At one point in time, the UFC Superfight Championship was the most prestigious title in the MMA world and the person holding that belt could claim to be the best fighter on the planet. The title is no longer in use and was only ever active for less than 2 years, being contested across a total of 6 fights between 1995 and 1997. This was back in the earliest days of professional MMA, before the UFC introduced weight classes and many of the rules that are now seen as an important part of the sport. Things were still very much the wild west, but this was one of the earliest signs that the UFC was going to develop into the major organization that we see today.
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UFC Superfight Championship History
The UFC Superfight Championship is an important piece of MMA history, as it marked the turning point when the sport’s biggest promotion developed from hosting tournaments and into the divisional rankings that we see today. Prior to the title’s introduction, fighters won multiple fights in a single night and were declared the champion of that event. When the Superfight Championship was developed, it created the opportunity for storylines to develop over the course of months and years instead of just a few hours. The only reason the Superfight Championship ended is because weight classes were being introduced, and the promotion took one more step towards what it looks like today.
UFC 5: Royce Gracie v Ken Shamrock 2
Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock fought for the inaugural UFC Superfight Championship at UFC 5 on April 7th, 1995 and there weren’t any better men on the planet at the time to hold the title. The two had already shared the cage before, all the way back at UFC 1 when Gracie handed Shamrock his first loss in professional MMA. Gracie went on to win that tournament and another two UFC tournaments after that, while Shamrock had become the inaugural King of Pancrase. This event re-introduced time-limits and it was announced that this fight would be contested over 30 minutes but would not use any judges to determine a winner.
Shamrock landed a takedown almost immediately, but he found himself stuck in Gracie’s guard pretty soon after. Gracie wasn’t able to offer much offense off his back but Shamrock wasn’t able to pass his guard either, and that is where they spent the rest of the match. It ended up going 31 minutes, before it was decided in the moment that there would also be a 5 minute overtime period. Gracie tried a takedown this time but Shamrock countered and landed on top. It was more of the same and the fight ended without either man finishing the other, and it was declared a draw. Neither man had won the UFC Superfight Championship and the first time that the title was introduced, it had remained vacant.
UFC 6: Ken Shamrock v Dan Severn
Dan Severn won the UFC 5 openweight tournament and earned the right to challenge for the UFC Superfight Championship as a result, but there was no champion for him to face. Instead, he was scheduled to fight Ken Shamrock for the vacant title at UFC 6 on July 14th, 1995. The two men started working hard in the clinch and it was clear from the start that this fight was going to be a battle for top position. Severn eventually committed to a takedown but he was shut down and Shamrock almost managed to secure a guillotine in the process. Severn reacted quickly to work his way free, getting back up to his feet to stay in the fight.
Severn drove Shamrock into the cage and went for another takedown there, but he walked straight into another guillotine attempt in the process. He fought against it for a moment but fell backwards, while Shamrock continued cranking on the guillotine from top position. Severn tapped at 2:14 of the fight and Shamrock became the first person to hold the UFC Superfight Championship as a result. This was the first time that anyone would hold a UFC title for more than a single event, and Shamrock was now expected to defend his belt at the next event.
UFC 7: Ken Shamrock v Oleg Taktarov
Ken Shamrock’s first UFC Superfight Championship title-defense took place at UFC 7 on September 8th, 1995 and the challenger was Oleg Taktarov. He had won the tournament at UFC 6 in impressive fashion and was going to be a tough opponent, so both men started feeling each other out for the first minute. When they got a hold of one another, Shamrock was able to get top position in a scramble. Taktarov was able to get to closed guard, but the two men spent the next 14 minutes of the fight stuck in that position. Shamrock wasn’t passing, but he was causing a fair amount of damage with sporadic strikes and headbutts from the top.
Referee ‘Big’ John McCarthy stood them up and Taktarov tried a quick takedown on the reset, but was driven backwards and Shamrock resumed position in closed guard. They stayed there for another 5 minutes before being stood up again, and Taktarov was much more resistant to taking bottom position this time around. Shamrock managed to get to Taktarov’s back while standing and he tried to roll through to escape, but Shamrock maintained control and found himself in closed guard for another 7 minutes. They finished the last few minutes of the half-hour fight striking on the feet, before going into a 3 minute overtime period.
There was a little more striking to start the overtime period but both men were visibly exhausted and they were clinching up quite a lot as well. Taktarov eventually pulled guard with a minute left of the fight and after a brief period of top control, Shamrock decided to try and sit back on a leglock. It gave Taktarov the chance to try for a kneebar of his own, but Shamrock came back up and stayed heavy on top to deny him as the fight came to an end. The fight was ruled a draw, but Ken Shamrock had successfully retained the UFC Superfight Championship regardless.
UFC 8: Ken Shamrock v Kimo Leopoldo
Kimo Leopoldo was the second man to challenge Ken Shamrock for the UFC Superfight Championship, and he was the first person to fight for the title who had not won a UFC tournament. Leopoldo came into UFC 8 on February 16th, 1996 with a 4-1 professional MMA record, with his only loss coming against Royce Gracie. Shamrock caught a kick in the opening seconds and took Leopoldo down, passing straight into side control while stuck in a guillotine. Shamrock got his head free but Leopoldo recovered half-guard, slowing Shamrock’s progress down for a while.
Shamrock eventually got to mount but Leopoldo hit a reversal and ended up on top, taking half-guard. Shamrock kept attacking Leopoldo’s legs from the bottom and eventually managed to secure a kneebar, forcing Leopoldo to tap at 4:24 of the fight. Shamrock had managed to defend his UFC Superfight Championship in impressive fashion, and had managed to increase his profile as one of the biggest stars in the MMA world. His record had improved to 22-4-2 and he’d managed to beat many of the other big names in the sport already in his career.
UFC 9: Ken Shamrock v Dan Severn 2
UFC 9 took place on May 17th, 1996 and it was the promotion’s first event not to feature a tournament, with a slate of single fights instead. The main event was one of the most hotly-anticipated rematches in MMA history, as Dan Severn challenged Ken Shamrock for the UFC Superfight Championship for the second time. Unfortunately for the fans, there was very little action at all in the first 15 minutes of their fight as both men were circling one another and striking tentatively. Severn did eventually attempt a takedown but Shamrock got the better of the scramble and ended up on top, quickly stepping into mount.
Shamrock spent a few minutes working from mount when Severn turned to his knees, bringing Shamrock down in front of him as he tried to take his back. Shamrock created space and managed to spring to his feet after a little while stuck underneath Severn, and the pair resumed their sporadic striking at a distance for another few minutes. Shamrock shot in for a takedown close to the cage but Severn turned him round and pinned him up against the wall, although the fight ended shortly after. It was a close match but Severn was awarded the split decision win, and he became the second man to hold the UFC Superfight Championship.
UFC 12: Dan Severn v Mark Coleman
The UFC Superfight Championship came to an end at UFC 12 on February 7th, 1997, when the promotion decided to introduce weight classes for the first time. Mark Coleman had won the tournaments at both UFC 10 and UFC 11, so he was coming into this fight against Dan Severn with a perfect 5-0 professional MMA record. Openweight tournaments were coming to an end too, so the promotion decided to unify the Superfight Championship with the reigning openweight tournament championship. The winner of this fight was going to be declared the inaugural UFC Heavyweight World Champion.
Severn attempted a few takedowns early on but each one was stuffed and Coleman was landing some heavy shots on the feet immediately after. One of these takedowns gave Coleman the opportunity to drive Severn to his back and take mount, but that was short-lived as he turned to his knees. Coleman landed a few shots from here and worked his way back to mount when Severn tried to escape. Coleman stepped off into kesa-gatame and started applying heavy pressure, eventually forcing Severn to tap at 2:57 of the fight. Mark Coleman had successfully unified the UFC Superfight Championship and the UFC Tournament Championship, becoming the first Heavyweight Champion in the promotion’s history.