Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound - Don Frye.
Don Frye “The Predator” is one of MMA’s early stars and most recognized fighters. He is considered one of the original “cross-trained” MMA competitors because of his multiple disciplines; boxing, wrestling, and Judo. A tournament win at the UFC 8 unfolded a new career, world-wide fame earned from professional wrestling in Japan, and a dip in the waters of acting has awarded Don Frye the life that he dreamed would happen.
A star athlete at Buena High School in Sierra Vista, AZ Frye wrestled under Coach Jerry Pickenpaugh and Coach Manny Martinez and earned a collegiate wrestling scholarship at ASU. In college, Frye wrestled five years and had the honor of wrestling under two of the greatest coaches in collegiate sports; four years under Bobby Douglas at Arizona State University (ASU) and one year under Joe Seay at Oklahoma State University (OSU). Bobby Douglas coached Frye from 1984 to the summer of 1988. During that summer, Frye won the Southwestern Regional Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Las Vegas in both the Greco-Roman and Freestyle tournaments. As a member of the Sunkist Wrestling Team, Frye represented the USA in the Concord International Greco-Roman Wrestling Tournament where he finished with a silver medal in the 220-pound weight class. At ASU, Frye was a member of three PAC-10 championship teams as well as the 1988 NCAA wrestling team championship. At OSU he was a member of the 1989 BIG 8 championship team, as well as the 1989 NCAA wrestling team.
Finishing his college years with a major in history, Frye returned to Phoenix to enter the ring as a professional boxer. Unbeknown to his parents, Frye’s boxing desire began when he trained and fought for a Golden Gloves boxing tournament in Tucson at the age of 14. (Frye’s father, Don Sr, was a Golden Gloves Champion in West Virginia in the 1950’s fighting in the 119 pound weight class.) Four months into training, Frye had his first match where he knocked his opponent out in 20 seconds. Frye boxed professionally from 1990-1992.
After two years of boxing, Frye decided to retire and start a new career with the fire department as an EMT/Firefighter in Santa Fe New, Mexico and later in Bisbee, Arizona. Along with firefighting, Frye mastered another talent when he attended Oklahoma Horseshoeing School to become a self-employed Farrier. According to Frye, this career choice was made partly due to his love for animals and as he proclaimed, “it costs too much to pay somebody else to shoe all those horses!” After attending the 12 week Farrier program, he returned to Sierra Vista, AZ to start his own horseshoeing business where he shod horses for seven years in conjunction with firefighting.
With an athletic career encompassing over 700 competition victories in wrestling, boxing and Judo, Frye decided to return to athletic competition. For several years, he had been training in Judo and shoot fighting under Steve Owen, a fifth-degree black belt. Steve Owen is a submission specialist in Tucson and is nationally known for his arm-locks and choke holds and is also a national and international competitor who has earned numerous trophies.
In June 1995, at the Fire Station, Frye saw Dan Severn, his long-time friend and former assistant ASU coach on television where Dan was working as a bodyguard in connection with the UFC. Frye reacquainted himself with Dan who later arranged for Frye to fight in an MMA style event in Atlanta in what was plugged as a “black-tie and champagne event”. That night, on the drive to the warehouse (event site), the promoter confided that there was no money to pay the fighters but declared they could fight if they desired. What was billed as a $3000 fight purse and gladiator type entertainment for the wealthy, actually turned out to be free entertainment for a small beer and pretzel crowd in the rough part of Atlanta. Years later, when Frye would return Dan’s favor to other prospective fighters seeking his connections, Frye realized that the Atlanta fight was test; a man who is willing to fight without pay for the sheer sport, is a real fighter, not a poser.
When Dan “The Beast” Severn fought in UFC VI, Frye made the 20 hour drive to Casper, Wyoming. Later he helped train Dan for the Ultimate Ultimate 1 (the best of the best from previous UFC winners and runners up) competition in December 1995. Through Dan’s connections, Frye fought for the WKC World Shoot Fighting Championship, in Battle Creek, Michigan at the 1995 New Year’s Eve show on a card billed as a “2 out of 3 falls”. That night, Frye fought the same opponent twice and won the championship.
Ask Don Frye what he loves about fighting……… “It’s a pure sport. Everything is pure. There’s no BS, no politics, no favoritism. You just get in there and fight. Once you’re in the ring, it’s about who’s got the most guts and the most talent”. As expected, after years of disappointment in athletics that had too many rules for his liking, the “no rules” fighting of the UFC was ideal for Frye. Frye made his debut in February 1996 at UFC 8, “David vs. Goliath”, in Puerto Rico where he entered the tournament with an 8 second knock out (one of the fastest in MMA history) to 410 lb. local favorite, Thomas Ramirez, who had a fight record of 200 wins and no losses. Frye fought three Goliaths that night, Ramirez, Sam Adkins, and Gary Goodridge, overcoming all his opponents in just over three minutes total, becoming the tournament champion. This one career-launching event created magnanimous changes, turning Frye’s life in a new direction. (You can read more about this event and the early UFC era in People magazine March 11, 1996)
Frye’s duty at the Fire Department was one aspect in his life about to change. Due to the controversial nature of MMA in the late 1990’s, the Firefighters Union (IAFFS) disapproved of the sport, causing Frye to resign from the Bisbee Fire Department. Shortly thereafter, he retired from Farrier service to devote 100% of his time to fighting and training. However, since horseshoeing provides an excellent source of leg strength training, Frye continues to shoe his own horses and a few friends’ horses as part of his training regiment.
The UFC that you see today is completely different than the UFC that originated under Robert Meyrowitz’s guidance when he created the competition to determine which and if one martial arts discipline would prevail. Over time, tournaments were removed and weight classes added along with a lengthy list of new rules. Appreciating the “no holds barred” concept, Frye is grateful for the opportunity to participate in the sport prior to the UFC changes. Under the old rules, Frye proved himself as a multi-skilled cross-trained fighter who takes pride in his disciplines and lives by his oath to never tap out or give up. His mental toughness, his ability to hang tough and intimidate opponents, is extraordinary. Evidently fans recognized this trait when they voted him the #4 fighter of all time by the UFC Viewer’s Choice Awards in 2003.
Instantly a fan favorite in the UFC, Frye fought Amaury Bitetti in UFC 9, a single bout competition, and became the first American to beat a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu superstar. UFC declared this match as one of UFC’s all-time great matches. UFC 10, another tournament style competition, brought Frye against Mark Hall, Brian Johnston, and Mark Coleman. He defeated both Hall and Johnston by TKO (technical knockout). In the finals, Coleman came out the winner with a TKO after 11 minutes of fierce combat. This was Frye’s first loss in seven UFC fights.
His winning streak resumed when he submitted Mark Hall at Ultimate Japan, (a newly formed Japanese MMA company not affiliated with the UFC) in November 1996. Dan Severn was also on the card that night. Just one month later, Frye fought in the UFC’s Ultimate Ultimate 2, 1996 tournament (UU II), touted to be the best of the best from past UFC winners and runners up. Frye won by submission, taking over Gary Goodridge and Mark Hall (for the third time). Frye faced feared striker Tank Abbott in the finals of UU II. The fight, considered one of the toughest tournaments and one of the most exciting minutes in UFC history, and a match still talked about today, began with Abbott landing some early devastating shots, opening a massive cut on Frye’s face, causing him to stumble and consequently knock Abbott down. Abbott’s fall allowed Frye to secure a rear naked choke, where he took the title of Ultimate Ultimate 2 Champion, his second UFC Tournament Championship and his second belt.
Recruited by Brad Rheinghans, a member of the 1976 and 1980 US Olympic Greco Roman Wrestling Team and a former professional wrestler, Frye left the UFC to train in the art of professional wrestling with Brad in Hamil, Minnesota. Frye was honored about the new venture because it had been a lifelong dream of his to be involved in professional wrestling. He signed a deal with NJPW (New Japan Pro-Wrestling) in August 1997. Almost immediately, he became the company’s number one and highest paid foreign star and was among the most charismatic when doing worked matches. His tenure in wrestling earned him the most popular foreign wrestler in the country. While Frye drew many sold-out audiences at the Tokyo Dome, it was his main event match with Antonio Inoki in 1998 that was, and to this day, remains the biggest gate ever for any live wrestling event in history, 70,000 seats and 5,000 standing tickets sold. Another milestone still holds; the all-time attendance record for a pro wrestling show in Osaka, (Muto & Takada vs. Frye & Ken Shamrock).
Just as Frye was a pioneer in the early MMA era, Frye brought a new style to pro wrestling in the worked (choreographed) UFC heel style. He remains the most successful athlete who started in shoots and used his shoot prowess to become a superstar in worked wrestling matches. Frye was awarded the Best Shooter Award at the New Japan Pro-Wrestling 30th anniversary show on May 2, 2002. Of all the MMA fighters entering pro-wrestling, he has made the most successful long-term transition and for several years, he was the most popular foreign wrestler in the country. In Japan, he is featured in over 16 trading cards devoted to pro-wrestling. Complete with his mustache, he is also a character in two PRIDE FC (Pride Fighting Championship) Playstation Games and two New Japan Pro-Wrestling Sony video games.
Although Frye left professional wrestling, his love for the sport and Japan’s love for him enabled Frye to periodically return when his schedule permitted. In 2003, Frye wrestled for a new organization, World of Fighting Japan for Masa Saito, and in 2007, Frye wrestled again for Mr. Antonio Inoki in his new venture, the Inoki Genome Federation, Japan.
PRIDE and K-1
Still a fighter and warrior with the stamina and heart to win, Frye returned to professional fighting in 2001 by signing a multi-fight contract with PRIDE Fighting Championships. After having three of his neck vertebrae fused due to an injury incurred in pro-wrestling (or from his wife’s driving) and a torn quad, he was still anxious to take his first fight in five years. He faced Dutch kickboxer Gilbert Yvel, the most feared striker in MMA at that time, in PRIDE 16. The bout became infamously controversial when Yvel repeatedly gouged Frye’s eyes blinding him throughout the fight. Enduring scratched corneas Frye still hung in and won via DQ (disqualification). Yvel was eventually disqualified for continuously holding the ropes preventing Frye from taking him to the ground. (Several bouts later, Yvel was disqualified again for punching the referee in the head and biting the referee’s nose). While this fight earned Yvel the nickname “Yellow Card Yvel”, this fight also declared Frye the American patriotic hero for Japan when he entered the ring carrying the American Flag, to the USA National Anthem, just two weeks after 9/11, a time when few Americans felt like fighting.
Three months later, at K-1’s New Years Eve show Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2001, K-1 vs. Inoki, Frye submitted Cyril Abidi by rear naked choke. Frye returned to PRIDE in February of 2002, facing long-time rival Ken Shamrock at PRIDE 19, “Bad Blood”. After a long, tough battle, in which Shamrock used his notorious ankle locks, Frye prevailed with a split decision victory. In the ring, the two warriors acknowledged each other's skills, putting an end to their long time rivalry.
Just four months after defeating Ken shamrock, Frye fought Japanese pro wrestling legend Yoshihiro Takayama at PRIDE 21. Many consider this fight to be one of the world’s greatest MMA fights and truly one of PRIDE’s most exciting matches. The famous “hockey fight” pose has Frye and Takayama clinching each other and relentlessly exchanging over 100 blows to the head. This whirlwind of flying fists ensued three times in the fight. After a full minute of unrelenting, undefended shots, Takayama attempted a body lock throw enabling Frye to mount Takayama, and pound his opponent's head against the ring floor, causing the referee to stop the bout. Realizing this was a fight of a lifetime and encouraged by his wife, Frye announced that night that he was going to “go home and raise his little girls”. The explosion of this bout propelled the Don Frye v. Yoshihiro Takayama fight to earn Shoot Match of the Year for 2003 and 2004 by the Wrestling Observer and elevate both fighters to a new level. To this day, many sports restaurants and bars repeatedly show this match as a draw to customers.
Frye’s decision to retire lasted just one month when he was asked to compete at K-1/PRIDE Shockwave. As the monetary offer kept going up, so did Frye’s interest. The offer, at that time, made Frye the highest paid MMA fighter in history. The match was not a mixed martial arts event but a kickboxing event where kickboxing rules were followed. His opponent was K-1 Champion Jerome Le Banner. Prior to that fight, Frye had mentioned in previous interviews that besides some knee strikes, he had never thrown a kick in his life. This disadvantage was obvious as Frye could not use his wrestling skills and at 1 minute 30 seconds of the first round, for the first time in his career, Don Frye was knocked out. This was his first loss since fighting Mark Coleman in 1996.
Frye returned to PRIDE 23 to face Japanese Olympic Judo Gold Medalist Hidehiko Yoshida. On Frye’s 37th birthday, he lost to Yoshida via armbar (resulting in an elbow dislocation) in the first round. Living up to his oath, and proving his mental toughness, Frye did not tap out, but the referee stopped the bout in fear of serious injury.
Frye took seven months off following the loss to Yoshida and returned to PRIDE 26, “Bad to the Bone” to try and avenge his loss to Mark Coleman. In another long battle, Frye lost a unanimous decision to Coleman after three rounds. The amiable discussion at the hotel lobby between the two warriors revealed the respect each had for one another. Another rematch for Frye was at PRIDE Shockwave 2003 New Years Eve, when he faced Gary Goodridge, for the third time. In a stunning bout that lasted only 39 seconds. Goodridge scored a vicious high kick to the head, knocking Frye out.
During his tenure with PRIDE, Frye had two of the company’s all-time greatest matches: his win over Ken Shamrock and his bout with Takayama. It was no surprise that for the 10th anniversary of PRIDE FC (PRIDE Fighting Championships) in April 2007, Frye, along with other PRIDE legends, were summoned to fight in the last PRIDE event before the company was to be sold to the UFC. Due to a life threatening family illness and the death of a long time companion, Frye was unprepared both mentally and physically, yet out of loyalty to the company, Frye took the fight and fought in typical Don Frye fashion, refusing to give up, after numerous strikes by Thompson and causing the doctor to call the fight.
OTOKU-JUKU, “The Man of Men” are the words the Japanese people bestowed upon Don Frye because of his strength, tenacity and his Samurai spirit. Ranked as the top gaijin (foreigner) draw in the country, K-1 invited Frye to join HERO’s, the newly created Mixed Martial Arts division of K-1. In 2004 at K-1 Hero’s Romanex, Frye faced Yoshihiro Nakao, where in the first round, the bout was called a no contest due to an accidental head butt. Dissatisfied with the results, Frye was eager to face Nakao again at K-1’s New Years Eve show, K-1 Premium 2004 Dynamite. Unfortunately Frye lost a unanimous decision.
One of Frye’s most exciting fights with K-1 was in May of 2006 at K-1 Hero’s 5 where his opponent was 500 pound Akebono, one of the greatest Sumo Wrestlers earning the title “Yokozuna” (champion of champions in the Sumo wrestling dynasty). Even with the colossal size of his opponent, Frye pulled off a win by guillotine choke in the second round. In August 2006, just three months later, Frye was back in the ring defeating Yoshihisa Yamamoto at K-1 Hero’s 6 where he again won with a rear naked choke in the end of the first round. On a winning streak, Frye knocked out Min Soo Kim with a punch in the second round at Hero’s 7.
United States MMA Fights
In May of 2006, just ten days after fighting Akebono, with little time to rest, Frye fought Ruben Villareal on an Arizona Indian Reservation. The fight was declared a draw. Following a much belated November 2007 shoulder surgery, Frye returned to the cage in January 2008 to fight in Dallas, Texas for No Limits Fighting where he knocked out his opponent, Brian Pardoe, in 40 seconds.
A proud American and son of a United States Air Force Colonel, Frye has graciously visited troops on three USO tours. Moved by the men he visited at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington D.C. Frye was also honored to visit the military bases and troops in Afghanistan and Quatar on a USO tour. Frye is also a two time guest for the Make-a-Wish Foundation California Chapter, where he and other celebrities fished, hunted, and dined with terminally ill children and their families. This event is a favorite of Frye’s which he plans to continue each year.
Coaching and “Don Frye'day”
An excellent athlete does not always make a great coach, yet Frye was willing to put forth his best efforts. In May 2005, Frye was offered to coach a team for a new MMA league, the International Fighting League (IFL). In January 2007, Frye was instructed to assemble and coach the Arizona based Tucson Scorpions for the new season. Frye’s tough training tactics and motto “Go to the hospital or go to the after party, but never quit” was not an attainable goal for the individuals of the team and Frye and the League soon realized coaching was not in his or the team’s best interest.
Given his quick wit, Frye was also asked by the IFL to answer a weekly column called “Dear Don: Advice from “The Predator” in which he gave advice on love, life, friendship and philosophical viewpoints. Due to the success of “Dear Don”, several media outlets eager to listen to the man giving advice like a crocodile chewing on its prey, have requested his presence. The MMA internet talk show, Carson’s Corner, realized that Frye’s humorous antics created quite a draw as they achieved some of their highest ratings when Frye was their guest. Frye’s “say it like it is” style frequently generates laughter and interest among fellow guests and viewers, as evidenced on The Best Damn Sports Show Period and HD Net’s Sports Channel. Well known in Tucson, Frye has been invited back many times to Glen Parker's Tucson Sport's Radio show. Currently, you can tune in to “Don Frye'day” every Friday morning on TAGG Radio Network in Las Vegas and TAGGRadio.com to hear what The Predator has to say.
Ever popular in Japan, Frye’s distinct deep low voice has been downloaded as a greeting on hundreds of thousands of cell phones in Japan. A natural on camera, he has also guest commentated MMA fights for PRIDE and twice been invited to be a sports star contestant on a televised Japanese game show.
Don Frye is extremely grateful for the fans and people of Japan. While they catapulted Frye’s fighting career, they also contributed to his acting and voice-over profession. For the Japanese film Nagurimono, Frye was asked to recreate the famous Takayama vs. Frye fight. Frye’s fighting style was also a favorite of Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura, who wrote a special role for Frye in his feature film Godzilla: Final Wars. In this lead role, Frye played the rugged Captain Douglas Gordon, captain of the ship that defends the Earth. At the Hollywood premier of Godzilla: Final Wars, held at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Frye was approached by a producer of the computer generated movie, The Ant Bully and because of his gravelly baritone voice, he was offered a few lines. Frye can also be seen on Japanese television in the Nissin Cup of Noodle commercials for a second consecutive year.
Like most athletes entering the film industry, Frye has made appearances in action movies such as Miami Vice, Honor, and No Rules. He has also worked in comedies; a lead role as a retired professional wrestler in Not Just Another Romantic Wrestling Comedy and an imprisoned Arian Brother in Big Stan, a film directed and produced by Rob Schneider, which is soon to be released. Frye also recently completed a lead role in Apparitions: The Darkness, a sci-fi thriller where Frye plays an FBI Counter-Terrorist SWAT Team Leader. His most recent project is Public Enemies a film about the pursuit of the Depression Era gangster, John Dillinger. In this film, Frye portrays an ex-Texas Ranger turned FBI special agent, the film is scheduled to be released in the summer 2009.