Disaster and Distraction- UFC 33 and 9/11

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In the great pantheon that is Mount Xyience, where the MMA gods look down on us petty mortals, I imagine a list is being kept. Not the NSA-esque lists that Santa Claus is notorious for, but rather, a list of the best and worst cards the UFC has offered.

I can further imagine that UFC 33 rests comfortably towards the bottom of the list.

Though being one of the few major cards to feature three title fights, UFC 33 was so lackluster in its delivery that Dana White would later say that it was “the worst show we’ve ever had.” It was also the first UFC event to feature zero finishes on the main card.

For example, of the eight total fights, six went the distance, in which three were 25-minute affairs. That’s a lot of fighting to sit through, especially when the quality of the action was so dismally low.

That’s not to say there weren’t occasional glimmers of hope; Ricardo Almeida’s first-round submission win over Eugene Jackson is still one of the most beautiful triangle chokes in UFC history, while Jutaro Nakao also scored a big knockout win against Tony DeSouza.

But that’s it.

And it really doesn’t make sense why the card’s momentum was stopped dead in its tracks so early on. With names like Matt Serra, Yves Edwards, Chuck Liddell, Murilo Bustamante, Jens Pulver, Dennis Hallman, Tito Ortiz, and “The Janitor” Vladimir Matyushenko, this card was stacked for the time.

Looking back at it now, it’s almost like a family reunion of sorts for the early pioneers of the sport.

Except they weren’t pioneers at the time. They were just dudes fighting to make some money; the proverbial “Iceman” wasn’t even a world champion yet.

I bring all this up because UFC 33 was 14 years ago. It was also the first UFC event post-9/11.

And perhaps that’s part of the reason the fights as a whole were so lackluster. It would be hard to blame the mostly American fighters on the card not to be distracted by the horrific events that transpired barely two weeks prior.

Admittedly, that’s what got me thinking about this card. While it was terrible in its delivery (running over time on so many different cable systems that most fans didn’t even get to see the last round of Ortiz v. Matyushenko), it is also memorable for different reasons.

Many venues cancelled large scale events both out of respect for the loss of life as well as the very tangible fear that another attack might happen. Of course nothing of the sort occurred, but you couldn’t blame promoters for taking the cautious route.

The UFC did no such thing. I’m sure there was talk of cancelling the event, but given the money already invested, it was a logistical nightmare. The fact that there was a two-week buffer to the event was also a factor, as while the NFL and MLB cancelled games immediately following the tragedy, things were running again before UFC 33. And while their motives surely weren’t altruistic in going ahead with the fights, the UFC should be applauded for maintaining the “show must go on” mentality that has carried them, and us, through many different dark periods in recent history.

UFC 33 provided a much needed distraction from the horrors that our country faced the month of September, 2001. And while the fights didn’t live up to their collective hype, we were all grateful to have them.