Judge Ian Visser spent the early '90s fighting acne and low self-confidence. Guess who won?
Where it all began!
The timeline of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) can be divided into two fairly clear and separate eras: the old and the new. The "new" UFC came into existence in 2001 when the near-defunct company was sold to billionaire brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, who installed their personal trainer Dana White as the company's promoter. In the face of declining ratings and limits on its broadcasts, the UFC moved to institute rules, time and weight limits, and petitioned athletic commissions for recognition. The result has been a solid success, with UFC-based entertainment ranging from television shows and pay-per-view events to trading cards and action figures. Fighters have become celebrities and people who never took an interest in martial arts can now explain a flying arm bar or Kimura lock in detail.
The "old" UFC is now treated with something approaching contempt, even by mixed-martial arts (MMA) and UFC fans. These original UFC events were as bare-bones as you could get: a cage, an arena in some non-descript metropolitan area or Indian casino, and a bunch of dudes looking to pound on each other. With no weight classes, rules, or vetting of fighters, the matches were brutal and pathetic in equal measures. Senator John McCain called the spectacle "human cock fighting," numerous state athletic commissions prohibited it outright, and the events were eventually banned from PPV before being rescued from the proverbial scrap heap.
And yet those old-style matches held by the UFC still maintain some attraction to fight fans. Whatever may be said about the bad old UFC, the "average Joe" can probably still relate better to a guy just like them trying to smack down another regular guy than some muscular athlete who trains six hours a day. But does that realism make it good entertainment?
Facts of the Case
UFC Classics Collection, Vol. 5-8 contains four DVDs individually packaged and assembled into a boxed set. Each disc features the original broadcast of a UFC event and a small assortment of extras. The events and matches included are:
UFC 5 kicks off from Charlotte, North Carolina, and is dubbed "The Return of the Beast" in recognition of octagon veteran Dan Severn's participation. UFC 5 boasts a fifty thousand dollar prize and eight competitors ready to do battle to claim it. In addition to the scheduled matches, a "Super Fight" is also on the card, pairing legends Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock in a non-title match.
As with earlier incarnations of the UFC, pretty much anything goes once the bell rings (the only exceptions being no gouging or biting). There are no weight classes, no gloves, no time limits, and no judging decisions. Fighters who win their initial bouts proceed to the elimination semi-finals and if successful, to the championship match (in the interest of maintaining surprise, I haven't listed the semi-finals or final matchups here).
There is a considerable dearth of talent on display in UFC 5; fighters claim dubious records such as 86-0 or boast of expertise in a particular discipline, but when the punches fly the matches resemble little more than the average schoolyard fight. Experienced fighters like Russian Oleg Taktarov and wrestler Dan Severn display a considerable advantage over beefy farm boys used to beating up drunks down at the local watering hole, who soon realize they signed on for something more than they expected.
While UFC 5 features the use of terms such as "guard" and "mounted" by the announcers, there is still nothing on display that approaches the skill level or performance of modern MMA fighters. Most fights are over within a couple of minutes, with the average participant huffing and puffing within a short period of the bell being rung. The exception in UFC 5 is the Super Fight between Gracie and Shamrock, which ends up carrying on for 30 minutes and ends in a draw. The crowd, unfamiliar with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and grappling, grows increasingly hostile and confused as Gracie and Shamrock clutch each other with little advantage gained. It would be several more years before the average viewer began to understand the intricacies of the ground game.
The only extra on UFC 5 is "UFC 5 Retrospective: Unleash the Beast," which features present-day interviews with Dan Severn, Oleg Taktarov, and MMA journalists. This segment is only a few minutes in length but it is nice to see the fighters reflect on their experiences of the event.
It's back to the action with UFC 6, coming to you from lovely Casper, Wyoming. UFC 6 boasts several fighters from previous installations of the event such as Dan Severn and Ken Shamrock, as well as heavy-hitter "Tank" Abbot in his UFC debut. The aforementioned Shamrock and Severn meet in the scheduled "Super Fight" of the evening, meaning the pair was not participating in the competition matches.
The result is a UFC event missing two of its most compelling fighters, and the remaining participants don't have enough in the skill department to make up the difference. UFC 6 continues to prove how ineffectual specific martial arts disciplines really can be, as self-proclaimed trap fighters, Tae Kwon Do practitioners, and Kenpo Karate adherents are reduced to wild flailing in a desperate attempt to score a knockout.
UFC 6 includes only one short interview feature. "UFC Retrospective: Two Worlds Collide" features Oleg Taktarov again reminiscing on the event and his role in it.
Change came slowly in the early days of the UFC, and UFC 7 is no exception. Originating from Buffalo, New York, UFC 7 features another slate of eight fighters duking it out for the grand prize and title of Ultimate Fighter. UFC 7 also boasts an additional "Super Fight" between veterans Ken Shamrock and Oleg Taktarov. The majority of fighters display little development in terms of skill or technique; the exception is Brazilian Marco Rues, who demonstrates the growing power of a mixed bag of techniques as he defeats an opponent nearly 110 pounds heavier than himself with leg kicks and strong defense. This fight stands as the first real example of the techniques that would revolutionize the sport and convincingly demonstrated that a smaller, better-skilled opponent could defeat a larger, less-experienced one.
UFC 7 goes a bit further in providing extras than previous editions in the series. In addition to the now-standard interview with Oleg Taktarov, UFC 7 also features a documentary with Marco Rues titled "King of the Streets." This inside look at Ruas summarizes his fighting history and role in the UFC, as well as the influence the Brazilian contingent of fighters had on the sport. It's a nice inclusion, especially for fans of Brazilian fighters.
Where UFC 7 marked a jump forward in terms of skill and technique with the presence of Marco Ruas, UFC 8 takes another step back by trading on the tired "David vs. Goliath" conceit. Pitting little against big, UFC 8 tries to answer the age-old question of if a smaller opponent can defeat a larger one. A non-title "Super Fight" between Ken Shamrock and massive Pankration fighter Kimo continues this effort.
UFC 8 features the first time limit on matches and the adoption of judge's rulings in the event that a match ends without a knockout. The majority of the fighters in UFC 8 are still not dynamic enough to make use of new regulations, but there is a growing movement away from straight-out brawling and a new focus on tighter, more disciplined techniques. As if to demonstrate this gradual change, UFC 8 stands as the second consecutive UFC event where a smaller, better-skilled fighter manages to defeat numerous larger opponents to take the title.
Two bonus features are included with UFC 8. The first is an interview with fighter Don Frye titled "Predator and his Prey." Frye, who in middle age is far more gregarious and easy-going than one might imagine, reminisces on his days in the UFC and how he came to be a fighter. Also included is the feature "Recap with Scott Peterson." Peterson is a writer with an MMA website and he recounts the early days of MMA as well as the development of the sport during the period of UFC events 5 through 8.
In terms of technical elements, "amateurish" is the feeling one gets watching UFC Classics Collection. Vol. 5-8. The arena setups, the production values, even the music all feel like they were done on the cheapest budget possible. The visual component for the set is better than I expected; the picture is clear and sharp for an early 90s broadcast, but it is also washed out and bland. The two-channel audio on each disc does its job but won't do anything to challenge your system.
What UFC Classics Collection. Vol. 5-8 offers fight fans is a chance to witness the early development of the techniques that would evolve into what modern MMA is known as today. Over the course of the four events we can see the adoption of what is designated here as the "Gracie guard," the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu technique of trapping an opponent on the ground and using holds to force his submission. We can also see the adoption of multiple combat disciplines by individual fighters, notably in the UFC 7 semi-final bout of Ruas vs. Valerans, to take advantage of an opponent's weaknesses. It's no coincidence that these developments originate with the handful of Brazilian fighters who were light years ahead of their American counterparts at this point in MMA history. Watching Ruas use repeated leg kicks to almost literally chop down his 300-pound opponent is a testament to where the sport would eventually go, and the development sounded the death-knell for meaty bruisers who thought they could close out a match in the first few seconds with a collection of haymakers.
So is UFC Classics Collection, Vol. 5-8 a worthy addition to your fight collection? It's a tough call; if you are a hardcore MMA enthusiast interested in the development of the sport from its early days, this set will prove interesting. If you are a fan of present-day MMA and the athletes involved in it, this collection will disappoint with brief, amateurish bouts and out-of-shape contestants. The few bright spots do little to brighten the experience of poorly-staged events with a plethora of disappointing matches.
UFC Classics Collection, Vol. 5-8 is what it is, a glimpse back at a sport whose infancy was a messy, disappointing, and often barbaric experience. It's not really fair to compare a current sport to its old-school format, so some leniency will be shown by the court.
The defendant is acquitted.
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