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The Immediate Rematch Juju & The Strange Streak from Couture to Dillashaw: Part 1

An examination of the high strangeness surrounding the Immediate UFC Title Rematch

No UFC fighter has ever won an immediate title rematch. Except Randy Couture. And it’s perfect really. The nature of Couture’s title win and loss are both equally flukey. After winning and unifying the Light Heavyweight title he made his first defense against Vitor Belfort. The match was ended by doctor stoppage for a freak cut near the eye after 0:49 seconds. He would immediately rematch Belfort and win by doctor stoppage due to a cut near the eye. It is these serendipitous moments that embody the sometimes magical nature of results and patterns in combat sports.

Following this bizarre circumstance the strange streak began. Since then we have seen all immediate rematches go emphatically to the title holder. The pattern continues to hold so strong it’s basically in the ‘bet the farm’ category when these match ups do come along. In this multi-part series we will take the scenic route and take in all the high strangeness, flukes, and juju. We will revisit each immediate title rematch and some honorable mentions with extenuating circumstances. But first we must define out terms.

The rematch is an essential component of match making in the combat sports world. Within the context of the UFC we have seen the foundations of rivalries established and grudges played out through rematches and in a way that continues to influence the sport as it evolves alongside society. But not all rematches are created equally, as witnessed in the varying impact on the overall landscape of MMA.

The rematch can provide relief from controversy, or it may only exacerbate it. It can offer parity in the equalizer win, or finality in the second loss. And then there is the strangest territory of them all. The Rubber Match. The context of the third rematch can span the spectrum from necessary to settling a close debate once and for all, to pure grudge match hatred, all the way to one last sad and painful cash grab. In this multi part series we take a deeper dive into the intricacies of the high strangeness surrounding the immediate title rematch, rematch making oddities and the elusive rubber match.

A rematch is obviously the second overall bout between two fighters. A third fight may be termed a rubber match if each opponent is 1-1 against each other. To be categorized as an Immediate Rematch, it must be the next consecutive match for both fighters. The bouts must be back to back with the same opponent. There is some interesting data regarding rematches separated by a single match or only immediate for one opponent that will be examined in part two of this series.

All Roads Lead to Shamrock – From The Lions Den to The Dance in Detroit

So it goes with much of mixed martial arts, all roads lead to a Gracie. But equally accurate in terms of UFC rivalries is, all roads lead to Shamrock. While the Gracies are the most prolific family in UFC, Ken Shamrock is the common denominator of the most prolific UFC rivalries. In this case it was Royce Gracie and his fifty seven second submission of Ken Shamrock at UFC 1 that sowed the seeds for a rivalry that would shape the promotion. After nearly two years and a nine fight win streak of exclusively first round submissions, Gracie finally met Shamrock in an epic rematch at UFC 5. They were competing for the Superfight Championship, a catchweight title used before the sport was sanctioned and weight classes were instituted in 1997. The intention was to continue the tournament format and establish a title holder for each tournament winner to challenge as number one contender.

It was in this inaugural championship bout that Gracie and Shamrock battled to a draw after thirty six minutes. With no judges or score cards they were allowed a single thirty minute round and five minutes of overtime before the match was declared a draw. The UFC Superfight belt would have to wait until UFC 6 to finally find a home when Shamrock defeated Dan Severn. But it was after their epic draw that Gracie left the UFC until returning with a loss at UFC 60 against Matt Hughes. Despite Gracie coming back home to UFC, the final re-rematch with Shamrock would be booked by rival promotion Bellator at Light Heavyweight.

On the spectrum of second rematches, this one definitely walks the line of Redemption Match and Grudge Match. Where the aura and overall perception of invincibility, Shamrock’s natural desire to win was supplanted by a single minded obsession to earn that one win. A smoldering, nagging presence at all corners of consciousness insisting that ‘He can be beat, and I know how to do it”. But all of Shamrocks inner demons aside, the most important quality of this trilogy is that it sets the tone early for UFC and the bizarreness surrounding its rematches. Just remember that all the weird begins with a thirty six minute tactical stalemate, bookended by two early first round finishes.

With the precedent set, the high strangeness continues at ‘The Dance in Detroit’, the Superfight rematch between Shamrock and Severn. In what was initially billed as the highly anticipated ‘Clash of the Titans 2’ fell cursed to infamy. It almost didn’t happen with last minute rule changes coming into effect, but with coercion the fight proceeded, but not as billed. While more recent snooze fest bouts like Lewis vs Ngannou come to mind, this was the original timid, boring fight. Neither fighter actually engaged in combat until the waning moments of the final round. The surprising and understandably disappointing performance had the entire Cobo Arena now famously chanting ‘Let’s Go Red Wings’ and ‘Boring’. The Clash became the Dance, and while the fight didn’t deliver the performance is intended, it was still inevitably one for the history books.

Ken Shamrock is a significant figure in the history of rivalries and rematches of in the sport’s early days. From Dan Severn to Tito Ortiz, you can’t tell the story of the rematch and the rivalry in mixed martial arts without Ken Shamrock.

Up Next is Part 2: Tune ups, Missed Weight & Waiting Games

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