John McCarthy is considered to be the authority of two things: MMA rules and MMA officiating. The reputation has been well earned. He was the first prominent MMA referee and was in the meetings when the Unified Rules were being created. He may never have been a fighter, but he’s become MMA royalty. Even royalty have their bad nights, though.
As a referee, McCarthy never had a worse night than the night of May 10, 2002 at UFC 37: High Impact.
The main event of UFC 37 featured Murilo Bustamante defending his recently won middleweight title against Olympic wrestling silver medalist Matt Lindland. A world champion BJJ practitioner, Bustamante managed to catch Lindland in an armbar in the first round when Lindland attempted to escape from underneath Bustamante’s mount. Lindland had no choice but to tap. A few quick slaps of the Brazilian’s inner thigh and it was all over—at least, it should have been.
Seeing Lindland tap right there, before his very eyes, McCarthy broke up the action. Only, the moment he did, Lindland immediately protesting the stoppage—claiming that he was merely fighting off the submission. For whatever reason, McCarthy took Lindland at his word and the action continued.
Bustamante was visibly upset, understandably so. Whether his state of mind was directly responsible for his losing the second round we may never really know. Fortunately, eventually, it didn’t matter. Bustamante dropped Lindland in the third, finding a guillotine shortly thereafter and getting a second submission out of his opponent. With that win, Bustamante became the first—and thus far only—UFC champion to defend their belt twice in the same night.
Interestingly, the victory proved to be Bustamante’s last fight in the UFC. He’d get into a contract dispute with the promotion and was stripped of the belt a few months later when he officially signed with PRIDE. Given the UFC eventually became MMA’s gold standard, it was probably the wrong move for his legacy. But at the time, PRIDE was seen by many as the superior product. (Here’s a way back piece from Kid Nate touching on his legacy.) Lindland never fought for a UFC title again, though he was never too far out of the middleweight title picture, even up until his unceremonious departure from the organization.
UFC 37 Notable Debuts
Future UFC champion Robbie Lawler made his debut at the event, putting a ferocious beating on Aaron Riley to open up the event. Only 20-years old at the time, Dana White called Lawler an early Christmas present for the young future-champion’s extreme penchant for violence. Lawler’s performance was impressive enough that he was chosen to be part of the first MMA fight to be shown on US cable the following month for UFC 37.5.
For old school fans, there were another couple of recognizable talents who made their first Octagon appearance that night. Ivan Salaverry—who would be a part of the main event of the first UFC Fight Night—debuted by taking out the then-hyped Russian Andrei Semenov. The other name of note was one Benji Radach. Radach didn’t find a lot of success in the UFC, only making three appearances, but was a notable what-could-have-been fighter, who missed a big chunk of his prime due to a badly broken jaw. Nevertheless, Radach did have a notable run in the IFL, fighting for the inaugural IFL middleweight title.
UFC 37 Notable Fights
Ricco Rodriguez punched his ticket to a title fight by disposing of Tsuyoshi Kosaka. It was a weird fight; Kosaka’s appearance was a one-off after a two-and-a-half year absence from the organization. Plus, he had lost three of four entering the contest. Regardless, it proved to be Rodriguez’s fourth consecutive win in the UFC, utilizing his large frame to smother the smaller Kosaka on the ground. It wasn’t great from an entertainment standpoint, but it was a fantastic example of how good Rodriguez could be when motivated. He went on to win the UFC heavyweight title in his next fight.
BJ Penn rebounded from his first career loss by disposing of an undersized Paul Creighton. The first round featured a lot of work against the fence, but Penn started looking like his vintage self in the second. A solid, if not spectacular finish for the ‘Prodigy.’
The contest between Lawler and Riley was the most aesthetically pleasing bout of the night. For the bulk of the fight, Lawler pounded on Riley—only for the smaller man to keep finding ways to bounce back. The most singularly competitive fight, however, was the scrap between Caol Uno and Yves Edwards. The fight was fun everywhere it went, with several prolonged scrambles and action-packed bursts of standup action. Uno got his hand raised, but it was a very close run thing.
Salaverry’s contest with Semenov was similar to Uno and Edwards in it’s back and forth nature, but the middleweights weren’t as slick in their movement. Salaverry won with a crucifix that trapped Semenov’s arms, punching a helpless Semenov in the face. The maneuver became synonymous enough with Salaverry that it was referred to as “The Salaverry position” by many fans and pundits, including Joe Rogan.
It wasn’t hard to see why the UFC thought Phil Baroni could be a special talent given the violent manner in which he put away Amar Suloev. On a card full of finishes, the way he blasted Suloev on the mat would have easily been the most memorable moment on the card if the main event hadn’t had required two submissions to draw it to a close.
Other Fun UFC 37 Facts
The event took place in Bossier City, Louisiana. Louisiana proved to be a favorite destination for the UFC when the sport was driven out of the limelight, running six events there from 1998 to 2002 at a time when five or six events per year was the standard. After UFC 37, the organization wouldn’t appear in Louisiana for another nine years.
Injuries plagued the card. Chuck Liddell and Vitor Belfort were expected to originally fight on this card before their bout ended up pushed back to UFC 37.5. It was rumored Rumina Sato would fight Penn, which would have been a dream matchup, but Sato wasn’t healthy enough to sign the dotted line. Salaverry was an injury replacement for the man Bustamante beat for the middleweight belt, Dave Menne.
Frank Mir was on commentary, serving as the rotating color man the UFC had at the time. It was the last event before Joe Rogan filled the color seat for the first time, a spot he periodically maintains today.
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