MMA Analysis: Paying Tribute to Don Frye
It was February 16th, 1996. The UFC was on the cusp of major reactionary law-making that would plunge the sport into the underground for years, though this was largely lost on me. Just your average everyday fight fan, I settled down in front of my Grandmother’s awesome projection TV with friends and family for our latest cage fight fix with UFC 8. We were ready to feast on the craziest concept to hit the UFC since……I guess the entire thing was still crazy at that point. The event was titled “David vs. Goliath” and while there were never any weight classes to begin with, the UFC was determined to throw that in our faces HARD.
The first match kicked off and they showed us our first Goliath for the evening, Thomas Ramirez. “A legendary street fighter from Puerto Rico, he’s 200-0 in bare knuckle island fights, specializes in SLAMS, and weighs in at a whooping 410lbs.” the commentator stated. You had me at slam. Are you fucking kidding me? How is any David going to stand up to this guy? Hell, how is a Goliath not going to have his shit stomped out by this dude? I immediately declared him the eventual tournament winner and fully expected Puerto Rico’s Slam-related homicide rate to skyrocket after this event.
The TV then cut to a short clip introducing his “David” opponent, as he executed a hip toss on the Puerto Rican sands. I was all ready to scream “Put him in a body bag!”, and then he looked into the camera. As soon as I saw that knife-edged stare; that death mask; that bowel-curdling glare, I was sure of one thing. The only slamming being done around here would be the lid on that fat fucker’s coffin.
MMA Campfire Tales Celebrates: Don “The Predator” Frye
Eight seconds and two punches later, it was all over. Don Frye walked through a punch and planted two right hands on Ramirez that not only knocked him out cold, but made him literally piss his pants in the cage. The legendary street fighter was lying in his own urine in front of his hometown crowd and I was losing my mind at the idea of this guy. In his next match of the tournament, he turned Sam Adkin’s head into a blood sprinkler with a series of horrific short uppercuts, and came into the final with a grand total of less than a minute in the cage. His opponent, Gary Goodridge, had done equally as well on his end of the tournament bracket, but never stood a chance. A wrestler and judoka in an era when most people were still convinced their leaping back fist attack would keep them off the mat, Frye rag dolled the strongest man to perhaps ever step into the UFC cage. Two minutes later, Goodridge was tapping to strikes and Don Frye was the UFC 8 tournament champion and three fights into a legendary career.
Frye faces off with Tank Abbott
Don Frye came up short against Mark Coleman in his next tournament, but was ready to bust some faces when Ultimate Ultimate 96 rolled around. This tournament wasn’t a few killers among a pile of karate jerk offs, but battle-proven UFC vets that were looking to establish their dominance as the best of the bare-knuckle lot. On Don’s end of the bracket, he had a grueling match with Gary Goodridge that went nearly 12 minutes before Goodridge submitted to fatigue, and then beat one-punch wonder Mark Hall for the third time with an ankle lock. Tank Abbott, on the other hand, spent all of 3 minutes in the cage, including scoring one of history’s most devastating knockouts against Steve Nelmark.
The anticipation for this fight was utterly insane at the time, as these were two of the hardest hitting men the sport had ever seen. Both men rushed to the center, hoping to land a KO before the other man had the chance, and Tank landed first. The term “heavy hands” gets thrown around a lot, but Tank was truly one of the heaviest handed motherfuckers of all time, which was evident in this fight. Tank hit Frye so hard; he literally flew off his feet and skidded on his ass across the cage. Was Frye dead? Was his face a pile of bone shards? Oh no, that gritty bastard’s only reaction to being punched across the cage was to yell “Whoa!” while getting back up and start punching. The next minute of striking was one of the most furious the UFC had seen to date, as both men clobbered the living shit out of each other. During an exchange, Tank tripped to the mat, where Frye seized the moment, took his back, and choked him out to take the tournament win. Pretty brutal fight, right? That ain’t shit!
Frye and Shamrock attempt to kill each other
Much like “heavy hands” there’s a term that gets thrown around just as much, and perhaps makes even less sense: “Bad Blood”. These days, fighters have bad blood between them if they say they’ll beat their opponent on Facebook, or criticize their opponent’s previous performances. These days, what transpired between these two would likely result in the fight being called off and both guys being fired, but back when men were men, they just took it in stride and named the event Bad Blood. Here’s how it went down:
Don Frye and Ken Shamrock sort of moved around each other for the better part of six years. Timing and injury always halted their meetings in the UFC, and they went to pro-wrestle in different parts of the world. Shamrock would declare a blood feud with someone if they stood too close to him at the grocery store, so Frye didn’t have to try to ruffle feathers, but to hell if he didn’t give it his all. Frye pointed out that Shamrock had made a habit of seriously injuring fighters in his career and being completely unapologetic about it, which Frye felt was lowly and unethical. He also went out of his way to e-mail Ken’s wife and tell her that her husband was adopted, which I’m sure she already knew, but was still infuriating for Shamrock. For Shamrock’s part of this, he decided to combat that whole “Shamrock intentionally cripples people” stigma being cast at him, by declaring that he was going to intentionally cripple Don Frye.
There wasn’t a single pre-fight event that didn’t involve Frye and Shamrock attempting to punch each other, and Pride actually had to hire people to follow both men around and make sure they didn’t run into each other on accident. When these two finally faced off in person, it led to a staredown so intense, you could use it to weld two battleships together. This intensity translated into one of the craziest fights you’ll ever see in a ring for its sheer grinding violence.
These guys hated each other so much, they spent at least seven minutes at the beginning of the fight just clinching each other and punching each other’s kidneys. It didn’t even make sense, but was just something born of pure hatred and the need to hurt each other. Eventually, they got back to actually attempting to fight by rational means, and Shamrock promptly hit a rolling leglock on Frye and broke his ankle. Frye knew he had another ankle though and decided not to sweat it too much, but did have his corner wrap tape around his shoe in a sad attempt to allow him to stand. As the second round started, Frye landed a volley of strikes that sent Shamrock straight to the canvas. The force of Shamrock’s head hitting the mat may have re-started his heart, as Frye took top position and worked towards making the face of Shamrock look like….how he looks now. Minutes upon minutes of unending face punching didn’t stop Shamrock from locking on another heel hook to break Frye’s other ankle though, yet Frye continued to fight and took the split decision.
In the post fight interview in the locker room, the commentator asked “How tight were those ankle locks?” Frye bashfully replied “Yeah, he got me.” Frye was talking about having both of his ankles broken in the same way someone would talk about sitting on a whoopie cushion at a family reunion. Pretty brutal fight, right? Hold onto your fucking hats.
Don Frye makes someone unrecognizable
Remember when you were seven and you swore to baby Jesus that pro-wrestling was real? I can fondly remember arguing with people that the Ultimate Warrior could beat any professional boxer if he was allowed to power up by shaking the ropes. Japan still thinks like this and not just the seven-year olds mind you, but the entire population. As such, you occasionally catch a glimpse of a legit fighter standing across from a weird-looking douchebag with 4oz gloves on, with nothing but a 0-0 record and a smile. Hence we find the massive 6’5″, 290lb Yoshihiro Takayama standing across from Don Frye.
If you’ve never seen this fight, stop whatever you’re doing and find it, because I can’t do it justice, although I will try. Both men locked eyes in the center of the cage and when that bell rang, they came out swinging; Holding the other behind the head and driving fists into the each other’s face. If Compustrike existed at the time of this fight, the program would have turned into Skynet and decided to wipe out humanity based on the standing arm strikes count. This lunatic assault went on for over a minute until both men decided they were wasting a perfectly good hand by holding the neck, and they just stood there throwing continuous hooks. People that survived the atomic bomb said it was the most horrific thing they’d ever seen.
Within this time frame, Takayama transformed into every racist cartoon from the 1950′s; both eyes swelling completely shut, his teeth being punched in and his nose pancaked to his face. At one point, the doctors stopped this fight to ask Takayama if he was still alive, or if his corpse was just engaged in rapid-fire muscle twitches. In an act that should have forced ringside doctors out of their practice, when they asked Takayama if he wanted to continue and his shattered face nodded at them, they let it go. Thirty seconds and thirty mounted punches later, the ref called an end to the craziest fight of all time. The ring this fight took place in suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The aftermath from these fights was severe, as Frye admitted to being in and out of lucidity for a week after this fight due to head shots. This fight also marked a tremendous backslide in his career which continues to this day. Having left the better part of himself on the mat in Japan, Frye continues to be a personality within the sport and a much beloved old-school veteran. Here’s to you Don Frye for making some of the most beautiful violence the sport has ever seen and cementing your place in MMA forever.
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