As one might expect of an Ultimate Fighting Championship event whose number includes a decimal point, UFC 37.5 is a neat little bundle of weirdness and trivia footnotes. The strange numbering resulted from the card being thrown together on short notice for a cooperative effort with Fox Sports Net. By the time the event was even an idea, UFC 38—the organization’s first foray into the UK—was already well into its promotional cycle, and suddenly renumbering it “UFC 39” was out of the question.
The purpose of the hastily assembled card, which took place on June 22, 2002, was a bit of co-branding. One fight was to be selected to air on “The Best Damn Sports Show Period,” specifically its “All Star Summer” special, and the UFC stacked it with six matchups that ensured the highest probability of fireworks. Every bout included at least one known knockout artist. going up against either a fellow slugger or a likely victim. The main event featured light heavyweight contender Chuck Liddell against UFC 12 heavyweight tournament winner Vitor Belfort, who was making his return to the UFC and the light heavyweight division after his first sojourn to Pride Fighting Championships, where he had blown up into an extravagantly muscled 235-pounder.
While the main event was a high-energy and pretty competitive affair, with Liddell dropping Belfort late in the third round to seal a unanimous decision, Liddell-Belfort was not the fight chosen to air on Fox Sports Net. On a card with two conventional TKOs and one nice submission—by Pete Spratt, of all people—it is unsurprising in hindsight that a 20-year-old Robbie Lawler was the one who seized the moment. He needed a dance partner, of course, and Steve Berger was up to the task. Berger is largely forgotten today, but in the early 2000s was a well-regarded journeyman who made three appearances in the UFC and beat some very good fighters. He was also a submission specialist, but after one brief early ground sequence, apparently decided to simply slug it out with the “Ruthless” one. The result was a wild first round where the two men spent what felt like two full minutes hammering each other with body punches, with little regard for defense.
It was not sustainable, of course, and Lawler crushed Berger with a right hook to the chin at the opening of the second round. A few follow-up punches later, it was over, the official stoppage coming at 27 seconds. It was the most exciting fight of the night—on a night that there were really no bad ones other than Yves Edwards’ two-minute injury win—and as such, earned the honor of being the first mixed martial arts contest to air on U.S. cable television.
UFC 37.5 is also notable for being Joe Rogan’s debut as color commentator, a role he still fulfills, even if the promotion’s vastly expanded schedule has him on a rotation these days. Rogan had been with the UFC since UFC 12 as a cageside and backstage interviewer, but 18 years ago today he stepped into the role with which he has become synonymous.