If you weren’t watching MMA in the 1990s, you missed the sport’s true classical period. It was MMA’s Arthurian Age, when real-life giants and men with magical golden mullets roamed the fightscape. It was during this enchanted period, that a 600-pound man like Emmanuel Yarborough could enjoy absolute victory for a few brief seconds, ruling from a whimpering mountaintop made of his opponent’s face.
It happened on April 26th, 1998, in Yokohama, Japan. Yarborough’s relatively tiny opponent Tatsuo Nakano was sprawled to the mat during the opening seconds. And like a gigantic piece of Saran Wrap made of human skin, Emmanuel soon made a perfect seal over Nakano’s mouth and nose with his stomach. After the fight, Tatsuo cradled his face in his palms, no doubt deeply affected by the annihilating horror of being entirely enveloped by human flesh.
It was Yarborough’s only victory, but it was a big one. And to be fair, that loss a few years earlier probably never should have counted. After all, low blowing anti-hero Keith Hackney punched Emmanuel at least 23 times in the back of the head before he surrendered at UFC 3. Now that we know head injuries are real things, we’ll let the loss slide.
Unfortunately, the giant’s reign was brief. Just three months after Emmanuel was sitting like an enlightened combat guru atop Nakano’s cheekbones, he met his 169-pound foil. That man, Daiju Takase, must have watched film of the Najano fight before the two met at Pride 3. A master strategist, he avoided putting his face directly underneath Emmanuel’s stomach. His brilliant game plan paid off. He punched, Yarborough tapped, and Bas Rutten chuckled. Three colossal months of sizeable glory came to an end.
Much has changed in twenty years. Rumbling dinosaurs like Yarborough might as well be extinct now. As it turns out, modern athletic commissions won’t sanction fights with 430-pound disparities. But why? Presumably, it’s because a much larger opponent has a dangerous competitive advantage. But does he really? Or course, Nakano might mumble “yes” from beneath 200 pounds of fat and digestive organs. But what about Takase? At the least, he would most certainly say, “Not necessarily.” I’m going with the little guy on this one.