Issue 205

May 2024

November 22, 2002

MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas

UFC 40

By Brad Wharton

Most people of a certain age will cite The Ultimate Fighter Season 1 Finale classic between Forrest Griffin and the late Stephan Bonner as the biggest turning point in UFC history. 

They’re probably right, but we wouldn’t have gotten that far were it not for an event that took place two and a half years earlier on the Vegas Strip.

UFC 40 was a landmark night for head honcho Dana White and his backers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, who had been treading water since taking over the organization two years prior. 

It set a UFC gate record and obliterated their recent Pay-Per-View numbers. 

Crucially, it gave parent company Zuffa LLC the first glimpse of what their fledgling IP could achieve. 

And the catalyst? A good, old-fashioned blood feud that culminated in what was – up to that point – the biggest UFC fight of all time. 


If Royce Gracie was the best fighter of the formative UFC tournaments, Ken Shamrock was undoubtedly their biggest star. 

Shamrock sported a ripped body, chiseled good looks, self-assured, and dripping with menace. 

UFC 1 may have taught us that real martial arts fights didn’t look like they did in the movies, but Shamrock was every inch the action hero.

His swagger made him an instant star, but despite his pro-wrestling roots, the ‘tough guy’ persona was no act. 

He’d grown up the hard way, which is to say it was no surprise that the guy who’d happily put his money up against a passing trucker in a bare-knuckle fistfight or run through a bunch of drunks at the local bar for giving him the side-eye, would end up on a career path competing relentlessly for money and respect. 

By 1996, he’d earned plenty of the latter. 

Dubbed ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Man’ by US TV network ABC, he’d won – and defended – the UFC Super Fight Championship, the precursor to the heavyweight title as it exists today. 

With injuries building up and the financial compensation from fighting not cutting the mustard, Shamrock rolled the dice on a return to pro wrestling. 

He joined the then WWF for their white-hot ‘Attitude Era,’ where cartoonish characters were ushered out in favor of content with a harder edge. 

Ken’s legitimate credentials, coupled with the ‘shoot-style’ he’d picked up in Japan that looked like he was legitimately hurting people, was an instant hit. 

Try as he might, he couldn’t stray too far from his roots. Ken put together what was arguably the first US-based ‘super team’; his ‘Lion’s Den,’ modeled after the brutal Japanese shoot-style Dojos, where every training session was a fight to survive.

Ken was the Alpha Dog; a slight on one of his guys was something he took personally. 

In May 1997, a young pup stepped into his yard, and things would never be the same again. 


The UFC has always prided itself on being bigger than any one star, but around the turn of the century, Tito Ortiz was unequivocally the exception to that rule.

A college student when he made his MMA debut as an alternate at UFC 13, he competed as an amateur for no prize money, the only athlete in UFC history to do so. 

Ortiz ran through opponent Wes Albritton before fate - in the form of an injury to Enson Inoue – conspired to throw him into the tournament against Shamrock’s protégé Guy Mezger. 

The vastly more experienced Lion’s Den man won the day, but it wasn’t without drama; the fight-ending guillotine choke occurred after a controversial stoppage to check cuts on Mezger’s head. 

The UFC smelled money, pitching Ortiz against the Lion’s Den’s Jerry Bohlander at UFC 18 before a rematch with Mezger was inked for UFC 19. Ortiz dominated both bouts, rubbing salt in the wound by celebrating in shirts adorned with vulgar slogans and flipping off the opposite corner. 

In wild scenes after the Mezger bout, Big John McCarthy had to carry Ortiz away from an enraged Shamrock, who’d climbed onto the Octagon wall to jab his finger into the young upstart’s face. 

There wasn’t a UFC fan alive that didn’t want to see the pair fight. 


Ortiz eventually captured the UFC’s 205lb title and became the promotion’s talisman in a post-Shamrock/Gracie era. 

The bleached hair, flame shorts, and bad attitude cemented him as the darling of the Limp Bizkit generation, the counterculture king of the counterculture industry. 

Ortiz carried the American side of the sport on his back through what was known as the Dark Ages, as legitimate venues and PPV providers bowed to political pressure to censor the nation’s newest ultraviolent pastime.

With the UFC’s new owners losing many of their top stars to Japan and desperate for a domestic needle-mover, it didn’t take long for them to come up with a deal to coax Shamrock back to the UFC.


Of all the pithy names given to early UFC events, ‘Vendetta’ was perhaps the most apt. 

Shamrock hated Ortiz, and he’d let the world know it. 

His fame from pro wrestling – he’d shared the ring with everyone from Shawn Michaels to The Rock – had drawn unprecedented mainstream attention to the bout. Tito played the perfect foil as he laughed off his opponent’s every attempt to bring gravitas to the situation. 

And so, the stage was set. 

Old School versus New School: was Ortiz ushering in a new era, or was Shamrock the Renaissance Man? 

Amidst an atmosphere so thick a spoon could have cut it, let alone a knife, the pair finally came head-to-head. 

It was an explosive first exchange as they steamed into each other, with Ortiz bursting out of an early lock-up to land a series of strikes against the cage. 

Shamrock wrestled his way out of a front headlock and smashed a right hook into his man’s left temple, dropping him to a knee and causing the watching world to pause for breath. 

This wasn’t just a fight. It was a clash of styles, attitudes, and generations. Those who’d caught the original UFCs on PPV or VHS and the wrestling fans – the Shamrock True Believers – were behind the World’s Most Dangerous Man. 

Those who’d found the sport around the turn of the century had an entirely different idea of who the World’s Most Dangerous Man was.  

Ortiz survived Ken’s best shot, secured the takedown, and chipped away at the UFC legend as the crowd chanted their names. 

The pair blitzed into each other to start the next round, but the second Ortiz instigated the takedown, it felt like the script had already been written.       

The Huntingdon Beach Bad Boy turned Shamrock’s head into ground beef, blasting away with punches and elbows before Ken could affect an escape in the final minute. 

Both men got their licks in on the feet as the third round started, but Shamrock was visibly spent.

The age of 38 might not be old in regular terms, but the years of wear and tear on Ken’s body had clearly taken their toll. 

Tito walked through his offense and let rip with knees, punches, and elbows in the clinch before drilling Ken into the mat and hammering away with more thudding ground ‘n’ pound. 

The OG dug deep, sweeping his way out from underneath Ortiz and returning to his feet to a chorus of cheers, but all it meant was more lumps added to his already brutalized face. 

Shamrock’s corner mercifully called the beating off between the third and fourth. 


Ortiz vs Shamrock 1 was a resounding win for the UFC by every possible metric. 

It had garnered a then-unprecedented level of media attention for the brand, cemented Ortiz as the sport’s biggest star in the North American market, and – with a young upstart named Chuck Liddell turning in a jaw-dropping performance on the undercard - seemingly set the roadmap for the UFC’s marquee division. 

The Ortiz/Shamrock story was far from over. The pair went on to coach what many consider the best season of The Ultimate Fighter and would fight twice more, albeit with ever-diminishing returns. 

As the dust settled on UFC 40, Ortiz stood tall, but the division was forever shaken up in a manner nobody saw coming.