Judge Daryl Loomis is man enough to admit he's long had a little crush on Vitor Belfort.
From the Dothan Civic Center in Dothan, AL, the once self-proclaimed Peanut Capital of America, the Ultimate Fighting Championship brings you Judgment Day, the twelfth in their continuing series of mixed martial arts tournaments. For the first time tonight, we have two tournaments instead of one, as well as weight classes. We have Heavyweights, representing those over two hundred pounds, and Lightweight, for those 199 and less. Bruce Beck and Jeff Blatnick have the call; let's meet our fighters.
In the Lightweight division, we have:
Rainy Martinez (Wrestling): There's not a lot two say about Rainy Martinez. This is his first UFC fight and his first mixed martial arts competition of any kind. That inexperience will not bode well for his first-round match against someone with experience.
Jerry Bohlander (Submission Fighting): Out of Ken Shamrock's Lions' Den, Bohlander first appeared in the previous UFC tournament and looked very impressive.
Yoshiki Takahashi (Pancrase): Longtime Pancrase fighter Takahashi is an imposing figure and a respected opponent. This was his first UFC appearance against a game fighter, but Takahashi's MMA experience appears overwhelming.
Wallid Ismail (Jiu-Jitsu): Even with Carlson Gracie in his corner, Ismail seems overmatched and under-prepared to fight inside the cage. Like many BJJ practitioners, the rules of UFC are not conducive to their skills.
Nick Sanzo (Jiu-Jitsu): Winner of the Lightweight alternate fight, Sanzo has to come in after a fighter breaks his hand in his preliminary round. The UFC would learn soon enough, but a bare knuckles fighter is as much a danger to himself as he is to his opponent.
And our Heavyweights are:
Jim Mullen (Kickboxing): Mullen is a highly skilled, decorated tournament kickboxer but utterly inexperienced in the Octagon. Game as he is, he has no idea what to expect inside the cage.
Scott Ferrozzo (Pitfighting): The behemoth who defeated Tank Abbot in their previous show returns, determined to prove that some beached whales really can fight.
Vitor Belfort (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu): The debut of the man they called "the Phenom" is brilliant. Belfort, a highly touted youngster out of the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu camp, is the first from his school to prove himself as a striker in the Octagon.
Tra Telligman (Submission Fighting): Notable as a fighter, Telligman is probably more notable for his complete lack of a right pectoral muscle, removed after a childhood accident. His disability does not hinder him in the least, but his skills as a combatant do not serve him for the onslaught he must face in his first UFC bout.
Finally, in our main event, a special attraction for the Heavyweight Title, the first time this would happen:
Mark Coleman (Wrestling): The man who would have fought in the finals of UFC 11 returns, this time in a superfight against a former UFC tourney champion. Coleman is a beast and is younger than Severn, but his opponent is more skilled in the same art and has the nod on experience.
Dan Severn (Wrestling): Said former UFC champion is an amazing wrestler and teacher from Michigan. His record in the UFC and in the amateur ranks speaks for itself, let alone his stint as a pro wrestler; Severn is a master of the Octagon, but can he survive the new breed?
The debacle of UFC 11 is forgotten almost entirely with their next entry, a continuation of their journey into the modern age and one of the best all around shows they put on during their early years. The winds of change were blowing through the UFC offices after they had no final bout at Proving Ground and they realigned their thinking about their three round tournaments. By cutting it a round, they were able to produce weight classes (of a sort) and reduce the chance of injury or sheer lack of energy to compete three times. It's a great move and, not only did it allow fans to enjoy twice the number of fighters, the weight classes greatly vary the styles of combat in individual matches. This was a huge step in making the "no rules" UFC a legitimate fight organization.
UFC 12 is notable for many things. Judgment Day is the debut of future lead color analyst and News Radio handyman, Joe Rogan. He doesn't have the comfort in front of the camera that would later develop but, as a second-degree black belt in Jiu-Jitsu, he lends a credible voice to the call. The decision to go with an official Heavyweight Title instead of the tournament champion "title" made the UFC feel much more like a sport than an amateur fight club. This match, between Severn and Coleman, would have been called a Superfight a few shows prior, but the UFC has finally started to realize that there's more money in legitimacy than in extremity. Likewise for the dual weight classes and tournaments; they took big strides toward legitimacy at UFC 12.
The real reason for the greatness of this particular show, however, is the in-ring debut of future legend Vitor Belfort. Nobody had ever seen somebody fight like Belfort before. He is the first evidence of the true hybrid mixed matial artist. Today, every MMA fighter cross-trains to some degree, but Belfort was billed out of the Gracie BJJ camp. We had seen Gracie people in the Octagon before and expected to see the same kind of ground-based submission techniques. When he came out of the corner punching with the kind of blazing hand speed unheard of in the UFC, it became clear that MMA was a changing sport.
Of course, for all the good in UFC 12, it's still an early show and the chronic problems in this version of the organization are on full display. Obscure, unexplained, and unenforced rules are combined with inconsistent referee work and terrible announcing for a decidedly amateur production.
Lionsgate continues to release the back catalog of UFC titles and UFC Classics, Volume 12 fits right in with the rest in every way. Visually, this appears exactly as it did in 1996. The camerawork is pretty bad in general and the transfer is consistent with an average VHS copy. The stereo sound follows right along. The only extras are some fighter bios and a short Jiu-Jitsu "lesson." This series is for fans and collectors of the history of MMA and Volume 12 in particular is one of the best shows from the company's early days.
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