UFC 12: What happened when Mark Coleman clashed with Dan Severn to determine the first ever UFC Heavyweight Champion?

Mark Coleman: Defeated Dan Severn to become the UFC's first ever Heavyweight Champion
Mark Coleman: Defeated Dan Severn to become the UFC's first ever Heavyweight Champion

The selling point of UFC 12 was the bout to determine the first ever Heavyweight Champion in promotion history. UFC 10 & 11 tournament winner, Mark Coleman fought reigning “Superfight” Champion and UFC 5 and Ultimate Ultimate Ultimate 1995 tournament winner, Dan Severn in a highly anticipated fight to unify the “Superfight” belt with the brand new Heavyweight strap.

The first event of 1997 was forced to take place in the small Southern town of Dothan, Alabama as UFC were refused a licence to put the event on in New York as planned.

Senator John McCain’s anti-UFC campaign was now in full force and the company severely struggled to find homes for their events as well as cable companies who would carry the show.

In a bid to be seen as more legitimate in the sporting world, UFC introduced weight classes for the first time with the advent of a Heavyweight and Light-Heavyweight division. This means that the smaller wrestler versus the giant behemoth battles of events gone by were now firmly a thing of the past.

So, with two UFC tournaments instead of the usual one; 19-year-old, Vitor Belfort made his UFC debut as a Heavyweight in the first Heavyweight tournament bout opposite Tre Telligman. Belfort won in 77 seconds after he charged Telligman unleashing his brutal quick fire striking, taking the Lion's Den fighter down into side mount and knocking him silly with elbows. As one-sided a fight as you are ever likely to see.

In the other Heavyweight Semi-Final bout, Scott Ferrozzo needed much longer to overcome Jim Mullen. Though Mullen struggled to put on much of an offensive show, as the much larger, Ferrozzo bullied him into the fence repeatedly, smothering him as he exacted heavy knees to destroy Mullen's vertical base. Once Ferrozzo took Mullen down, the fight was over quickly as the Ferrozzo dropped knees to the head for the win.

The final saw Belfort clash with Ferrozzo in a "David vs Goliath" encounter. Once more, it was "David" who won. Ferrozzo unwisely invited Belfort on him and the Brazilian obliged with more lighting fast punches, dropping the giant to the mat, before unleashing even more strikes on his fallen foe. A carbon copy of Belfort's first fight. This was striking of the highest order and launched the youngster to superstardom in UFC. It is amazing to note how talented Belfort was at such a young age and it is perplexing that he did not achieve more in MMA. He really should have been a legend and mainstream superstar of the level of Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz or Conor McGregor but inconsistency and personal tragedy prevented that from ever happening.

The Light-Heavyweight tournament saw Jerry Bohlander overwhelm Rainy Martinez in double quick time. Bohlander nailed Martinez with a takedown that Martinez escaped. However, it was short lived as Martinez unwisely gave his back and Bohlander took advantage with a rear naked choke for the submission.

The second Semi-Final saw Yoshiki Takahashi meet Wallid Ismail in a fight that has to be seen to be believed. Takahashi did not appear to know the rules of UFC and hilariously kept calling for timeouts, standing eight counts, kept grabbing the fence and was also guilty of stomping on Ismail while he was on the canvas as well as trying to pull his cup off. Seriously. He really should have just been disqualified as he was a danger to himself and his opponent as he truly had no clue what he could and couldn't do. However, despite these repeated transgressions and baffling moments, he was the busier of the two fighters and picked up the decision victory

Bohlander crushed alternate Nick Sanzo in the final to win the Light-Heavyweight tournament after Takahashi withdrew due to a broken hand. Bohlander smashed Sanzo with some knees to the head and looked in an unusual crucifix neck crank combo which was extremely effective yielding the quick tap out.

The Ultimate Ultimate 1996 tournament winner, Don Frye was originally scheduled to take on Severn in the battle to crown the inaugural Heavyweight Champion but withdrew due to injury and incidentally would never fight for the promotion again. Coleman clashed with Severn in his place. It was a mouth-watering clash between wrestlers on paper and although it didn't exactly thrill in practice, it was still a decent encounter. Coleman blocked repeated takedown attempts from Severn before securing full mount and landing a tight headlock. Severn tried hard to escape but couldn't and had no choice but to tap. The first ever UFC Heavyweight Champion was Mark "The Hammer" Coleman.

Despite the immense difficulty, UFC had in putting on this event, the pay per view numbers demonstrated the promotion still had a considerable audience as the show pulled a hugely impressive 122,000 buys, which considering the limited number of cable outlets offering the event was a massive achievement for the company and gave them something to build on throughout the rest of 1997 and beyond.

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Edited by Vikshith R
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