UFC 15: What happened when Randy Couture clashed with the unbeaten Vitor Belfort?
UFC 15 saw a major change to the UFC rulebook as it continued it's attempt to be more palatable to United States athletic commissions following Senator John McCain's anti-UFC campaign that had dominated late 1996 and 1997 as the promotion struggled to find homes for its events.
Now illegal were headbutts, groin strikes, strikes to the back of the head and neck, hair pulling, joint manipulation and knees, head stomps and kicks to a grounded opponent.
The event saw just one tournament, a four-way Heavyweight eliminator featuring Mark Kerr, Greg Stott, Carlos Barreto and Dave Beneteau.
Kerr downed Stott in just 17 seconds with a brutal knee that knocked Stott clean out. The second semi-final bout was more competitive and saw Beneteau take Berreto the full 15-minute distance.
The fight was not the most exciting as most of it was spent in the clinch where Beneteau was able to land the cleaner strikes. Beneteau was the winner by Unanimous Decision.
The final saw Kerr meet alternate Dwayne Cason. Beneteau pulled out citing exhaustion and explained he was unwilling to meet Kerr at less than 100%. That decision seemed pretty sound when Kerr dominated Cason in the final.
In a nice bit of trivia, the commentators mentioned that Kerr's only losses in Amateur Wrestling came versus a man named Kurt Angle. Makes one wonder, what the Olympic Gold Medal winner and WWE superstar could have achieved in MMA.
Kerr, overwhelmed Cason by taking him down, pounding away and securing the rear naked choke when Cason unwisely gave his back. The Heavyweight tournament winner: Mark Kerr.
The most marquee match-up of the night saw UFC 13 Heavyweight tournament winner, Randy Couture take on UFC 12 Heavyweight tournament winner, Vitor Belfort in a match which was staged to decide who would face the winner of the night's title bout for the UFC Heavyweight Championship at UFC Ultimate Japan in December.
Belfort took an absolute age to make his way to the Octagon as Couture waited patiently. "The Natural" seemed to increase in confidence, the longer he waited believing Belfort to be intimidated by him. Belfort finally emerged from his trailer to the Octagon, looking decidedly nervous. Belfort would say later that he was unwell but felt he could not pull out. If so, it would explain why he delayed for so long and was uncomfortable entering the Octagon against the dangerous Couture at less than 100%.
Couture's game-plan was excellent. He avoided Belfort's deadly left hand, which usually set up his piston-like combinations, by circling away from it. This enabled him to take Belfort down and work some good shots in on the mount. When the pair stood up, Couture rocked Belfort with huge uppercuts and pounded away until the referee jumped in for the finish.
A stunning performance from Couture which solidified his future in the promotion as a top guy. Belfort would be back, but this was the first time he ever looked vulnerable and gave his opponents a guideline on how to defeat him.
The main event saw the Heavyweight Championship at stake as the new champion, Maurice Smith, who had shockingly defeated the thought unbeatable, Mark Coleman for the strap put the belt on the line versus Tank Abbott.
A clash of styles between wrestler and brawler looked set to be an entertaining fight but Abbott was a late replacement for the injured Dan Severn and as a result, was severely lacking in cardiovascular conditioning. Smith withstood the early barrage from Tank and then worked him over with kicks and the clearly knackered Abbott waved off the fight. Your winner and still Heavyweight Champion: Maurice Smith.
That was UFC 15. A decent event with a classic battle between Couture and Belfort the definite highlight.