The UFC had a lot to prove on February 7th, 1997 in Dothan, Alabama. The judgmental eye of John McCain had labeled the "no holds barred," style versus style fighting event as "human cockfighting" and major ppv providers and state athletic commissions followed suit. The UFC was blacklisted, only viewable on fringe cable and satellite outfits and able to arrange its events in places like the less stringent (and less financially lucrative) South.
On top of that, two out of the last three events had been near-disastrous, UFC 9's crowd riot and snoozer superfight and UFC 11's tournament without a final due to fighter injuries. So, for UFC 12, they decided to shake things up a bit and have two tournaments (HW's above 200 pounds and LW's 200 pounds and under) as well as a superfight, initially planned as Don Frye versus Mark Coleman but changed to Coleman versus Dan Severn.
We begin with the usual old school UFC intro, giving us inane facts about Dolthan (It was settled in 1880! It was once the peanut capitol of the world!), the parade of judges and local officials, as well as the cutting edge technology of this whole internet thing when we are told we can "log on" to the Martial Arts World Wide Network. Whats that all about? Bruce Beck and Jeff Blatnick return to the commentary booth. Don "The Dragon" Wilson was a no show, probably off making one of his many direct to video action flicks. Sporting an earpiece from 1967, we see the fresh faced debut of our backstage reporter, NewsRadio's Joe Rogan, who would become a UFC fixture and the events key commentator to this day. Ken Shamrock, his tan, vest with no shirt, and gold chain would be on hand to co-commentate on the LW fights while David "Tank" Abbot lends his dirty barroom charms to the HW fights.
Rainy Martinez Vs. Jerry Bohlander starts things off. Martinez is tagged as an amateur wrestler and kickboxer, while with a grappling/submission base Bohlander is, by this early point, already a UFC vet from Shamrock's Lions Den. Martinez sported a Superman shirt in his ringwalk and apparently wrestling and subs were his kryptonite because Bohlander throws a few kicks, shoots, gets an easy takedown and it isn't long after that Martinez gives up his back and gets rear naked choked. Up next we have Wallid Ismail Vs. Yoshiki Takahashi a fight between two men who are true pioneers of mixed martial arts fighting, Ismail a Gracie BJJ blackbelt from the Brazilian vale tudo circuit and Takahashi from Japan's Pancrase, which the ring announcer amusing pronounces as "pancreas." This one is amusing, unintentionally, due to language barriers and those gray area rules of early UFC events. Aside from not having a great (if any) grasp of English, Takahashi apparently doesn't know that, unlike in Pancrase, he can keep hitting Wallid after a knockdown and fence grabbing is a no-no. Thus, Takahashi holds back when he wobbles Wallid and insists on grabbing the fence to avoid takedowns. Referee Big John McCarthy keeps yelling at him and swatting at his hand, undeterred, Takahashi grabs anyway and even manages to rip Wallid's cup out of his trunks. Basically, unable to get a takedown and ending up spent from his effort, Wallid ends up busted on his feet and then on his back where Takahashi controls the match.
The HW tourney begins with Jim Mullen vs. Scott Ferrozzo. The 320 pound Ferrozzo, coming off a big win at the last UFC over Tank, is simply too much blubber for the 215 pound kickboxer, Mullen. While Mullen is game, he basically gets muscled?, fatted? to the mat and ground down until McCarthy finally stops the prolonged abuse. Tra Telligman Versus Vitor "Victor" Belfort is next, a significant match in MMA/UFC history as it is the debut of Belfort, who would become one of the UFC's next big stars. Young, good looking, and Gracie approved, this match would lay the blueprint for Belfort's early matches, fast hands that would simply overwhelm his opponents and enough ground savvy that once they fell he would continue the onslaught for a tko victory.
After a brief and corny spotlight on Coleman, we move on to the finals. Bohlander Vs. Nick Stanzo is a tad disappointing, alternate BJJ practitioner Stanzo filling in for Takahashi, who broke his hand during his fight. Stanzo is clealry wrestling weak, unable to get a takedown, falls into a crucifix/choke by Bohlander and instantly taps. We then get Severn's spotlight and some (thankfully edited but acknowledged on this DVD/tape) time killing on the behalf of the Belfort camp, a tactic that they would become known for employing. Belfort Vs. Ferrozzo, again, is a fight that helped create the early David Vs. Goliath Belfort myth. The lighter and quicker Belfort starches the lumbering Ferrozzo, knocking the big man down, and then flurries punches, forcing the ref to intervene.
We end the night with the superfight of Coleman Vs. Severn. While it does contrast the old school UFC's style Vs. style appeal, it seems to be a good matchup of two wrestlers who want to force a takedown and grind it out on the mat. Actually, the most interesting moment occurs before the actual fight when Big John asks Dan Severn if he has any last minute questions and the Magnum Mustached, Brawny model worthy Severn spouts a nonsense middle school math question about if two trains traveling at a certain mile per hour how many apples in the basket will they have when they get to their destination. That kind of jovial ease shows you why Severn, now into his 50's, is still fighting nobodies on Indian reservations and also explains why he gets muscled to the mat and taps to a Coleman caveman headlock/neck crank.
The DVD: Lions Gate.
Picture: Honestly, what are you expecting? Its the darker days, the rough and tumble times, and as such you are getting a pretty basic video transfer/package. The usual quirks. Standard fullscreen. Muted color. Some noise. But, really, it cannot get much better, its just the elements of the time.
Sound: Here we have a basic Stereo track sure to amaze no one. But, no room to complain. It is as good as it is likely to get and one has to be thankful it is at least clear and there are close-captioned subtitles for the hearing impaired nhb fan.
Extras: The usual fighter bios and records are offered along with a nineteen and a half minute instructional segment, BJJ Basics with Shawn Williams.
Conclusion: This one goes down as one of the more essential early UFC's. It is a decent enough show, the fights are mostly old school middling, but you get the likes of some true trailblazers in Ismail, Takahashi, Severn, Coleman, and the debut of Belfort. I'm only leaning towards a rental as a single release. They always eventually package these into volume sets, so that is what to look for when purchasing.