Not for the Ages will be an ongoing feature, where obscure history, bizarre bouts, forgotten fighters, and the just plain inexplicable meet to explain broader themes in a sport that still seems unsure of itself.
It’s taken awhile for me pick my jaw up from off the floor following UFC 162. Less the bizarre, somewhat comical nature of the knockout, and more from the reactions to the knockout by fans and media. They say “hubris” defeated Anderson Silva, not realizing that hubris was an actual element of Silva’s game. And now they’re saying Silva wasn’t defeated at all. It was “fixed”.
Well, Sports Illustrated entertained the idea at least.
But what would a “fix” or “work” even look like in this day and age? I’m not here to answer that question. My guess is that it won’t look like one of the UFC’s biggest superstars sabotaging his relationship with Nike, the fans of Brazil, UFC fans, Dana White, and Burger King by letting Chris Weidman torpedo Silva’s head into the Earth’s core. I’m not sure these people actually saw how brutal the knockout actually was, and for my own reaction to this nonsense, I’d prefer to just point you in the direction of Jordan’s Breen’s outburst on Beatdown After the Bell. But that’s beside the point.
The point is that ‘fight fixing’ does have its sinister claws embedded into MMA history. The most famous is Mark Coleman’s bout with Nobuhiko Takada. One of the elements always missing from allegations of a “work” is internal logic. Here, the logic to the idea that Takada and Coleman would “work” this bout was present.
Takada was a big pro wrestling name in 1995. His reputation was big enough to get over 60,000 fans into the Tokyo Dome with a live gate of up to 5 million in some instances. These numbers came from what was at the time a very popular feud between New Japan Pro Wrestling and the Union of Wrestling Force International.
The numbers didn’t last long, which is when Takada jumped ship to Pride Fighting Championships, where he debuted in its inaugural show, October 11, 1997 against Rickson Gracie. He lost that fight by armbar (obviously), but he was clearly an important face in the organization.
At the time of the fight, Coleman was on a three fight losing streak in the UFC. Maurice Smith chopped his legs in a classic bout for the UFC championship that in some ways paved the way for future strategies for kickboxers on how to successfully counter the wrestler, grappler types. Pete Williams knocked him out with an iconic head kick, and Pedro Rizzo earned a decision win.
It set the stage for a credible work when you think about it. Coleman was a legitimate fighter with real credentials, but he also appeared to be spiraling down. Takada was an MMA upstart with nothing to lose (a description that looks silly in retrospect, but his only two losses at time were to an icon in Rickson Gracie), and his new company needed to invest in drama. It needed to recapture some of the pro wrestling magic.
And so it didn’t.
Watching the fight, which I don’t recommend, doesn’t hit the lunacy throttle until the 8:44 mark. I mean, it’s still slightly amusing to watch Mark Coleman intentionally miss punches (the one at 2:40 is especially telling) when they’re on the ground, but as a fight itself, it’s dreadful. Stephen Quadros and Bas Rutten are clearly confounded by it all. Even in their commentary, every description of what’s going on seems to end with a question mark, and when their commentary isn’t tinged with skepticism, it’s bathed in boredom.
They don’t come alive until the end when Coleman gets a double that immediately lands him into side control. Takada makes no attempt to regain guard, but Coleman slides into his guard for him. “What is he doing?!” Bas asks, sincerely confused, and finally awake. When Quadros rhetorically asks “he’s going into the guard of Takada?”, there’s a pregnant pause between the two. You can practically hear them roll their eyes at one another, but it’s the collection of “what???” and “no no no no!” that perfectly capture the absurdity.
Former Bloody Elbow rabblerouser, Jonathan Snowden famously interviewed Mark, asking him about his bout with Takada, to which Mark replied, “It was what it was. I needed to support my family. They guaranteed me another fight after that and I needed that security. It was what it was. I’m going to leave it at that.”
Documenting other works is difficult. Oleg Taktarov vs. Anthony Macias is another fight famously considered to be a work. Taktarov and Macias fought underneath the same manager at the time, and there was an obvious incentive for Taktarov to win and advance to face Tank Abbott in the finals of UFC 6 (for my money, one of the best UFC’s of the barnyard era). Taktarov had shown real moxy in his loss to Dan Severn, and a striker like Macias going in for the takedown against a grappler like Oleg with his neck exposed made for suspicions so obvious, Jim Brown had to air his doubts about it on live television.
Jeff Osbourne, one-time UFC commentator, and Hook N’Shoot promoter, has acknowledged their sporadic occurrences. Classifying a ‘work’ can be complex though. The bribe or dive may be ‘easy’ to spot, but what about the betting scam, where the odds on favorite conspires to intentionally lose for a nice cut arranged with the bookies? It’s hard to say, and it’d be even harder to prove. Also unlikely in a sport like MMA, where there’s simply less money.
While MMA isn’t that far removed from some sketchy behavior (see the Kimbo Slice EliteXC fiasco and Dana’s wonderful rant in response) Mark Coleman’s fight with Takada is not a microcosm of anything, however. It’s a time capsule. A vestige. There are few halo’s in the prizefighting business, but even less Doctor Claws.
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