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The UFC - 2000 Through 2005

By Cliff Montgomery,
By 2000 the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) game had shifted once again, reverting to a more balanced kind of fighting, where groundwork and submissions re-asserted a good measure of its old dominance.

In the first UFC tournaments fighters wore wrestling or kickboxing shoes, conventional martial arts gis and other clothing approved by UFC officials. Now shirts, gis and shoes were forbidden.

And in 2001 nine weight divisions were established as a result of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board's involvement in framing uniform UFC rules.

Many of the sport's best fighters have learned to grow with the varied changes in rules and style.

Chuck 'The Iceman' Liddell began martial arts as a child, eventually acquiring a black belt in karate. He was wrestling team captain at Santa Barbara's San Marcos High School, and afterward was a four-year starter in Cal Poly University's Division 1 Wrestling program, earning a California State Championship in Freestyle.

Subsequently graduating with a BA in Business/Accounting, Liddell's strong inquisitive streak endured. It was then he began to sharpen his highly-regarded Greco-Roman boxing skills.

Impressively winning two national kickboxing belts while under the instruction of legendary John Hackleman at the 'The Pit' in Arroyo Grande, California, Liddell knew he'd found his home after viewing the first UFC. Before his debut in UFC 17 (May 13, 1998), he began to study Brazilian Ju-Jutsu with John Lewis of the J-Sect Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Chuck's accomplishments in MMA got The Iceman named No-Holds-Barred Co-Competitor of the Year for 2001 by Black Belt Magazine, an honor he shared with UFC Champion Tito Ortiz, whom he went on to defeat in UFC 47.

But certainly the most colorful--and influential--UFC fighter has been San Diego, California's own Ken Shamrock. Often employing an Ankle Lock Submission as his finishing move, it was the powerful shootfighter Ken Shamrock who first helped move MMA away from the complete dominance of the Brazilian Ju-Jutsu groundfighting style of its beginnings, toward the more balanced martial artistic approach it enjoys today.

Some say Shamrock was born in CA; but the best information indicates it was at Warner Robbins Air Force Base, located 16 miles south of Macon, GA. Its official website states "[Robbins] is the largest industrial complex in Georgia, employing a work force of over 25,584 civilian, contractor, and military members."

Never knowing his biological father, Ken ran away from home and lived out of a car at age 10. At age 18 he was adopted by Robert Shamrock.

Ken broke his neck in his senior year of high school. A surgery extracted a bone chip from his hip and fused it into his neck. Shamrock played college football at Shasta Junior College, making all league in defense his sophomore year. Ken went on to play semi-pro ball with the Sacramento Bulldogs.

Shamrock competed in the Olympic Wrestling Trials in 1988.

Joining the military, Ken was kicked out a week before graduation because he never told the brass about his neck injury. He then worked as a bouncer in Reno, Nevada; trained with Buzz Sawyer in Sacramento; moved to Mooresville, North Carolina and studied under Gene Anderson and Nelson Royal.

He was once invited to try out for the San Diego Chargers.

In February 1997, Shamrock signed with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF).

While battling in the Ultimate Fighting Championship circuit, ABC television dubbed Shamrock "The World's Most Dangerous Man". A master of submissions, Ken Shamrock may be the most skilled fighter ever to compete in the Octagon. He quickly became one of the very first UFC Champions.

As for other champs, we may say only that time has tested them as well.

Longtime reigning UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture was practically overwhelming in the Octagon before he lost his title to Josh Barnett in UFC 36.

Frantically getting his professional life back on track, 'The Natural' dropped down one weight class and signed on to battle perennial #1 light heavyweight contender Chuck Liddell in the 'main event' of UFC 43 (June 6, 2003) at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. It was surely Do-or-Die.

Couture defeated Liddell that night in Nevada, winning the Interim Title.

Then on September 26, 2003, the 40-year-old Couture entered the Octagon for his 17th professional match, against one of the most eminently lauded competitors of all time: UFC light-heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz. Couture destroyed Ortiz, a former Cal State Bakersfield wrestler, winning a unanimous decision victory and the desired Undisputed Light-Heavyweight Championship of the UFC.

Couture, also a 2-time UFC heavyweight champion, has clearly cemented his place in the Pantheon of the world's most phenomenal fighters.

The UFC has likewise been tested through trials--within and without--to become the premier mixed martial arts event in the world, and in time just may well become the next 'sweet science'.

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