Every fighter in the UFC, whether champion, legend or debutant, has to start somewhere. That somewhere usually isn’t the big show. Occasionally, multiple future stars end up gathered on a single regional card. At the time, this card may not seem significant, but years down the road, we can look back in hindsight and marvel at how stacked that event turned out to be. That’s exactly what we’ll do in this series, called History Lessons.

So, let’s jump in the time machine and travel back. The date was Nov. 24, 2007, and the location was the Evansville Coliseum in Evansville, Ind. It was time for the HOOKnSHOOT Bodog Fight Women’s Tournament.

The sport of mixed martial arts had its beginnings in the one-night tournament format. Those tournaments saw competitors fight two or three times in a single night, and only the strongest survived. It was a staple of the UFC’s earliest events, but it survived even after the UFC abandoned the idea. And the women have had their turn at such events as well. The offering in Evansville was one such occasion. Eight women entered the bantamweight Women’s Grand Prix, meaning the tournament winner had to score three victories in a single night to take home the top honors.

With many of the involved fighters entering the tournament with just two or less pro fights under their belt (HOOKnSHOOT’s television graphics included amateur fights in the ladies’ records), the field of eight didn’t look too impressive at the time, but it would spawn several future stars of Strikeforce, the UFC and Invicta Fighting Championships.

Miesha Tate was one of the ladies in that group of eight. She may be challenging for Ronda Rousey’s UFC bantamweight strap in a week’s time, but she was no more than a debuting pro on that night in 2007. She would pick up her first win and loss of her pro career that evening. The real beast of the tournament would turn out not to be Tate, but rather Kaitlin Young.

The tournament may have been conducted within the bantamweight division, but it really consisted of 125-pounders as well as 135ers. Tate and Young were joined by Nicdali Rivera-Calanoc, Jan Finney, Patti Lee, Suzy Smith, Jen Babcock and Jordan Sprague.

Lee and Sprague were joining Tate, Smith and Babcock in making their pro debuts that night. They met up in the opening bout of the evening, and Lee emerged with the third-round TKO victory. With women’s fights, outside of championships, limited to three-minute rounds in that era, Lee ended up seeing almost eight minutes of action within her first tourney bout despite going into the third round. Ousted from the tournament, Sprague would fight just once more, nearly two years later, in another losing effort.

Rivera-Calanoc now fights in the 105-pound atomweight division under the Invicta banner, but she tipped the scales at 125 pounds in those days. The 2-0 prospect was up next. She fought Babcock in the quarterfinals and needed just 30 seconds to score the knockout win. Babcock, who was debuting following a win over Tonya Evinger in the amateur ranks, went on to win three in a row in 2008 before suffering a loss to April Coutino and falling inactive.

With Lee and Rivera-Calanoc advancing to the semifinals, it was Young’s turn to take to the ring. Smith was the first to taste Young’s power that night. She lasted just 22 seconds. Young, who was 1-0 entering the tournament, connected with knee strikes and knocked out Smith. Smith would go on to win two fights and lose to Finney over the course of the next two years. Like Babcock, Smith’s last fight came in 2009.

Finally, Tate entered the ring against Finney in the final bout of the quarterfinals. Tate was a rookie, but Finney stood as the veteran in the tournament. She had debuted in 2004 and had been one of Julie Kedzie’s three victims in the 2005 HOOKnSHOOT tournament. Whereas everyone else in the bracket had two or fewer fights at the professional level, “Cuddles” was 3-5 with three career losses to Kedzie and one to Shayna Baszler. Finney gave Tate a true challenge, even forcing a bonus round. In the end, Tate emerged with the decision victory. Finney continued to soldier on after the tournament loss and made appearances under the banners of Bodog, ShoXC and Strikeforce, where she put up a valiant effort against Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.

By this point, the field was down to four. It was Lee against Rivera-Calanoc and Young against Tate in the semifinals.

Lee, who fights out of Team Jorge Gurgel, used her submission skills to snag Rivera-Calanoc in a heel hook for the submission with just a second left in the opening round. Rivera-Calanoc bounced back with a win just two months later, but she has struggled with consistency throughout her career. More than four years after her participation in the HOOKnSHOOT tourney, she made her Invicta debut at the promotion’s first show and has posted a 1-2 mark with Invicta.

In hindsight, the semifinal bout between Tate and Young stands as the most significant moment of the tournament, given that these two ladies have gone on to have the most success. Young’s power was unstoppable on that night. She threw punches and kicks that kept her opponents, including Tate, reeling for much of their brief encounters. In Tate’s case, the encounter lasted exactly 30 seconds before a head kick from Young left her limp on the canvas.

We all know where Tate went from there. She captured the Freestyle Cage Fighting bantamweight title, transitioned to Strikeforce and won a one-night tournament there to earn a shot at then-champ Marloes Coenen. Tate captured the Strikeforce crown with a submission win over Coenen, but dropped it in her first defense against Rousey. A win and a loss later, Tate found herself replacing an injured Cat Zingano as Rousey’s rival on The Ultimate Fighter 18 and in a rematch at the upcoming UFC 168.

Young, meanwhile, rode the Tate win to a finals berth in the tournament opposite Lee. In terms of time, Young’s finals victory took an eternity…eternity being 53 seconds. Again, she unleashed a barrage of strikes and knees that caused her opponent to collapse to the mat. A knee to the body was the fight-ending blow. The loss was the beginning of a three-fight skid for Lee, who won just one more fight in a six-fight career through 2010.

Young’s striking display over the course of those three fights set the tone for her career. Oddly, that night turned out to be the height of her success—thus far, at least—in terms of wins. She went on a four-fight skid over the span of the next two years that included losses to Gina Carano in the EliteXC cage and Jennifer Tate under the Freestyle Cage Fighting banner. She went 3-1 over her next four fights, including splitting a pair of bouts with Kedzie, before joining Invicta FC and making her promotional debut against Leslie Smith at Invicta’s inaugural event. That fight ended in a split draw, but it also delivered a battle that instantly garnered “Fight of the Year” talk. Since that epic contest, Young has lost three in a row within the Invicta cage, including an entertaining rematch against Smith and fights against Lauren Murphy and Liz Carmouche.

Although the women’s tournament is the most noteworthy highlight of the card, it was far from the only competition taking place at the event. There was even an additional non-tournament women’s bout that featured women’s MMA pioneer Tara LaRosa. LaRosa was the Bodog women’s bantamweight champion at the time and already sported a 14-1 mark as a pro. She fought Cody Welchlin in a non-title bout at the event. Welchlin was 2-1 coming into the bout and had only lost to another legend of the sport, Megumi Fujii. LaRosa changed that in the second-round when she locked up a triangle armbar for the submission win.

LaRosa never did get a chance to defend that Bodog title, but she picked up flyweight crowns under the Locked in the Cage and DaMMAge promotions over the 6-1 stretch following her victory over Welchlin. She then debuted with Invicta, where she lost to Vanessa Porto, and headed overseas to meet Pancrase champ Rin Nakai in a non-title affair that Nakai won via a narrow decision.

Men also competed that evening. Future WEC featherweight champion and UFC fighter Mike Brown was still two fights away from his WEC debut when he took to the HOOKnSHOOT ring against the 4-3 Eben Oroz. Already a 20-fight veteran with 16 wins under his belt, Brown disposed of Oroz by way of a first-round TKO. Oroz would go on to lose one more fight in 2008 before disappearing from active competition, but Brown moved on to bigger things, making his WEC debut in 2008 with a win over Jeff Curran to earn a title bid against Urijah Faber. Brown defeated Faber and defended the WEC featherweight crown twice before dropping it to Jose Aldo. Brown amassed a 5-2 record in the WEC before migrating to the UFC, where has gone a disappointing 2-3 through five fights.

Brown may now stand as the most accomplished male fighter from that HOOKnSHOOT card, but back then it was Dan Hornbuckle headlining the show. Hornbuckle was a 13-1 prospect at the time and was set to rematch Courtney Ray, who stood at 6-4 and had fallen via TKO to Hornbuckle eight months earlier. Hornbuckle opted to prove he could finish Ray any way he wanted by submitting him with an armbar just 85 seconds into the bout. He headed to Sengoku several months later, where he lost his promotional debut to Mike Pyle but eventually made a name for himself with finishes of Akihiro Gono and Nick Thompson. From there, Hornbuckle moved on to Bellator and advanced to the finals of season-two welterweight tournament, where he dropped a decision to Ben Askren. Hornbuckle has hit a rough patch since then, entering two more Bellator tournaments only to lose in the quarterfinals and winning the Deep welterweight crown only to lose it in his first defense.

WEC veteran Chad George also appeared on the HOOKnSHOOT card, but he came out on the wrong end of a unanimous decision verdict in his fight with Matt Troyer. Troyer has yet to win a fight since that night and is just 2-4 in his career. George, meanwhile, went on a five-fight winning streak that caught the attention of the WEC. He signed with the promotion and went 1-2 on the blue canvas of the WEC.

Though there were a few notable male names on the HOOKnSHOOT card, the night truly belonged to the ladies. LaRosa continued to build on her legacy as one of the early pioneers of women’s MMA, and Young had what still stands as one of the best nights of her career. Yet, it’s Tate’s introduction into the world of professional MMA that secures HOOKnSHOOT Bodog Fight Women’s Tournament its place as a significant moment in MMA history.

Photo: Miesha Tate (R) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

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