UFC 21: Return of the Champions – Where Legends Defended and New Stars Ignited

On July 16th, 1999, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returned to the heartland of America for its 21st event, aptly titled “Return of the Champions”. Held at the Five Seasons Events Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, this momentous event promised an evening of title defenses, legendary rematches, and the rise of new contenders eager to dethrone the established kings.

Preliminary Bouts: Setting the Stage for Fireworks

Even before the main card ignited, the preliminary fights served as a fiery appetizer. In the lightweight division, a young Jens Pulver, known for his lightning-fast strikes and relentless pressure, showcased his dominance against Dennis Hall, securing a TKO victory. This early display of Pulver’s explosiveness foreshadowed his future champion status and his impact on the evolving striking meta.

The middleweights delivered a technical spectacle of grappling and takedowns. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace, Murilo Bustamante, continued his impressive run, adding another victim to his highlight reel with a submission victory over John Lewis. This win further cemented Bustamante’s reputation as a grappling mastermind and a force to be reckoned with in the division.

Main Card Mayhem: Champions Defend, Legends Rematch, and New Stars Emerge

The main card lived up to its name, serving up a buffet of title defenses, legendary clashes, and unexpected outcomes. The Light Heavyweight division took center stage, with reigning champion Frank Shamrock facing off against his former rival, Bas Rutten. Their encounter was a brutal affair, with both fighters showcasing their technical prowess and unmatched determination. Shamrock, utilizing his superior wrestling and ground control, managed to control most of the fight and eventually secured a submission victory, solidifying his legacy as a dominant champion.

The middleweight division also witnessed a title defense, with the legendary Royce Gracie facing off against John Lober. Their fight was a display of contrasting styles, with Gracie’s masterful jiu-jitsu against Lober’s powerful striking. However, Gracie’s expertise on the ground proved too much for Lober, as he secured yet another submission victory, further extending his undefeated streak and solidifying his position as the most dominant fighter in the sport.

The event wasn’t without its share of unexpected twists. In a highly anticipated rematch, Tank Abbott and Marco Ruas, known for their brawling style and chaotic energy, battled it out once again. Their fight lived up to its billing, with both fighters landing heavy blows and relentless takedown attempts. However, the judges deemed the fight a draw, leaving the crowd wanting more and the rivalry unresolved.

Match Results: A Night of Title Defenses, Unexpected Outcomes, and Seeds of Future Domination

Here are the official match results of UFC 21: Return of the Champions, including the preliminary fights that set the stage:

Preliminary Bouts:

  • Jens Pulver def. Dennis Hall via TKO (punches)
  • Murilo Bustamante def. John Lewis via submission (armbar)

Main Card:

  • Light Heavyweight Championship: Frank Shamrock def. Bas Rutten via submission (rear-naked choke)
  • Middleweight Championship: Royce Gracie def. John Lober via submission (triangle choke)
  • Superfight: Tank Abbott vs. Marco Ruas (draw)
  • Lightweight Tournament:
    • Pat Miletich def. John DeBrito via TKO (referee stoppage)
    • Scott Ferrozzo def. Andy Souwer via decision
    • Pat Miletich def. Scott Ferrozzo via decision

A Legacy of Evolution and a Stepping Stone to the Future

UFC 21 holds a pivotal place in MMA history. It was a night where established champions like Shamrock and Gracie defended their titles, showcasing their dominance and solidifying their legacies. It witnessed the rise of new contenders like Pulver and Bustamante, who ignited the crowd with their explosive styles and technical prowess. It also served as a reminder of the unpredictability of the sport, with the draw between Abbott and Ruas leaving the audience wanting more and highlighting the ever-changing landscape of combat strategies.

Today, UFC 21 is remembered for its title defenses, unexpected outcomes, and the rise of future stars. It stands as a testament to the UFC’s ability to balance tradition with innovation, showcasing both the established kings and the hungry newcomers vying for their crowns. It was a “Return of the Champions” that not only delivered an unforgettable spectacle but also planted the seeds for the future of championship dominance and the ever-evolving strategies that would define the years to come.


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