA.”
Randleman eventually won the UFC heavyweight crown, defeating Pete Williams by decision at UFC 23 to fill the vacancy left by Rutten. He lost the title to Couture at UFC 28 to start Couture’s second reign.
Wanderlei Silva scored his first UFC victory in this event, taking out Tony Petarra in 2:53 with a brutal series of knees to the head. Nine years passed before Silva, the longtime PRIDE 205-lb. champ, had has hand raised in the octagon again.
Ron Waterman def. Chris Condo, submission (strikes), 0:29
Laverne Clark def. Fabiano Iha, TKO, 1:31
Macrello Mello def. David Roberts, TKO, 1:23
Wanderlei Silva def. Tony Peterra, KO, 2:53
Pete Williams def. Travis Fulton, submission (armbar), 6:28
Pedro Rizzo def. Tra Telligman, KO, 4:30
UFC heavyweight championship: Bas Rutten def. Kevin Randleman, split decision (Rutten wins vacant title).
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