History in the Making: Before UFC on Fox, there was UFC 37.5 and Robbie Lawler

Photo via FCFighter.com

The UFC was in a pickle.

The year was 2002 and the promotion was looking forward to July and their next event: UFC 38: "Brawl at the Hall," which was to be headlined by a welterweight title rematch between Matt Hughes and Carlos Newton.

But when Fox Sports Net and The Best Damn Sports Show Period offered to air a UFC bout during the program's "All Star Summer" special, the fight company had to scramble to put together a card on only a couple of weeks notice.

Since UFC 37 had come and gone and promotion for UFC 38 was already in full swing, what fans and Fox got was UFC 37.5: "As Real As It Gets." The impromptu Las Vegas card was headlined by Chuck Liddell taking on Vitor Belfort, a fight that few fans have seen due to the particulars surrounding the event.

Now that the UFC and Fox have entered into a multi-year agreement, a deal that could potentially take the sport to heights once thought unreachable, we'll take a quick look at the fight that aired during "All Star Summer."

Shockingly, it wasn't the main event between "The Iceman" and "The Phenom" but a bout between a 20-year old Robbie Lawler and a well-traveled but little known Steve Berger that made the cut.

Let's go!

While EliteXC: "Primetime" was the first mixed martial arts (MMA) event on broadcast television -- and Brett Rogers taking on Jon Murphy, the first fight -- when it aired on CBS three years ago, the bout between Lawler and Berger was the first time our favorite sport aired on basic cable.

It seems that today you can't go a week without some kind of fight programming airing -- be it UFC, Bellator or any number of events that air on HDNet or MavTV -- but a decade ago, pay-per-view (PPV) or making the trek to see it live were your only options.

At a point where the sport had just experienced its darkest period, one that nearly saw its demise, this deal seemed like the greatest thing in the world.

So let's take a closer look at this fight, shall we?

The two touch gloves and we're off, history unfolding before our very eyes.

They circle around, trying to find their range until Lawler throws a wild head kick that misses its mark. "Ruthless" is spun around from the kick and Berger shoots in, taking his opponent to the mat.

Lawler is quick to return to a vertical base but Berger clinches the former Miletich Fighting Systems fighter and drops him back down. But again, Lawler is up to his feet. Berger can get "Ruthless" to the mat but keeping him there in another issue altogether.

The two clinch against the cage and begin hammering each other with vicious body shots to the ribcage. The sound of leather pounding against flesh is very noticeable and no doubt elicits a grimace from anyone watching.

Tit for tat, each fighter is giving as good as they're getting. It's almost like a body punch-version of Don Frye's and Yoshihiro Takayam's infamous hockey game-style brawl.

The fighters separate and reset in the center of the Octagon. They exchange and Lawler is able to get his hands on his opponent's head. "Ruthless" holds Berger in place and lands a knee to the skull that staggers him and draws a cheer from the crowd.

To close out the first round, Lawler slams his opponent to the ground but Berger, being no slouch at Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), is more than willing to take the fight to the mat. Berger plays Antonio Inoki to Lawler's Muhammed Ali but unlike the former Cassius Clay, "Ruthless" obliges his opponent and follows him down to land some ground and pound.

The second begins and before Berger is able to get himself comfortable, a giant hook from Lawler crashes its way into his jaw. Berger drops onto his back, glassy-eyed and dazed as a result of the monster punch from "Ruthless."

He's too hurt, though, and Lawler is able to force the referee's hand seconds later earning himself a technical knockout (TKO) victory.

If you tuned into Fox Sports Net that day, that was the fight you saw. I wonder if anyone watched Lawler knocking Berger silly and became an instant fan. Or conversely, if anyone saw the violent spectacle and was immediately turned off by the sheer brutality.

The entire event would later find its way onto PPV but never saw a home video release in the United States. And as the potential partnership between the UFC and Fox failed to materialize, UFC 37.5 has become somewhat forgotten, a bit of trivia you can throw out at the sports bar between fights.

Obviously Fox has come around and have welcomed the UFC into their programming family with open arms but one can only imagine where the sport would be now if things had turned out a bit differently in 2002.

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