An overflow crowd showed up to the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner, La., on March 13, 1998 to see Frank Shamrock defend his Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight crown for the first time against Igor Zinoviev in the UFC 16 “Battle in the Bayou” main event. Shamrock was a 25-year-old budding superstar, Zinoviev an undefeated sambo master who had already beaten Mario Sperry and Enson Inoue.
Twenty-two seconds after their encounter began, Zinoviev lay unconscious, the victim of a brutal slam that has since become a staple of MMA highlight reels. Shamrock successfully defended his title three more times before leaving the promotion. Zinoviev left the cage on a stretcher, the slam resulting in a broken collarbone and a fracture to one of his C5 vertebrae. He never fought again.
It was the second of four straight first-round finishes for Shamrock, who had taken out 1992 Olympic gold medalist Kevin Jackson in just 14 ticks three months prior and then went on to dispatch Jeremy Horn and John Lober in subsequent title defenses. His tenure in the UFC ended following his dramatic fourth-round strike-induced submission against Tito Ortiz in September 1999, as he relinquished his championship and retired from the company.
UFC 16 -- which took place on this day 15 years ago -- was far from a one-man show, as it also marked the promotional debut of Pat Miletich. He won a four-man tournament in the newly formed 170-pound division, defeating Olympic silver medalist Townsend Saunders by split decision in the semifinals before submitting alternate Chris Brennan with a shoulder choke in the final. Seven months later, Miletich became the first 170-pound champion in UFC history when he bested Mikey Burnett by decision at UFC 17.5 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Miletich compiled a 29-7-2 mark as a professional mixed martial artist, but it was through his work as a trainer that he made his name. As founder of the Miletich Fighting Systems camp in Davenport, Iowa, he helped launch the careers of future UFC champions Matt Hughes, Tim Sylvia and Jens Pulver.
Beyond Miletich’s first Octagon appearance and Shamrock’s unforgettable finish, “Battle in the Bayou” proved noteworthy for other reasons, Jerry Bohlander’s controversial armbar submission on Jackson chief among them. Referee “Big” John McCarthy called a stop to their bout 10:23 into round one, even though Jackson had not tapped out. A four-time NCAA All-American and two-time world champion wrestler, an infuriated Jackson stormed out of the cage, never to compete under the UFC banner again. Today, he serves as the head wrestling coach at Iowa State University.
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