Saturday, 4 December 1993 was the date set for the Legend’s Final Challenge, Benny The Jet” Urquidez’s final career fight. The Mirage, Las Vegas, Nevada one of the world’s most renowned venues for championship boxing opened its doors to what many people are calling the sport of the 90s WKA World Championship Kickboxing.
The promoters, World Class Kickboxing and The Mirage Hotel presented one of the most prestigious and exciting Kickboxing cards I have ever witnessed. The five bout card included three WKA World title fights and two WKA Intercontinental title fights featuring the best in Kickboxing from around the world. The whole event was filmed by Showtime part of the HBO American Television Network with commentary by action movie stars, Chuck Norris and Don Wilson. Since his retirement Benny Urquidez has worked consistently in the movie industry as a stuntman and fight choreographer. The ringside in the Grand Ballroom of The Mirage was packed with celebrities from the movie, television and music worlds. Many of them were students and close friends of Benny’s made through his work in films.
The first bout on the card featured Ricky “The Mongoose” O’Kane, USA versus Vince “The Rocket” Ross. The bout was scheduled for 10 x 2 minute rounds for the WKA Intercontinental Welterweight title. In the early rounds O’Kane had the edge over Ross – his timing was better, O’Kane attacked with punch kick combinations always having the last word. Ross barely countered with anything of significance. By the seventh round O’Kane had firm control of the fight and capitalised knocking Ross down for an eight count. Ross recovered and survived the eighth round. but in the ninth O’Kane turned up the heat again attacking with kick punch combinations sending Ross crashing to the canvas. This time Ross was counted out. As the title belt was placed around Ricky 0:Kane’s waist he looked every inch a champion. Definitely a name to watch out for in the future. Vince Ross was unsuccessful in the ring, but successful in love. The day after the event he married his long time girlfriend in a wedding chapel at the Treasure Island Hotel witnessed by several WKA representatives including the new World President, Paul Ingram.
The second bout contested the Ladies WKA Intercontinental Bantamweight title between Bridget “Baby Doll” Riley, the WKA US Champion and Stephanie Curtis, the WKA Australian and Commonwealth Champion. This fight had a lot of media attention. Both girls were in demand for interviews and photographs by the US press and television. Curtis normally fights at Featherweight so she had to lose weight for this fight. She is much taller than Riley who is a natural Bantamweight. Although Curtis had a height and reach advantage it was not much use to her. Riley has excellent boxing skills and superb kicking technique as she has studied Taekwon Do. Riley quickly took the upper hand in the early rounds outpointing Curtis. At time Curtis looked dangerous when she counter-attacked, but never really followed through with any damaging techniques. Riley was happy to go the distance winning a comfortable points decision. Curtis said later, “I was overawed by the occasion, the media attention and I felt weakened by the weight loss, but I don’t want to take anything away from Bridget’s victory, she’s a great fighter.” Bridget Riley is now in a position to challenge WKA World Bantamweight Champion, Lisa Howarth of England.
The third bout on the card and one that could have easily topped the bill, Peter “Sugarfoot” Cunningham USA against Ronnie “Machine Gun” Green England. Between them these two fighters have dominated the Lightweight and Super Lightweight Divisions worldwide for the last decade. Cunningham has held four world titles, Green captured five world titles and they have defeated so many of the great names in Kick and Thai Boxing: Gilbert Ballentine, Dida Diafat, Sakad Petchyindee and Sombat Sor Thanikul. Green and Cunningham have been matched several times in the past, but the fights never happened. Ronnie Green retired in 1991 feeling there was no one left to fight if he could not fight Cunningham, Then in January 1994 news came through the WKA grapevine that there would be an opportunity to meet Cunningham in Las Vegas. After two warm up fights. Ronnie “Machine Gun” Green climbed into the ring in The Mirage Ballroom to face his equal Peter “Sugarfoot” Cunningham. What followed was the spectacle of two master craftsmen at work. Each trying to gain the advantage. Attack and counter-attack, fluid footwork, high speed punches and kicks; their movements were almost poetic. the best of the best. Green had the first success in round four when he finished a combination with a solid right hand that buckled Cunningham’s legs, the referee stepped in to give an eight count. Cunningham was barely stunned and came straight back into the fight. In round six Cunningham backed Green into his own corner. Green slipped on the wet canvas. To his disbelief the referee started to give a count. Green complained furiously, even the American spectators booed the count, but the referee continued the count to eight before restarting the action. Green started to work on Cunningham’s left leg with powerful low kicks. This tactic slowed Cunningham down to the point where he was almost flat footed: During rounds seven, eight and nine, Green switched to southpaw. This confused Cunningham. Green took full advantage working on Cunningham’s left leg making him miss, then countering with solid combinations. During one of these attacks Green stunned Cunningham with a left hook. The referee was about to step in then hesitated when Cunningham shook his head and waved him away. This made both fighters smile, the referee had been put in his place.
Cunningham rallied in the tenth making up lost ground. Green slowed down and laid off Cunningham’s left leg. This gave Cunningham more room to press home his own attack. Cunningham had more success in round eleven urged on by his trainers. The twelfth and final round was similar to the first, both fighters exchanging punches and kicks at high speed -poetry in motion. Unfortunately there can only be one winner; on this occasion the judges gave a unanimous decision win to Peter Cunningham. In the post fight press conference, Green was asked about the knockdown scored against him and the decision. He replied, “It was no knockdown, I slipped and that was it. I don’t think it was a unanimous decision. I would have accepted a draw, Being so close to his hometown, I thought he would get the decision.” Cunningham said, “I felt I won the fight, Ronnie is a very tough fighter!”
The fourth bout, Maurice Smith WKA Heavyweight World title defence against Alex “The Volcano” Desir. Smith has successfully defended his WKA world crown 24 times since winning it in Mexico City in 1983. Alex Desir, the current WKA South American Heavyweight champion originally from Venezuela, now living in Los Angeles where he works in the movie industry. He also heads up pop star Madonna’s security team and when his schedule permits acts as her personal bodyguard. Scheduled for twelve rounds, Smith got off to his usual slow start. Desir took advantage and had some success in the early rounds using a good variety of techniques to attack Smith. In the fifth round Smith turned the tide knocking Desir down with a right hand. Desir received a standing count of eight. Desir’s enthusiastic start had come to an end. Smith had decided to fight back. Desir was giving away a lot of experience to Smith and this became more obvious as the fight went on. Desir survived the sixth and seventh rounds. Desir is a strong fighter with a big heart. He traded punches and kicks with Smith right up to the tenth round, but Smith’s attacks were more accurate and damaging. During the tenth round Smith landed a right hand knocking Desir into the ropes. Smith then followed up with a second right hand that sent Desir crashing to the canvas where he was counted out. Smith retained his WKA world title.
In the post fight interview Smith said, “He came out strong in the first round, I’ve had a cold all week and I was a little tired as the fight progressed I felt stronger, He had a good defence on kicks, but the punches were getting through, he fought a good fight.”
The main event, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez versus Yoshihisa Tagami. There was a press conference held on the day before the event. Tagami was asked how he felt about fighting Benny “The Jet”. He said, “To become a legend you must beat a legend. that’s what I am here to do.” Benny, aged 41, was asked if he was worried about fighting a man almost half his age after a four year lay off. He said, “I don’t fear death, so I don’t fear any man.” When Benny says he does not fear death, you believe him.
Part of the proceeds from the event was being given to the charity “Cities in Schools” America’s largest drop-out prevention organisation. The charity helps youths and families at risk through public schools, When Benny was asked why he wanted to return to the ring after building a successful career for himself in the movie industry. he said, “I’m doing it for the kids,” Benny is truly loved by his fans. When he stepped into the ring, the noise was deafening. Everyone in the room was standing and applauding ecstatically.
Round one was a feeling out process. Tagami looked strong. Benny’s timing was off, Tagami’s hand speed was much quicker In round two Tagami tagged Benny with a right that knocked him down. Benny jumped to his feet immediately and charged at Tagami. It was as if Tagami’s punch had woken him up. The war had started. For the rest of the fight they stood toe to toe exchanging punches and kicks without a break in the action. Benny landed several solid low kicks which visibly hurt Tagami at one point forcing him to turn southpaw as his left leg was bruised and weakened, but Tagami’s punches were always quicker than Benny’s, Tagami is a good boxer and landed some heavy blows to Benny’s head. At the beginning of the ninth round, Tagami forced Benny on to the ropes with a flurry of punches. Benny had nowhere to go, but down. He swayed with his back against the ropes, then sprang to his feet. The referee did not count. Benny went straight back into the fight. Most other fighters would move around and cover up until they had regained their sense, but not Benny, he likes to have a war and Tagami was ready to do battle. Near the end of the round Tagami attacked with a punching combination again knocking Benny down, This time Benny was not so quick to get up and received an eight count from the referee. The bell rang while the referee was counting.
Benny returned to his corner looking like he had been hit by a train. Surprisingly Benny recovered and came out for the tenth like a man possessed. He must have felt he had to knock Tagami out to win the fight. Benny hit Tagami with everything, left hooks, straight rights, head kicks, low kicks, but Tagami was not going to go down. He had a solid chin and a big heart and was willing to stand and trade with Benny. In the eleventh Benny used his famous jump spinning kick landing it firmly in Tagami’s stomach. The pace did not slow down. Even in the twelfth round the war continued and when the final bell rang both fighters raised their arms thinking they had won the fight, then they were lifted shoulder high by their cornermen and paraded around the ring. Some time passed before the decision was read out by the MC, Jimmy Lenon Junior. It was a split decision. The Dutch and American judges gave it to Benny, the Canadian judge gave it to Tagami. Benny had the majority decision and received the title belt. It was an emotional moment. Tagami cried openly and paid homage to Benny going down on his knees in awe and respect of his adversary. The Legend’s Final Challenge lived up to the pre-fight hype. The fans adored Ben and he gave them their money’s worth. In the post fight interview, Benny said, He surprised me, not his power but his impact. He came ready to fight. When I hit the ground in the early rounds, I really started throwing I couldn’t believe the shots he took, It took me a while. but the cause was right, I came back for the kids.” Tagami said, “I am disappointed about the referee, this is not my hometown I feel I did not lose the fight, but I understand the decision.”
The event was a major success for the promoters and The Mirage Hotel. Showtime TV were very impressed with the quality of the fights. This event ended a very successful year for the WKA (World Kickboxing Association). At a WKA world meeting the day after the event, Paul Ingram, the British WKA representative accepted the World Presidency of the WKA from Dale Floyd, the former President and plans were made for major championship fights in Las Vegas, Sydney and Sun City, South Africa during 1994.
Text: PAUL HENNESSY
Photos: CHRIS FARINA and Stuart Sobel
This Text was provided shortly after the 1993 event by the WKA office.