Royce Gracie closed out 1994 as the undisputed “Ultimate Fighting Champion,” essentially meaning that he stood as the world’s premier martial arts combatant. Some could equate the title to the status of “pound-for-pound king” in today’s MMA landscape, because few could argue about who deserved the claim more than Gracie. Those who did would have to mention Dan “The Beast” Severn or Ken Shamrock, arguably the two premier American fighters in the world at the time. It seemed only fitting that the beginning of 1995 would feature the rematch that proved itself as two years in the making.

The eight-man tournament format remained throughout 1995, which featured a total of four events brought to the world by the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Notables such as Severn and Patrick Smith returned to the Octagon and future stars such as “Tank” Abbott and Oleg Taktarov, among others, debuted for the promotion. However, when the UFC decided to move forward with UFC 5 live from Bojangles’ Coliseum in Charlotte, N.C., it made a number of changes to the once “no-hold-barred” sporting event.

Many in the political world, including U.S. Senator John McCain, took a hardline stance against no-holds-barred fighting close to the time of UFC 4. Various attempts to shut down UFC 4 just one year ago had proved futile,  but staying in business meant implementing time limits and ensuring that while all holds stayed legal, certain rules were enforced. This meant the end of the days of a man getting hit below the belt from a position akin to side control, among other things, but otherwise, things remained the same.

The time limits that came to the promotion proved simple enough to work in the long run. Quarterfinals for the tournament lasted 20 minutes, as did semifinals, and both the tournament finals and the superfight lasted 30 minutes. Under today’s rules, that meant the tournament finals and the superfight would go six rounds, if needed.

The Gracie-Shamrock superfight concept headlined UFC 5, and frankly, it made all the sense in the world at the time. Three-time tournament champion Gracie came as close to a recognized UFC world champion as anyone would get at the time, the company needed someone to face Gracie in a battle of the best vs. the best, and with Severn entering the tournament, few other names proved a solid case for Gracie’s first superfight opponent, aside from Shamrock.

Gracie-Shamrock 2 favored the three-time tourney champion on paper because he handed Shamrock his first loss and he possessed the skill set needed to hand him another loss, only in much quicker fashion than the first bout. However, for all of Gracie’s best efforts to end the fight in the rematch, he could not finish Shamrock. In fact, the bout not only went the full half an hour, but it went a minute over the scheduled time limit, and the promotion would enforce an executive decision to give the bout an extra five minutes. Even with the extra five minutes, though, neither man could secure a definitive victory, and after the bout went down in the record books as a draw, many found themselves split on who deserved the victory.

The rules that came with UFC 5 changed the sport of MMA, but they also caused one member of the original trio behind the UFC to leave the promotion. When Rorion Gracie teamed up with Art Davie and Bob Meyrowitz for the first five events, his vision involved more than simply showcasing the effectiveness of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to the world. By allowing four of the first five UFC events to play out as they did, Rorion found a way to introduce vale tudo, the no-holds-barred Brazilian counterpart and predecessor to mixed martial arts, to the United States.

The implementation of the new rules, in Rorion’s mind, diluted his vision for the UFC and vale tudo in the United States, and so UFC 5 would mark the last time Rorion would involve himself in the early version of the mixed martial arts business. Rorion and Davie both sold their interest in the UFC franchise to the Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG) and WOW Promotions, which started as a means of developing the UFC as a television franchise, but subsequently disbanded. Naturally, once Rorion departed, Royce followed suit. Shamrock never got his trilogy with Royce, but when fellow rival Severn entered and won the UFC 5 tournament, the situation worked in bringing together yet another fight that would change MMA forever.

People balk on superfights now, but they forget that the UFC superfight championship represented the first legitimate world championship title in the UFC’s history. Now, tournament winners would compete for more than just upwards of $50,000+ checks and the honor of owning a win in a UFC tournament. With tournament victories came bouts for the UFC superfight title, and winning the superfight crown cemented a competitor’s status as “the man” in MMA.

Enter UFC 6, the site of the landmark fight of 1995 between Shamrock and Severn. At the time, Shamrock held a deal of respect from most in the MMA world for his striking prowess as well as his grappling, while Severn’s wrestling and grappling stood as some of the sport’s most feared. For all of two minutes and 16 seconds, both men fought for superiority, but in a turn of events reminiscent of UFC 4, Severn found himself in a world of trouble, as Shamrock would find Severn’s neck and secure a guillotine choke to force the tap and claim the UFC superfight title.

Neither Shamrock nor anyone else in the UFC knew it at the time, but that inaugural superfight championship bout would go a long way in the eventual development of the UFC’s nine active divisions. Over time, a number of martial artists would achieve success by blending styles together and incorporating unorthodox techniques.

Every athlete always carries a base, whether it comes due to a background in kickboxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, boxing, karate or any other style, but sometimes, athletes and martial artists benefit most from their fighting spirit. Of all of the things that stood out about the early UFC, David “Tank” Abbott stands out due to his fighting spirit, with the emphasis on fighting.

Nobody will ever forget Abbott or his contributions to the world of combat sports. When people think back to the brawling style, better known as “the art of pure violence” in most MMA circles, Abbott and his “pit fighter” style comes to mind almost immediately. Though he never won a major world title or claimed a UFC tournament, a prime Abbott always came ready to fight, personifying the type of “finish or get finished” approach that the UFC traditionally enjoys seeing from its athletes.

Abbott established his name when he made his pro debut against John Matua. Like Abbott, Matua debuted at UFC 6, but Matua did not last very long. Abbott came straight forward with both hands by his waist and took only 20 seconds to put Matua out. Abbott advanced to the semifinals with a TKO win over Paul Varelans, which came in a minute and 53 seconds, but fell short against eventual winner Taktarov, who submitted Abbott in 17 minutes and 47 seconds.

Fans would not see the last of Shamrock, Severn, Taktarov or Abbott in 1995, though. Shamrock would close out his 1995 with a title defense at UFC 7 that September, retaining his belt after going to a draw with Taktarov, and Severn would set up his rematch with Shamrock by defeating Varelans, Abbott and Taktarov in one night at UFC Ultimate-Ultimate 1995, otherwise known as “UFC 7.5.” Prior to losing a unanimous decision to Severn in the semifinals, Abbott defeated UFC 3 tournament winner Steve Jennum via neck crank, booking his spot in the semifinals, but again, Abbott encountered a foe with a much more diverse skill set than he when he faced Severn.

After losing to Severn, Taktarov left the UFC, but Abbott and Severn stuck around with Shamrock and a host of others. The year 1995 certainly introduced its share of changes, but if anyone thought 1995 would bring about the most change to the promotion, those people needed to stick around, because 1996 promised a real battle.

Photo: Dan Severn (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.