“The day it’s over will be a sad day for me, and it’s getting very close to that day” -Ken ShamrockLast weekend’s Impact Fighting Championship pay-per-view show from Sydney was a sad reminder of what the future may hold for many of today’s top stars.
Ken Shamrock, Carlos Newton, Murilo Bustamante, Pedro Rizzo and Josh Barnett were all at various points either UFC champions or groomed to be top stars.
But there they were, on the other side of the world, fighting before quiet, small crowds in an atmosphere that hardly felt like they were part of a booming sport.
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Shamrock, a UFC Hall of Famer and the first holder of the championship that evolved into the current heavyweight title held by Brock Lesnar, was sad to watch.
Shamrock, 46, in his first fight since serving a one-year suspension for failing a steroid test, had no answer to Rizzo’s hard sweeping kicks to his left leg. The only question was if Shamrock, 2-6 in his last eight fights, would go to the second round for the first time since his 2002 fight with Tito Ortiz.
Rizzo’s Muay Thai technique and takedown defense was such that when the Fertitta Brothers bought UFC in 2001, they signed him to the company’s most lucrative contract, at $175,000 per fight, thinking he’d be their heavyweight superstar. He never reached those levels, losing two title matches with Randy Couture, and now 36, has also been working his way down the food chain.
Shamrock (27-14), who at 212 was 32 pounds lighter than Rizzo (19-9), didn’t even try for a takedown, and was way out of his league standing, not being able to do anything to counter the low kicks.
At 3:33, he went down when his left leg gave out, and referee John McCarthy mercifully stopped it.
Shamrock was, by far, the most popular fighter on the show, and can still talk the talk. But while the fans who were there seemed to appreciate Shamrock for his historical influence, there weren’t many of them. The show drew only about 2,000 fans in the 10,000-seat Sydney Entertainment Center, all congregated in front of the camera, and were quiet for most of the rest of the matches.
“The day it’s over will be a sad day for me, and it’s getting very close to that day,” said Shamrock in the cage after losing. When asked by announcer Elvis Sinosic if he would fight again, he said, “As long as people want to see me continue to see me get beat up.”
It’s doubtful he meant it exactly as the words came out, but they were probably far too true.
Perhaps sadder was Bustamante, who turns 44 in two weeks. Another of the sport’s pioneers, Bustamante (14-8-1), moving up a weight class, lost a close decision to a prime Chuck Liddell in 2001, and then followed by winning the UFC middleweight title in 2002. He left after a financial dispute, and in 2005, lost via split decision to Dan Henderson in the match to crown PRIDE’s first champion in the weight class.
Bustamante still had enough left to hang with former Ultimate Fighter contestant Jesse Taylor (15-6), 27, when it came to takedowns and ground positioning for a round. But in the second round, against a fighter who washed out of both UFC and Strikeforce in recent years, after little action on the ground, when McCarthy ordered a stand-up. Bustamante tried to get up, and stumbled back down. He had taken an elbow to the temple and couldn’t regain get his equilibrium. The fight was stopped and Taylor declared the winner.
Newton, who is only 33, was one of the sport’s biggest stars a decade ago. In 2001 he captured the UFC welterweight title from Pat Miletich, then lost it to Matt Hughes. His fight on the pay-per-view was actually taped six days earlier in Brisbane, Australia, where he lost to Brian Ebersol, an American journeyman fighter.
Newton’s career has gone downward in recent years, and failed to make weight in his last two fights. After Ebersol took the decision, Newton fell to 15-14, having lost seven out of his past ten.
Barnett (26-5), who beat Couture for the UFC heavyweight title in 2002 and was stripped of it after failing a steroid test, fighting in Brisbane, was able to take down and ground-and-pound a completely outclassed Geronimo Dos Santos (18-10) in 2:45. A multiple-time steroid offender, this was Barnett’s second fight since being denied a license in California last summer for a prospective match with Fedor Emelianenko when he failed another steroid test. Barnett has yet to be re-licensed and both of his fights have been overseas.