Eleven years ago today, Frank Shamrock earned a UFC title shot by beating Enson Inoue at Vale Tudo Japan 1997.
At the time Shamrock had plenty of Pancrase experience under his belt but less than a year of unabated MMA. In fact, earlier that year John Lober had exploited Shamrock’s unfamiliarity with closed-fist striking to the face for a split decision.
Inoue was another worthy opponent. He had holes in his game, but he was the kind of rough, aggressive adversary who could have overwhelmed the still-progressing Shamrock.
To heighten the stakes, UFC owners Semaphore Entertainment Group announced that the winner would meet Kevin Jackson weeks later at Ultimate Japan for what was then called the UFC middleweight title.
The first eight-minute round was positively boring. The five minutes Shamrock spent mounted in the second round were not terribly entertaining either, but when the bout moved back to the feet, both men were ready to end it one way or another.
A throwdown commenced. Inoue rushed forward winging haymaker after haymaker while Shamrock tried to pick his shots and create enough distance to take off Inoue’s head with a kick.
Watching this exchange again years later, you notice the accelerated speech of the Japanese commentators, the shrills of a concerned female fan in the Tokyo Bay N.K. Hall that night, the collective commotion of an audience that knows such a fight will surely end with one man on the canvas.
And it did. Shamrock put a knee on a tiring Inoue’s chin, hurt him with follow-up punches and floored him with another knee.
Technically, the fight wasn’t over. The Shooto-rules knockdown count had begun when Inoue’s brother, Egan, stormed the ring and shoved Shamrock. Shamrock landed upside-down in the corner, where he stayed for some time, on his head, apparently considering the application of a leg lock on his opponent’s brother. Meanwhile the result was already being entered into the history books: Shamrock by disqualification.
Shamrock went on to submit Jackson in 16 seconds at Ultimate Japan and begin an impressive title run in the UFC. Inoue, for his part, rebounded a year later with the crowning victory of his career -- his armbar submission of Randy Couture.
In other bouts at Vale Tudo Japan 1997, an undefeated Rumina Sato armbarred John Lewis, who had drawn with Sato the year before. Three months later Sato was shockingly submitted by Joel Gerson for the first loss of his career.
An 0-1 Carlos Newton stunned Erik Paulson with an armbar. Less than four years later, Newton choked Pat Miletich to become the UFC welterweight champion.
Also, Tom Erikson, a major heavyweight prospect at the time who was reportedly angry he had to fight shoeless, smoked Ed de Kruijf in 37 seconds.