Sapp's American debut cut short by determined Nortje

Updated: February 24, 2008, 2:38 PM ET
By Michael Russell | Sherdog.com

TACOMA, Wash. -- Emerging in a glittering white cloak from four jets of flame and bursting fireworks to the theme song from "2001: A Space Odyssey" on Saturday, Bob "The Beast" Sapp wanted to show he is more than just a physical specimen in his first cage match in the United States.

It had been a long journey for the very big man. And for those of the 7,089 in attendance at the Tacoma Dome who remembered when Sapp was a promising lineman at the University of Washington climbing the NFL draft board, it was a homecoming of sorts.

Sapp -- who was born in Seattle, played all of one game in the NFL and recently has lived in Japan -- weighed in Friday at a monstrous 356 pounds. To the Japanese, he is an icon, a star of not just K-1 fighting, but also movies, books and countless interviews on Japanese television. Outside of professional wrestling fans, however, he is little known in the United States.

Several of his former Huskies teammates, including former NFL safety Tony Parrish, came to the fight to cheer him on.

Parrish predicted a Sapp victory. "I know he's going to win, but the first round is going to be tough," Parrish said. "I'll take Bob in the second, with a knockout."

[+] EnlargeBob Sapp
Sherdog.comSapp, left, kicked off his American MMA campaign on the wrong foot by succumbing to Nortje in under a minute.
But Jan Nortje (2-5) had something to say about that. Fifty-five seconds into the first round, Nortje, who is undefeated in 10 fights as a professional boxer, spun Sapp around and stopped him cold with a punch. The referee stopped the fight on blows, awarding Nortje a technical knockout.

After the fight, Sapp was apologetic, saying he would train harder for his next fight and blaming his hamstring for the loss.

"Now I've got to get ready for the next fight," he said. "My hamstring just buckled under me, and I wasn't able to get back up."

The MMA world is going to have a hard time ignoring Cory Devela after his victory over Lodune Sincaid in December and his massive first-round takedown of Joe Riggs on Saturday.

Devela pounds hapless Riggs

Just two minutes into the fight, Devela (8-1) swept Riggs' legs out from under him and threw him forward onto the mat with a five-point judo throw. Devela then jumped right on top of him and landed two huge right hands.

Riggs (27-10) was slow to get up, and a stretcher was called to remove him from the cage. He had movement in his legs and could wiggle his toes, but the 185-pound veteran was fitted around the neck with a cervical collar and given morphine for the ride to St. Joseph Medical Center.

The middleweight endured a well-documented battle with pain medication following a lower back injury that required surgery on several discs. Saturday marked the third time Riggs has fought since returning to action in the second half of 2007.

Reaching down to catch a Devela kick, Riggs felt a shooting pain down his leg, said his manager, Ken Pavia.

"Fighting for underhooks, he had a warming sensation in his legs, and the throw exacerbated the sensation," Pavia said.

Backstage, Riggs told his manager the pain was so bad he tapped before hitting the canvas.

Riggs' trainer, Billy Rush, accompanied him to the hospital. Early Sunday morning, Rush told Sherdog.com that Riggs' pain was "much better" and X-rays showed nothing was broken. Riggs was cleared to return home to Phoenix, where he will see his orthopedic surgeon.

Smith roughs up Roufus in one round

In a rematch of kickboxing legends, Maurice Smith exploited Rick Roufus early, gaining an armlock submission 1:53 into the fight.

Roufus (57-7) was completely helpless on the ground in his MMA debut and never had a chance to use his considerable kickboxing skills. The high-flying, high-kicking fight the crowd expected never came to pass.

After the bout, Smith (12-10) said he never had felt so relaxed before a fight, attributing it to his veteran status and lengthy break from MMA.

"I knew sooner or later I'd get him on the ground," he said, "and when I did, I knew the fight would be over."

Smith now is 2-0 in his current comeback attempt at the age of 46.

Ellis earns decision over Berger

Despite being a recent replacement for Duane Ludwig, Eddy Ellis, who hails from Yelm, Wash., came out strong against Steve Berger, got the crowd behind him, then didn't disappoint.

In a back-and-forth first two rounds, with the fighters trading blows toe to toe, Berger (18-18-2) earned a slight edge due to his arm and leg locks on the ground. But it all changed in the third round, when Ellis (14-14-1) gained a strong position behind Berger and came within centimeters of a rear-naked choke.

The wily Berger avoided the upset for nearly five minutes and escaped to the scorecards. Unfortunately for him, the judges saw it unanimously for Ellis: 30-27 and 29-28 twice.

Masvidal not to be denied

With both fighters predicting quick victories, it was 2004 NCAA boxing champion Ryan Healy (9-3-1) who landed the first strike on Jorge Masvidal (13-2).

But Masvidal would not be denied, coming close on an armbar in the first round. The Miami-born fighter hung on for a unanimous decision.

"I don't want to make excuses," Masvidal said after the victory. "But my back has been sore and I couldn't run like I normally do, so I got a little bit gassed. … If there's a rematch, I'm going to beat his ass."

Michael Russell covers MMA for Sherdog.com.