Things were not going well for mixed martial arts in the United States in 1997. With politicians slandering the sport as “human cockfighting,” cable companies decided to censor the pay-per-views, which was hurting revenue. This led to major financial problems for the UFC and the death of Extreme Fighting. The sport was banned in New York under a draconian law still in effect today. The message that MMA is a real sport with highly trained athletes was effectively silenced in the mainstream media.
A lot, then, was riding on the fortunes of Kevin Jackson, a 1992 Olympic gold medalist and 1991 and 1995 World Champion in freestyle wrestling. The former All-American from Iowa State stopped the very tough John Lober at Extreme Fighting 4 in April 1997, before getting two more victories at UFC 14 over Todd Butler and Tony Fryklund. Kevin Jackson also was not one of those wrestlers in MMA who stubbornly refused to comprehend the value of submissions. He had seen three top-level wrestlers submitted at John Perretti’s Contenders submission wrestling event in October 1997, including Frank Shamrock defeating two-time Olympian Dan Henderson by heel hook in 56 seconds and Matt Hume defeating fellow Olympic gold medalist Kenny Monday by ankle lock in 45 seconds.After that show, he noted that wrestlers must learn submissions.
The stage was set for the UFC to crown Kevin Jackson their first middleweight champion (then 200 pounds) at Ultimate Japan 1 in the Yokohama Arena on December 21, 1997. Jackson’s opponent was making his UFC debut, former King of Pancrase Frank Shamrock, who had won an unofficial title eliminator by beating Enson Inoue at Vale Tudo Japan 1997. But he had also lost to John Lober by split decision at Super Brawl 3 in January 1997. Many fans gave Shamrock no chance against this elite wrestler who seemingly understood submissions.
The fight went like this: Jackson shot a double-leg takedown and posted his right arm on the chest of Shamrock, who wrapped his legs on Jackson’s left shoulder and then secured an armbar on Jackson’s right arm. Jackson tapped with his left hand, and it was over in about 14 seconds.
“I lost because I was not prepared from the jiu-jitsu standpoint, from a technical standpoint,” said Kevin Jackson in a recent interview. “If I would have gotten with the experts, I really don’t think that would have happened. But being a full-time wrestler as well didn’t allow me to really totally focus on getting my submission defense intact. I got my eyes opened against Frank Shamrock.”
For those who want to compete in both sports, he added, “It’s very difficult to serve two masters.” Shamrock remained the UFC Middle weight Champion until he left the UFC in 1999. Jackson, after another armbar loss to Jerry Bohlander at UFC 16, fought and won once more in 1998 before retiring from fighting.
Eddie Goldman is the host and producer of the No Holds Barred radio show.