UFC 16: Frank’s house
UFC may have been in its dark period on March 13, 1998, but you’d have never known it if you were at UFC 16, held just outside of New Orleans.
An overflow crowd of 4,600 fans packed an arena with a capacity of 4,300, sold out days in advance, and was the most enthusiastic in company history. UFC 16 was probably the first time UFC drew a crowd that was there to see what UFC the sport had evolved into, as opposed to the earlier crowds who went based on the fantasy of what an anything-goes fight would look like.
The show was built around Frank Shamrock, who had become the UFC’s first under-200 pound champion, which was at the time called middleweight but morphed into the current light heavyweight division, by beating 1992 Olympic wrestling gold medalist Kevin Jackson in 14 seconds with an armbar, on December 21, 1997, in Yokohama, Japan. Shamrock made his first title defense in what was billed as a unification match with Extreme Fighting champion Igor Zinoviev, an unbeaten Russian kickboxer and sambo specialist.
Semaphore Entertainment marketed the show, and the promotion around the 25-year-old Shamrock in all television ads, trying to make him the new face of the promotion. Shamrock came through, taking Zinoviev off his feet with a high double-leg takedown, and slammed him down so hard Zinoviev was knocked out cold in only 23 seconds. Zinoviev became the first fighter ever leaving the cage on a stretcher after four years, suffering a broken clavicle and a fractured C-5 vertebrae.
The show also featured the debut of the 170-pound weight class, then called the lightweight division, a four-man tournament won by the debuting Pat Miletich, who would later go on to be the first champion in the weight class and a legendary trainer. Miletich’s debut match, against 1996 Olympic silver medal winning wrestler Townsend Saunders, was the closest decision up to that point in UFC history, with Miletich becoming the first man awarded a decision even though he spent the majority of the match on his back.
The show also featured three of the best matches in company history, a brutal slugfest where Mikey Burnett put away Brazilian Eugenio Tadeu in a match that featured exchanges of some of the hardest punches ever in the octagon. In a battle of former tournament winners at under-200, Jerry Bohlander beat Jackson with an armbar, although ref John McCarthy stopped it before Jackson tapped, resulting in a furious Jackson storming out of the cage. The other saw the debut of Japanese pro wrestling star Tsuyoshi Kosaka, who scored a unanimous decision over Kimo.
The match was huge news in Japan, where this event got considerable national sports press coverage, because Kimo had built up a big reputation in that country with wins over pro wrestlers Kazushi Sakuraba (who later became an MMA legend), Yoshihiro Takayama and former WWF star Scott “Bam Bam” Bigelow in high-profile matches.
In between UFC 15 and 16, the company held a card not counted in the numbered series called UFC Japan, held on Dec. 21, 1997 in Yokohama. In addition to Shamrock’s win, Randy Couture defeated Maurice Smith by majority decision to claim his first heavyweight title.
Kevin Jackson never appeared in another UFC match. At the time, he was an assistant coach of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team, and was given the ultimatum that, because wrestling officials considered MMA a barbaric sport, he couldn’t keep his position if he continued.
Having lost distribution by so many cable companies, UFC completely changed its marketing approach. Instead of emphasizing no holds barred and that two men enter and one man leaves, they promoted the event around its safety and lack of injuries, ironically on a night when the most serious injury in its history took place.
Chris Brennan def. Courtney Tanner, submission (armbar), 1:20
Laverne Clark def. Josh Stewart, TKO, 1:15
Pat Miletich def. Townsend Saunders, split decision
Mikey Burnett def. Eugenio Tadeau, TKO, 9:46
Miletich def. Brennan (substitute for Burnett), submission (rear naked choke), 9:01
Rsuyoshi Kosaka def. Kimo Leopoldo, unanimous decision
Jerry Bohlandder def. Kevin Jackson, submission (armbar), 10:23
Middleweight: UFC champion vs. Extreme Fighting champion
Frank Shamrock (UFC) def. Igor Zinoviev (EFC), KO, 0:22 (Shamrock retains title)
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