Someday – and it won’t matter if it’s a hundred years into the future – when the list of the most distinctive personalities in UFC history is discussed, one of the names at the very top is going to be David “Tank” Abbott, who, considering some of the chiseled physiques that have occupied the octagon in the recent history of mixed martial arts, has to be looked upon as an unlikely force. But a force he was – both in and out of “official” action.
Abbott, a native of Huntington Beach, Cal., wrestled as a youth and boxed as a young adult. But what did mostly was engage in street fights. He claimed to actually enjoy getting in trouble, and bragged about at least a dozen arrests. Allegedly he spent seven months in jail before he got involved with the UFC, and made enough mischief to probably do seven hundred more.
Legend has it that Abbott made a name for himself fighting in bare-knuckle bouts around Orange County, and part of the UFC’s build-up for him was that he had practiced the style of “pit-fighting,” which according to one “a sport started by outlaw biker gangs in which a large pit is dug and two fighters jump in and brawl. This “sport” was depicted in the film, Stone Cold.”
Actually, as it applied to Abbott, this background attribute was a figment of the UFC publicity department’s imagination, more likely than not.
Abbott did, however, often described his strategy of going into a bar, seeking out the guy who looked like he might be the toughest and literally goading him into a fist fight.
His menacing goatee, considerable gut and aggressive demeanor gave him the appearance of a Hell’s Angel looking for booze, broads and brawls on a Saturday night. Although he did happen to be an accomplished wrestler, he preferred to offer the impression of someone without polish. In fact, he called himself the “anti-martial artist.” But he was tough, and loved to fight.
Abbott was sold to the UFC as a street fighter, and Bob Meyrowitz and Art Davie, who operated the organization at the time, were concerned that because of the political atmosphere, he might not project the most positive image. Interestingly, Abbott was a graduate of the University of California at Long Beach, with a degree in history, but he hardly looked like an academic. He looked like a bulldozer. His style was straight ahead, as he flailed away at his opponent, mostly at home in the stand-up position, owing to very heavy hands.
Abbott made his debut in UFC 6 and won his first fight, over the 350-pound John Matua, in just 18 seconds. He mocked his opponents, which infuriated them, but the fans really ate it up. In that UFC event, he made it to the finals against Oleg Taktarov. In a brutal fight that lasted 17 minutes and 47 seconds, Taktarov finally choked him out. But Oleg took a lot of punishment; he didn’t make it out of the octagon under his own power, but Abbott did. And he made a big splash in the process; he fit right in with the rebellious attitude of UFC fans, who couldn’t wait to see him again.
They’d see him plenty.
The Trouble With Tank
In the Ultimate Ultimate promotion in 1995, Tank Abbott took a huge beating from Dan Severn but showed a lot of heart by never quitting. He went the entire twenty minutes though he lost a decision. That endeared him even more to the UFC fan base. So did his penchant for getting into trouble, within the UFC sphere, outside of the octagon. On one of these occasions, he aided one of his compatriots, Paul Herrera, in launching a full-scale assault against Patrick Smith outside a hotel elevator. During another one of his skirmishes, he hurled insults at referee John McCarthy’s wife, calling her a “whore” among other things.
That brought Abbott some real trouble. McCarthy, by this time a fixture in the UFC, threatened to quit if Abbott wasn’t fired.
Meyrowitz took some disciplinary action by suspending Abbott, although he allowed him back into action for UFC 11 after the Tank sent an apology letter to the McCarthys. In that particular event, he lost to Scott Ferrozzo, coming into the octagon out of shape at 298 pounds.
Abbott had a memorable fight with Don Frye in the Ultimate Ultimate in 1996 and almost scored a KO with strikes, but was eventually overcome by Frye, who choked him out, in a spectacular fight that proved to be Frye’s last in mixed martial arts (he went into wrestling after that). Abbott was one of the biggest attractions in the UFC, actually commanding a salary, and so despite the fact that he had never won a UFC tournament, he was entered into the “superfight” against Vitor Belfort for UFC 13. It wasn’t his night, as Belfort got Abbott on the ground and landed one strike after another before the fight was halted inside of a minute.
Nonetheless, the popular competitor got a shot at the UFC heavyweight title in 1997, at UFC 15, as he took on Maurice Smith.
Abbott lasted eight minutes with the skillful Smith, finally losing on strikes. But he struck it big – in a sense – on the small screen, as he found himself on the top-rated sitcom “Friends,” playing a mixed martial arts fighter who defeats the character played by Jon Favreau. Other than some of his UFC antics and subsequent wrestling “schtick,” this was Abbott’s only acting appearance.
After another loss, this time to Pedro Rizzo in UFC Brazil, Abbott disappeared from the UFC for five years. He was slated to go to Japan for an appearance on the first PRIDE show, but had legal problems in leaving the country.
Abbott became a professional wrestler with WCW (World Championship Wrestling), the Ted Turner-owned entity, and had an up-and-down couple of years there, gaining some success in tag team action with Rick Steiner but losing to the likes of David Arquette, the actor-turned-wrestler who was essentially doing it as a publicity stunt to promote his movie “Ready to Rumble.”
Abbott returned to action in the UFC in 2003, tapping out against Frank Mir in 46 seconds. After losing to Kimo and Wesley Corriera after that, he was gone from the UFC for good. Abbott did not really fit in with the “new” UFC, which was trying to emphasize the clean living, serious competitor.