UFC 38: Brawls in and out of the Hall

There were no great matches or legendary performances at UFC 38, UFC’s debut in the United Kingdom. But there are two important things that came out of the show. One is still talked about today. The other is never talked about, but in hindsight, was far more important.

UFC 38 was the first show promoted with the benefit of strong television.

UFC signed a 13-week deal with Sky Sports in the U.K. for one or two hours per week on Thursday night of prime-time fights from the company’s tape library. It was the company’s first-ever television deal, designed to build to a live appearance on July 13, 2002, headlined by Matt Hughes defending his welterweight title against former champion Carlos Newton.

The experiment was a huge success. Billed as “The Brawl at the Hall,” it drew a nearly sold-out crowd of 5,000 fans to London’s Royal Albert Hall. Because the fans had seem the fighters regularly on television, they were viewed as television celebrities, as opposed to simply fighters, three years before this became the case in the U.S.

Hughes retained the title in the main event in round four, as he trapped Newton’s arms, leaving his head open for punches. Newton was unable to defend himself the was stopped.

But the real brawl, it turns out, didn’t happen at the Hall.

After the show, most of the fighters headed to a London night club that provided them with free drinks. A drunken fight broke out in the parking lot. Chuck Liddell, reportedly wasted, dropped guys left and right. Lee Murray, a British fighter now in jail after a bank robbery, was at one point headed for Liddell, saw the damage he was doing, and changed directions. He wound up in front of Tito Ortiz, the UFC’s biggest star.

Stories vary greatly of what happened next, but the most consistent version was that Ortiz threw a punch, and Murray dropped Ortiz with a combination and kicked him in the face when he was down.

NOTEWORTHY

UFC 38 also figured one of the biggest upsets to that point in UFC history. Frank Mir was one fight away from a heavyweight title shot, and was given a 35-year-old journeyman fighter from Sunderland, England, Ian Freeman, as a victim. But before the fight, Mir was talking more about his expected next fight with Randy Couture and seemed unconcerned about Freeman. At 23, the undefeated Mir was about to learn a valuable lesson about fighting. Mir threw a few slow high kicks that Freeman watched, and then Freeman cracked Mir in the face. Mir went for a takedown, but ended on the bottom, and Mir connected with one powerful shot after another until Mir was bleeding badly, and ref John McCarthy stopped it.

UFC had signed an unfavorable deal to get on Sky Sports and build the show, and with the ratings being strong, UFC president Dana White wanted better terms when the contract came due. But Sky wasn’t receptive. In controversial move at the time, White refused to sign a new television contract. After building an audience, UFC disappeared from U.K. television for years, and it was five years later before another show was run in the market.

RESULTS

Tony DeSouza def. Gil Castillo, KO, 1:04 R1
Evan Tanner def. Chris Haseman, unanimous decision
Renato Sobral def. Elvis Sinosic, unanimous decision
Phillip Miller def. James Zikic, unanimous decision
Genki Sudo def. Leigh Remedios, submission (rear naked choke), 1:38 R2
Mark Weird def. Eugene Jackson, KO, 0:10 R1
Ian Freeman def, Frank Mir, TKO, 4:35 R1
UFC welterweight championship: Matt Hughes def. Carlos Newton, TKO, 3:37 R4