Held at the Cobo Arena in Detroit, site of the infamous assault on Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, UFC 9 almost did not reach the public consumption stage. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had begun his public campaign against mixed martial arts, in general, and the UFC, in particular, and political pressures nearly resulted in the show’s cancellation. It was permitted to move forward only after UFC officials agreed in court -- the legal battle bled into the day of the event -- to outlaw closed-fist strikes. Arrest was threatened for those who failed to adhere. Referee “Big” John McCarthy reminded fighters before and during the event, though his warnings fell mostly on deaf ears.
The first six bouts all ended in finishes, including Mark Schultz’s technical knockout victory over Gary Goodridge. A 1984 Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling, Schultz never again appeared inside the Octagon. Now in his 50s, he remains the only man to win three NCAA wrestling titles, two world championships, a gold medal in the Olympics and a UFC bout.
The UFC 9 main event pitted future hall of famers Dan Severn and Ken Shamrock against one another. In a rematch of their July 1995 encounter, which Shamrock won by submission, the two circled each other for some 20 minutes. Severn was eventually declared the winner by split decision after two overtime periods failed to settle it in decisive fashion. Fans showered the cage with trash in the aftermath. Today, it is widely regarded as the worst match in MMA history.
Severn fought twice more under the UFC banner, losing to Mark Coleman at UFC 12 in 1997 before submitting to leg kicks from Pedro Rizzo at UFC 27 three years later. At 52, Severn remains an active combatant in mixed martial arts, having fought nine times since the start of 2010. Shamrock, 47, has been far less active and successful, losing seven of his last nine fights. He has not competed since November, when he succumbed to first-round punches from journeyman Mike Bourke.
Though Severn and Shamrock went their separate ways, their careers will be forever connected to their dance in Detroit, which unfolded on this day 15 years ago.