Mixed Martial Arts has changed dramatically since the last time that a major promotion made its way through New Orleans. In the early days of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, before the promotion was owned by Zuffa and run by Dana White the UFC frequented New Orleans. Several of those shows were during the darkest days of the promotion but provided some of the most compelling match-ups in UFC history. Unfortunately due to financial problems a DVD copy of UFC 27, Bad Boyz, which turned out just 1,000 persons to the Lakefront arena as well as several other shows from that time period is still unavailable today.
With Bellator being the first major promotion to come to New Orleans since that time period the MMA examiner felt that it might be time to look at these shows through the eyes of someone who attended all three events and who is still involved with the sport.
“They (the early UFC shows) were awesome and they were terrible at the same time. The promotion quality was considerably different than it is now. The shows were much like many of our local lower budget shows are at this time. It was like watching a B film at times,” said Brett Hughes head coach of POWER MMA who attended all three of them. Since that time Hughes has gone from being a spectator and Judoka to being a coach for several of the top level MMA professionals in the New Orleans area.
“But the experience was great because as martial artists we were starving for such things. MMA was still such an underground sport and we were starving for any expression of the sport,” said Hughes. “I remember Bas Rutten and Pat Militech fighting in the events and it was awesome. The fights themselves were great for the most part. The skills were still very much style against style and the sport had not amalgamated into modern MMA at the time. And over all it was educational.”
Several great athletes appeared on these shows went on to become superstars including Tito Ortiz, Frank Shamrock (who beat Igor Zinzoviev), Evan Tanner, and Maurice Smith. Many of these athletes would go on to capture UFC titles and several of these athletes are still active in the sport to this day. And one competitor, Frank Caracci, who fought in UFC 18, still teaches martial arts at his dojo in Metairie.
As Bellator 28 approaches and New Orleans gets another chance at a promotion we will look to see new stars in an arguably different sport. Since the early days of the UFC the sport has taken off locally and Bellator will have enough local fighters to fill several slots. Look for the region’s top level fighters like Charlie Rader, Rich Clementi, Kelvin Doss, Sean Jordan, Gabe Wood, Scott O’Shaughnessy, Brock Kerry, and others to fill the card. And look for some of those fighters to utilize Bellator as their next step up the ladder of success.
One fighter, Rich Clementi is himself a ten time UFC veteran who now runs his own MMA program in Mandeville known as Clementi’s Gladiators Academy. Clementi himself is very excited about the prospect of a major event coming to New Orleans and told the MMA examiner today that it was critical for New Orleans to have a good fan showing so that other major promotions and additional Bellator events would come to the area.
New Orleans has a great MMA legacy as a early birthplace for the sport. The MMA world will be looking to see if local fans pack the Mahalia Jackson Theatre on September 9th. Success on September 9th may be the first of many major MMA promotions to come to the Big Easy.