The showdown between Frank Shamrock and Tito Ortiz at UFC 22 was regarded at the time as the greatest fight in MMA history, and it is still seen as such by many people who saw it in person or watched it live on television.
The drama going into this fight was immense. Shamrock, 26 years old and the UFC’s first Middleweight Champion (200lbs.), had already made it known that he would be leaving the UFC after this fight. In addition, the rivalry between Ortiz and Shamrock’s Lion’s Den increased after Ortiz earned TKO wins over Lion’s Den members Jerry Bohlander and Guy Mezger. After the victories, Ortiz made disparaging remarks and goaded Bohlander and Mezger’s cornermen, including Ken Shamrock.
In only the second UFC with five minute rounds and five round title fights, Shamrock put his title on the line against the favored Ortiz, who was 24 years old.
Ortiz controlled the action in round one with takedowns and ground and pound. Shamrock, however, had a gameplan of wearing down Ortiz, essentially using a jiujitsu strategy. When Shamrock was taken down, he was relentlessly active in Ortiz’s guard, continuously moving while landing strikes, trying submissions, and blocking much of Ortiz’s ground attack. Still, Ortiz was outwrestling him, and he cut Shamrock over the left eye with a knee on the ground (still legal). Ortiz won the first three rounds to most observers, although he was visibly tiring after the third.
The fourth round saw Shamrock’s plan come to fruition. Shamrock began to outbox Ortiz, forcing him to shoot for takedowns, but Ortiz was noticeably weaker.
With about a minute left in round four, Ortiz took a sloppy shot and Shamrock countered with a guillotine choke attempt. Shamrock then rolled out, and he stood and landed some vicious shots on the turtled up Ortiz. At 4:50 of round four, Ortiz finally had enough, and he tapped out. Another chapter in the Frank Shamrock legend had been written, punctuated by a retirement announcement right after the fight.
“It was the high point of my career,” said Shamrock in a recent interview. “That fight was the height of my physical execution. I was at the height of my business understanding at that age. I knew what I wanted…I was going to beat Tito, I was going to retire, I was going to become a free agent, and I was going to start another organization to compete with the UFC.”
While Shamrock, who after a few comebacks retired for good in 2010, didn’t accomplish that last goal, this fight established him as a legendary mixed martial artist, and one of the best MMA fighters of the 1990s.