LAS VEGAS -- Georges St. Pierre solidified his status as arguably the best welterweight mixed martial artist on the planet with a shellacking of all-time great Matt Hughes, submitting him via armbar late in the second round.
The main event of UFC 79, which took place in front of a sold-out crowd at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, followed a thrilling light heavyweight showdown between former champions Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell and Wanderlei Silva, in which Liddell earned a well-deserved unanimous decision victory.
Both St. Pierre and Hughes entered The Octagon as former UFC 170-pound champions, but when all was said and done, it seemed as though St. Pierre had been allowed to fight a novice.
St. Pierre (15-2) forced Hughes (41-6) to verbally submit to an armbar with a mere six seconds remaining in the second round.
Hughes looked way out of his league in his rubber match with the French Canadian, who took him down almost at will. And whenever St. Pierre had Hughes on his back, he easily rained down strikes. Hughes seemed lost on the canvas, which was surprising, considering how much punishment he administered from the same positions throughout his illustrious career.
But St. Pierre was relentless, and late in the first round, he secured the full mount. Hughes couldn't break free from the pressure; St. Pierre was all over him like dirt on a worm's back. Even when Hughes switched positions or fought to get on his feet, St. Pierre was in his face, dishing out punches and kicks or simply slamming him back down to the canvas.
From the get-go, it looked as though St. Pierre was going to throttle Hughes, and he did, even though Hughes came in with a slightly different look.
"Matt Hughes adjusts himself," a jolly St. Pierre said immediately following his triumph. "He came into the fight left-handed. I was not prepared for that, [but] I used my wrestling skill to control the fight. And my submission skill, as well; I've been working a lot on that. I had an awesome training camp. I was on the top of my game."
St. Pierre was on top of his game, indeed, but so was Hughes, who freely accepted the defeat like a champion.
"No excuses here," a dejected Hughes said. "I came in 120 percent. I really trained hard for this fight. I brought in some of the best people; we really had a good game plan. Georges is a better fighter. There's nothing else I can say besides that."
St. Pierre also understands that while he was given some sort of makeshift "interim" belt, the true UFC welterweight champion is Matt "The Terror" Serra, the last man to topple him.
"Rush," 26, said he doesn't consider himself a champion and won't until he is able to conquer Serra.
"That's why I'm going to take off this belt," St. Pierre said, passing it to one of his cornermen. "Thanks to the UFC for giving me that; it's a good honor. But the real champion is Matt Serra. And until I get my belt back, I'm not going to consider myself champion.
"Matt Serra, that night, beat me fair and square," he added. "He was a better man. I make many mistake. I had a lot of issues, but he was a better man that night. Next time when I fight him, it might be a different story, and people will understand what I'm talking about."
As for Hughes, his future is up in the air. The 34-year-old farmer from Hillsboro, Ill., has come to grips with the fact that his days as a legitimate threat are likely over.
"A defeat like this, in the second round against Georges, I just don't know how much longer I've got in this," Hughes said. "He's a young kid. He's doing great. I gotta sit down, I gotta think about things and I gotta talk with [UFC president] Dana [White] and the UFC and see what they want me to do. Just a lot of things on my mind right now."
It was six years in the making, but UFC finally delivered one of the greatest matchups in the history of mixed martial arts.
Liddell, the former UFC light heavyweight champion, and Silva, the former PRIDE middleweight king, ended years of frustration by locking horns and granting fight fans across the globe their wish of seeing the dangerous 205-pound fighters square off.
Liddell and Silva tore right into each other from the outset, and the way the two were delivering pulverizing punches, it seemed like the bout was one strike away from being stopped at any moment.
Silva was rocked in the first period and stumbled into the fence, only to miraculously fend off Liddell with a bomb or two of his own, causing "The Iceman" to stagger backward. The times that the men were on the verge of being sent to sleep were too numerous to count. Without question, the two future Hall of Famers delivered more than expected, and, for once, a fight of this magnitude more than lived up to the hype.
Silva was all but out at least twice in the opening round, but unbelievably, he was able to shake off the cobwebs and bounce back.
"He had a lot better chin than I thought he did," a worn, battered Liddell said afterward, with a chuckle. "I hit him with a lot of shots real hard. He still kept coming. I hurt him a few times during the fight, but he just covered up and kept coming. I had him hurt a little bit, but he recovers quickly."
Liddell, now 21-5, was dropped legitimately once and taken off his feet another time, but for reasons only the fight gods know, he endured. Silva, whose record fell to 31-8-1 with one no contest, was cut badly over his right eye and his cheeks swelled considerably. Liddell had scrapes under both eyes and an inflated bottom lip.
Both men were exhausted in the latter stages of the fracas, but they still managed to swing for the fences until the final bell sounded. It had been anybody's guess as to whether the fight would last the allotted three rounds. Liddell, 38, even managed to score two perfect double-leg takedowns.
Silva always has had that uncanny ability to recover within seconds of being on the verge of unconsciousness, as has Liddell. But what kept both men coming back for more attrition was their heart and desire to win.
"It would have been a travesty if both of us didn't fight, because it was a great fight for the fans," Liddell said. "We're just swinging. That's just good, old-fashioned, stand there and bang each other."
Liddell was able to stave off a third defeat in as many fights, but the same can't be said about "The Axe Murderer." Silva now has been the recipient of three frightful beatings, two by knockout. Silva didn't discuss his future in the sport, although he did agree with the official scoring of the contest. Liddell won the unanimous nod by the margins of 30-27 (twice) and 29-28.
"He's a very tough guy," a disappointed Silva said.
"I give my best," the 31-year-old Brazilian continued. "Win or lose for me. I like to give the emotion for my fans. Here and everywhere."
Sokoudjou had a tremendously difficult time figuring out Machida's somewhat awkward style and was unable to overcome the pinpoint accuracy of the Brazilian's punches. For much of the contest, Sokoudjou was in way over his head.
Machida (12-0) effortlessly picked apart his foe with precise kicks to the body and pesky punches to the head. If that wasn't enough of a hassle for the 23-year-old from Cameroon, Machida had Sokoudjou in knots while down on the mat.
Sokoudjou (4-2) never gave up, though, and he tried everything in his power to win his UFC debut. But Machida's vast experience, coupled with his brilliant striking prowess, was too much to overcome.
Sokoudjou was all but knocked out when he walked into a picture-perfect straight right hand, a punch that felled him flat on his back. Machida pounced and tried for the knockout, but Sokoudjou was able to recover in time. Machida tried the arm-triangle twice before sealing the deal on the third attempt at 4:20 of the second stanza.
While the fight wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing affair, Sanchez was busy and effective enough to force a stoppage. Sanchez (8-1) had Palelei (8-2) pinned along the fence relatively late in the final stanza when his barrage of strikes injured Palelei's eye. The official time of the stoppage was 3:24 of the third round.
Rich Clementi settled a heated dispute against Melvin Guillard for now. The two Bayou bullies had fought before and taken verbal jabs at each other whenever they could, so the logical step was for the two to square off inside The Octagon.
Guillard taunted Clementi, but it was Clementi who wound up taunting at the end, nearly inciting a riot inside the cage.
Clementi (31-12-1) seized Guillard's back and sunk in a rear-naked choke that Guillard couldn't defend, forcing a tap. This came after a monster slam by Clementi, who had been wobbled by Guillard early in the round. From there, Guillard (20-7-2, 1 NC) found himself stuck with Clementi on his back and caught in a full nelson. The aggressive fighter was able to escape, but his freedom was short-lived, as Clementi took his back again, this time securing the rear-naked choke to end it. The official time of submission was 4:40 of the opening round.
James Irvin was awarded a victory after he was deemed unable to continue early in the first round. Irvin (13-4) was badly rocked by two left hooks from Luis Cane but answered with a left of his own. The fight was materializing into an instant classic, but when Irvin was slammed down hard onto his back after he tried sinking a standing guillotine, Cane (7-1-0, 1 NC) inexplicably crashed a thudding right knee onto Irvin's face while the tattooed fighter was on his hands and knees.
The knee knocked Irvin senseless. After several minutes of recuperation, "The Sandman" couldn't continue and was awarded a disqualification win at 1:51 of the first.
Manvel Gamburyan (6-2) made quick work of Nate Mohr (8-5) as he submitted the former amateur champion boxer at 1:31 of the first. Gamburyan scored a quick takedown and immediately transitioned to the leg lock.
Dean Lister out-struck Jordan Radev for three lackluster rounds and coasted to a lopsided unanimous decision. Lister (10-5) had extreme difficulty bringing Radev (11-3) down and resorted to meager strikes. The official scores were 30-27 on all three cards.
Roan Carneiro was too much for veteran Tony DeSouza to handle, and he wound up scoring an impressive second-round stoppage of the Peruvian. DeSouza (10-4) and Carneiro (12-6) took turns latching on submission attempts in the first -- DeSouza with omoplata and armbar efforts, Carneiro with rear-naked choke and Kimura tries -- but it was a takedown midway through the second that sealed the deal for the Brazilian.
Carneiro quickly took DeSouza's back and pounded away until referee Steve Mazzagatti had no choice but to rescue DeSouza. The TKO came at 3:33 of the second.
In the opening bout of the evening, Mark Bocek (5-1) toppled Douglas Evans (5-2) via unanimous decision after three dull rounds. Bocek dominated Rounds 2 and 3 with takedowns and moderate ground-and-pound to win by margins of 29-28 on all three cards.
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