When Champions Collide
It was Igor Zinoviev’s time in early 1998. The highly touted former captain of the Russian judo team had amassed a record of 7-0-2 in mixed martial arts, defeated the legendary Mario Sperry and Enson Inoue, and was the only man ever to hold the Extreme Fighting Middleweight Title. A phenomenally gifted athlete with a diverse fighting repertoire, Zinoviev seemed ready to become a major star in both the U.S. and Japan.
It also was Frank Shamrock’s time in early 1998. He had stunned many with his quick arm bar submission victory over Olympic gold medalist wrestler Kevin Jackson at UFC’s Ultimate Japan 1 on December 21, 1997. That fight was over in less than 14 seconds. With that win, Shamrock had secured the UFC Middleweight Title.
But 1998 was also a dreadful time for MMA in America. Because MMA pay-per-views were now censored on cable television, Extreme Fighting went out of business in mid-1997 after running just four shows. The somewhat stronger UFC was able to survive, but only ran three live shows in 1998.
Even back in those days, the fledgling UFC and Extreme Fighting promotions refused to co-promote, with many fighters being told, “If you work for them, you don’t work for us.” Now with Extreme Fighting’s demise, the UFC started to absorb some of Extreme Fighting’s top talent, and those dream champion vs. champion fights could take place, albeit only for a UFC title.
In addition, right after Ultimate Japan 1, the UFC hired John Perretti, the former Extreme Fighting matchmaker, as their matchmaker. The legendary Perretti, who introduced five-minute rounds, weight classes, and fingerless gloves to the sport, was known for his mercilessly tight matchmaking. So for his first UFC show, UFC 16 on March 13, 1998, at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner, Louisiana, the main event just had to feature Frank Shamrock against Igor Zinoviev.
Dream fights, however, sometimes do not yield dream results, especially in a reality sport like MMA. The fresher Shamrock was just 25 years old then, while Zinoviev was 31 and a veteran fighter. Zinoviev also went into this fight with a banged up shoulder.
Shamrock opened the bout with some low kicks while circling to his right. Zinoviev followed him and threw a lead right hand. The punch missed Shamrock, who changed levels and penetrated for a double leg takedown, which he then transitioned into a powerful slam to the mat. Zinoviev landed on his left shoulder and head and was knocked out. Referee Big John McCarthy stopped the fight.Time: 22 seconds.
Many in the crowd did not realize what had happened and initially booed until UFC ringside physician Dr. Richard I strico and medics rushed into the cage to treat Zinoviev. His collarbone had been broken and his shoulder reinjured, so Zinoviev had to be carried out on a stretcher.
For the second fight in a row, Frank Shamrock had destroyed a world-class opponent in mere seconds, and he was now on the cusp of achieving legendary status. The injured Igor Zinoviev, after suffering his first defeat, never fought professionally again.