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 Sept. 6, 2002, and the location was Juarez, Mexico. It was time for Aztec Challenge 1.

Here’s a little piece of trivia knowledge: Carlos Condit did not see the second round of a fight, win or lose, through his first 17 professional bouts and three and a half years in the sport. The man who broke that streak was Jake Shields, who joins Condit and numerous other welterweight contenders as participants on this weekend’s UFC 171 card.

In 2002, three and a half years prior to Condit’s unanimous decision tournament loss to Shields at Rumble on the Rock 9, Condit was a newcomer to the pro ranks of mixed martial arts competition. Born and raised in New Mexico, where his father would later serve as Chief of Staff for governor Bill Richardson, Condit gravitated towards MMA in his teenage years. At the age of 15, he began training under the tutelage of Greg Jackson. In 2002, at the age of 18, he was ready for his first fight.

He traveled to Mexico for that first fight, and he shared the van ride and a hotel room with Diego Sanchez, another future UFC fighter who was in the early stages of his career and trained at an allied gym across town from Condit in Albuquerque, N.M. Both men were fighting that night in Juarez, but it was Condit who was set to open the night’s festivities.

Condit’s opponent that night was a 4-4 veteran by the name of Nick Roscorla, fighting out of Lovato’s Jiu-Jitsu in Oklahoma. Just five months earlier, Roscorla was a 2-1 prospect, but the holes in his ground game led to a quick shift from prospect to middling journeyman. That lack of submission defense opened the door for Condit to start his career with an impressive showing.

The opening bell sounded. Just 52 seconds later, it was over. Condit, fighting as a lightweight at the time, had debuted with a quick submission win. As was the case in all of Roscorla’s losses, the fighter surrendered his neck and suffered the consequences.

Roscorla only fought one more time, in 2003, and suffered a similar fate. Condit, meanwhile, progressed on to a stellar career. He won his first eight fights, with only two fights lasting longer than 60 seconds and only one fight topping the two-minute mark. He lost two of his next nine fights, but six of the seven wins in that span ended before two minutes had ticked off the fight clock. After his loss to Shields and a loss to Pat Healy, Condit rebounded with three wins to earn entry into the WEC, where he captured the promotion’s welterweight crown. When the UFC absorbed the WEC’s welterweight division, Condit headed to the Octagon. He first stepped into the eight-sided UFC cage in 2009, approximately six and a half years after his pro debut. Three years later, he captured the UFC’s interim welterweight championship, and at UFC 171, he’ll vie for another crack at the gold.

Condit’s roommate in the Ciudad Juarez hotel room for that trip had to wait for a few more fights to pass before he was able to compete. Sanchez was making his sophomore appearance as a pro fighter after picking up a submission win in his debut less than three months earlier. Just 21 years old at the time, the former high school state champion wrestler was competing as a middleweight.

Across from Diego that night was Jesus Sanchez, a fighter whose record is rather murky beyond his fight with Diego. Jesus survived until the second round before falling victim to a knockout at the hands of Diego.

Diego spent the next two-plus years competing primarily for the King of the Cage organization. His victory over Jesus was part of an undefeated 11-fight run prior to his UFC debut and part of an overall 17-0 start to his career. By 2005, Diego was a competitor on the debut season of The Ultimate Fighter. On the historic night when Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar met in the fight that changed the course of the UFC’s future, Sanchez put away Kenny Florian to become the first-ever TUF winner. Sanchez has gone on to amass a 13-6 record inside the Octagon while fighting in three different weight classes and challenging for the UFC’s lightweight title. At UFC 171, he’ll seek to end the undefeated run of fellow lightweight Myles Jury.

Aztec Challenge 1 served as a launching point for the careers of Condit and Sanchez, but it also spelled one of many stops in the 127-fight career of UFC 5 champion Dan Severn. By the time “The Beast” fought in Juarez, he was already 50-6-4 and nearly two years removed from his final UFC appearance at UFC 27.

His fight at the event came against another Jackson’s MMA fighter, Dan Christison. The two heavyweights went the distance, and Severn emerged with what has been described as a controversial decision victory. The two men fought in a rematch the following year, with Severn scoring a split decision victory.

Severn still had a lengthy career ahead of him. He was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame and won another 45 fights before retiring in 2013. Christison, meanwhile, turned a 2-3 start to his career, with losses to Severn and Eric Pele, into a 7-3 resume that was good enough to punch his ticket into the UFC. His UFC debut came three and a half years after his appearance on the Aztec Challenge 1 card. Inside the Octagon, he defeated Brad Imes and lost to Frank Mir. Following his loss to Mir, Christison exited the UFC and headed to the IFL, where he lost back-to-back fights. In the years that followed, Christison returned to the regional circuit for a 12-1 run before falling inactive in 2010.

Although Condit and Sanchez now stand as the most significant names from the evening’s lineup and Severn likely held that distinction in the eyes of many when the event went down, the fight’s promoter seemed intent on selling UFC veteran Chris Brennan, Pride veteran Shannon Ritch and future Bellator and Strikeforce fighter Jorge Lopez as three of the event’s main attractions.

Lopez was just a 2-0 prospect at the time, but he was thrust into the headlining slot opposite Tim Green, an 0-1 fighter who had not competed since April 1998. Lopez scored a first-round TKO and went on to a 7-0 start to his career before running into Joey Villasenor in 2004. In 2006, Lopez competed for Strikeforce. In 2009, he made two appearances under the Bellator banner. “The Naked Man” hasn’t competed since March 2012. Green, meanwhile, never fought again following his loss to Lopez.

Brennan and Ritch met prior to the co-headliner that featured Severn. Brennan had fought at UFC 16 and UFC 35 and held a 1-2 record inside the Octagon. Ritch had a pair of losing efforts under the Pride banner, including a submission loss to Kazushi Sakuraba. When the two clashed at Aztec Challenge 1, Brennan wasn’t even a year removed from his UFC 35 appearance and Ritch was less than two months removed from his loss to Daisuke Nakamura in the Pride ring.

Brennan, who held victories over the likes of Joe Stevenson and Antonio McKee, claimed the first-round submission win over Ritch via armbar. The two met again three years later, and Brennan against emerged the victor. The two fighters became well-traveled journeymen.

Brennan, who was 13-6-1 when he fought Ritch, went on to accumulate a 21-13-1 mark. Within a year of his victory over Ritch, he made his Pride debut. He went 1-2 in Pride. Among his losses, he suffered a 29-second TKO loss to Tatsuya Kawajiri. Now 42 years old, the California native has not seen action since June 2012.

Ritch was 15-31 with two no-contests when he fought Brennan. He remained busy in the years that followed and moved his record to 53-76 with four no-contests. Ritch’s most recent outing came in June 2013 at an event in Mexico.

Aztec Challenge 1 may lack depth, but there are very few promotions that can claim a single card that spawned a future UFC and WEC champion and a winner of the very first season of The Ultimate Fighter and played host to a UFC Hall of Famer and UFC tournament champion. This small Mexican promotion, however, can boast such an achievement, and that’s why it holds a significant place in the history of the sport.

  • mulefloyd

    Although Condit and Severn now stand as the most significant names from the evening’s lineup

    Biased against Diego much? How is he any less of a name than Condit?

  • Bryan Henderson

    mulefloyd, that was actually a typo on my part…I meant to say that Condit AND Sanchez now stand as the most significant names and Severn held the honor at the time. My brain was thinking Diego, but I apparently typed Severn again. And it’s not an obvious typo, so it wasn’t caught in the editing process. It’s been corrected.