Patrick Smith, 1963-2019

By Ben Duffy Jun 21, 2019

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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Middle Easy on June 19 reported the death of Patrick Smith, veteran of the inaugural Ultimate Fighting Championship, general MMA pioneer and convicted felon. In light of Smith’s legacy in the sport, it seemed appropriate to comment on it in some way.

Before anything else, let me make it clear that nothing that follows in this article is intended to absolve Smith -- or could ever absolve him -- of his horrible criminal record. So that there is no ambiguity here, Smith was convicted in 1999 of the sexual assault of a 14-year-old. He was in his 30s at the time of the assault. In 2008, nearly a decade later, he was arrested again in another state for failing to register as a sex offender. While I stop short of saying the world is better off without someone, society may be better off without Smith.

Having established that Smith was a terrible person outside the Octagon, what are we to do with his body of work inside it? His presence at the first two UFC events was formative to the sport we love today; to ignore or erase it is to ignore some of the moments that taught us, on a most fundamental level, what works and what does not in no-holds-barred fighting.

I have no interest in eulogizing Smith as a man and would in any event be unqualified to do so. Would you permit me, however, to share a few memories of one crucial night in the early development of the sport we now call mixed martial arts? Smith was there. We can’t very well change that, but he’s gone and it’s our history now.

Actually, before talking about UFC 2, we need to touch briefly on UFC 1. The most obvious lesson of the first Ultimate Fighting Championship events was that without at least a basic familiarity with grappling, practitioners of traditional striking-based martial arts were toast. While that lesson was on full display from literally the very first UFC fight, it took a while to sink in. The first dozen UFC events were rife with guys sporting black belts in traditional martial arts, or worse yet, claiming mastery of fighting styles they made up themselves, complete with gaudy undefeated -- and unverifiable -- records. In the majority of cases, those entrants fought as if they had never been in a real fight, were quickly smashed and were never heard from again.

In light of this, the particulars of Smith’s debut at UFC 1 do not seem especially noteworthy. In fact, he checked most of the boxes for a fighter to end up as an early UFC trivia question or footnote. As the hometown Denver crowd cheered, Smith was announced as a third-degree black belt in taekwondo, “the No. 7-ranked super heavyweight kickboxer” of an unnamed region or organization and the possessor of “an astounding record of 250-0.” Once the bell rang, Ken Shamrock tossed Smith to the ground before he could throw a single strike and, after a brief scuffle, placed him in a heel hook that had Smith tapping the mat frantically. The end came at 1:49 and left Smith, presumably 250-1 now, writhing on the ground in pain.

If that humiliating debut had been all we ever heard of Smith, he certainly would not have been the last “one-and-done karate guy” in the early-UFC era. However, Smith’s brief losing effort against Shamrock had offered a few glimmers of hope. Even though Smith had been taken down with ease by Shamrock, he had not wilted or panicked like so many standup fighters. Instead, Smith had immediately put his opponent in closed guard -- which Shamrock never did pass -- and begun throwing heel strikes, elbows and punches from the bottom while at the same time controlling Shamrock’s posture. In fact, in the almost 90 seconds before Shamrock went for the heel hook, it’s likely that a modern MMA referee would have restarted them standing. For it to amount to any kind of future in no-holds-barred fighting, though, Smith would not only have to want to give this new sport another shot but learn some new skills.

Smith did give it another shot, receiving a return invite to UFC 2. Four months had elapsed since UFC 1 and two things had clearly happened in the meantime. One, Smith had been stewing about all the ass he hadn’t gotten to kick last time around, and two, he had learned to grapple. Actually, that last part may not be true. All we know for a fact is that he had learned one technique. Armed with his new weapon, the guillotine choke, and looking to make up for lost time, Smith went on a one-night rampage against guys in pajama pants, going 3-1 in less than four minutes of total cage time. In doing so, he set the early standard for how violent and visceral the new sport of “Ultimate Fighting” would be.

Smith’s opening-round win over Ray Wizard featured a guillotine so viciously applied and so ineptly defended that it left the kempo black belt convulsing on the ground. His second-round TKO of Scott Morris is probably the first example of what a modern MMA fan would recognize as ground-and-pound. It is also one of the more disturbing scenes in UFC history. Morris, sporting black gi pants, a black sleeveless shirt and a fu manchu mustache, looked like nothing so much as a Danny McBride character. He was introduced as a master of “American Ninjutsu.” Smith clinched with Morris and hustled him to the ground, landing in full mount. Smith threw a flurry of punches to the sides of Morris’ head, then positively destroyed him with three elbow strikes. The blows left Morris senseless, blood streaming into his mullet from his busted face.

For a modern MMA fan, the scene offers layers of wrongness. While legendary referee “Big” John McCarthy was in the cage, nobody, including McCarthy himself, seemed to know exactly what he was supposed to do. McCarthy didn’t even physically stop the fight or pull Smith off of Morris, as those would not become part of the referee's powers until UFC 3. Smith simply realized he had beaten all of the ninjutsu out of Morris’ skull, said “this s--- is over” and stood up to celebrate. McCarthy then followed Smith across the cage, attempting to direct him back to his corner while Morris, unattended by referee or doctors, was trying to stand. The scene of Smith roaring in jubilation, McCarthy shepherding him across the Octagon and Morris staggering drunkenly in the background with blood pouring down his face is pure chaos. With all due respect to Gerard Gordeau kicking a tooth out of Teila Tuli’s face at UFC 1, this was the most “human cockfighting bloodsport” moment of the early Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Smith’s semifinal win over fellow karate practitioner Johnny Rhodes featured a guillotine choke so ferocious that Rhodes was forced to tap using his foot, because both hands were busy bracing against Smith in a desperate attempt not to be lifted completely off the ground by his windpipe. Only when Smith came up against Royce Gracie -- the defending UFC champion, all-around legend and the final boss of "Pat Smith vs. Pajama Pants Night" -- did he falter. The expert grappler handled Smith easily, forcing him to tap to ground strikes in a position from which he did not know how to escape.

Smith would never attain such competitive heights again, embarking on a journeyman career in which he won more fights than he lost but never again challenged for a title of any importance. It is disturbing how many bookings he received after his 1999 conviction -- which was public knowledge at the time -- and even after his second arrest in 2008. In the end, Smith’s early promise and later disgrace serve as a sad reminder that while it is possible to fight professionally and be a well-adjusted human being, the sport does attract a disproportionate number of broken, hurt and hurtful people. Smith is gone. Condolences to those who loved him and peace to those who were harmed by him.

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