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The Ultimate 100 Recap - Fights 50-31

Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - Tuesday night, Spike TV continued counting down the greatest fights in UFC history, as voted by the fans, on The Ultimate 100 Greatest Fights series. Click below for a recap of fights 50 to 31 on the list.

By Thomas Gerbasi

Tuesday night, Spike TV continued counting down the greatest fights in UFC history, as voted by the fans, on The Ultimate 100 Greatest Fights series. Click below for a recap of fights 50 to 31 on the list.

Note that the ‘fight recap’ section after each fight consists of reports that were filed on fight night.

As cathartic a knockout as you’ll find in this game, Quinton Jackson finished off a rough 2008 on a high note, not only with a victory, but with a victory over the man who knocked him out twice in PRIDE, Wanderlei Silva. The fact that he took out his heated rival with a single left hook made the win even sweeter.

FIGHT RECAP - Rampage is back. After a tumultuous 2008 that saw Quinton Jackson lose his light heavyweight title, change his managerial and training teams, and deal with out of the Octagon issues, he finished off the year by knocking out his old nemesis Wanderlei Silva in the first round of their UFC 92 bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

It was Jackson’s first win in three tries against Silva, who defeated the Memphis native in PRIDE bouts in 2003 and 2004.

“The last time I fought here (in Las Vegas), it wasn’t right,” said an ecstatic Jackson, referring to his close decision loss in July to Forrest Griffin. “I went to the Wolfslair in the UK, got my wolf on and Rampage is back baby.”

Opting to fight without the customary touch of gloves, these fierce rivals engaged almost immediately, with Jackson stalking and Silva looking to counter. A minute in, the crowd started chanting for Silva, followed shortly after by a chant for Rampage, and both men circled, neither wanting to make a fight-ending mistake. That mistake would come with under two minutes left though, as Silva came in wide with a left hook and ate one in return, sending the Brazilian down to the canvas. A follow-up from Jackson was mere window dressing as referee Yves Lavigne intervened at the 3:21 mark.

Practically no one knew who Houston Alexander was when he stepped into the Octagon against Jardine at UFC 71 other than the fact that he was a radio DJ on the side, and a father of six. But everyone knew who he was after his 48 second blitz of the highly-regarded Jardine, who was bludgeoned into defeat with a high-impact assault that electrified the packed house at the MGM Grand. And after that fight, everyone wanted to see ‘The Assassin’ fight again.

FIGHT RECAP - UFC newcomer Houston Alexander made quite an impression in his debut, stunning 205-pound contender Keith Jardine via a devastating first round knockout.

“I wasn’t nervous coming into this fight,” said Alexander. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m a seasoned vet at this point. I’m just new to the UFC.”

The bout was fought at a hellacious pace from the opening bell, with Jardine apparently hurting Alexander with a quick left hook that put the Nebraskan on the canvas briefly. Alexander quickly recovered though, and once the two clinched, he opened up with overhand rights that stunned the ‘Dean of Mean’. Moments later, after a barrage of heavy shots, Jardine hit the canvas from a right uppercut. Another follow-up right uppercut put Jardine down face first, drawing the stoppage from referee Steve Mazzagatti, and just like that, the crowded light heavyweight division has a new face.

In writing up this lightweight championship fight, I wanted a quote that truly summed up Jens Pulver as he looked to defend his title for the second time against heavy favorite and seemingly unbeatable BJ Penn in the first 155-pound main event in UFC history. Luckily, the boys from Seattle’s Alice in Chains came through with "You'd be well advised, not to plan my funeral before the body dies," from the song “Grind”.

And frankly, that was the way the fight was perceived from the time it was announced. Sure, Pulver was a helluva fighter and a world champion, but Penn was an unstoppable juggernaut who was coming off three straight UFC knockouts, the most recent being an 11 second blitz of Caol Uno, the same Caol Uno who Pulver took five rounds to beat in February of 2001. It wasn’t a question of if Penn would win the lightweight title, but in what round. That perception ate at Pulver.

"I just can't believe it," Pulver told me before the fight. "I'm dumbfounded. At the same time I'm glad. If they think he's that unbeatable and unstoppable, then more power to him. I felt that making me a 3-1 underdog just showed a big-time disrespect to me. But I get to prove more people wrong."

For two rounds though, Penn was in control, almost submitting Pulver at the end of the second stanza. Pulver was baffled, but then inspiration came in an odd form.

“After that second round ended, when he had that armbar which I did not tap to, I remember sitting in the corner and going ‘oh my God, I’m gonna walk out in this third round, he’s gonna take me down, he’s gonna mount me and beat the hell out of me again – what am I doing?’” he recalled. “(After that) Somebody in his corner, one of his little entourage, was jumping up and down and doing the cut throat (gesture) at me. “And I looked right at him and I was like ‘are you kidding me?’ So because of that guy, I said ‘no way’ and he never got another takedown. That was the thing that I needed in my head. If I get beat, I get beat, but I ain’t going out like this.”

Pulver roared back in the final three rounds and retained his belt via a majority decision. It was the fight that made Jens Pulver.

“I basically staked my mark and made my dent in the MMA world,” said Pulver when asked the impact of his upset win over Penn. “Not as being the champion, not as being undefeated in the UFC, it was the fight with BJ Penn. Like I said after the fight, ‘yeah, I was in trouble, but I’ve been hit all my life.’ I think it showed my heart, my personality, and the person that I am. People still ask me about it all the time.”

FIGHT RECAP - The Penn may be mightier than the sword, but not stronger than a little evil, as Jens Pulver silenced the critics and defended his UFC lightweight title with a majority decision win over BJ Penn tonight at the Mohegan Sun Casino.

Scores were 48-45, 47-47, and 48-47 for the Iowa resident.

Penn, the 22-year-old prodigy who was expected by many to roll over the champion, pulled out move after move out of his bag of tricks, but Pulver, in the fine tradition of his mentor Pat Miletich, refused to give ground, and as the bout moved into the later rounds, the champion's greater experience paid dividends.

"This was the toughest fight I have ever been in," said Pulver after his victory, and for the sold-out crowd it was a match worthy of UFC 35's main event, a question mark in the weeks leading up to the showdown.

Both men had their moments in the match, and for Penn, his greatest chance for victory came too late, as he locked an armbar on Pulver late in round two. With the submission firmly in place, another five seconds may have given Hawaii its first UFC champion.

Standups were liberally, but fairly utilized by referee John McCarthy, and the vaunted standup battle between the two heaviest punchers in the lightweight division thrilled the crowd on a number of occasions, with Pulver's jackhammer left hand bruising and rocking Penn, who shone in defeat, and who should be in line for a rematch, something Pulver admitted "was inevitable."

With growing confidence as the match progressed, Pulver imposed his will and took more chances with Penn, who refused to back down, but also abandoned his submission game, which proved unfruitful, save for the late second round armbar.

Redemption came tonight for Jens Pulver, and BJ Penn proved to be more than a prodigy; he proved to be a tough SOB who showed that he belongs among the elite in MMA. You can't ask for much more from a main event.

When Liddell entered his bout with former heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman in Atlantic City, he was seen as a solid contender, but also one who was expected to be a stepping stone for ‘The Monster’, who was making his UFC debut at light heavyweight. Liddell had other plans, and there was no denying the fight ending power or quiet charisma of Liddell, who would hence be known simply as ‘The Iceman’. And this time it wasn’t just a catchy nickname; it was a warning of what Liddell could do to you if he landed cleanly – you were iced.

FIGHT RECAP - Chuck Liddell gave a rude welcome to Kevin Randleman in the ‘Monster’s light heavyweight debut, stopping him with a left hook a mere 1:18 into the first round. Randleman told this reporter before the bout that he wanted to keep the fight standing up. ‘The Iceman’ obliged, but Randleman didn’t keep his end of the bargain, getting dropped and stunned. Big John McCarthy immediately stepped in and ended the contest, upsetting some bloodthirsty fans. Randleman, extremely disturbed by the turn of events, stormed from the Octagon after the bout. Could he have continued? Possibly, but a dazed Randleman and an advancing Liddell could have equaled a tragedy.

Food for thought. Liddell was able to do tonight what Bas Rutten, Pedro Rizzo, and Maurice Smith couldn’t: knock out ‘The Monster’.

A lot had changed in the almost four years since Jackson and Liddell first threw hands with each other. Liddell was the biggest name in mixed martial arts, PRIDE was no more, and Jackson was one win over Marvin Eastman into his UFC career. But despite the unprecedented media coverage for the bout and Liddell’s long reign as light heavyweight champion, Jackson still had his number, and after a right to the jaw dropped Liddell, ‘Rampage’ finished him off with ground strikes, and in less than two minutes, Quinton Jackson was a UFC champion.

FIGHT RECAP - Chuck Liddell’s right hand had extracted revenge for him on many occasions, leading him on a reign of terror at 205 pounds that saw him win seven fights in a row, all by KO or TKO. But tonight, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the streak came to an end at the hands of the last man to beat him, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, who earned the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship with a stunning first round TKO.

And it all started with a right hand to the jaw.

“That’s how I saw it in my head,” said Jackson, who stopped Liddell in the second round of their PRIDE bout in Japan on November 9, 2003.

“I made a mistake and got caught,” said the 37-year old Liddell.

The tension was thick early on as camera flashes were seen throughout the arena. The action didn’t match the atmosphere in the opening minute though, bringing a look of disdain and a wave in from Jackson to engage. Liddell obliged, but after Jackson absorbed a left hook from ‘The Iceman’, he came back immediately with a right hook that dropped Liddell to the canvas hard. ‘Rampage’ immediately pounced on the soon to be ex-champion, and after four unanswered blows, referee John McCarthy halted the bout at the 1:53 mark, and a new king was crowned at 205 pounds.

Smith and Sell became friends on the fourth season of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality show, but they fought like enemies in their bout as they traded power shots for over eight minutes. But in the second round, Sell looked like he had pulled ahead when he landed with a body shot that doubled Smith over in pain as he backpedaled to the fence. But as Sell ran in recklessly to finish, Smith caught him with a perfect right to the jaw, and just like that, the tables had turned. Seconds later, Smith had a TKO victory that was straight out of a Hollywood script.

FIGHT RECAP - TUF 4 middleweights Scott Smith and Pete Sell promised the fight of the night, and the two buddies certainly did their best to deliver on that promise, with an entertaining war that ended with what was unquestionably THE knockout of 2006.

After a first round that was punctuated by a laser-like left hand from Smith, a series of hellacious haymakers from Sell, and a couple of stoppages that saw both fighters stop, smile, and high five each other, the two combatants continued to throw leather in the second frame.

Sell trudged forward after Smith, fighting through a cut under his right eye, and finally hit paydirt with a brutal left to the body. Smith doubled over in pain and Sell moved in for the kill.

“I got drilled,” said Smith. “I knew I only had one punch left in me.”

That one punch, a right to the jaw of the onrushing Sell, dropped the New Yorker immediately and brought in referee John McCarthy to halt the bout at the 3:25 mark. As soon as the fight was stopped, Smith joined Sell in pain on the canvas. It was an unforgettable ending.

“We have nothing but respect for each other,” said Smith. “I think we put on a helluva show.”


If GSP was going to crack under the pressure, this was the night to do it. Not only was he facing the man who knocked him out, but he was doing it in his hometown of Montreal, where fans packed the Bell Centre just to see their hero in action. Well, he didn’t disappoint, stopping Serra in the second round with a disciplined and dominant attack. “The pressure was there,” he said. “But I’m at my best when I perform under pressure – it keeps me sharp and aware of what can happen and what is on the line.”

FIGHT RECAP - It was loud at the Bell Centre Saturday night – chair shaking, eardrum breaking, can’t hear ring announcer Bruce Buffer loud. But just when you thought the decibels couldn’t go higher, they did, when hometown hero Georges St-Pierre regained his UFC welterweight crown from Matt Serra via a second round TKO, putting a fitting cap on UFC 83, the organization’s first ever show in Canada.

Five seconds into the bout, Montreal’s St-Pierre (16-2) secured a takedown, trying to ensure that there would be no repeat of April 7, 2007, the night Serra (16-5) took his title via a first round knockout. Serra kept the challenger close, looking to negate St-Pierre’s reach advantage and to force a standup. St-Pierre worked his punches and forearms while muscling the New Yorker to keep him down. With under two minutes left, St-Pierre worked his way to side control, and as Serra turned, the Canadian kept firing away, not allowing the champion to get back to his feet. As the round entered its final minute, Serra, sporting a mouse under his right eye, stood and tried to land punches, but St-Pierre scored another takedown and ended the round with a fearsome attack that left the crowd roaring with each blow.

The second round didn’t start much better for Serra, as he found himself on his back again almost immediately. For his part, St-Pierre kept moving and kept throwing punches, and even when the two stood, St-Pierre was throwing everything in his arsenal at Serra to keep him off balance, which led to another takedown with under three minutes left. The 33-year old Serra, as expected, would not surrender to his younger foe, but for everything he tried, St-Pierre had an answer, and with under 30 seconds left, the Montrealer opened up and let all the frustration of the last year out in the form of vicious knees to the body. Again, Serra wouldn’t quit under the onslaught, but referee Yves Lavigne intervened, stopping the bout at the 4:45 mark and crowning St-Pierre champion once again.

The kid from St. Isidore did good.

In November of 2003, there was one welterweight fight fans wanted to see, and it was Matt Hughes vs Frank Trigg. Hughes had already defended his UFC title against Mach Sakurai, Carlos Newton, Gil Castillo, and Sean Sherk, and had seemingly run out of challengers, so the UFC went and brought in Trigg, a seasoned wrestler who was 10-1 and telling everyone who would listen that he had what it took to unseat the champ. And while Trigg put up a strong effort, Hughes would prevail via first round submission. The two would meet again though in an even more memorable battle.

FIGHT RECAP - In the main event, welterweight champion Matt Hughes - like UFC Hall of Fame inductee Royce Gracie before him - once again proved his superiority over the competition with a first round submission win over a man expected to give him his sternest test – Frank Trigg.

Hughes, who is rapidly running out of available bodies to fight at 170 pounds, actually held off a spirited effort from Trigg before he secured a standing rear naked choke on the Californian late in the opening round.

Using the wrestling skills honed on the collegiate level as well as with the rAw team, Trigg gained the advantage early by taking Hughes down and working well on the ground against the Illinois native. Soon enough though, Hughes got his bearings and lifted Trigg to the sky before parading him across the ring and slamming him on his side.

Trigg recovered quickly, and wrestled evenly with Hughes on the ground before a tactical misstep allowed the champion to get the challenger’s back. As Hughes looked to secure the rear naked choke, Trigg stood, but Hughes held on, finally sinking his hooks in and forcing a tapout at the 3:54 mark of Round One.

“He made one mistake and I capitalized on it,” said Hughes, who also addressed the possibility of lightweight standout BJ Penn making the leap to 170 pounds. “If BJ Penn wants to step up to the welterweight division, I welcome the idea.”

In the year after GSP lost his first title fight to Matt Hughes, he defeated Dave Strasser, Jason Miller, and Frank Trigg, but it was when he dismantled the returning Sean Sherk in their UFC 56 bout that the MMA world finally said that the kid from Canada was ready for another shot at the belt.

FIGHT RECAP - Rising star Georges St. Pierre continued his amazing run at 170 pounds, scoring a decisive second round stoppage of former title challenger Sean Sherk in a highly anticipated contest.

From the opening bell the fight was all St. Pierre, as the explosive Canadian controlled not only the standup game, as expected, but the ground action as well, avoiding Sherk’s takedown attempts and scoring impressive takedowns of his own. And once “Rush” had Sherk on the ground, it was bombs away.

“My plan was to mix it up with him,” said St. Pierre, who called for a title rematch against Hughes after the bout.

The end came at 2:53 of the second, shortly after St. Pierre took Sherk down and started raining down strikes on the Minnesota native. Sherk’s nose took most of the abuse, and as the blood flowed, referee Herb Dean had seen enough, and he wisely halted the bout.

Admittedly, my favorite fighter of all-time is Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and for two rounds of his interim UFC heavyweight title fight against Tim Sylvia, it was painful to see ‘Minotauro’ get his head handed to him by the 6-8 giant. It looked like all the amazing comebacks of the past had been exhausted, but in the third round, Nogueira finally got the fight to the ground, and just like that, game over via guillotine choke. Nogueira described the fight best - “I played his game for almost three rounds. He played my game for two minutes and I won the fight.”

FIGHT RECAP - After surviving a horrific childhood accident that saw him get run over by a truck, it’s hard to count Antonio Rodrigo ‘Minotauro’ Nogueira out of anything, let alone a mixed martial arts fight. So after he took a pounding from Tim Sylvia for ten minutes of their bout tonight at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, it wasn’t a sign to make your way for the exit; he was just getting warmed up, and in the third round, Nogueira, the comeback kid of MMA, finally found the opening he needed and he submitted Sylvia to win the interim UFC Heavyweight Championship.

“He’s a true heavyweight, a giant,” said Nogueira, who becomes the first man in history to hold the UFC and PRIDE heavyweight championship belts. “I got many hard punches in this fight and I was waiting for a good opportunity to put him on the ground.”

Sylvia (26-4) was sharp in the early stages of the first round, stalking his opponent and landing with a couple of strong right hands before Nogueira (31-4-1) pulled guard. The action stalled on the ground and Sylvia made his way back to his feet and got back to the business of trying to find a home for his right. With under three minutes left, he set it up perfectly with a left hook before the right hand came over the top and dropped the Brazilian. Nogueira survived the ensuing onslaught, but once the fight rose again his legs had lost some spring and he was showing the scars of battle on his face. As the final minute rolled around though, Nogueira started to land with his own strikes and even scored a takedown just before the bell.

Nogueira looked to pick up where he left off at the end of the first by securing a takedown in the second, but Sylvia fought the attempt off and picked at his foe with strikes from long range that scored with frightening regularity. Nogueira continued to battle, as is his custom, but Sylvia’s takedown defense was stellar, and left ‘Minotauro’ with few options other than standing and trading with the much larger man.

Up two rounds, Sylvia kept to the game plan in round three, drilling Nogueira with right hand leads and counters. Nogueira finally got his takedown though, and after sweeping Sylvia, he sunk in a guillotine choke and forced the tap out at the 1:28 mark.

“It’s Minotauro Nogueira,” said Sylvia, a two-time UFC heavyweight champion. “Every fight he’s in he gets his ass kicked for the first ten minutes, you get comfortable fighting him, and the next thing you know, he catches you. The guy’s a legend in this sport.”

Entering this bout at UFC 15 in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, Randy Couture was a virtually unknown in MMA, with two UFC wins under his belt and an impressive resume as a world-class wrestler. Belfort was another story completely. The 20-year-old wunderkind had three UFC victories under his belt, but each of his wins were frenetic displays of Tyson-esque speed and power. Belfort was ‘the Phenom’, and no one expected him to lose anytime soon, let alone to the soft-spoken 34-year-old from Oregon. Couture threw a wrench in the works that night though, stopping Belfort at the 8:16 mark and changing the face of MMA forever. Couture would never be underestimated again, and some would say Belfort was never the same after that night. All in the space of a little over eight minutes.

Given the intricate strategies and sporting aspect of mixed martial arts, it’s easy to forget sometimes that what we’re watching is a fight. The legendary Wanderlei Silva, aptly nicknamed ‘The Axe Murderer’, reminded us at UFC 84 with a ferocious assault that left Keith Jardine staring up at the lights and Silva sitting on top of the Octagon with his arms raised in victory. If you ever imagined what would happen if the Brazilian bomber ever got into a street fight, it would probably resemble something like what happened in Vegas on May 24th.

FIGHT RECAP - He’s Baaaaaack! With his trademark ferocity on full display, former PRIDE legend Wanderlei Silva broke a three fight losing streak and won his first UFC fight since 1999, stopping highly-regarded light heavyweight contender Keith Jardine in just 36 seconds in their UFC 84 bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena tonight.

“I’m very emotional now and it’s a great moment for me,” said Silva, who lost to Chuck Liddell in his return to the UFC last December. “I’m very happy.”

There was no feeling out process in this one, and Silva and Jardine engaged with haymakers almost immediately. It was a left-right-left that first put Jardine in trouble, with a left putting him on the canvas. While on the mat, Silva was relentless with his attack, eventually landing two right hands that knocked Jardine out and forced referee Steve Mazzagatti to halt the bout.

After a few minutes on the mat after the fight was stopped, Jardine left the Octagon under his own power.

Pedro Rizzo was the Golden Boy around May 4, 2001. 11-1 and less than three months removed from a second round knockout of Josh Barnett, the Brazilian banger was being groomed for the UFC heavyweight title, and 37-year old Randy Couture, the current champion, seemed like the perfect foil at the time. But as we were soon to find out, counting out Couture was the worst thing you could do.

In a lot of ways, his legend began that night. Sure, he was a helluva fighter and competitor, but when you go five hard rounds with a younger and stronger opponent who may have been at his best that night, well, that’s one for the time capsule.

It was a memorable war to say the least, but my clearest memory of that fight was the post-fight press conference, as Couture painfully shuffled into his seat on legs battered by Rizzo’s debilitating low kicks. That’s heart.

FIGHT RECAP - The 37 year old champ, the man who is never supposed to win, but who keeps doing it, almost scored a spectacular first round stoppage, as he performed the ground and pound strategy to perfection early on. Rizzo, caught under a barrage of punches and bloodied, looked like he was done, and referee John McCarthy was inspecting the Brazilian very closely as he absorbed heaps of punishment.

The second round was a carbon copy of the first, but this time it was Rizzo doing the damage, pounding a winded Couture with lefts, rights, and stiff leg kicks. Couture, now bleeding heavily from the nose, staggered with practically every blow, but Rizzo’s reluctance to pounce on the champ proved to be his downfall. Couture barely survived the second round, and at that moment, a distance fight seemed highly unlikely.

In the third and fourth rounds, Couture stood up with Rizzo, and Pedro refused to press his advantage. A stoppage by McCarthy to allow the ring doctor to check Couture’s nose, gave Randy the second wind he needed, and as the pace slowed, he stole two rounds.

Rizzo finished the fight strongly, but his lackadaisical follow up on a hurt Couture ultimately hurt him on the judges’ scorecards.

After winning his first seven UFC matches by submission over the course of two one-night tournaments, Royce Gracie was starting to build a reputation as a fighter who was unbeatable. But then he faced unknown Kimo Leopoldo at UFC 3 in September of 1994, and while the final result was another submission win for Gracie, the cross-carrying Kimo gave the Brazilian his toughest match to date, one that kept him from continuing on in that night’s tournament.

It was fast – only 2:06 – but in winning the UFC light heavyweight title after close to seven years in the fight game, Liddell finally had the validation all fighters hope to one day get. Sure he says all the right things and insists that he would fight even without the belt on the line, but at the end of the day, every fighter wants to be a champion, and Liddell finally got to the top, and by knockout against a fighter who stopped him no less. That’s redemption.

FIGHT RECAP - It had been a long time coming for Chuck Liddell, seven years to be exact. But after a series of disappointments and near-misses, “The Iceman” finally has a light heavyweight world championship after a stirring first round knockout of Randy Couture in the main event of UFC 52, which was held before a capacity crowd at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada on April 16.

Liddell, a longtime UFC star, now evens his record with Couture at 1-1. Couture had stopped Liddell in three rounds in June of 2003.

After the customary touch of gloves between two of mixed martial arts’ class acts, Liddell kept his distance and looked to counterpunch as Couture stalked. When Couture did get close, Liddell was able to use lateral movement to hit the champion and then move out of danger.

With the crowd building itself up into a frenzy, Couture was able to land with a couple of shots before grabbing Liddell against the cage. After a brief skirmish, Liddell escaped and Couture backed out holding his right eye after getting inadvertently poked in it by “The Iceman”.

After a quick rest for “The Natural”, Couture immediately engaged again, but was jarred by a short left hand. Couture kept moving forward and swinging, and when Liddell stepped in with a right hand on the chin, Couture fell as if he were shot. Liddell immediately jumped on his fallen foe, and after two more shots to the head, referee John McCarthy called a halt to the bout at 2:06 of the first round, thus crowning a new light heavyweight king.

“I hit him with the right hand on the chin and it was over,” said Liddell.

After an upset loss to Ian Freeman at UFC 38, hotshot ground fighter Frank Mir took a win over Tank Abbott and two more victories over Wes Sims and parlayed them into a shot at the vacant UFC heavyweight title against Tim Sylvia at UFC 48 in June of 2004. Of course, Mir’s image had taken a hit with the loss to Freeman, but a win over Sylvia would erase those memories, and that’s what Mir did, taking only 50 seconds to lock Sylvia’s arm up and break it, forcing a stoppage to the bout. Frank Mir was now UFC heavyweight champion, and the future was seemingly bright and endless until a motorcycle crash three months later nearly ended it all.

FIGHT RECAP - It only took 50 seconds, but in that short span of time, heavyweights Frank Mir and Tim Sylvia put mixed martial arts into a blunt context that even the most disinterested observer could understand. When it was over, Mir - with a frightening armbar that caused not only referee Herb Dean to halt the bout, but Sylvia to make his way to the DL with two broken bones in his arm – had won the UFC heavyweight title most had designated for him since his debut in 2001. As for Sylvia, he showed the never say die mentality that forced him not to quit and even made him protest the stoppage when the fight was stopped.

FIGHT RECAP - Undisputed. UFC lightweight champion BJ Penn likes the sound of that, and after turning back the challenge of former champ Sean Sherk via third round TKO tonight in the UFC 84 main event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, he can be content in the fact that there are no more questions – either about his cardio or his claim to the title.

Tonight, he is, to paraphrase Tina Turner, simply the best lightweight on the planet.

“This is very satisfying,” said Hilo, Hawaii’s Penn, “Sean Sherk is a great competitor.”

It was Sherk’s first bout since July of 2007, after which he was suspended by the California State Athletic Commission for a positive test for nandroline. Sherk vehemently protested the result, but he was subsequently stripped of his belt. His game performance in defeat earned him a significant measure of redemption, though that was probably little consolation to the Minnesotan, who was systematically picked apart by Penn, who won the vacated crown in January with a win over Joe Stevenson.

Sherk (36-3-1) shot for a takedown immediately and was turned back by Penn (14-4-1). The two stood and exchanged punches in a frantic sequence until settling into a more measured groove. A minute in, Sherk scored with a nice combination to the face, but Penn took it well and returned fire. Sherk’s punches were crisp, but Penn’s jabs started to find their mark more as the round progressed, reddening the challenger’s face and bruising him under his right eye. Sherk added a leg kick to his arsenal in the final minute, but Penn walked through it and continued to keep his punches coming with accuracy and pop until the bell.

Penn’s reach was becoming more and more of an issue in round two, even though Sherk still aggressively pursued his foe and was able to score well when he got in close. But at long range, it was all Penn, who was able to control the pace behind his jab. Sherk wasn’t taking no for an answer though, and even though his face was starting to show the scars of battle, he stayed in the pocket, looking for the opportunity to change the course the bout was currently on.

Cut under both eyes, Sherk strode out in determined fashion for round three, but his attempts to jab with Penn were unsuccessful. Surprisingly, Sherk wasn’t shooting for the takedown, and it was Penn who actually shot for one a minute and a half in, but he was turned away, opting to then flurry at Sherk before getting back to his long-range sharpshooting attack.

“I knew I had to show something different,” said Sherk of his strategy. “I wanted to establish a striking game before I took it to the ground.”

With under two minutes left, Sherk tried leg kicks to soften up Penn and met with some success, though not enough to put together a sustained assault that could turn the fight around. But it wasn’t going to happen because just when it seemed like Sherk had survived another round, Penn attacked with a fury with seconds remaining, catching Sherk with a left knee to the head as he came off the fence. Sherk dropped to the mat and Penn followed with flush strikes. The bell sounded but Sherk was deemed unable to continue by referee Mario Yamasaki, ending the bout in emphatic fashion.

A rematch between Hughes and Georges St-Pierre was scheduled for UFC 63’s main event, but when an injury shelved GSP, it was BJ Penn who stepped up for an even more anticipated return bout.

“This fight excites me,” said Hughes before the bout. “I get to face somebody who beat me before and the pressure’s really on BJ’s shoulders, and not mine. I’ve got nothing to lose – he’s already beaten me once. I get to go in there with a clean slate and try to do what I’ve got to do to win. He’s the one who’s got to defend that first win that he’s already got from me.”

Penn did a helluva job defending that first win in the opening two rounds as he completely dominated the action. It looked like the end was near to all but Hughes.

“I knew I had lost the first two rounds,” said Hughes. “That just meant I had three left.”

That champion’s attitude paid off in round three, and as Penn tired, Hughes pounced, stopping the Hawaiian with strikes to even their score at one win apiece.

FIGHT RECAP - A champion’s heart can never be underestimated. Just ask Matt Hughes, who survived blood, a poke in the eye, and crippling submission attempts from the last man to beat him, BJ Penn, to stop ‘The Prodigy’ in the third round at the Arrowhead Pond tonight and extend his reign as the UFC welterweight champion.

Penn, who replaced injured number one contender Georges St. Pierre in the UFC 63 main event, had submitted Hughes in their first bout in January of 2004, and after two rounds, it looked like he was on his way to a repeat, but Hughes wouldn’t go away that easily.

“I knew I had lost the first two rounds,” said Hughes, now 42-4. “That just meant I had three left.”

The atmosphere was loud and electric from the start, and as soon as referee John McCarthy waved the fighters into action, Hughes immediately tried a high kick that missed but which surprised the crowd. After that brief exchange, Hughes looked for the inevitable takedown, but Penn fought it off, instead being pushed into the fence where the two grappled to a stalemate. Once the two separated, Penn landed a big right hand, drawing blood from Hughes’s mouth and nose, but that didn’t stop the champion, who kept looking to trade on the feet. Seconds later though, Hughes got inadvertently poked in the right eye by a Penn left hand and the bout was halted for the doctor to inspect the damage.

After the fight resumed, Hughes was left with a welt under his eye and a sense of urgency as he engaged Penn again and tried for the takedown but only managed to drive ‘The Prodigy’ into the fence.

Penn appeared to stuff Hughes’ first takedown attempt of the round, but a quick follow-up put the Hawaiian on his back moments later. With the crowd chanting for Hughes, the champion tried to work his ground and pound attack, but the ultra flexible Penn kept out of serious danger as he looked for a submission. Hughes stayed in control on the ground though and eventually broke through with a couple of forearms. Hughes’ attack allowed Penn the space he needed to escape though and he quickly grabbed Hughes’ back, bringing back memories of their first fight as Penn tried to lock up and submit his opponent. Yet Hughes survived the onslaught, barely, as the bell rang.

Hughes landed with a few good punches and a leg kick early in the third stanza, pushing the attack hard on the feet as Penn looked exhausted and listless from his late round attack in the previous frame. Again, the crowd chanted for Hughes at the bout went to the mat and the Illinois native imposed his will on Penn from the top position, and suddenly the challenger was taking flush shots to the face at an alarming rate and Penn was rendered defenseless, leaving McCarthy no choice but to stop the fight at 3:53 of the third round.

With the defeat, Penn falls to 11-4-1.

Sure, Tim Sylvia was big and could punch hard, but he didn’t have the ground game of Jiu-Jitsu ace Gabriel Gonzaga, and ‘Napao’s power was no joke either, as he was coming off a frightening head kick knockout of Mirko Cro Cop. This was going to be the man to end Randy Couture’s storybook run at the top of the heavyweight division, right? Wrong. Couture turned back the clock again, fighting even more impressively than he did against Sylvia as he broke Gonzaga’s nose, and controlled the bout until the end came in the third round. Oh yeah, he also did it with an arm broken by one of Gonzaga’s deadly kicks. The lesson learned here – if you still count Randy Couture out of any fight, you’re just not paying attention.

FIGHT RECAP - This is starting to become a little redundant. A forty-plus fighter gets overlooked and doubted when facing younger foes, yet repeatedly turns the tables with performances that stun fight fans and overturn the odds.

Tonight, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, the ageless Randy Couture did it again, successfully defending his UFC Heavyweight title against a dangerous foe 16 years his junior, Gabriel Gonzaga, and he did it in spectacular fashion, stopping the Brazilian in the third round in yet another timeless performance for the 44-year old known as ‘The Natural’.

It was Couture’s second victory of 2007 after a year long retirement, the first being his five round shutout of Tim Sylvia in March to win the heavyweight title a third time.

The question is, will anyone ever doubt him again?

With a quick 1-2 to open things up, Gonzaga announced his arrival in the match. A split second later, a left by Couture staggered Gonzaga to let him know that he wasn’t ready to give up his belt just yet. After that quick burst of action, the two clinched against the fence, but after a short stalemate, both resumed throwing bombs until Couture grabbed hold of his challenger and slammed him to the mat. Gonzaga quickly rose and fired back at Couture, but he was also now nursing a bloody and possibly broken nose from an apparent clash of heads. With Gonzaga’s mouth wide open looking for breath, Couture kept him pinned against the fence and fired away in brief spurts that drew roars from the packed house for the final two minutes of the round until a last second surge by the Brazilian that almost saw him lock in a guillotine choke as the bell rang.

Following perhaps the worst five minutes of his UFC career, Gonzaga tried to turn things around early in the second with a high kick similar to the one that earned him his title shot when he knocked out Mirko Cro Cop in April. Couture caught the kick though and drove Gonzaga to the fence. Moments later, Gonzaga apparently complained to referee Herb Dean about something with his eyes, causing a stop in the action and a visit from the Octagonside physician. After getting the green light to continue, things went from bad to worse for ‘Napao’ as he was docked a point for grabbing the fence and then continued to get drilled by the champion with power shots as they clinched at close range.

Already down three points, Gonzaga looked to press the action in the third and he did score with a kick to the head that got Couture’s attention. Apparently though, it only served to make the champion work harder, and after pushing Gonzaga to the fence, he took him down and proceeded to rain blows down on the challenger, who, overwhelmed, was unable to defend himself, prompting a stoppage from Dean at 1:37 of the third frame.

Sure, Jackson was funny, a charismatic representative of the sport, and he had the explosive style to give anyone fits. But if he got put on his back by a world-class wrestler like Dan Henderson, had to eat ‘Hendo’s concussive right hand, or was forced into a five round dogfight, how would the new 205-pound boss fare? Answer – he would pass every test with flying colors, as he showed new wrinkles to his ground game in a 25 minute battle with Henderson (the last PRIDE 205-pound champ) that saw him become the first fighter in history to unify the two belts via a hard-fought unanimous decision.

FIGHT RECAP - Sometimes history can occur in seconds. Tonight, before a sold-out crowd of 16, 235 at the O2 Arena, it took 25 minutes as Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson became the first man in mixed martial arts history to unify a major title, decisioning Dan Henderson over five hard-fought rounds to defend his UFC light heavyweight championship and take home Henderson’s PRIDE 205-pound belt in the process.

“A lot of people don’t know that I’ve got Jiu-Jitsu,” said Jackson, whose ability to fight on the ground with the two-time Olympic wrestler may have been the deciding factor in the bout, which was scored 48-47 and 49-46 twice for the native of Memphis, Tennessee.

There was no feeling out process in this one, as Jackson immediately tried swinging for the fences before pushing Henderson to the Octagon’s fence. Henderson responded well though, reversing position and scoring with knees to the leg as the two clinched. With 3:30 to go in the round, Henderson worked free and went in for the takedown, putting Jackson on his back and then moving into side control. From there, Henderson again fired away with knees to the leg, and while Jackson looked like he was having difficulty getting free, he suddenly escaped and stood up. Henderson got right back in his foe’s face, pushing ‘Rampage’ into the fence. The final 30 seconds of the opening frame saw Jackson rebound and land some strikes at close range, but Henderson had the last word with a knee to the head at the bell.

Henderson kept Jackson off balance with foot fakes in the beginning stages of round two, and he eventually made good on his feints with a solid takedown which was followed by his move du jour so far – knees. After a stay on the mat, the two rose and battled it out on the fence before Jackson got his own takedown and opened up with point-scoring punches and forearms.

The action was tense early in the third, with both fighters finally letting go with punches at close range. Soon, the bout again went to the mat, with Jackson controlling things from the side. Henderson kept busy though, locking Jackson’s left arm briefly until ‘Rampage’ was able to power his way out of trouble. Henderson kept his sights on the arm though, and as Jackson looked to escape from the submission attempt, he allowed the PRIDE champion to reverse position and eventually get Jackson’s back. But as the two stood and started to trade, the bell intervened.

In round four, Jackson hurt Henderson with a left and followed his foe to the mat. Henderson reacted quickly, going for Jackson’s arm. Within seconds, Jackson freed his arm and resumed his attack, but nothing seemed to be hurting the Temecula, California resident. Points were being scored by the UFC champion though, and in a war of attrition like this one, every strike counts. With 1:10 left in the round, a stalemate was reached and referee John McCarthy stood the fighters up, and Jackson pressed forward, scoring with a brief flurry that Henderson eagerly responded to moments before the bell.

With the fight perilously close, Henderson and Jackson traded punches to open up the fifth and final round, with ‘Rampage’ jarring Henderson briefly and holding the edge. The long-range bombing ended quickly though and the two champions grappled against the fence. When they emerged from the clinch they traded again, Jackson again getting to the target quicker than Henderson. An ill-advised kick gave Henderson the opening he needed though, and he took Jackson to the mat. On the ground, Henderson controlled matters, but Jackson worked his way up and then returned the favor on his foe, with the two firing away while standing until the fight was over.

With the win, Jackson improves to 30-6. Henderson falls to 22-6.