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Saturday, August 01, 2015

No Holds Barred: Steve Nelson and the Unified Shoot Wrestling Federation (USWF) 

On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman reposts an interview with Steve Nelson, who fought in and ran the Unified Shoot Wrestling Federation (USWF) in the 1990s in Amarillo, Texas.

This organization, which was one of the most successful local promotions of its time, held fights under what were called shootfighting rules, with only open hand strikes allowed, but with all submissions as well as kicks and knees permitted. It was thus a mixture of catch wrestling and MMA.

Steve was also a headliner in the company's most famous fight, when he took on Ralph Gracie, who had defeated him in under a minute in 1996 under no holds barred rules in Battlecade/Extreme Fighting 2 in the Mohawk community of Kahnawake near Montreal. The rematch took place August 22, 1998, as the main event of the USWF 11 show in Amarillo.

This fight was my selection as the 1998 Fight of the Year in mixed discipline combat sports.

A video of this fight can be seen here.

This interview was originally recorded in August 2008 to mark the tenth anniversary of his classic USWF fight with Ralph Gracie.

While MMA in the U.S. was facing many difficulties in 1998, the USWF, which just ran shows in Amarillo and West Texas, was drawing large crowds of upwards of 4000 fans.

Explaining this, Steve Nelson pointed out, "We didn't have a TV show. All we had was, we had posters around the town. I went and did a lot of interviews. So the other fighters did their interviews, too, on the radio, and we were pulling these kind of crowds."

They were so successful at the art of local promotion in the late 1990s that, "We were the top-drawing martial arts company in the United States at the time."

Much has changed since then, of course, with the USWF soon peaking and closing down a few years later. Many of its top stars then focused on MMA, including the late USWF and UFC champion Evan Tanner, or coaching wrestling like Steve, Paul Jones, and others.

Steve had been the head coach of the boy's and girl's wrestling teams at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo for many years, but retired from teaching and coaching in December 2013. He now works full-time as the manager of Sakura Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar in Amarillo.

In our original lengthy interview, we spoke with Steve about the USWF and its history; his fights with Ralph Gracie; some of the fighters from the USWF who became notable in MMA; important tips for promoters, especially local promoters who need to avoid quickly losing money (which is today particularly important for those running catch wrestling and grappling shows); the accomplishments of the wrestling teams he coached; and much more.

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