UFC 32: Eying the Big Apple

The first UFC event in the New York City market was part of the slow process of reviving a sport that was on life support just a few months earlier.

UFC 32, held on June 29, 2001, at the Continental Airlines Arena (now the Izod Center) in East Rutherford, N.J., came one day after Zuffa and InDemand, the country’s largest pay-per-view distributor, announced a deal that starting with UFC 33, the sport would be back on national cable pay-per-view.

Unfortunately, UFC 32, a solid card that featured several men who become dominant figures in the sport, wasn’t the PPV debut show. The company tried to make its New York debut with a bang, with celebrities at ringside, pyrotechnics and laser lights. The show didn’t have any classic matches, but was filled with fast and explosive victories by people who would become some of the sport’s biggest stars over the next several years, like Tito Ortiz, B.J. Penn and Josh Barnett.

Ortiz had a substantial size and weight advantage once in the cage in cutting from 225 down to 205. He retained his light heavyweight title, beating Australia’s Elvis Sinosic in just 3:32 by bloodying him up with punches while caught in the guard. As the blood went in Sinosic’s eyes, the match was stopped.

In the semifinal, B.J. Penn, in his first main card UFC match, knocked out Din Thomas with a knee to the chin followed by hard punches. Earlier in the show, Japan’s Caol Uno had knocked out Fabiano Iha in 1:48, which created immediate interest in a Penn-Uno match.

Penn, in his second pro fight, was given a big contract for that time, a $20,000 guarantee, just because of the legend he had established in training at the American Kickboxing Association Gym under Javier Mendez and Frank Shamrock, where they talked him up as the most talented person to enter the sport.

Penn’s fight was originally scheduled to be a prelim match, but due to Internet clamor, it was moved to the main card, rendering local heavyweight Ricco Rodriguez’s win over unknown Russian sambo fighter Andrei Arlovski to the prelims.

The show drew the largest crowd ever to attend a UFC event up to that point, with 11,492 in the building. But it wasn’t as successful as it seemed, with barely 6,000 paid, even as they priced upper deck seats at $5 during fight week.

A heavyweight battle saw Barnett, in his second UFC event, armbar 6-11 Semmy Schilt in a bloody match, which ended with Barnett licking his own blood after winning. Like Rodriguez and Arlovski, Barnett and Schilt went on to become big name heavyweights over the next few years. Barnett and Schilt garnered their fame in Japan, Barnett with Pride and Schilt as the most successful kickboxer of the past decade, with K-1.

NOTEWORTHY

It was a bad night for the Pancrase organization, which like UFC began in 1993. Pancrase’s biggest star, Yuki Kondo, lost via decision to a bigger and more powerful Vladimir Matyushenko. Its world heavyweight champion, Schilt, lost to Barnett.

Pat Miletich’s falling out with UFC started shortly after this show. Miletich had lost the 170-pound title to Carlos Newton, and figured he earned a title rematch by knocking out Shonie Carter in the second round at UFC 32. However, UFC picked Miletich prot ég é Matt Hughes over Miletich for the next title shot. Hughes, of course, went on to become one of the all-time greats while Miletich fought only once more for UFC.

RESULTS

Tony De Souza def. Paul Rodriguez, submission (choke), 1:05 R1
Ricco Rodriguez def. Andrei Arlovski, TKO, 1:23 R3
Valdimir Matyushenko def. Yuki Kondo, unanimous decision
Caol Uno def. Fabiano Iha, TKO, 1:48 R1
Pat Miletich def. Shonie Carter, KO, 2:42 R1
Josh Barnett def. Semmy Schilt, submission (armbar), 4:21 R1
B.J. Penn def. Din Thomas, TKO, 2:42 R1
UFC light heavyweight championship: Tito Ortiz def. Elvis Sinosic. TKO, 3:32 (Ortiz retains title).