Frank Mir (James Law/Heavy MMA)History Lessons: IFC Warriors Challenge 15 and the Early Frank Mir and Nick Diaz The MMA Corner Staff February 1, 2014 Spotlight 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 Aug. 31, 2001, and the location was the Gold Country Casino in Oroville, Calif. It was time for the International Fighting Championships’ Warriors Challenge 15. International Fighting Championships was on a roll in 2001. We looked at the promotion’s Shogun 1 event last weekend. That event, which took place in December 2001, featured a lineup that included such notable names as Josh Thomson, Robbie Lawler, Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, Yves Edwards and Duane “Bang” Ludwig. IFC held seven other shows that year, including Warriors Challenge 15, and a glance at the lineup from any one of those cards will reveal at least one future UFC fighter. The August show in California produced a grand total of seven notable names. Among them, one would go on to claim UFC gold and another would earn a reputation as one of the most beloved bad boys of MMA. The future UFC champion on the card was Frank Mir. This was three years before he claimed the title at UFC 48, however, and Mir, at age 22, had just one fight—unanimous decision win over Jerome Smith—under his belt at the time. Mir’s opponent that night was another relative newcomer to the sport, Dan Quinn. At Warriors Challenge 13, Quinn fought his way to a unanimous decision over Tosh Cook. He wouldn’t find the same success against Mir. Mir, who had wrestled in high school and won a state championship in Nevada, was able to secure a triangle choke that finished Quinn at just 2:15 of the first round. Quinn, who was 34 years old at the time, went on to fight exclusively for the Gladiator Challenge promotion until 2010, picking up just four more wins against six losses and a draw in his next 11 fights. Quinn had a lengthy arrest record even when he fought Mir in 2001, but he would eventually be arrested on numerous charges in 2012 and land in a state hospital after being deemed incompetent to stand trial. He is still in state custody and has an overall MMA record of 5-7-1. Mir, on the other hand, fared well after crossing paths with Quinn. He had followed the suggestion of UFC matchmaker Joe Silva and had won a pair of fights on the regional circuit. It was enough to earn him entry into the UFC, where he debuted against 1999 Abu Dhabi Combat Submission Wrestling World champion Roberto Traven. He needed just 65 seconds to submit the highly skilled grappler. The young Mir built his resume up with four wins and a controversial stoppage loss to Ian Freeman before meeting Tim Sylvia and capturing gold. Mir never had a chance to defend that title. He was severely injured in a motorcycle accident and had to work his way back to the top of the heavyweight ranks after returning in 2006. He eventually did regain his standing near the top of the mountain with an interim championship win in 2008 and three subsequent unsuccessful title bids in the years that followed. Heading into his UFC 169 bout with Alistair Overeem, the now 34-year-old Mir is 15-7 inside the Octagon and 16-8 overall. However, he has lost three straight bouts and could be fighting for his UFC career. With just one fight on his record prior to that August night in California, Mir was fighting in one of the opening contests of the card. He wasn’t the only future UFC star in that predicament. Nick Diaz had just turned 18 a short 29 days before Warriors Challenge 15. After a few years of training in various martial arts disciplines, Diaz was ready to turn pro. His introduction to the professional ranks came against another debuting fighter in Mike Wick. Diaz, like Mir, ended his fight in the first round with a triangle choke. Wick never fought again. The victory was enough to set the teenager up with a title shot in his next fight, which came against Chris Lytle in July 2002. Diaz won the IFC’s U.S. welterweight championship with a split decision over Lytle, then went on to compete in the King of the Mountain tournament and advance to the finals. He also defended the IFC belt on two occasions and picked up multiple titles, including the WEC welterweight strap, before finally making his UFC debut in late 2003. Since his Octagon debut against Jeremy Jackson in the rubber match of their trilogy (Jackson defeated Diaz in the King of the Mountain finals, but lost in a bid for Diaz’s IFC belt), the “Stockton Bad Boy” has travelled the MMA landscape. In addition to the UFC, he has competed for Pride, EliteXC, Dream and Strikeforce. He captured and defended the Strikeforce welterweight belt before returning to the UFC in 2011. Diaz has fought just once a year since his Octagon return, picking up a win over B.J. Penn and coming up short in two title bids. Diaz retired from active competition after his most recent loss to Georges St-Pierre. As of the time of his retirement, he was 7-6 overall under the UFC banner. Diaz wasn’t the only future UFC star making his professional debut that night. The lineup also featured seasoned amateur Tim Kennedy in his first pro outing. Kennedy wasn’t handed an easy first challenge, though. His opponent was the hard-hitting Scott Smith, who was 1-0 when he locked horns with Kennedy. However, the two had just met weeks earlier at the California Pancrase Championships, and Kennedy had emerged victorious. Perhaps for that reason, Kennedy took the rematch too lightly. He started off strong, but he went for a takedown and ended up with Smith on top of him. Smith started throwing punches and one opened a cut under Kennedy’s left eye, forcing a TKO stoppage. “Hands of Steel” would go on to amass a 10-1 record before entering the UFC in 2006. Smith went just 1-3 under the UFC banner, but his lengthy career has also included stops in the Gladiator Challenge promotion (where he won the heavyweight title), EliteXC and Strikeforce. Kennedy rebounded with eight straight official wins and also joined the Army, where he competed in Army Combatives tournaments and took top honors for three consecutive years. Kennedy didn’t suffer the second loss of his career until December 2007, when he dropped a unanimous verdict against Jason “Mayhem” Miller. After stints in the Extreme Challenge and IFL organizations, Kennedy finally broke through to the highest levels of the sport when he made his Strikeforce debut in 2009. He went 6-2 in the Strikeforce cage and twice fought for the middleweight title, suffering losses to Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Luke Rockhold. Nearly 12 years removed from his 2001 pro debut, Kennedy finally crossed the threshold of the UFC’s Octagon in 2013 to win his first two fights with the promotion. The rising contender is now set for an April meeting with Michael Bisping at the TUF Nations Finale. Oddly enough, the night’s opening fights produced the far more compelling and accomplished of the UFC contingent. The evening’s headliner and co-headliner also spawned UFC fighters, but neither went on to great things inside the Octagon. The co-headliner pitted Paul Buentello against Gary Marshall. Buentello would go on to fight for the UFC and Strikeforce heavyweight championships later in his career, but he was just 11-7, had dropped three straight and already held losses to Dan Severn, Evan Tanner and Ricco Rodriguez when he clashed with Marshall. Marshall, meanwhile, was just 1-2. It would be 1-3 after he encountered Buentello, who dropped him just seconds before the bell was to sound to signal the end of the first round. Buentello picked up the TKO win. Marshall went on to add one more win and two more losses to his resume before his career ended in 2003. Buentello went 8-1 over his next nine fights and captured the King of the Cage heavyweight crown. He made his UFC debut in 2005 and won his first two fights to earn a shot at the heavyweight belt opposite Andrei Arlovski. Arlovski ended Buentello’s title aspirations in just 15 seconds. Over two separate stints with the UFC, Buentello has compiled a 3-3 mark. He went 3-1 under the Strikeforce banner and also fought in the Bellator cage. Buentello’s most recent outing—a second-round TKO victory over UFC vet James McSweeney—with Legacy FC in August 2013 marked his light heavyweight debut. The main event pitted Ivan Salaverry against Steve Heath. Heath was the more successful fighter at the time, boasting a 7-2 mark to Salaverry’s 5-2 record. One of Heath’s losses had come to Chuck Liddell under the IFC banner a year earlier, and Heath also held a victory over Toby Imada. Salaverry, however, was able to open up a cut on Heath that forced a TKO stoppage at just under three minutes of the first round. Heath continued on as a prospect after his loss to Salaverry. He pushed his record to 10-4 by 2004, before taking a three-year hiatus from active competition. The only other loss in that span came to Yuki Kondo. Upon his return in 2007, Heath won one fight, but then suffered two TKO losses. He has not fought since 2008. Salaverry was in the midst of an 8-2 start to his career when he defeated Heath. He picked up three more wins to punch his ticket to the Octagon. He debuted in 2002 against Andrei Semenov at UFC 37 in 2002. Salaverry scored a TKO victory over Semenov, but then lost to Matt Lindland. Over three separate stints with the UFC, the Canadian fighter has three wins and three losses. He has gone just 2-5 over his last seven fights and just 1-2 since coming out of retirement in 2011. Warriors Challenge 15 is also the home to two fighters with intriguing resumes who never managed to find their way to the bright lights of the UFC. One of them was Marty Armendarez. Within a year of the event, Armendarez’s career was over. But at the time, he was an inconsistent fighter who had scored a TKO victory over Jake Shields and lost via TKO to Sean Sherk. At Warriors Challenge 15, his opponent was another future UFC fighter, Denis Kang. Kang was still five years away from making his Pride debut and eight years from his first fight in the UFC. Kang took Armendarez down early in the fight and landed a series of knees to the face. Armendarez worked his way back to his feet despite the punishment and turned the tide. He took Kang down and scored the TKO win. Over the next year, Armendarez lost to Tony Fryklund and Brendan Seguin and ended his career with a win over a fighter who has never won a pro fight. Granted, Kang and Shields had yet to develop as fighters, but Armendarez’s victories over the pair suggest that he may have had potential. He just never lived up to it, though. The same could be said of Jim Theobald. The grappler started his career in 1998 and went just 1-2 over his first three outings, with his losses coming to Travis Fulton and Jeremy Horn. Theobald bounced back from the loss to Horn with 12 straight wins heading into Warriors Challenge 15. He added a 13th victory with a first-round armbar submission of Chad Cook and won his next fight, too, bringing his overall record to 15-2 by the end of 2001. However, just like Armendarez, Theobald only lasted roughly another year before his career came to an end. He opened 2002 with a draw. In his next outing, he was submitted by Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Theobald rebounded with three more wins to end his career with an 18-3 record. Despite 16 submission wins, many coming in the first round, Theobald never managed to land in the UFC or any other major promotion. Not every mixed martial arts event can produce a future UFC champion, but IFC’s Warriors Challenge 15 did. Add in a controversial star like Nick Diaz and five other future UFC fighters, and the event certainly holds a significant spot in the history of MMA.