There are still people today, in 2015, who think that Mixed Martial Arts is a disgusting, barbaric spectacle with little resemblance of a sport. It's been over twenty years, has gone to dozens of countries, and still there are people saying MMA is "gory" and "scary." It's funny, as a fan who watched some of the earliest events in his preteen years on VHS, how some can still even pretend to be shocked by this. Movies like the "Saw" franchise, the "Hostel" series exist, and people watch shows like "Dexter" and even sad, gory, whiney dribble like "Grey's Anatomy." The second two trained adults get into a cage and start fighting in technically sound styles, however, all of a sudden its enough to make a viewer whimper and recoil.
These are exactly the type of people who I personally enjoy sending videos of the UFC in its early days. For those who don't remember, prior to 2000, when the Unified rules came out, the UFC was marketed as, and criticized for being, a brutal, bloody and unruly affair. Senator John McCain, a former military man and POW (Prisoner of war), was among the most offended, wasting years of his time and plenty of his constituents' money, fighting the "spectacle" in its early days.
Little did he know, talking heads in politics and the media would brand the UFC with the monikers that would help contribute to the glorious product it is today. But moving back to the early days of MMA in general, prior to those pesky unified rules, it may have been slightly cringe-worthy at times, but there is no denying the entertainment value of two grunting neanderthals mangling each other until a ref has to jump in and stop things.
An interesting and seldom acknowledged fact is that the mixed martial arts promotions that appeared throughout the 1990s were not the first of their kind. In 1979 and 1980, a company in Pittsburgh, CV Productions, held what are believed the first MMA tournaments in the United States. They billed it as regulated street fighting, and after a few shows they were ordered to stop the contests. Very few videos of these early "Tough Guy Contests" and "Battle of the Superfighters" are still available.
In a look back to the early days of the sport, here are fifteen of the greatest knockouts of early mixed martial arts, featuring various leagues. Obviously not all mixed martial arts promotions follow the unified rules, so this will be, for the most part, knockouts that would be illegal in the UFC.
15 (Debatable) UFC 8: Gary Goodridge VS Paul Herrera - 12-6 Elbows?
I thought I'd start this list off with a divisive knockout and one of my favorite of all time. Gary Goodridge was an arm wrestler before he got his start in MMA and kickboxing. His first UFC fight was against Paul Herrera and lasted just over ten seconds. Herrera went for a takedown but Goodridge caught it, stopped it, and caught his opponent in a crucifix position, before landing a series of elbows that have become one of the most renowned knockouts in UFC history.
There are some argue that the elbows would be illegal in today's league due mostly to the angle from which they were thrown and the part of the elbow contacting Herrera's face. I don't think it was illegal by any means, but plenty of MMA fans think it would have been cause for a disqualification under the unified rules.
14 Pride 1: Gary Goodridge VS Oleg Taktarov: Knees to the Head of Downed Opponent
For those who (like me) think that our first entry was a legal knockout, here's Gary Goodridge again, this time doing something that is now very illegal under the UFC's rules.
Against Oleg Taktarov at Pride 1, Goodridge won via knockout, but under the current rules, he would have arguably been disqualified or would at least have been deducted points or warned, as he kneed his opponent a couple of times while he was on the ground. Kneeing an opponent to the head while they are on the floor is illegal under the unified rules. With that said, there are still some promotions that allow such attacks. Along with the knee, Goodridge did hit Taktarov a couple of times with what some refs may have considered rabbit punches, while Taktarov was covering up on the ground. These, however, are hard to prove.
13 UFC 11: Brian Johnston VS Reza Nasri - TKO Involving Multiple Headbutts
Our second UFC knockout on the list goes back to 1996 when headbutting was still a decent and legal type of strike. Johnston made quick work of his opponent, stuffing a takedown attempt and then dropping Nasri with his own takedown. From there, he moved to top control quickly, before nailing him with over five headbutts followed by a great series of shots to seal the deal.
12 IVC 6: Wanderlei Silva VS Mike Van Arsdale - Soccer Kicks
International Vale Tudo Championship was a mixed martial arts promotion that started in Brazil, and in the late 90s, fashioned itself after the UFC, but claimed the UFC had caved to regulators. Wanderlei "The Axe Murderer" Silva was one of the first stars of the promotion. At its sixth event, he took on Mike Van Arsdale and dominated him for a few minutes before unleashing a nice combo followed by a head kick to finish Van Arsdale while he was grounded. Silva would end a few more fights in this manor; finishing Adrian Serrano and Kazushi Sakubara at Pride 13 with the same quick kick to the head. While it finished these fights, such a technique would likely see a loss of points or even a disqualification in today's MMA promotions.
11 Meca World Vale Tudo 8: Mauricio Rua VS Angelo De Oliveira - Soccer Kicks
Much like Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio Rua had a tendency, early in his career, toward kicking the heads of downed opponents. This continued into his time with Pride and he has been a vocal advocate of the UFC returning to a more "Pride-like" approach to kicks and knees against downed opponents.
In his second professional fight, he finished Angelo De Oliveira with a series merciless kicks. Another notorious fight in which Rua showed off his soccer skills was at Pride Total Elimination in 2005, when he tuned up Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
10 UFC 1: Gerard Gordeau VS Teila Tuli - the Original Soccer Kick
This was the first fight in the UFC. As many of the promotions early organizers have noted: the karate expert and sumo wrestler, Gerard Gordeau and Teila Tuli, could not have started the promotion out with a better effort. It was quick, but incredibly brutal. Tuli, a sumo wrestle, essentially charged Gordeau, took some shots and fell into the corner. Gordeau then stepped back, wound up, and delivered a 65 yard field goal kick to Tuli's face, knocking out a couple of teeth and ending the fight via doctor stoppage (TKO).
No matter how iconic the scene is, fighters are no longer allowed to hoof each other in the chops while they are on the mat. Gordeau would have probably been disqualified in today's promotions.
9 UFC 2: Pat Smith VS Scott Morris - 12-6 Elbows
The 12-6 elbow rule says, in effect, that an elbow delivered vertically, from 12-6 on the clock face, is illegal. Jon Jones was disqualified from a fight for such attacks and plenty of MMA fans furiously criticized the rule. Throughout this fight, Smith nailed Morris with plenty of shots and a few were undeniable 12-6 elbows to the top of the head. Under the unified rules of MMA as they have stood since 2000, he probably would have been penalized, but probably not disqualified.
8 World Vale Judo Championship 3 - Mark Kerr VS Paul Varelans - Knee to head of Downed Opponent
This was Mark Kerr's first professional MMA fight, taking place at WVC 3 in Brazil. He picked Paul Varelans apart quickly and finished him off in just over two minutes, mostly with a mean ground and pound agenda. Officially the fight was ended due to a technical knockout via punches, but he landed a few vicious knees directly to Varelans' face, which accelerated the win. If you haven't caught on yet, those are illegal these days.
Kerr is known (for good reason) as "the smashing machine" and is the subject of a documentary titled the same. It details not only his brutal methods inside the ring but also how the brutal nature of early MMA shaped his experiences later in his career and life.
7 7. UFC 5: Jon Hess VS Andy Anderson - A Few "Infractions"
This was Hess' first fight in MMA and he did what it took to win, which included a few strikes to the back of Anderson's head, a couple of eye gouges (for which he was fined but did not affect his victory), some groin area kicks and of course, a couple of knees to the head of a grounded opponent that ended the fight. It was listed as a punch TKO, much like Kerr over Varelans, but the knees were what ended it. Hess would only fight once more in MMA, mostly due to the extreme to which he took "dirty fighting."His next fight was in a smaller promotion against a young Vitor Belfort who knocked him out in just twelve seconds.
6 World Vale Tudo Championship 9: Bob Schrijber VS Josh Sursa - Several 12-6 Elbows
This is officially listed as a submission via elbows, but the ref should have stepped in after Sursa essentially sat dazed in the corner of the ring after a series of punishing elbows to the back of his noggin. "Dirty Bob" as the Dutch scrapper was known, was a gifted kickboxer who fought mostly in promotions throughout Europe and Russia, along with a few appearances at Pride events. While Bob Schrijber's all time dirtiest moment was his after-the-bell wheel kick to Daijiro Matsui at Pride 7, it was not a knockout and actually got him disqualified, so it is just a fun fact in the eyes of this list.
5 One FC 4: Zorobabel Moreira VS Roger Huerta - Soccer Kick
Skip to the 10 minute mark to see the KO.
This is supposed to be a list of brutal knockouts from before the sport had strict rules, but I had to make an exception for One FC's brutal knockout back in 2012. Moreira and Huerta were in the second round and Moreira had a clear upper hand in the fight. Huerta fell to the floor and was clearly done, but Moreira connected with a great soccer kick that sealed the deal.
While the unified rules are used by most promotions in the United States, One FC is closer to Pride rules which allow kicks and knees to downed opponents, hence this brutal knockout.
4 World Vale Tudo Championship 9: Gilbert Yvel VS Fabio Piemonte - Multiple Kicks to a Downed Opponent
One of the dirtiest fighters of all time, Gilbert Yvel was a Dutch born fighter who was disqualified three times early in his career. One of these was for an eye gouge, another was for a biting infraction and the best came after he knocked out the ref at Fight festival 12 in Finland. At WVC 9 back in 1999, he dominated Fabio Piemonte for over two minutes before Piemonte fell to the floor. Yvel delivered a gnarly boot to Piemonte's midsection before sending a soccer kick to his face which ended the fight. This may have been a legal win for Yvel, but it was still dirty and kicks to the head of downed opponents are banned for a pretty good reason in MMA.
3 UFC 3: Keith Hackney VS Emmanuel Yarborough - A Few Rabbit Punches
Keith Hackney was one of those early UFC fighters who did whatever it took to win, and in the case of his victory over Emmanuel (Manny) Yarborough, shots to the back of the head were involved. Refs are still lenient with this rule, because oftentimes a strike is meant to hit the side of the head or face but the defending fighter turns his head at the last second and takes a shot in the back of the head.
Hackney, however, was trying to knock Yarborough out and gave some huge shots at the back of his head in order to do so.
2 UFC 1: Kevin Rosier VS Zane Frazier - Head stomping
An experienced kickboxer, Kevin Rosier entered the UFC for its first event, fighting against Kenpo fighter Zane Frazier. Frazier ended up on the ground after a few minutes and at that point, Rosier started to look like he was trying to kill a rabid squirrel, stomping Frazier over and over again. Head stomps, along with kneeing and kicking to the head while an opponent is grounded are very illegal in MMA today.
1 UFC 4: Keith Hackney VS Joe Son: Multiple Groin Strikes
This one was just gross and there was no other way to end an article like this. Remember Keith Hackney? He was the gentleman who teed off on the sumo wrestler's head to win a fight at UFC 3. Just one event later, he fought Joe Son (who would later play Random Task, the parody of Oddjob, in the first Austin Powers film). It was Son's first fight in the UFC and Hackney submitted him with a series of direct groin strikes while the two were grappling. Though it was technically a submission, one could have easily called it a TKO. Who is going to get up and go again after a series of groin shots?
On an unrelated topic, Joe Son was arrested and convicted of torture, and would later commit murder while incarcerated. I for one don't feel too bad for his having sustained the vicious groin strikes that he did.