By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Albin sees money to be made in the UFC. Taktarov, one of the UFC's biggest stars, now gets $25,000 just for showing up at a match. Albin, of course, takes a cut, though he won't say how much. In addition, Albin goes to the Ukraine from time to time on scouting missions--in search of the next big man in the Octagon. The Ukraine has "120 schools for UFC fighting," he claims.
Albin plans to import two Ukrainian fighters who are world sambo champions and have beaten Taktarov. "These guys are 6 feet 9 and 7 feet, 300 pounds, and less than 8 percent body fat," Albin says with relish. "They have never been beaten, and they are brothers."
The controversy surrounding UFC-style events couldn't be more advantageous for Albin. The more the politicians hate it, the more publicity it gets. "These guys [the media] sell out my shows," Albin crows. "We don't need to advertise anymore. I sent them all Christmas cards."
Guy Mezger got involved in the UFC through Albin. Mezger was a national kickboxing champion with a 22-2 record, with 19 wins by knockout. The UFC was looking for a kickboxer to fight in a challenge match--an exhibition pairing of two fighters of different disciplines. Albin thought Mezger was perfect. Mezger wasn't so sure.
"Buddy took me to UFC III, and I thought, 'This is nuts. No way.'" Albin explained to him that to the victor comes the spoils of fame. So Mezger agreed to participate.
The weeks leading up to his debut match were harder than Mezger thought. Here he was, a man who had fought and won countless kickboxing matches and had never backed down from a fight, but found that the thought of going into the Octagon disturbed his rest.
"I could not sleep for weeks," he says. He didn't worry about getting hurt--he worried about losing. "I mean, if I lose, then the whole world would see it," he recalls thinking then. "The first time Guy Mezger fights on television, and he loses in front of everyone." That thought kept him pacing and training.
The night of his fight, Mezger says, an eerie calm fell upon him, as though he had burned up all his nervousness in the previous weeks. He met his opponent, Jason Fairn, a 225-pound jujitsu expert. Both men had long hair. At the beginning of the match, Mezger and Fairn made a gentlemen's agreement: no hair pulling.
Mezger took the long walk down the hall to his corner of the Octagon and waited. Then he heard the tell-tale scrape of the bolt locking the two inside the ring.
"Let's get it on!" the ref said.
Mezger and Fairn went at it.
The match lasted about two minutes. At one point, Mezger had Fairn pinned to the ground, trying to get a choke hold on him. Fairn could have reached up and pulled Mezger's locks, but he didn't. He was a gentleman to the end. Fairn eventually tapped out, signaling that he was in a hold from which he couldn't free himself.
Anthony Macias' forays into the Octagon came through determination and a bit of fibbing. Two years ago, he watched one of the first UFC matches on television. He decided right then that he was going to do that. He found an application for the UFC in the back of Black Belt magazine, and sent it in, including a list of his titles, his win ratio, and notes on his expertise.
But he lied about his weight. He said he was 190 pounds; in reality he was 165. "They wouldn't have let me in otherwise," he explains.
Macias was picked from among the 300 applicants for UFC IV in Tulsa, Oklahoma, because of his connection to Albin, the fighter says. He was pitted against Dan Severn, a 35-year-old, 250-pound Greco-Roman wrestler who's a darling of the UFC. Macias was unknown and underweight. But he fought valiantly, he says.
"The oddsmakers had it at 100-1 that I would last past 30 seconds," Macias says, laughing at the memory. "The match went one minute, 48 seconds." He lost.
After two years, the UFC is becoming its own small world, where a bond often develops among the men who have fought in the Octagon. Macias, Mezger, and Telligman met through the UFC and have trained together for a year now. Friends who have trained together, however, may find themselves at the opposite ends of the ring. The results can sometimes leave those friendships in tatters.
It happened to Macias in UFC VI. He was an alternate, who decisively won his bout against Bill "He-man" Gibson. One of the semifinal contenders was unable to go on, and Macias replaced him. He was to fight against Taktarov. Taktarov and Macias had trained together for more than a year and were both managed by Albin. The two fighters were also friends.
Macias doesn't like to talk about what happened in the ring today. What viewers saw was Macias running at Taktarov and Taktarov grabbing Macias and immediately taking him to the ground. Taktarov then placed Macias in a choke hold. The entire fight took less than 20 seconds.
"I won't say that I fought Oleg, but I won't say that I didn't, either," Macias says, "but it won't happen again. That took a lot out of me. It's not a problem for me to fight anyone [in the Octagon], not even my mother."