UFC 18: What happened when Bas Rutten debuted for the company?
The first event of 1999 saw the UFC debut of MMA legend, Bas Rutten. UFC had hoped to make Rutten the new figurehead of the promotion following the difficult years of 1997 and 1998 which had seen their biggest stars depart and pay per view and live attendance dramatically decline.
Rutten was seen as a potential counterpoint to these issues. However, unfortunately, he would only fight twice for the company before injury forced the Dutchman into retirement.
His two UFC fights were not particularly impressive either and highlighted the fact that the once great fighter was past his prime.
For most of his 14-minute clash with Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Rutten was on the defensive, stuck on the mat as Kohsaka dominated him. For some reason, deep into the fight, the referee stood both men up despite Kohsaka being active in the mount. Rutten then smashed Kohsaka with punches and won the bout via Knockout, and advanced to the finals of the Heavyweight title tournament to crown a new Heavyweight Champion.
Elsewhere, Tito Ortiz continued his rise up the card with an impressive victory over Jerry Bohlander. Ortiz schooled the Lion's Den fighter, outmuscling him and taking him down at will and not allowing any significant offence from his opponent. Post-fight Ortiz mimed firing guns at the Lion’s Den corner and began his long campaign of mocking the team by pulling on a T-shirt reading "Extreme Associates 3:16", "I just f**ked your ass."
The Ortiz versus Lion's Den feud would culminate with a trilogy of bouts between Ortiz and team founder, Ken Shamrock.
Evan Tanner made his UFC debut versus the little known Darrel Gholar. Gholar had good wrestling skills and used these to take Tanner down early but when Tanner brought the fight back to standing, it was one-way traffic. Tanner secured the rear naked choke for the win.
Mikey Burnett defeated Townsend Saunders in a dominant performance but one which went the full 15-minute timeframe as Burnett could not finish his opponent off. However, it was another notch in the win column for the Lions Den fighter who was coming off a loss to Miletich.
Former Heavyweight Champion, Mark Coleman's miserable run of form in the Octagon continued versus Pedro Rizzo. In truth, he should have won. The bout went the full 15-minute timeframe but Coleman was very active and took Rizzo down continuously.
When the fight was standing, Rizzo looked pretty tentative so it is baffling that he would be declared the winner by the judges. As an aside, the decision was split and the deciding vote went to none other than Dave Meltzer. That's right. That Dave Melter of Pro-Wrestling Observer fame.
Finally, Lightweight Champion Pat Miletich defended his title once more but regrettably in another tedious bore-fest. 21 minutes passed by slowly as the crowd loudly booed the inaction. Miletich won by Unanimous Decision.
That was UFC 18. A notable show for the wins by up and coming stars such as Tanner and Ortiz but where the established brigade such as Miletich, Coleman, Rutten and Rizzo underwhelmed. A new world order of UFC fighters were beginning to take over.