Back in the waning days of the 20th century, the world was in many respects a vastly different place than it is today.
It may be hard to imagine now, but less than 15 years ago, the internet was largely considered the domain of socially deficient geeks destined for a lifetime of dating their own Cheeto-stained left hands, the iPhone had yet to be invented, non-passengers could stroll up to airport terminal gates in order to greet arriving friends, and then-President Bill Clinton's penile proclivities were the number one story in politics.
Oh, and that mixed martial arts (MMA) stuff that nowadays is seemingly broadcast with the regularity of Seinfeld reruns? At the time it was an all but blacklisted fringe sport in the United States -- one that's continued survival was very much in doubt.
The trouble started in early 1997, when Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) -- launched in part as a cleverly designed infomercial for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu by Rorion Gracie and ad-man Art Davie, with financial backing from Bob Meyrowitz and his Semaphore Entertainment Group -- began to lose its cable clearances thanks to a smear campaign led by Republican Senator John McCain.
In a masterstroke of political posturing that owed a heavy debt to George Orwell's "Newspeak," McCain dubbed the violent new sport "human cockfighting." This put cable providers in the seemingly indefensible position of giving an outlet to a pseudo-sport that was regarded as little more than glorified barbarism thanks to McCain's incessant demonizing of it in the media.
Despite no demonstrable evidence MMA was more dangerous than boxing, cable providers like TCI and Time Warner responded to McCain's witch hunt by dropping UFC faster than a high school valedictorian dumping a boyfriend who just quit college in order to devote more time to playing "Grand Theft Auto" on Xbox Live.
It was against this backdrop that Frank Shamrock entered the Octagon to defend his UFC middleweight title -- later renamed the UFC light heavyweight title -- at Lake Charles Civic Center in Lake Charles, Louisiana on the evening of September 24, 1999.
Shamrock, the adopted younger brother of early-UFC star Ken Shamrock, may have been the best UFC fighter under 200 pounds, but in late 1999 that was a bit like laying claim to the title of king of the rats aboard a rapidly sinking ship.
His opponent that night was a significantly larger wrestler by the name of Tito Ortiz. At the time, Ortiz was a young up and comer with a reputation for taking down and physically dominating smaller opponents. This didn't bode well for Shamrock, who was at least 15 pounds lighter than Ortiz on fight night.
In the fight's opening frame, it seemed as though the size difference was going to be too much for Shamrock to handle. Ortiz took him down early off a low kick, and from there landed intermittent ground and pound shots from inside Shamrock's guard. They weren't big punches, but Ortiz maintained a dominant position throughout the round.
Shamrock opened up the second by throwing a head kick, but was taken down shortly thereafter by Ortiz. Although the champ managed to get back to his feet, Ortiz quickly dragged him back to the ground again. "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" landed even fewer shots than he did in the first, but it was still easily his round due to successful top control.
At the start of the third Ortiz once again landed a takedown, but this time around he did even less with it. Watching Ortiz's lethargic attempts at ground and pound, it appeared he had blown his cardiovascular wad repeatedly taking Shamrock to the mat.
Then at the start of the fourth round, Shamrock dropped the hammer on his gassed opponent. He began landing strikes at ease, using low kicks to limit Ortiz's mobility and stepping in with the occasional punching combinations. Although Ortiz managed to squeeze out one final takedown, it never amounted to anything. Shamrock got back to his feet, and after a wild flurry, eventually ended up pounding a prone Ortiz with hammerfists to the side of the head until the brash challenger tapped out.
Seen though modern eyes the fight is merely a pretty good little scrap that inadvertently told an entertaining story. However, circa 1999 Shamrock vs. Ortiz was not only the most exciting UFC main event in history, it also represented the state of the art. Both men put on a well-rounded fight that hinted at what the sport would look like once fighters began integrating all of the disciplines that make up MMA into their training.
Although there have since been numerous fights that were better from a technical standpoint, the Shamrock vs. Ortiz main event makes UFC 22 stand out as the artistic high point of the now often-forgotten SEG era.
It would take six long years, and millions and millions of lost dollars along the way, for UFC to turn the corner and become profitable -- let alone to transform into the multi-billion dollar sports juggernaut it is today -- but UFC 22 offered a glimpse of the talent that would help lead UFC in the years to come.
Future welterweight champ Matt Hughes made his UFC debut on the card, defeating Valeri Ignatov by unanimous decision. Inaugural lightweight champ Jens Pulver also put in his first appearance in the Octagon, going to a draw with Alfonso Alcarez. Elsewhere on the card, a 3-1 rookie named Chuck Liddell beat Paul Jones in a rather lackluster affair thanks referee John McCarthy stopping the fight after Jones sustained a cut.
Quite frankly, the action on UFC 22 may not be the most thrilling to fans who were weaned on Anderson Silva front kick KOs and Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar slugfests. However, it provides us with an interesting look at a time when UFC was on the verge of big changes. Just two years later SEG would sell the flatlining UFC to ZUFFA, an organization formed by upstart promoter Dana White and his financial backers Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta.
The rest, as they say, is history.