On this week’s episode of Throwback Thursday, we look at UFC 36. This event took place at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA on March 22nd, 2002.
I’ll start by saying something that will likely be said frequently in this series: it is so wild to look at these lineups and see so many names that have since then reached legend status. Take for example our two title fights. In one matchup, Matt Hughes fought. In the other, Randy Couture and Josh Barnett competed. When looking elsewhere on this lineup, there are names like Andrei Arlovski, Frank Mir, Matt Serra, and more.
This week we see an entertaining, yet controversial show. Well, the controversy actually doesn’t come until after the event. At “Worlds Collide,” we’ll see the UFC Heavyweight and Welterweight Championships on the line. In one, we’ll witness a shocking changing of hands for a title – for now at least. I’ll explain later. Let’s start the show.
Just Three Prelims Kick It Off
There were three prelims (?) before the main card. Databases cite them as the main card, but the tape for the main card on UFC Fight Pass starts with the fourth bout. So we’ll treat them as prelims.
Sean Sherk moved his undefeated record to 16 wins in the opening bout, going the distance to beat Jutaro Nakao. Nakao would have moments of brilliance on the feet, but Sherk took him down frequently and spent most of the fight landing ground and pound.
Sherk had only fought in UFC once before, defeating Tiki Ghosn roughly a year before. Nakao was also riding a win, having beat Tony Desouza at UFC 33.
This fight was delayed a little as Sherk needed more tape on his gloves. One of his cornermen, who was in the venue and barefoot, brought this tape to the cage. This was arguably the most notable part of this fight.
Up next we have Matt Serra facing Kelly Dullanty. Serra was expecting to face Din Thomas, but that fight didn’t happen. In retrospect, that’s a funny matchup considering they’re both incredibly notable coaches now. That fight ended up happening a year later in 2003.
Anyway, Serra picked up his first finish UFC win in this bout, stopping Dullanty in the first round with a triangle choke. He tried for a rear naked choke and an armbar before the triangle choke finished the fight in the third minute.
This was Dullanty’s first pro loss and his UFC debut. He only fought one more time as a pro, losing a fight in 2008. I’d be interested to know what brought him back to the sport six years later.
Next, the fastest fight on the card. In his UFC debut, undefeated Frank Mir stopped Pete Williams in just 46 seconds. He applied an “inside shoulder lock,” per databases. I’ve seen a lot of fights and I’ve never seen that before. it looked like an armbar that was more choked up on the arm of Williams.
As you might expect, Mir will be seen quite a bit more in the coming years.
Williams, who fought seven previous times in the UFC, would retire following this fight. This bout was his third consecutive loss.
Meh On The Intro
This event starts with an… Odd intro. We cut right to the live venue where there’s a voiceover from what sounds like a movie voice actor: “This is the legendary Octagon … This is as real as it gets.”
UFC’s intro video then plays, which has its own theme song and so on: “You’re gonna get it! You’re gonna get knocked out! You’re gonna feel it! This is the ultimate!” A variation of this song with the lyrics “Worlds Collide!” peppered in played later during the event as well. Not a big fan.
Returning after losing a title fight to Tito Ortiz, Elvis Sinosic met Evan Tanner in the next bout. This fight ended somewhat prematurely, as a cut to Sinosic caused it to conclude in the second minute. This cut came seemingly came from a flurry of elbows that Tanner landed.
As you can expect, the crowd wasn’t happy with this stoppage. But it was more of an awkward silence than a voiced displeasure from the crowd, honestly.
This was billed as part of some tournament where the winner would face Chuck Liddell? But looking at Tanner’s profile, they never fought. We’ll see both of these guys again though.
A Former Champion Makes His Final Appearance
In one of the last times we’ll see him compete, Pat Miletich fought Matt Lindland in the next bout.
Miletich lost his UFC Championship a year before, ending a reign he had through four title defenses.
Miletich tried to submit Lindland while on his back. After escaping the attempts, Lindland landed strikes from full guard that stopped the fight.
After this fight, Miletich mentioned possibly retiring. This would be Miletich’s last UFC fight. He will compete two more times in MMA, and fight in kickboxing, uh… in 2020 against Michael Nunn. That’s a Miletich bout I can say I actually saw live! The others I was roughly a few months old or yet to be born.
This win added to the momentum of Lindland, who was now undefeated with seven wins, including four consecutive in the UFC cage.
Lindland was asked about a potential fight against UFC Middleweight Champion Murilo Bustamante. We will, in fact, see that fight soon.
Hughes Remains Dominant
In the first of two title fights on this card, UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes was faced Shooto fighter Hayato Sakurai.
Hughes was looking to defend his belt for the first time. He dethroned Carlos Newton last year, stopping him in the second round at UFC 34.
Sakurai was making his UFC debut, but it was with quite a respectable pro record.
The crowd, which was chanting “U.S.A.” was described by commentary as a “bipartisan” crowd. Uhh.
Anyway, this was a pretty dominant win from Hughes. His wrestling background carried him through the first three rounds, taking Sakurai down numerous times. The crowd became somewhat restless by the fourth but woke up when Hughes scored with a right cross.
In full mount, Hughes started to land a steady stream of ground and pound punches in the fourth round. An overwhelmed Sakurai kept taking the shots until the referee stopped the fight.
A real one-sided fight for Hughes. This fight begins what is one of the more successful years of Hughes’ career. Sakurai won’t be seen in the UFC again, although we’ll see him in Pride FC a few times.
After the fight, Hughes set up his rematch against Carlos Newton. They fought in 2001, where Hughes won with a second-round slam. Newton was coming off a win he recently scored in a Pride FC card.
Rizzo Returns From Losing Streak
Heavyweights threw down in the main event, as Andrei Arlovski fought Pedro Rizzo. This was a bounce-back win for Rizzo, putting him back into the win column after losing a two-fight rivalry against Randy Couture.
Rizzo put an abrupt end to the fight in the third round, flooring Arlovski with a two-punch combination of straights for a walk-off finish.
This came after a fight that was honestly close earlier on. They went tit-for-tat with punches, and Rizzo did damage with leg kicks throughout.
That’s two losses through three UFC fights for Arlovski. As you might know, the best was yet to come for Arlovski.
Barnett Makes History Inside And Outside The Cage
It’s the main event time. Randy Couture is putting his prestigious UFC Heavyweight Championship up against Josh Barnett.
Barnett was given the title fight after winning three of his four previous UFC fights, all via stoppage. He would surprise many in this appearance, stopping Couture to claim the belt.
Couture had a good start to the fight, seemingly having control of the battle in the opening round. But everything changed once Barnett had an opportunity on the ground in the second round.
Couture got top position against Barnett in the second round. However, Barnett was able to escape bottom position and take top control. From half guard, he unloaded with ground and pound that Couture seemingly had no counter to. Being held down, these shots from Barnett slowed eventually but continued nonetheless, and convinced the referee to eventually stop the fight in the final minute of the round.
Barnett is the new UFC Heavyweight Champion. For now. It would later be reported that Barnett had tested positive for “Boldenone,” a steroid that was banned at the time. Because of this, he was stripped of the UFC Heavyweight Championship.
It seems somewhat unfair that the belt goes vacant in this situation. Realistically, if someone is defeated unfairly, shouldn’t the belt just go back to them?
In an interesting sign of the times, Barnett still has the win on his record as the Nevada Athletic Commission didn’t have the power to overturn results back then.
Veteran pro wrestling and MMA reporter Dave Meltzer described this as “the first time a steroid controversy hit mixed martial arts.”
The title was taken from Barnett in July and officially vacated. We’ll see a new champion crowned later this year, as a bout for the vacant belt was held in September at UFC 39.
Most likely because of this controversy, we won’t see Barnett in the UFC for another 10 years. However, he will become a familiar face in Japan, fighting in Pride FC and Dream.
Couture will get his chance to take back the belt at another time. But will ever actually get his belt back? We’ll have to wait and see.
NEXT WEEK: Pride 20: Armed and Ready