MMA in New York: A look back at UFC 7

Regulated professional MMA is finally coming to New York. The first regulated event in the United States took place on August 23, 1996, in Biloxi, Mississippi. That New York State is twenty years behind the great state of Mississippi tells you all sorts of things about politics and violence and the intersection of the two.

While the UFC has plans to put together something special for New York, that card will be the promotion’s return to – not the debut in – the state. UFC 7 (Fight Pass link) took place on September 5, 1995, from the Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, New York. The card featured the usual eight-man heavyweight tournament plus a Superfight Championship bout between champion Ken Shamrock and UFC VI winner Oleg Taktarov.

Here’s some of the highlights:

Funny fighter informationDuring the fighter introductions, the chyron at the bottom of the screen displayed the fighter’s name and some sort of interesting fact. For the veterans, that usually meant their records in the Octagon, etc. Semaphore Entertainment Group had to dig deep on a couple guys, though. Ryukyu Kempo Karate black belt Ryan Parker, for instance, was noted for being a “full-time student at Moorhead State University.” That wasn’t the worst instance, though. Gerry Harris (not to be confused with modern MMA fighter Gerald Harris) was listed as a “former Milwaukee Brewers security guard.” Harris lasted 67 seconds against Paul Varelans.

All the rulebreaking. There’s an element of culture shock when one goes back to watch early UFC events. At UFC 7, you see blatant fence grabbing, hair pulling, headbutts, punches to the back of the head. Paul Varelans even reaches over the top of the cage to grab it from the other side. It’s all completely legal, of course. It makes you understand why the sport went through major reforms.

Strange finishesIn the first round, Harold Howard (MMA Tournament of Bad legend) tapped to Mark Hall – a man he outweighed by 50 pounds – while Hall was in his guard. Hall had bloodied him up, but hadn’t inflicted an appreciable amount of damage in the 100 seconds since the opening bell. In the semi-finals, Remco Pardoel tapped when Marco Ruas…took the mount. Art Jimmerson tapped to Royce Gracie’s mount at UFC 1, but Jimmerson was a boxer wearing a boxing glove on one hand. Pardoel had been training judo and (traditional) jiu-jitsu since he was a kid, and had been introduced to Brazilian jiu-jitsu in 1993. And while his skills look fundamental at best today, it was clear that he had an understanding of grappling that most of the early UFC entrants lacked. Yet, there he is, tapping when Ruas took the mount.

Proto MMA. UFC 7 looks funny to the modern eye, and most of the competitors would look wildly out of place in today’s game. That said, you can see how we got from there to here, specifically with Marco Ruas and the main event between Ken Shamrock and Oleg Taktarov. Ruas used a patient, confident game in all three of his fights, and chopped down the 300-pound Paul Varelans with Muay Thai leg kicks. Shamrock and Taktarov had the only fight that would give you any indication of what MMA looks like today, though one characterized by Taktarov sitting complacently in his guard.

The Rock vs. The Bear. Watch this fight if you’ve ever thought the solution to judging in MMA is to score all fights that reach the time limit a draw. Commentator Jeff Blatnick notes that he believes Taktarov was fighting for a draw at the 20-minute mark (of a scheduled 30-minute fight with 3-minute overtime), and even if that’s a bit aggressive, it’s clear that Taktarov gives up on the idea of winning at some point toward the end of the fight. It can become very difficult to find a finish when a skilled opponent has decided he just doesn’t want to lose.

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