Randy Couture wins UFC title
Randy Couture won the first of his three UFC heavyweight titles at UFC Ultimate Japan on Dec. 21, 1997, at Yokohama Arena.
Couture, who had stopped Vitor Belfort two months earlier, won a 21-minute battle over champion Maurice Smith to capture the crown.
Smith had won the title from Mark Coleman on the strength of his kickboxing, but Couture neutralized his attack with the skills he honed as an All-American wrestler at Oklahoma State University.
Two of the judges ruled in Couture’s favor, while the third judge called the fight a draw.
Frank Shamrock became the UFC’s first middleweight champion (under 200 pounds). He demolished Kevin Jackson in 16 seconds with an armbar.
Shamrock entered the fight with a 11-7-1 record, mostly compiled in Pancrase. Jackson had won the middleweight tournament at UFC 14.
Tank Abbott kicked off the heavyweight tournament with a decision win over Japanese pro wrestler “Mr. 200 Percent” Yoji Anjo.
The other semifinal, pitting Kaz Sakuraba against Marcus Silvera ended in a no-contest. Referee Big John McCarthy had stopped the fight in Silvera’s favor when Kaz was going for a takedown. He changed the result after deciding he had mistakenly stopped the fight.
When Abbott couldn’t continue due to a broken hand, Sakuraba and Silvera battled again in the tournament final. This time, Kaz won with an armbar at 3:44. He went on to become a big star in PRIDE Fighting Championships.
Vitor Belfort rebounded from his loss to Couture at UFC 15 by defeating Joe “The Ghetto Man” Charles with an armbar at the 4:03 mark.
UFC Ultimate Japan is also notable for the debut of longtime UFC play-by-play announcer Mike Goldberg.