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 April 17, 2004, and the location was the Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Ore. It was time for SportFight 3: Dome.

At UFC 168, Chris Leben said he was done as he sat on the stool in his corner following the first round of his fight with Uriah Hall. The fight’s ending prompted plenty of discussion surrounding Leben’s future inside the UFC’s Octagon. In 2004, however, Leben, who was just 23 at the time, had yet to become a household name among fight fans. He was 8-0 and had already captured a pair of middleweight titles at the amateur level and the WEC and Gladiator Challenge belts as a pro.

His opponent that night in Oregon was a Justin “Dangerous” Davis. Davis is now a .500 fighter with a 13-13 mark through 26 pro fights, but when he clashed with Leben, he was a true prospect with a 10-1 record. Leben, who had even handed Pat Healy a loss while fighting at the amateur level, needed just a few ticks under two minutes to land a knockout blow that ultimately ended Davis’s days as a prospect. The loss was the first in a six-fight skid for Davis, who has won just three fights and lost 12 since that night.

It would be one of only two times that Leben fought for the SportFight promotion, which was founded by his Team Quest teammate, Matt Lindland. The victory over Davis was followed by a loss to Joe Doerksen under the Freestyle Fighting Championship banner and a victory over Benji Radach at SportFight 4. Just a year after he defeated Davis, Leben was a star of the UFC’s debuting The Ultimate Fighter reality series. He made his Octagon debut with a first-round TKO of Jason Thacker and has gone on to amass an 11-10 mark inside the UFC’s eight-sided cage. He went undefeated through his first four UFC outings before becoming the first victim in the legendary UFC run of Anderson Silva.

Leben was on the verge of stardom when he locked horns with Davis at SportFight 3, but another eventual UFC star was just getting started. Glover Teixeira couldn’t even be considered a prospect when he stepped into the ring for his headlining championship bout with Matt Horwich, another future UFC fighter. Teixeira, who was already training out of The Pit with John Hackleman, had made his pro debut nearly two years earlier at WEC 3, where he suffered a second-round TKO loss to Eric Schwartz. Horwich, meanwhile, held the belt and was 3-1-1 in his young career.

The two battled for three rounds. Horwich, a natural middleweight, was outsized by the Brazilian, and Teixeira used his bulk to bully Horwich to the mat numerous times. Teixeira had to fend off Horwich’s submission attempts, but he shrugged them off and spent a majority of the fight on top of Horwich. It was enough to give The Pit product a unanimous decision victory—his first pro win—and the SportFight light heavyweight belt.

Teixeira fought twice more for SportFight, and he suffered his only other career loss under the promotion’s banner. That loss came via decision at SportFight 9 against another future UFCer, Ed Herman. The Brazilian would have to travel a long road before stepping into the UFC cage a staggering eight years after his victory over Horwich. After his three-fight stint with SportFight, Teixeira returned to the WEC and notched three wins, including a first-round knockout of Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. From there, he went to Palace Fighting Championships and scored two knockouts, then headed to Brazil, where he fought all but one of his remaining bouts before signing with the UFC in 2012. Teixeira’s arrival in the Octagon was delayed by visa issues, but upon his arrival, he made a statement with wins over Kyle Kingsbury, Fabio Maldonado, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, James Te Huna and, most recently, Ryan Bader to vault himself into title contention. Teixeira is next expected to challenge Jon Jones for the UFC light heavyweight championship, but the date of their fight keeps changing.

Horwich, meanwhile, continued to bounce around the regional circuit, making stops in the WEC and Strikeforce, before landing in the upstart IFL fight promotion, where he eventually captured middleweight gold. As the IFL crumbled, Horwich ended up in the UFC, where he lost back-to-back fights against Dan Miller and Ricardo Almeida. He received his pink slip and headed to Bellator, where he dropped a decision to Bryan Baker. Since then, Horwich has resumed his journeyman’s travels. He’s made several appearances under the Polish KSW banner and is currently on a three-fight winning streak, the longest streak he’s had since his IFL days.

SportFight’s Team Quest connection brought more than just Leben and Horwich to the promotion’s third offering. The aforementioned Ed Herman was there as well. At just 23 years of age, Herman was already 5-1 at the time and was squaring off with 6-1 prospect Jacen Flynn. Herman proved to be the better fighter, handing Flynn a second-round submission loss via armbar.

Herman needed more than two years and nine fights more—including wins over Teixeira, Brian Ebersole and Dave Menne and losses to Kazuo Misaki and Joe Doerksen—before landing a spot in the cast of The Ultimate Fighter 3. Herman advanced to the TUF tournament’s final before losing to Kendall Grove. He has gone on to compile an 8-6 mark, plus one no-contest, in the UFC and added an additional loss in the Strikeforce cage.

As for Flynn? His last action came in an August 2012 loss to Elvis Mutapcic, but the Idaho-based fighter is 10-3 and holds a 4-1 mark since his 2004 loss to Herman. Five fights in the last decade, however, isn’t a good sign for the 35-year-old’s future MMA potential.

Scott Smith was also in the lineup that night. “Hands of Steel” was 5-1 and coming off the first loss of his career, a knockout courtesy of James Irvin. Smith’s opponent was Isidro Gonzalez, a 2-1 fighter coming off a loss to Josh Burkman. In the years that followed, Smith grew to be known for his striking and his brawling style. However, the California native does have three submission wins on his resume. The last of those came against Gonzalez. Smith needed just over four minutes to secure a rear-naked choke and finish the fight.

From there, it took Smith four more wins to punch his ticket to the UFC. He lost his Octagon debut to David Terrell and went 1-3 over two stints with the promotion. He made a bigger name for himself in EliteXC against Robbie Lawler and in Strikeforce, where he went just 3-5 but engaged in a pair of wars with Cung Le and also fought the likes of Nick Diaz, Paul Daley and Tarec Saffiedine. Gonzalez, on the other hand, remains active as a journeyman with a 19-16 mark that includes stops in the WEC and Bellator.

SportFight also proved to be a breeding ground for future TUF participants. Not only would Leben, Herman and Smith go on to appear on the reality series, but so would Kyacey Uscola and Brandon Melendez. Uscola, a 2-0 prospect at the time, needed just 75 seconds to knock out Horace Spencer. Melendez worked with even more efficiency, scoring his knockout victory over Damion Douglas in just 41 seconds. Despite having five pro fights under his belt already, Melendez was competing as an amateur against Douglas, who has gone on to post a 4-1 mark over a pro career littered with lengthy periods of inactivity.

Melendez competed on the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter, where he defeated Andy Wang and then lost to Gray Maynard. He fought at the TUF 5 Finale against Joe Lauzon and lost via a second-round triangle choke. Since then, Melendez has hopped from one regional promotion to the next and has gone 7-11 with losses to Josh Burkman and Rick Story.

Uscola hasn’t fared any better. Uscola competed on the eleventh season of the reality series and scored a 25-second knockout of Brent Cooper to earn entry into the TUF house. In his preliminary round fight against Rich Attonito, Uscola threw an illegal knee that rendered Attonito unable to continue. Uscola was disqualified and never received the opportunity to compete at an official UFC event. He’s been in action against the likes of Chael Sonnen and Gegard Mousasi, and he even holds wins over Jorge Patino and Doug Marshall, but Uscola is currently on an eight-fight skid.

Future UFC fighter Ian Loveland also competed in the amateur ranks at the event, scoring a third-round rear-naked choke submission of Ralf Alarcon in one of the evening’s earlier bouts. Loveland, who was 20 at the time, made his pro debut more than a year later in 2005 and made a few appearances in the IFL before getting the call from the UFC in 2010. He scored a decision win over Tyler Toner in his Octagon debut, but dropped subsequent bouts to Joseph Benavidez and Yves Jabouin. Loveland fought three times in 2012, including a loss to Kyoji Horiguchi, but did not compete in 2013.

Not every regional card can produce a reality show star and UFC fan-favorite fighter, a UFC light heavyweight contender and a generous serving of future UFC, Strikeforce and TUF talent, but SportFight 3 did just that. As the host of Teixeira’s first pro win and one of the final stops for Leben before his star turn on The Ultimate Fighter, the event stands as an important moment in MMA history.

About The Author

The MMA Corner Staff

Your home for all things MMA. News, Interviews, Event Coverage, Editorials. If it is MMA related, you will find it on The MMA Corner.