(In the heart of the child who made it, the Super HLUK belt is the most prestigious title on the planet.)
CagePotato Roundtable is our new recurring column in which the CP writing staff and some of our friends all get together to debate an MMA-related topic. Joining us this week is MiddleEasy.com founder Zeus Tipado, who was kind enough to smoke an entire bag of PCP and channel the spirit of Wallid Ismail. If you have a suggestion for a future Roundtable column, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. This week’s topic: Who’s your favorite MMA fighter to never win a major title?
We take personality for granted these days. Everywhere you look, the MMA ranks are packed with shameless self-promoters, aspiring comedians, unrepentant assholes, and assorted clown-men. But in the UFC’s infancy, fighters tended to come in two types: Stoic (see Royce Gracie, Dan Severn) and certifiably insane ( see Joe Son, Harold Howard). David “Tank” Abbott changed all that. He entered the UFC with a fully-fledged persona, and managed to stay in character through his entire career. Simply put, he was the UFC’s first villain, and he played that role more effectively than anyone has since.
Heralded as a “pit fighter” — a term invented by UFC promoter Art Davie — Tank’s martial art of choice was hitting guys in the head really hard, which he did while wearing the sort of fingerless gloves that soon become industry standard. It’s difficult to overstate the impact that Tank’s debut at UFC 6 had on a 14-year-old Ben Goldstein as I was watching the pay-per-view at my friend Josh’s house. It wasn’t just that Abbott starched John Matua in a mere 18 seconds, or that Matua’s body seized up when his head hit the canvas. It’s that Tank reacted to the knockout by mimic-ing Matua’s stiffened pose. Tank actually mocked John Matua for having a seizure. Ruthless! And how about his destruction of Steve Nelmark at the Ultimate Ultimate ’96, which had to be the first “oh shit is that guy dead?” moment in UFC history. Tank was a living reminder that the UFC was very real, and very dangerous.
The rise of talented, well-rounded heavyweights in the UFC made Abbott obsolete just as quickly as Nirvana killed Warrant. (Work with me, here.) Violent losses to guys like Vitor Belfort and Pedro Rizzo in 1997-98 led to the end of his first stint in the UFC, and his return five years later — as promising as it looked at the time — ended in three more first-round stoppage losses. Since then, Tank’s career highlights have included getting knocked out by Paul Buentello in Strikeforce, getting knocked out by Kimbo Slice for EliteXC, and taking an unofficial decision win over Scott Ferrozzo in a backyard. His famous beard has gone gray with age, and now Tank Abbott looks exactly like what he is — a faded legend from the old times, an MMA pioneer who deserves your respect even though he never respected anybody.
Wallid Ismail, via Zeus Tipado
A lotta guys, they talk alotta bullsheet. They say ‘Wallid, who’s the best guy that never had a…how you say, that never had a belt.’ Guys, they ask me this all the time, man. I say there’s one guy that I remember from Curitiba, Brazil. This guy name Pele, he fight everybody. He’s from the heart of Brazil, the jungle of Brazil — like me. I’m from the Amazon.
Pele fight everybody — he fight Matt Hughes, Pat Miletich, Babalu, Lee Murray, Jake Ellenberger — and he still fighting, man! Pele is still fighting…and winning! This guy no cheeken, he knows! He knows he da best, ya undastand? I told you, I told everybody last time I do interview with Cagea Potato, I say ‘Hey, this guy Pele should be champion.’ I just want everybody to remind — everybody to remember that this guy Pele should be champion.
A long time ago, Pele fought this guy Macaco Patino at the Campeonato Brasileiro de Vale Tudo. These guy, he talk alotta bullsheet. Before the fight me, Macaco, Pele and this guy Stephen Quadros — you know Stephen Quardos? Stephen Quadros was in the room and Macaco has too much cock. He’s too cock, how you say — he cocky. He had alotta guys on the side, talk alotta bullsheet. Macaco pick up a phone a threw it at Pele from across the room! This guy coward, ya undastand? Pele, he was confident. Everybody get in between Pele and Macaco. Pele say ‘You fight now, but tomorrow I make you quit fighting I hit you so hard.’ Pele confident man, he no coward. Next day at Campeonato Brasileiro de Vale Tudo, Pele make Macaco tap to strike. To strike! No one tap to strike! I see Macaco after the…after the fight and I ask ‘Why you talk alotta bullsheet and tap to strike? Because you cock, you coward — you scared about Pele.’
I think I get Pele in Jungle Fight to win a title. He train hard for every fight, no doubt about. Believe me, he will put on a great fight in Jungle Fight. Tell everybody go to Jungle Fight and get my website because everybody know I don’t stop. This is my home. I don’t care. Let’s go to the big fight.
[Ed. note: Wallid would like all of you to buy his “Angry Wallid” t-shirt for just $17.99 on WorldOverEasy.com]
I’ve implied it on here before, so I might as well just come out and say it: I grew up a professional wrestling fan. Growing up, Razor Ramon (later known by his real name, Scott Hall) was one of my biggest heroes (draw your own conclusions). Every now and then, I’ll still watch AWA reruns on ESPN: Classic and legitimately enjoy it. There, I said it.
That being said, I never got behind the professional wrestling careers of the MMA fighters like Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn. To me, the MMA fighters were way too normal for professional wrestling’s cartoonish reality (Ed. Note: Obviously, aside from Tank Abbott’s obsession with boy bands). They weren’t working class white guys acting like pro-Apartheid South African colonels — they were tough guys acting like tough guys. They weren’t jumping off of the top rope — they were using somewhat realistic looking takedowns and submissions. The fact that they would lose to oiled up steroid abusers that they would destroy in real fights made the whole thing too stupid for me to continue to suspend my disbelief. In my case, The Masked Man’s theory is true: The legitimate tough guy who earns a living as a fake fighter is too much of a paradox.
Needless to say, I immediately fell in love with Ikuhisa Minowa.
Minowaman appeals to my inner wrestling geek the way that Chael Sonnen wishes he did. We’ve seen fighters donning professional wrestling attire before, but they’ve tended to get their asses kicked. We’ve seen professional wrestling moves in MMA, but not as frequently or deliberately as Minowa uses them. We’ve seen freak show fights, but this guy has made a career out of winning them.
Of course, it bears mention that as good as he’s looked against Super Hulks, he tends to lose to guys his own size. And while he’s been fun to watch in Japan, his most recent fight against Kendall Grove was “adequate (for a ProElite bout)”, which is the nicest way to say “boring as shit” that I could think of. But while Minowaman will never hold a major title, he’ll always be one of my favorite fighters because he’s the bridge between professional wrestling and mixed martial arts that guys like Shamrock and Severn couldn’t be: He’s the cartoonish fighter who is legitimate enough to win real fights.
The first name that popped into my head when we were discussing the theme for this week’s roundtable was Renato Sobral, who I’ve enjoyed watching for as long as I remember. The only snag was I had forgotten that he held the Strikeforce strap briefly after snatching it from overachieving Bobby Southworth. Damn, so much for Babalu.
Then I spent the next half-hour crossing names off my rapidly dwindling list.
“Okay, I’ll take Sakuraba instead. Rex has Sakuraba? Then I’ll go with Karo. Wait. Does Pre-Zuffa WEC count as a major title? It does? And Zeus has Pele, right? In that case I’m going with my number-five favorite fighter to never hold a major title: Igor Vovchanchyn.”
Yeah Google experts, “The Ukraine Freight Train” wore gold briefly, but his belt was almost immediately repossessed by the Yakuza because he kneed Mark Kerr in the head while he was on the ground, so it doesn’t count. See, we have Wikipedia in Canada too. It’s a bunch of binders full of printouts stored at the library/post office/trading post and we can only sign out one volume for 15 minutes per week, but we have it, so suck it Xenophon.
Anyway, at the time the Japanese promotion rules said that the winning strikes he landed in the bout were simply not allowed, domo arigato. The rule was changed months later and he would avenge the fight by beating Kerr one year after coming within a rule change of being a champ. Always a bridesmaid, huh I-Vov?
Prior to the controversial first fight with Kerr, which was afterwards ruled a no-contest, Igor was on a 32-fight winning streak. Not many fighters are able to flash that card — let alone wins over a prime Sakuraba, Gary Goodridge, Gilbert Yvel, Yuki Kondo, Enson Inoue and Valentijn Overeem — who were all victims of “Ice Cold.”
Sure Vovchanchyn wasn’t the most athletic guy and he was far from being the most talented fighter, but he always came to fight, which is something a lot of guys in the current point-fighting era of MMA don’t do. When Igor was one of the guys in the ring, you could expect punishment, and no matter if he was the guy inflicting it or the one absorbing it, the fight was going to be exciting. The dude had 55 wins in his 66-fight career: 29 knockouts, 17 submissions and only eight decisions, which says a lot about his style, which, if had to describe, I’d say was “tactical brawling.”
After walking away from the sport before hitting his stride (sort of like ReX) due to a glut of nagging injuries back in 1998 at the prime fighting age of 32 and with a staggering 55-10 (1NC) MMA record, Igor reportedly took his career earnings and opened up a small restaurant back in the Ukraine. The eatery caters to well-fed, hard-drinking Russian tourists. They have a unique dash and dine policy at the restaurant: If you can make it to the door without getting knocked out by a karate chop to the neck, your meal is on the house.
Andrei Arlovski forfeited the bet when he crumpled to the floor while tucking in his napkin during his first visit to the establishment.
A few seconds into your first Genki Sudo fight you ask yourself, “What the fuck is he doing?!?” A few minutes later you have your answer: “Whatever the fuck he wants.”
Sudo’s entrances were more entertaining than most fights; his fights were more interesting than most of our lives. The “Neo Samarai” made a career of unorthodoxy. His unique arsenal included superb takedowns and flying submissions, and when spinning backfists and sommersault kicks lost his interest he’d simply start making shit up. The “Mixed” in Sudo’s MMA included maneuvers from professional wrestling and the B-Boy world. From bouncing off of the ropes for a drop kick to taking his opponent for a helicopter ride, he transformed high-risk, crowd pleasing moments into fight finishing techniques. And if you think losing a fight in front of thousands of people is demoralizing, imagine that the dude kicking your ass is taking frequent breaks to do the robot.
Between appearances on “Ninja Warrior”, Sudo submitted Mike Brown and Nate Marquardt, KO’d Royler Gracie, and scored a decision win over Duane Ludwig [ignore those record books, kids. Ludwig did not win that fight]. He’s also the proud inventor of the ‘cankle lock‘.
Sadly, Sudo retired from the sport in his prime at the age of 28 after heeding questionable advice from a urinal. Since that time he’s written eight books and found success as a Japanese pop star. So yeah, a guy getting life-coach lessons from the shitter has a better life than you.
When it comes to losing title fights, you can add Kenny Florian to the “death and taxes” certainties of life. He had three shots at glory in the UFC, two at lightweight that he lost to Sean Sherk and BJ Penn, and one at featherweight that he lost to Jose Aldo, not including the lightweight title eliminator he lost against Gray Maynard. That’s a lot of chances, but he earned them by pretty much destroying everyone else they put in front of him. Kenny has mad squabbles, but he just could never get his hands on that stinking belt.
His odyssey took him from 185 all the way down to 145 in search of the strap – the only fighter in UFC history to ever compete in four different weight divisions. Perhaps if he didn’t injure his back, an injury that may force him to retire, he could have tried his hand at 135, or even the UFC’s new 125-pound division. He probably could have made it if he rid himself of such unnecessary components as that extra kidney, perhaps that cumbersome second lung, and if he clipped his toenails really low, like to the point where it hurts like a sumbitch. Kenny just had that level of dedication, the kind young fighters can learn from.
Kenny never made excuses. In the Sherk and Maynard fights he spent more time on his back than my ex-girlfriend when she was “studying.” Speaking of which, I also love Kenny because he looks more like my old economics professor than a fighter. I can envision a meathead student boldly challenging Kenny on the merits of the Laffer Curve and whether it does in fact justify supply-side economics, and Kenny with his bowtie and sweater-vest delivering a ridge-hand to the Adam’s Apple for such blatant sass. I digress.
Kenny didn’t bitch and whine about wrestlers humping him like many other fighters do. He took full accountability, and said he needed to get better at wrestling. Imagine that, personal responsibility – what a novel concept. Kenny always worked towards improvement. The fact that he never held a belt is certainly not because he didn’t take his talent as far as it could possibly go. He did. He was simply beaten by better fighters. That may be of little consolation to Kenny at this point, but he should be proud of his accomplishments in the cage. He went for it, time and again, and pushed himself to the limits to get there. For that, I salute Kenny Florian: Here’s to you, Mr. Non-Title Winning Fighter Turned Commentator. Break to Bud Light “Real American Heroes” theme…
Jefferey “Karmaatemycat” Watts
So many gatekeepers, guys, seriously? How about an undefeated grand-master with over four hundred fights? Only one name has stood out in Mixed Martial Arts since day one, and that name is Gracie. Even though blatant ignorance won’t allow most people to get past the Royce Gracie Era, I hold the very personal opinion that the greatest fighter to never hold a title is Rickson Gracie. I mean, who else do you know with a lineage like Rickson? You don’t. It’s just that simple.
It’s a well known fact that Rickson could easily destroy most of today’s fighters if he was their age. Thankfully, for all these “talented” guys who call themselves fighters, Rickson is retired and focused on his Jujitsu. In his day, it is alleged that Rickson had over four hundred fights and won them all. Sure his sanctioned record says 11-0, but Rickson is one of the few true Jujitsu Gods, with a legitimate 8th-degree Black/Red Belt in BJJ around his waist.
Rickson also did his fighting when the “Unified Rules” didn’t exist, which makes him that much more badass. After all, the definition of Vale Tudo is “anything goes” or “everything goes,” and back in the day that’s exactly what they did. It should be noted that Rickson has been training to fight for the honor of the Gracie family name since the age of six years old. At the age of 53, that translates to 47 years of Martial Arts training, likely day in and day out.
Even years after his prime, his name is still revered in the MMA community. Many jujitsu newbies pay homage to the famed Rickson Gracie and would likely sacrifice their first born if only to harness just a bit of his supernatural talent. Most fighters would be content just retiring with a humble record, but not Rickson! 400+ fights and ZERO losses!
Ever since his Fight of the Year against Karo “The Heat” Parisian at Ultimate Fight Night 6, Diego Sanchez has been one of my favorite fighters to watch in action, and it pains me that gold has eluded him this long despite a change in weight classes and a title fight against BJ Penn at UFC 107 — a fight he lost due to a cut. It’s like watching a dog that’s been in an accident chase a tail that isn’t there; he beats everyone except the guys that really matter. Nevertheless, Sanchez has remained as positive as Kimbo’s beard is gnarly, often found chanting “Yes!” while doing cartwheels.
Unshaken, the Jackson’s MMA product has proven time and time again that when he comes to fight, HE COMES TO FIGHT! As winner of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, Diego Sanchez has been trying to live up to expectations worthy of a champion. Since then, he’s racked up an impressive five Fight of the Night awards, but never took home a championship belt. I know some of you aren’t in favor of giving it up for heart, but Rex and I are — so stick it.
This was perhaps the easiest roundtable thus far for me to decide on. Tell me, which one of the other picks has 10 muthafuckin’ end of the night awards? How about a future position in the Indiana Senate? No, not you Matt, I’m talking about Chris muthafuckin’ Lytle, a.k.a the most entertaining dude to ever step foot in the Octagon. HE HAS NEVER BEEN FINISHED IN 54 MUTHAFUCKIN’ FIGHTS, and was in fact forced to quit in those two TKO losses that soil his record because the ringside physicians did not want to lose their jobs. His wars with Thiago Alves, Paul Taylor, Aaron Riley, Marcus Davis, Dan Hardy, and Tiki Ghosn *snicker* are just a few examples in Lytle’s insanely long list of credentials.
But the best thing about Lytle would have to be that he is perhaps the most underrated grappler in the history of MMA. He has submission victories that have come by way of forearm choke, bulldog choke, guillotine, kneebar, straight armbar, triangle kimura, and damn near every other form of submission available. Despite this, he chooses to stand and brawl with whoever will allow it, because the man puts entertaining his audience above winning, and that’s pretty much the point of this roundtable, right? Simply put, you don’t forget a Lytle fight, and the man has missed out on possible title fights to ensure that.
I will end my rant with a few little known facts about Lytle: he was the inspiration for the movies 300, Commando, Mad Max, and Sensei Seagal‘s muthafuckin’ career. He mixes razor blades with his corn flakes every morning, and pisses blood every afternoon. Those last two are not related. Chris Lytle‘s NCAA tournament bracket is flawless every year, and in 1978, he beat Doyle Brunson in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em despite holding a Shoprite receipt and an Old Maid card. Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower once gave him the key to the country. That’s right, THE MUTHAFUKIN’ COUNTRY. Chris Lytle doesn’t need our worship, because the walls of his home have more plaques on them than Dr. Dre’s, but “Lights Out” is who we think of, subconsciously or otherwise, when we use terms like “warrior,” “badass,” or “Cobra Commander.”
And finally Doug “ReX13″ Richardson, who concludes today’s epic roundtable using the ancient art of haiku…
Saku need not boast
a hero, but holy shit
how is he not dead?