Monumental Moments In MMA
When John Perretti was making the matches for the inaugural Battlecade Extreme Fighting show on November 18, 1995, he wanted to do something different from their slightly older rival promotion, The Ultimate Fighting Championship. Perretti, along with many others, thought that the UFC was staging “purposeful mismatches” to showcase Royce Gracie and Brazilian Jiu- Jitsu against an array of strongmen who couldn’t tell an armbar from a dive bar.
Perretti said in an interview that he wanted to pit the greatest jiu-jitsu fighter he could find against little-known Igor Zinoviev— the captain of the Russian judo team—in the opposite bracket of a fourman, 200-pound tournament.
The money guys from GMI, Penthouse Magazine’s parent company, were marketing the tourney as a bloody spectacle. Promising the most brutal and violent fights in the world, they were prevented from using an armory in Brooklyn, New York, following outcries from New York’s politicians and mainstream media. At the last minute, the first Extreme Fighting show was moved to a secret soundstage in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Perretti wanted Royce Gracie to face Zinoviev. Royce, whose last fight for UFC at that time was an April 2005 draw with Ken Shamrock in a 36-minute, judgeless contest, was available and willing to fight, said Perretti. But the organization’s problems scuttled any deal. Extreme Fighting was already working with Royce’s uncle, the late, great Carlson Gracie Sr., so Carlson’s prized protégé, Mario Sperry, was selected.
Sperry was billed as having a record of 272–0, a claim not exactly supported by thorough documentation. However, Sperry was still regarded as the “number one competitor” in many jiu-jitsu circles. Zinoviev himself would say, according to Perretti, that when he tried to take him down, Sperry was “like an apparition.” About 11 minutes into the fight, Sperry, who Perretti recalls had mounted Zinoviev about six times, was winning but had not finished him. While standing, Sperry took Zinoviez’s back and began throwing uppercuts. Zinoviev then lowered his head and looked through his legs at Sperry, anticipating a choke. Sperry tried to leap onto Zinoviev’s back, but Zinoviev ducked out the back.
Zinoviev then kneed Sperry in the head, hurting and cutting him. It went back to the mat, as Zinoviev pounded the cut while Sperry tried a guillotine. Dazed, bleeding, and exhausted, Sperry clearly tapped once, ending the match.
Announcer Dave Bontempo named Zinoviev “Houdini” for his incredible escape, and the beleaguered Extreme Fighting had an instant classic. Perretti described it as “one of the most heroic fights in mixed martial arts history.”
It proved, Perretti said, that someone like Zinoviev, who was new to jiu-jitsu but was a judo master and could “throw right hands from any position, could beat the best jiu-jitsu guy in the world.” Yet another martial arts myth was debunked.