UFC on DVD Review
It began as a very simple question, "Who would win...a boxer or wrestler? Karate, kickboxing or kung fu?" And so the Ulitmate Fighting Championship was born, a no-holds-barred contest to find the greatest fighter and martial art in the world. With director John Milius involved as a creative director, there were no time limits, the arena was a cage in the shape of an octagon and other than there being no biting and no eye gouging, there were no rules. You could head butt, punch to the groin and choke an opponent 'til they passed out. There were no rules on weight and no weight classes. There were effectively no rules.
UFC 1 pitched two kick boxers, a karateka, a boxer, a sumo wrestler, a shootfighter and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert against one another. It was Royce Gracie who emerged as the winner. Much lighter than the other competitors, Gracie proved that his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was dominant over the other styles and with his success on UFC proving to be as effective an advertisement for the Gracie schools of BJJ as anything else they could have done. However, the question of the UFC finding the greatest technique quickly became irrelevant. The grapplers proved that the striking arts were no match for them one-on-one, even less so when they tried to take the fight to the ground. Then again, as the UFC went on so it was proved that those who remained dedicated to a particular art were trounced by those who practiced Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), which absorbed striking arts (Muay Thai, karate, kung fu, boxing, etc.) with grappling (judo, BJJ, wrestling, etc.). Strangely, this was exactly the kind of thing that Bruce Lee was trying to prove with Jeet Kune Do about thirty years ago, only that it took a lot of UFC pay-per-view fights to prove it to an audience at home.
However, in the wake of various controversies over the violent nature of the fight, the UFC almost looked as though it was going out of business as soon as it had just begun. UFC 8, which was to be hosted in New York was cancelled at the last minute with US Senator John McCain describing it as, "human cockfighting!" However, even recently and with a local flavour - at least to me and those other readers and reviewer resident in Northern Ireland - Belfast City Council refused a licence to the UFC-style Last Man Standing on account of it not being, in their words, "...a recognised sport." In response, the UFC brought in several rules, including the wearing of gloves and gumshields, time limits on rounds and no strikes to the groin. Traditional martial arts suits, such as those worn in BJJ, judo and karate, were out in favour of shorts as was kicks to an opponent while they were on the ground. The UFC now describes itself as being one of the safest forms of combat sports with the injuries being limited to broken toes, wrists, ribs and feet - things that you tend to get in any martial arts club - but the reputation of violence lingers about it, something that is encouraged by the UFC itself.
As to the actual fights, well, they're not the standup brawls that you might imagine when thinking of martial arts. Flying sidekicks, one-inch punches and spinning roundhouse kicks are almost entirely absent. Instead, the UFC offers scrappy bouts where a direct punch is more successful than one with a flourish. Techniques to weaken an opponent abound - there are much roundhouse kicks and punches to the arms and legs - with there being fights in which the towel is thrown in simply because a fighter is too exhausted to carry on. There's a good reason that the grapplers tend to do well. Almost all UFC fights go to the ground and tend towards chokes and arm, leg and neck locks. As BJJ and submission wrestling has proved, these are effective but they're not awfully entertaining, less so when one's view of the action is ten minutes of watching a man's pair of buttocks with his opponent buckled underneath just about gasping for breath.
The UFC is not about art and they would probably argue that if you want the kind of stylish striking martial arts made popular by Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, you'd be better off watching Enter The Dragon or Drunken Kung Fu. The UFC is all about winning the fight by whatever means necessary and though it can be ugly and very sweaty, there is a respect between many of the fighters that is obvious, at least when the fight is over. Personally, I don't find it as exciting as many others do. These are simply brawls and look as such. Point-fighting, as you'll see in some martial arts, lacks the realism of UFC but is faster and the fighters are scored not only for a strike but also on technique. However, without any real sense of showmanship - there's none of the pre-fight nonsense seen in boxing or WCW - and nothing but rumours as regards fights being fixed, UFC is largely about what is real and who would win. Little wonder that it's the fastest-growing combat sports event.
We have been sent three sets of discs for review, the single disc release of UFC 68 - The Uprising (Catalogue Number UFCDVD068, runtime 150m42s) and two double-disc sets Ultimate Japan/Brazil (Catalogue Number UFCDVD019, runtime 116m13s, 117m53s) and UFC 33 & 34 (Catalogue Number UFCDVD017, runtime 198m28s, 117m59s). Not that any of these are the latest releases - FightDVD currently have UFC 74 and 75 up for pre-order but UFC 68 does only date from March of this year - but they do offer a fair taster of the UFC. Like the kind of boxing matches featured on ITV or the BBC, there's a number of fights on the bill and in the UFC these begin with lightweight going through to heavyweight, where the real stars of the UFC are. The length of fights can vary greatly with some over in seconds while others go the distance, eventually relying on the scores from the judges. However, even then, it's often obvious which way the fight is going. The Tim Sylvia/Randy Couture fight almost runs out of time but ends with Couture victorious but it's obvious that Sylvia had neither puff nor strength left in him at the end. Nor any sight out of one eye and bleeding heavily from his mouth. On the same disc, the Jamie Varner/Jason Gilliam fight is over in seconds.
The other sets offer much of the same. Ultimate Japan headlines with Randy Couture versus Maurice Smith and Frank Shamrock against Kevin Jackson but its Kazushi Sakuraba who surprises most by proving himself more capable than BJJ when up against Conan Silvera. Ultimate Brazil, meanwhile, features Frank Shamrock against John Lober and Wanderlei Silva versus Vitor Belfort. And the unlikely-named Ebenezer Fontes Braga. UFC 33 - Victory In Vegas - headlines with Tito Ortiz versus Vladimir Matyushenko while Chuck Liddell goes up against Murilo Bustamante. Finally, UFC 34 - High Voltage - features a heavyweight championship between Randy Couture and Pedro Rizzo as well as, elsewhere on the ticket, B J Penn against Caol Uno. However, each disc offers six to eight fights with chapter stops before each bout.
Given that most of the action takes place on the floor of the octagon, there are no well-framed shots here. Instead, there's the occasional overhead shot but, mostly, it's two men grappling on a mat decorated with sponsor's logos. These three sets look exactly as you might expect them to, just a pay-per-view fight event transferred onto DVD. The more recent the event, the better it looks but that's due to the amount of money UFC now makes. UFC 68 looks the best of the releases that we have. If not exactly sharp or offering very much detail, the picture is still fairly clean and generally looks reasonable throughout, if, by reasonable, you accept that a US sports broadcast is watchable. Personally, I found this worked best on a smaller television as what detail there was tended to get lost on a larger set.
Again, the DD2.0 audio isn't anything much but most of what you hear is crowd noise, coaches shouting, "Don't drop the hands! Finish him!" and two grunting and punching one another. Being honest, it doesn't have to be particularly good to cope with that but these releases do all that they're called upon to do. UFC 68 sounds better than the others but that's in keeping with the quality of the presentation. There are not subtitles - did you expect any? - but there is a choice of languages on UFC 68, including English, Dutch, Spanish and French but these are not available on all releases and, I would guess, come from recordings of the foreign-market commentators present on the night of the event.
Randy Returns (25m51s, on UFC 68 only): Randy Couture made a return to the octagon in UFC 68 and this short documentary follows not only his training to this comeback but what happened to get him there. Couture is very softly spoken, quick to smile and, at 43, an unlikely candidate for UFC heavyweight champion but through interviews, he's one that people will warm to and this is a nice little summation of his career to date, one that began in the UFC completely by chance.
There are other websites but these are all available from the supplier direct at FightDVD. Please follow these links to buy UFC 68 - The Uprising, UFC 33 & 34 Double DVD and Ultimate Japan & Ultimate Brazil Double DVD.