SACRAMENTO, Calif., Nov. 18 — The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s first foray to Northern California marked a changing of the guard in the welterweight division Saturday.
Before a crowd of 15,350 inside the ARCO Arena, French-Canadian challenger Georges St. Pierre (Pictures) exacted a measure revenge on one of the sport’s true greats, pummeling Matt Hughes (Pictures) right off his throne.
St. Pierre, whose only loss came at the hands of Hughes in October 2004, ran his record to 13-1 in impressive fashion. “Rush” attacked the legs of the champion early with thumping kicks between some punches to the head.
However, a kick to the inside of the champion’s lead leg saw Hughes react as if it connected to his groin. After a short break during which the 33-year-old Hillsboro, Ill. native caught his breath, St. Pierre immediately deposited another left foot near Hughes’ cup. This time referee “Big” John McCarthy warned the Quebecer for low blows while Hughes struggled to right himself.
Finding it difficult to target his kicks, St. Pierre, 25, began to mix in more hands, landing with a nice right before putting Hughes on his back. The champion would not stay there long as he worked back to his feet, eating a knee for his troubles.
As the closing seconds ticked down in the first round, the popular Montreal-based St. Pierre peppered Hughes with a combination that felled the champion and may have finished him had the bell not sounded.
The second frame got underway with St. Pierre reprising his attack on Hughes’ legs. Reminiscent of an axe to a tree, “Rush” crippled the champ with a vicious leg kick that undercut Hughes and briefly put him on the canvas.
Hughes may have wanted to stay down there if he had it all to do over again. In the very next exchange St. Pierre removed any doubts as to who the best 170-pounder on the planet was when he scored with a mind-numbing left high kick that folded Hughes to the mat.
“I looked down,” exclaimed St. Pierre about how he set up the fight-ending kick. “He expected me to kick down and, boom, I hit him in the head. This was it. He was down.”
Sensing the title was within reach, St. Pierre pounced on the man who had antagonized him throughout the lead-up to this bout. Firing punches and elbows, “Rush” flurried until McCarthy pulled him away at 1:25 of the second round.
The new UFC welterweight champion was ecstatic, declaring the occasion to be “the best moment of my professional career.” Now wearing the belt he coveted for so long, St. Pierre let the American fans know the title wasn’t going very far.
“Maybe I'm not from the U.S., I'm not an American,” he said, “but I will [do] everything possible to keep this title in North American territory.”
“I didn't think it would go down like that,” said Hughes, who fell to 40-5-0.
When asked about his future plans he stated, “I'll go back and think about things. We'll see what is my next step.”
The UFC heavyweight champion just can not get any respect. Quite often the criticism of Tim Sylvia (Pictures), 30, is unwarranted, but after his performance against Jeff Monson (Pictures), “The Maine-iac” has no one but himself to blame.
Apparently unwilling to move forward, Sylvia (23-2-0) was content to counterpunch his overmatched foe on his way to a unanimous decision victory.
Right from the opening bell Sylvia made it clear he was not going to do anything that would leave him open to Monson’s takedown shots. Taking up a defensive posture, Sylvia pawed with his jab but would not commit to throwing his hands. The only flurries Sylvia unleashed came off of Monson attacks.
Much of the first two rounds followed the same script: Monson took a shot, Sylvia stuffed him and the two would exchange half-hearted strikes.
The champion easily won the first two rounds on the scorecards but he failed to gain the appreciation of a crowd that heartily booed the fight.
The third round was Monson’s brief shining moment. During the middle period of the five-round contest, the 35-year-old world-class grappler scored his only takedown of the bout. Sylvia quickly established a closed guard and ironically it was the heavyweight champion who landed the better shots while Monson worked from the top.
"I'm a lot taller than him,” Sylvia explained, “so I was out of his reach and I was able to throw the big strikes while he was in my guard.”
The challenger did threaten the two-time champion with a guillotine choke that left Sylvia scrambling.
"He had a front headlock on me,” remarked a relieved Sylvia after the fight. “I was waiting for him to go for a guillotine, so I rolled through, was able to get my hips up a little quicker than his.”
After a brief check by the ringside physician to check a cut underneath Monson’s left eye, Sylvia scored his best attack of the night: a crushing knee to the body of the American Top Team product that left him reeling on the mat as the horn ending the third round sounded.
The championship rounds were devoid of action as Sylvia took the course of least resistance in his quest to hold on to his coveted title.
When it became more and more clear that Monson (22-6-0) could not hurt him, Sylvia still refused to press the action. This elicited even more ill will from the angry crowd. Not even a verbal tongue lashing midway through the final round from referee McCarthy could get the heavyweights to engage.
The judges’ scorecards showed a dominating victory for Sylvia, but the crowd’s reaction told a different story. A frustrated Sylvia was seen shooting the bird in the direction of the stands while patrons showered him with jeers as the cards were being totaled. After five rounds the scores were 50-45, 49-46 and 49-46 all in favor of the champion.
Sylvia did find a silver lining despite his own reservations about his performance.
"I'm disappointed that I didn't finish him,” the champion declared. “Jeff came in really good shape, but my cornermen just told me I just out jiu-jitsu'd the best jiu-jitsu guy in the heavyweight division. So you know that's something to be happy about."
Brandon Vera (Pictures) has been on a meteoric rise since joining the UFC roster just 13 months ago. He moved up another rung on the ladder that is the UFC’s heavyweight division with his absolute dismantling of former champion Frank Mir (Pictures). In just over a minute, “The Truth” was told and Mir lay in a bloody heap on the canvas.
The talented Vera — now 4-0 in the UFC and 8-0 for his career — opened with a nice left hook that drew Mir’s attention. Mir answered with a solid shot of his own that cut Vera across the bridge of the nose. That seemed to anger “The Truth,” who responded with a barrage of punches and a knee from the Thai clinch that sent Mir careening to his back.
From there it was academic. Vera knifed a series of punches through Mir’s porous defenses, forcing referee Steve Mazzagatti to intervene at 1:09 of the first frame.
“It was everything I wanted, hoped for and could of got,” Vera told Sherdog.com in regards to the match-up with Mir, a man he has called a hero.
Last-minute replacement Drew McFedries entered the Octagon as a heavy underdog to Italian striker Alessio Sakara (Pictures). Undaunted, McFedries — a lesser known quantity than many of his Miletich teammates — proceeded to slug out a decisive submission victory over Sakara late in the first round.
Both men had their moments. Sakara did his damage early in the stanza. McFedries, who vowed to stand and bang with the Italian, was true to his word and nearly paid a steep price. A stiff Sakara straight right snapped McFedries’ neck and dislodged his mouthpiece. After weathering the storm, McFedries got his own offense untracked.
The Iowan zeroed in and landed a powerful uppercut that belatedly sent Sakara to the mat. McFedries scored with four digging body punches to the prone Italian light heavyweight before forcing the tapout with a right to the head. The end came at 4:07 of the first round giving McFedries a submission victory in his inaugural UFC fight.
Joe Stevenson (Pictures) found himself on his back right off the bat in his lightweight tilt with Japanese star Dokonjonosuke Mishima (Pictures). The former Shooto standout easily tossed Stevenson to the mat but soon found himself defending a tight guillotine choke. After wiggling his way out of the submission attempt, Mishima seemed primed to take the offensive when he moved into side-control.
It was not to be. “Daddy” put the UFC rookie back in his guard and quickly thereafter sunk a deep guillotine that forced Mishima to tap at 2:07 of the opening round.
Stockton, Calif.’s Nick Diaz (Pictures) sent the Northern California fans home happy with an impressive win over Gleison Tibau. It was Tibau who got the early edge, but after riding out the initial barrage Diaz turned the tables and pounded out stoppage win when referee Mazzagatti intervened at 2:27 of the second period.
Antoni Hardonk survived an early takedown and ground-and-pound from Sherman Pendergarst en route to a knockout win in a battle of UFC first-timers. Hardonk finished with a straight left followed by a stinging low kick that rendered Pendergarst prone on the canvas at 3:15 of the first frame.
In come from behind fashion, James Irvin (Pictures) took out a very tough Hector Ramirez (Pictures) by technical knockout. Irvin took his lumps in the first but rebounded with a beautifully-timed counter right hand that floored Ramirez for good at 2:36 of the second round.
Jake O’Brien won a slow-paced unanimous decision over Josh Shockman. The talented wrestler relied on his pedigree to get him through a less that entertaining match. The scores were 30-27 on all three cards.