Sherdog Rewind: Reflecting on ‘Victor Gracie’ & Ultimate Ultimate 1996

By Staff Nov 28, 2013
Vitor Belfort was once known as Vitor Gracie. | Photo: Dave Mandel/

Dave Meltzer has been covering MMA since the beginning.

Ahead of the UFC’s 20th anniversary in November, the veteran journalist joined the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Rewind” show and host Jack Encarnacao to share some history and background related to UFCs 11-20.

Meltzer on Tank Abbott’s knockout of Steve Nelmark at the Ultimate Ultimate 1996: “The night before every UFC, I would have trouble sleeping because I was always worried something bad would happen. Because again, we didn’t know what this thing was, and anyone who tells you that they did, they didn’t. It was like, somebody could get hurt, and when that [punch] landed and [Nelmark] was motionless in that weird position, it was like, oh my God, this is exactly what we’ve been worried about. Thank God it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but yeah, that was a scary -- I think it was a couple of minutes maybe. He was down for a long time.”

On the Ultimate Ultimate 1996 final between Abbott and Don Frye: “The 90 seconds or so of the Don Frye-Tank Abbott match was probably one of the most exciting … one-minute fights or 90-second fights in UFC history. That was so exciting from start to finish. … [Frye is] working for the choke, and [Abbott] taps like right away. It was like the choke wasn’t even locked, and everybody after the [fight] was talking about it was the weirdest thing. You start questioning, what’s the deal with Tank? This was the closest Tank ever came to winning a tournament. … He was in a position where it was 90 percent he was going to win, and as soon as there was trouble, he was looking for a way out. I’m not kidding you, most good fighters in that situation would have beaten Frye that night just because Don was so exhausted.”

On Vitor Belfort: “I believe that he was supposed to fight Ken Shamrock at the Ultimate Ultimate [1996], the show before, and was injured in training. He was trained by Carlson Gracie at the time and he came in as Victor Gracie, this monster that Carlson was training who was going to be the best of the Gracies, and the other Gracies were furious because he wasn’t really a Gracie.”

On SEG’s plans for Belfort: “The idea was definitely towards the end of the year, November, December, we’re going to do Mark Coleman and Vitor Belfort after they both win a bunch of matches this year and have this big dream match, and of course that was where we all learned, if you’ve got a big fight, you make the big fight now. … By the time they got to where they wanted to be, Mark Coleman had lost … and Vitor had shockingly lost, and we never did see that match.”

On Randy Couture, who upset Belfort at UFC 13: “They saw him as a tough older guy. I think there was a feeling that Greco-Roman wrestling wasn’t going to be as effective as freestyle wrestling. Nobody knew, but that’s kind of what the [view] was. They saw him as a guy who won a tournament, but his takedowns weren’t that powerful and they thought that he couldn’t take Vitor down and Vitor would light him up standing. He was a guy to be fed to Vitor in the building of the eventual Vitor and Mark Coleman superfight. Randy ruined the plans, but that was the idea.”

Listen to the full interview (beginning at :55).


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