Episode 7 of the first season of the Ultimate Fighter featured a match that ended in controversy. The elimination match ended in a close split decision. This split decision may have been the most important in MMA history. These judges had the power to change the course of UFC history forever.
Going into the season, Bobby Southworth was the perennial favorite to win the entire competition. Southworth was the most seasoned of any fighter in the house. UFC knew this, Dana White knew this, and the coaches knew this when Chuck Liddell used his first team pick on Southworth.
Southworth had been a controversial figure from episode 1. Southworth came off as a very immature athlete. Southworth continually ran his mouth, yet had to be practically kidnapped in order to cut weight for his first fight. If MMA fans hate Brock Lesnar, they would have despised Southworth. Southworth would practically get in the face of other fight losers and bark, “flawless victory” at the top of his lungs.
Southworth is probably most known for the incident with fellow fighter Chris Leben. I will get into Leben in a future blog. The gist of it is that Southworth called Leben a “fatherless bastard.” Southworth and fellow fighter Josh Koscheck came close to getting kicked off the show after pouring water on a sleeping Leben later that night.
The idea of the first season was that the fighters would have to compete in physical challenges. Most of the time, the winning team would get to pick their fight. Team Couture won the challenge. Randy Couture initially suggested that Mike Swick or Alex Schoenauer fight “the weakest link on the team” Sam Hoger. Stephan Bonnar spoke up and said he wanted to fight Bobby.
Stephan had his eyes set on Bobby from the start. Stephan loved the test, yet questioned his own decision. Stephan worried that two rounds would not be enough. Stephan later remarked that he wasn’t confident that he could stop Bobby, but knew he could stop Sam. Stephan knew from the start that if he was going to win the fight, it was going the distance.
Bonnar was a huge underdog. Forrest Griffin called him the third weakest on Randy’s team. A great moment saw Griffin (Southworth’s teammate) say to Bonnar, “Let me shake your hand before you’re officially tapped out.” Bonnar took it in good stride, yet he was truly expected to lose this fight.
The fight itself only made you want to hate Southworth more. Southworth looked cocky, but did not engage. Bonnar grew more confident as the first round progressed and started pushing the pace more and more. Southworth was not nearly as aggressive, yet seemed to counter Bonnar with almost every move. All of the fighters remarked that the round was close, but most felt Bobby won due to a key reversal.
One of the greatest moments in Randy Couture history may have came in between rounds. Couture cornered Bonnar for the fight. How brilliant of a fighting technician is Randy Couture? Randy tells Bonnar that Bobby is looking for a left hook and right hand since that is Chuck’s combination. The camera than shows Liddell telling Southworth, “Look for a left hook and a right hand.”
The second round like the first started slowly. Once again Bonnar continued to push the tempo as Southworth sat back and played defense. Bonnar seemed to have a slight edge on Southworth on the ground. Southworth connected hard on Bonnar with about 1:10 left, but couldn’t finish. The next minute may have been the minute that changed UFC history forever.
Southworth started to push but Bonnar fought back. Bonnar caught Southworth with a text book spinning back kick with exactly 0:59 to go. Southworth was stunned and Bonnar knew it. Bonnar followed up with a barrage of aggressive punches. After a back and forth on the ground, the round ended with Bonnar once again aggressively throwing punches.
Nobody from the coaches to the fighters to Dana White himself expected this one to end. The rules were that a sudden death round would be added in the event of a draw. This was by no means a clear cut case for anyone. As a matter of a fact, Randy and Chuck prepared the fighters for another round.
Dana White was surprised as he read the decision. Stephan Bonnar was awarded the win by split decision. In looking back at the fight, I will argue that the spinning back kick is what gave Bonnar the edge. Bonnar was the definitive aggressor, yet Southworth had some great counters. All being even, the kick, the time of the kick, and the damage is what won Stephan Bonnar the match.
The Ultimate Fighter Finale between Bonnar and Forrest Griffin was recently ranked as the number one match in UFC history. The argument was not just the fight, but the impact that the fight had on the sport. That fight was one kick and a split decision away from never happening. The course of UFC history may be much different today if fans tuned into see a Forrest Griffin vs. Bobby Southworth Ultimate Finale on April 9, 2005.
This split decision was that monumental to the history of the company. One spinning back kick in a match held in a gym may have been the most significant strike in UFC history.
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