UFC 3: What happened when Ken Shamrock returned to the Octagon?
UFC 3 was promoted as the event in which the long-awaited re-match between two-time defending UFC Champion, Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock would take place.
In truth, the pair was entered into the UFC tournament, intentionally on opposite sides of the draw and both had work to do if they were to clash in the final as expected (and desired).
An injury had kept Shamrock out of the Octagon at UFC 2, but organizers were hoping that Shamrock could become their second major star of the organization after Gracie.
UFC 3: The American Dream emanated from the Grady Cole Center in Charlotte, North Carolina on the 9th September 1994; the first time the UFC had ventured outside of Denver.
Reverting to the eight-man format used at UFC 1, UFC 3 was the most memorable UFC event of the first three UFC’s.
The event began with a bang in a hugely entertaining encounter between Karate expert, the man with the supreme mullet, Keith Hackney and the six foot eight inch, sumo wrestler, Emmanuel Yarborough.
It looked like a mismatch, an observation made much more real, when the enormous, Yarborough charged Hackney so hard, he was sent careering out of the locked cage door. Somehow, Hackney was able to recover and caught his larger foe with an incredible right hand. Yarborough collapsed to the floor and Hackney, recognizing his likely only chance for victory, unloaded with a seemingly never-ending flurry of punches to Yarborough’s head to yield the tap-out. Hackney hit Yarborough so hard that he broke his hand and had to withdraw from the tournament. It was a wild start to the show.
Ken Shamrock returned to the Octagon to face Judoka practitioner, Christophe Leininger. In a competitive bout, Shamrock earned the advantage when he forced his opponent to the fence and slugged away with strikes. With nowhere to go, Leininger had no choice but to tap out.
Harold Howard, a Ju-Jitsu Champion and Kickboxer defeated Ronald Payne in the third first-round encounter. In the least memorable matchup of the round, Payne actually had Howard on the ropes, taking him down early and keeping Howard at bay with kicks. However, Howard knocked Payne silly with a huge right hand to earn the knockout win.
Finally, defending champion, Gracie lined up against then-unknown Hawaiian, Kimo Leopoldo. For the first time in his UFC career, Gracie was overwhelmed by the power of his opponent. Kimo in an incredible moment broke free of Gracie’s previously impenetrable guard after five highly competitive minutes of action, Gracie managed to maneuver Kimo into position for a desperate arm-bar for the win. Kimo jumped right back up after the submission and a weary Gracie, looking nothing like the winner had to be helped out of the Octagon.
The injured Hackney was replaced by Felix Mitchell, robbing the crowd of a potentially exciting Hackney/Shamrock encounter. Shamrock dealt with his alternate opponent with ease, wearing him down on the fence before securing a chokehold for victory. Shamrock was in the final. He just had to wait for Gracie to join him.
However, in a stunning development, Gracie didn’t make it to the final. He didn’t even make it to the semi-final. In a perplexing sight, Gracie was carried to the Octagon, looking like he would rather be anywhere else. It took an absolute age, for the fight to begin as Gracie’s corner stood deep in conversation. Eventually, they threw the towel in. Gracie could not continue due to exhaustion and injuries suffered in his encounter with Kimo.
Thrilled that he had taken the undefeated two-time tournament winner out of the competition, Kimo and his entourage rushed the Octagon and made sure the audience recognized the significance of what he had achieved.
With Gracie out of contention, Howard advanced to the final without having to lift a finger.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t joined by Shamrock. Shamrock also withdrew from the competition citing injury. In truth, as Shamrock later revealed years later, he actually withdrew from the tournament as he had no interest in fighting anyone other than Gracie in the UFC.
Shamrock and the UFC would have to wait a little while longer until Shamrock could get his hands on Gracie once more.
A hugely entertaining event, therefore, was headlined by an underwhelming attraction of Harold Howard and alternate, Steve Jennum in the UFC tournament final. Jennum incredibly found himself with the opportunity in the final despite not having fought previously on the card.
The fresher Jennum shocked the world, grounding and pounding Howard for the win in under two minutes.
Steve Jennum was the UFC 3 tournament champion in a result that nobody could have anticipated. However, despite the ignominy of his exit from UFC 2, Gracie wasn’t done yet. He would return at UFC 4, desperate to regain his crown as the premier performer in the company.