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UFC 63: Hughes vs. Penn review
by Scott Newman (MMA)
Posted on February 28, 2007, 7:49 AM

UFC 63: Hughes vs. Penn

Anaheim, California

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Lightweight Fight: Tyson Griffin vs David Lee

This was the first of a monstrous FIVE Lightweight bouts on this card, as UFC went all-out to establish that the division was indeed back on track. This one featured two debutants, one of whom, David Terrell student Tyson Griffin, was hyped as potentially the ‘next big thing’ in the division, after taking out both Urijah Faber and Bang Ludwig en route to building a 7-0 record. His opponent, Lee, was a British fighter who’d seen some success in Cage Rage, and had shown good ground skill, but the general consensus was that this was a showcase fight for Griffin.

Round 1 begins and both men miss big right hands, before Lee comes diving in with a BIG FLYING KNEE, clipping Tyson on the chin! Griffin grabs a rear waistlock off the move though, and quickly pulls Lee to the ground, getting both hooks in for good measure. Griffin gets a body triangle and looks to work for the rear naked choke, but Lee shows some good defensive work, controlling Tyson’s wrist nicely. Griffin keeps working though, clubbing Lee’s head from behind, and finally he gets an arm across the throat and locks in a tight rear naked choke for the tapout.

Impressive debut from Griffin, who dealt with Lee quickly and decisively. With his strong wrestling skill and tenacity, at only 22 Tyson’s definitely got a bright future ahead of him in the Lightweight division.

Lightweight Fight: Jorge Gurgel vs Danny Abbadi

People scoffed at this one when it was announced, as Abbadi, although he was dropping all the way from 185lbs to the 155lbs class, had hardly shown himself to be the most accomplished fighter during his time on TUF 3, and most figured that Zuffa were throwing a bone to the charismatic and popular Gurgel after he’d suffered a disappointing defeat at the hands of Mark Hominick earlier in the year. You’ll have to excuse any bias here too, as I absolutely LOVE Gurgel, one of my favourite guys to come off the reality show by far.

Both men press the action to open, looking to strike, and Gurgel lands first, catching Danny with a low kick. He tries a body kick but Abbadi catches it and lands a right hand, so Jorge pulls guard. Danny drops some punches, but then slows down completely, and Jorge begins to land from the bottom, whilst pulling his leg up, looking for the rubber guard. Jorge continues to work, but Abbadi does little from the bottom and the ref calls the stand-up. They exchange off the restart, with both men landing uppercuts, before Gurgel throws a low kick that Abbadi catches, and counters with a right that knocks Jorge off balance to the mat! Gurgel pops up quickly and comes forward, and they exchange again, with Jorge landing a good right that Abbadi answers with a knee. Gurgel lands a nice right hook into a clinch, and they muscle as Abbadi tries to block a takedown attempt. Jorge tries a FLYING ARMBAR!~! and almost gets it locked in, but Danny somehow manages to wriggle free, and walks away. Gurgel comes back to his feet, and they exchange punches, going toe to toe, before clinching where Danny avoids a trip takedown. Gurgel drops for a kneebar attempt, but Abbadi wriggles free again to end the round.

Into the 2nd, and Gurgel lands a good left hook in a brief exchange. Jorge presses the action, landing another left hook, and a left high kick that Danny partially blocks. Gurgel continues to come forward, and they go into a short exchange with both men landing right hands while holding the other’s head with the left. Gurgel clips him with some fast punches as they break, landing a left hook-right cross combo, and Danny goes onto his back foot, retreating as Gurgel lands the same one-two coming forward. Gurgel continues to press the action, landing punches as Abbadi retreats and tries to fire back. Jorge shoots for a takedown, but Danny sprawls, only to get his legs caught under him and end up on his back in guard anyway. Gurgel works to pass the guard, slugging with some punches from the top, but the time runs out before he can pass.

Third and final round, I’ve got Gurgel 20-18 at the minute and the announcers seem to agree, saying Danny needs the KO or submission. They circle and exchange to begin, with Danny avoiding a takedown, but it’s Gurgel who presses forward, consistently landing a clean left hook as Abbadi retreats across the cage. Jorge continues to land, and finally Abbadi fires back, throwing some rights that don’t really do much damage. Gurgel continues to press forward, landing a short right hook in a brief clinch before going back to the effective left hook, which Danny seemingly has no defense for. Jorge slips to his back on a right high kick attempt, but pops right back up, as both men look tired now and Abbadi finally opens up and lands a good combination. Gurgel stuns him with a right hand though, and gets a clinch, where they exchange knees before breaking off, and Gurgel ends the round with a nice tripping takedown.

We’re going to the judges, I’ve got it a shutout for Gurgel, but the scores are 29-28 Abbadi (!), 29-28 Gurgel, 29-28 Gurgel to give Jorge the split decision. I have no idea how anyone could score that fight for Danny, but as it turns out, there was a mistake on the scorecard and Gurgel actually *had* been given the fight by the judge, so it’s technically a unanimous decision for him. Abbadi acquitted himself well here, showing heart and a good chin, but Gurgel looked superior in all areas and did everything but finish, really.

Still, it wasn’t a flawless performance from Jorge – his striking looks extremely good these days and we know how skilled he is on the ground, but he could still do with a lot of work on his takedowns in order to become a serious force, because he’s got the problem that his opponent tends to dictate where the fight takes place, and if they’re more defensive on their feet, like Abbadi here and especially how Hominick fought, he’s at a loss in terms of changing up the fight. Regardless, an entertaining fight for the most part, with some especially cool moments like the flying armbar attempt.

Heavyweight Fight: Eddie Sanchez vs Mario Neto

Another two debutants here. Neto, for those who don’t know, is one of the real Vale Tudo veterans who’s been fighting since the mid-90’s, and his record includes a bizarre win over Gary Goodridge, who apparently submitted for “no apparent reason”, which is absolutely hilarious. He’s now primarily the Wolfslair camp’s (Michael Bisping, et al) BJJ trainer. Sanchez, who trains with the likes of Dan Henderson and Jason Lambert, actually stepped in on short notice here, taking the place of the injured Gabriel Gonzaga. The intro videos on the DVDs are cut these days, but the announcers summarize that Sanchez apparently has a deadly right hand, or so he says.

Sure enough, Eddie swings for the fences to begin, but Neto shoots into a clinch and then gets a trip down to guard. Sanchez stands back up as Neto tries to move him to the fence, but then Neto throws him right back down and works to pass into half-guard. Sanchez escapes, so Neto pulls guard now, and Eddie lands some punches from the top, before standing. They circle, and Eddie tries the right hand, which Neto blocks. Neto throws a high kick that misses, but then lands a right hand into a clinch, and shoves Sanchez into the fence. Eddie shoves him right off, and Neto drops to his back, looking pretty tired at this point. Eddie stands over him and misses a big right, then kicks the legs before the ref stands Neto back up. They exchange briefly off the restart, with Sanchez landing the better shots, before clinching, where Sanchez avoids a takedown and breaks off as the round ends.

Into the 2nd, and Sanchez presses forward, before landing the BIG RIGHT HAND to drop Neto down, and he’s out right away. “EDDIE SANCHEZ IS NOT A LIAR!~!” screams Mike Goldberg hysterically, talking about Sanchez’s comments on his right hand. Tremendous stuff from the announcers.

Sanchez’s KO was nice and he certainly packs power in that right hand, but really neither guy looked stellar, as Neto seemed gassed halfway through the first round, while Sanchez just looked like a limited fighter, albeit with some potential. He’s since been used as a sacrificial lamb to Mirko Cro Cop though, so ah well.

Lightweight Fight: Roger Huerta vs Jason Dent

Roger Huerta was a guy who I’d tipped to make noise in the Lightweight division since I saw him fighting in the FFC earlier in the year, so I was definitely excited to see him debut in the UFC after pulling out of a previously scheduled fight with injury. Ironically, his original opponent here (Jason Reinhardt) pulled out himself, so Ohio’s ‘Dynamite’ Jason Dent stepped in on short notice.

Round 1 gets underway, and Dent avoids an early takedown, but Huerta catches him with some solid punches into a clinch. Roger throws some hard knees, and then breaks with a fast combination as Dent looks in trouble, trying to hold onto the clinch. Huerta lands a good knee to the body, and then an inside elbow breaks, and Huerta lands some fast punches, ending with a body kick for good measure. Dent manages to back off, and then comes back with a spinning back kick to the body, landing nicely and causing Huerta to shoot in and get the takedown to guard. Huerta works from the top, and then picks Dent up and gets a CHARGING SLAM INTO THE FENCE!~! Whoa nelly. Huerta goes right into the mount from the slam, but Dent scrambles back to half-guard, taking some punches and elbows in the process. Huerta stands over him, and drops some right hands into the guard, before standing again to repeat the process. Dent defends well, but takes some strong punches from Huerta, before he decides to stand back up. Dent presses the action now, and lands some nice punches in an exchange, but misses another spin-kick and Huerta tackles him down to side mount. Dent gets half-guard back, but takes some elbows to finish the round.

Huerta comes out for the 2nd looking even more aggressive, throwing fast punches before catching a kick and getting a takedown to guard. He moves Dent to the fence quickly, and drops some heavy rights down as Dent moves his legs from the bottom, looking to prep a submission. Huerta keeps landing though, going from the body to the head nicely, before passing into half-guard. Dent manages to work back to full guard, but takes some elbows as he does, and then they come back up and TRADE WILD PUNCHES with Huerta stunning him, causing him to cover up! Huerta gets a takedown to guard again, and sits right up, working the body and the head, before Dent surprises him with a nice sweep! Dent takes top position, but only briefly as Huerta quickly reverses from the bottom and gets back on top in half-guard. Dent gets full guard back, and manages to neutralize Huerta enough for the official to call the stand-up. Dent comes forward again, and throws a high kick that Huerta blocks, and from there it’s another exchange, and this time Dent lands some shots, but Roger answers with some HEAVY hooks and uppercuts, before getting a takedown to guard, landing punches as the buzzer sounds.

Third and final round, and Huerta catches him with a good body kick and a low kick, and then they exchange punches again, with both men landing! Dent tries a leaping knee, but Huerta deftly avoids and gets a takedown to half-guard. Dent gets full guard back, but Huerta continues to land until the official stands them when it slows down. Suddenly Dent looks like the fresher fighter, and comes forward, landing some straight punches, before Huerta catches him with a left hook and a right uppercut. Dent keeps coming though, and sprawls on a takedown attempt, landing a big knee to the body as Huerta turtles, but then Roger stands and nails him with a HARD KNEE to the head! They exchange fast punches again, both landing, and then back off, with Dent coming forward, only to walk into another takedown to guard. Huerta avoids a triangle attempt, but Dent lands some elbows from the bottom and tries the triangle again. Huerta works his way free and gets into half-guard, landing some elbows before Dent reclaims guard. Huerta stands, and drops some heavy punches, continuing to work away with elbows, while avoiding a triangle attempt, and the fight ends in the same position.

To the judges, and it’s 30-27s all round for Huerta to take the unanimous decision. Basically a shutout in terms of scoring for Huerta, but man was that an exciting fight. Huerta was always in control and never looked in trouble at all, but Dent had enough fight in him to make it exciting throughout, and both guys showed such a hyperactive, aggressive style that it made for a really good clash. Huerta though looked better both standing and on the ground, and this was a very good debut for him inside the UFC. I’m definitely expecting big things of him in 2007. Apparently this won the “fight of the night” award for the undercard, gaining both men a nice bonus cheque, and rightly so too.

Lightweight Fight: Joe Lauzon vs Jens Pulver

This was Pulver’s big return to the UFC after over four years away, and the hype on him was understandably pretty major as he was the only Lightweight Champion the company had ever had. Joe Lauzon, fighting out of Massachusetts, was sporting an impressive 13-3 record, but compared to Pulver he was a relative unknown, and this looked like a showcase match for ‘Lil’ Evil’.

Lauzon quickly shoots in to begin the first round, getting a single leg and actually getting Pulver to the mat. Jens works his way back up against the cage, but eats a left for his troubles and then Lauzon drags him right back down. Pulver works back to his feet and shoves Lauzon away, and then comes forward, but slips, and Lauzon comes in with a right hand, misses a knee, but catches Jens with a LEFT HOOK RIGHT ON THE CHIN! Pulver goes down and OUT, and there’s your upset of the year folks.

Replays show the punch caught Pulver right on the button, and he was out even before he hit the mat. Incredible debut for Lauzon, apparently he was a 7-1 underdog coming in, as very few people gave ‘J-Lau’ a chance. I guess everyone can get caught though, and when you’re caught with a shot like that, it’s over. Back to the drawing board for Jens then, and onwards and upwards for Lauzon. Tremendous upset.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Rashad Evans vs Jason Lambert

This was an intriguing clash for sure, as Lambert had rolled through Rob MacDonald, Terry Martin and Branden Lee Hinkle in his UFC run to this point, while Evans, despite coming under fire for not finishing his opponents, was still unbeaten coming out of TUF, with wins at 205lbs over Sam Hoger and Stephan Bonnar.

They press to open, and Lambert goes into a clinch quickly, where they muscle for position before breaking off. Lambert comes forward to the clinch again, but this time Rashad lands some knees to the body and then tosses him to the mat. Evans gets a front facelock, and then backs off to avoid a takedown, before switching to a rear waistlock, landing some punches from behind. Back up and Rashad gets another takedown back to the waistlock, landing some more punches. They break off, and Lambert swings, but Rashad ducks and gets a SLAM down to side mount, where he knees the body, before grabbing the rear waistlock for a third time as Lambert works to his feet. Rashad follows with another single leg to side mount, and Lambert looks to lock up a kimura from the bottom. Evans avoids and tries to get the Matt Hughes crucifix, but Lambert escapes from that and stands. Lambert presses forward, but Rashad avoids a takedown attempt and lands a combination into a clinch. Lambert muscles forward, and Rashad uses a headlock to avoid a single leg attempt, and then switches and gets his own single leg to half-guard. Rashad works the body, as Lambert gets full guard to close the round.

2nd round begins, and Rashad comes right out of the gates with a right hand and a quick single leg to guard. He slugs away, but Lambert remains active from his back, and escapes from the bottom, only for Evans to grab a rear waistlock again. Lambert tries the reach-around kimura ala Sakuraba, and pulls him down, but Evans keeps the waistlock position and then works free to stand. Lambert comes forward, but walks right into a big takedown to side mount, and Rashad immediately steps over into full mount. Lambert ties him up, but Rashad works his way free and POUNDS HIM SENSELESS, landing huge shot after huge shot right to the face, and finally John McCarthy comes in for the late stoppage.

The replay shows it was a fair mistake from McCarthy; Lambert’s arms were flailing up even though he was unconscious, giving the false impression that he was trying to defend. Regardless, Rashad finally finished a fight, this time in hugely emphatic style. The fight was an entertaining one too, as Evans basically set a tempo that was waaay too high for Lambert to keep up with, and basically outwrestled and outmuscled him with superior speed, wrestling skill, and positioning. Great showing for Rashad who with this performance, suddenly jumped from ‘prospect’ to ‘contender’ at LHW.

Lightweight Fight: Melvin Guillard vs Gabe Ruediger

Another fight I’d been looking forward to, this time it was personal favourite of mine, Gabe ‘Godzilla’ Ruediger, from the WEC, against the always-explosive Melvin Guillard, who’d trained with Tito Ortiz and Team Punishment for this one. Most agreed that Ruediger had the big advantage on the ground, while Guillard had the big advantage standing, and it would be a matter of who could get the fight (or keep it) into their realm of expertise that would decide the winner.

Round 1, and Ruediger comes forward, but takes a body kick from Guillard, who counters a takedown by throwing Gabe onto his back and slugging away. They come back up, and Melvin avoids an ankle pick, so Gabe drops to his back, only for the ref to stand them. Ruediger comes forward, looking for the takedown, but Melvin gets a nice switch and ends up on top in guard, dropping some hard, vicious elbows before Ruediger reverses out. Melvin sprawls back and stands, avoiding the takedown, and then clips him with a big right, rocking Gabe and causing his knees to buckle. Gabe shoots for the takedown, but Melvin sprawls into a clinch and then throws Gabe to his back, dropping some shots onto him. Ruediger rolls, so Guillard stands and backs off. Guillard throws a kick, but Gabe catches it and gets a takedown, only for Melvin to push off with his feet on the hips, and come back up. Ruediger manages to shove him into the fence, and finally the pace slows somewhat, as they exchange some short punches and knees along the fence.

They break off, and Melvin avoids a standing elbow and lands a bodyshot. Into the clinch again, and Melvin reverses a trip and lands on top, only for Ruediger to spin for an oma plata, so Guillard front-flips his way out and stands! Nice! Gabe shoves him to the fence again and looks for the takedown, but Melvin breaks off and they circle. Melvin lands a one-two, but Ruediger takes it and shoots in, grabbing the legs together now and getting the takedown to side mount! Gabe quickly takes full mount and suddenly Melvin looks in trouble, eating punches before giving his back! Ruediger locks up a body triangle and lands some punches, working for the rear naked choke, but Melvin defends well and the time runs out before Gabe can get it locked. Hell of an opening round.

Into the 2nd, but Ruediger looks visibly slower at this point and Melvin lands a left jab. Gabe tries to clinch, but Guillard throws him off, and Gabe comes forward, walking right into some punches, including a big one to the body. Ruediger comes forward again, but walks into a BIG PUNCH TO THE GUT, and this doubles him over, and Melvin comes in with a soccer kick to the shoulder before Herb Dean stops things.

Really, really good fight there with a total highlight reel ending for Guillard, too. Ruediger fought well and showed tremendous heart to take some of the shots he did early on, and towards the end of the first round it definitely looked like the momentum was shifting – another 30-60 seconds at the end and I think Gabe would’ve sealed the deal – but he didn’t look as fresh in the 2nd and paid the price for it. Guillard looked better than I can recall seeing him previously in this one, showing more reserve and accuracy while still retaining the strength and explosiveness that make him a threat in the first place. Very entertaining battle with swings in momentum, and both men definitely have a bright future in the 155lbs division.

Middleweight Fight: Mike Swick vs David Loiseau

Another seriously intriguing match on this card, this co-main event was basically advertised as Mike Swick’s last hurdle en route to gaining a shot at the Middleweight Title, as he was faced with the man who last challenged for the belt, in David Loiseau. With both men usually bringing an aggressive striking game to the Octagon, most people – myself included – were expecting fireworks. Randy Couture joins us for this fight, and the main event.

They begin tentatively, with Loiseau firmly planted in the center of the ring, and Swick circling around him, landing a few kicks to begin, but nothing major. Swick tries a spinning back kick that misses, and then settles on working a left jab. Loiseau blocks a body kick and gets a clinch, and they muscle for position momentarily before Swick lands some knees and the ref steps in to break them up. Swick lands a fast combination off the restart, ending with a high kick, and Loiseau retreats, covering up in the process. Swick begins to throw more punches now, as Loiseau looks tentative and nervous, seemingly unwilling to engage. Spin kick to the body from Swick lands nicely, and then he follows with a body kick. Loiseau finally comes back with a one-two and a high kick, but Swick blocks both and continues to be the aggressor, landing a couple of quick lefts and then a flurry as Loiseau covers up again. Swick gets a takedown and passes quickly into half-guard, and then into side mount, before taking Loiseau’s back, but the Crow slides free and stands, and Swick avoids some kick attempts to end the round.

Into the 2nd and Loiseau comes out looking ready to go, but Swick catches him coming in with a short flurry and then tells him to BRING IT ON!~! Loiseau promptly *doesn’t* bring it though, and it gets all tentative again as he stands dead center, with Swick circling around and landing a couple of glancing blows. Swick throws a spin-kick that partially lands, and then settles back into working the left jab as Loiseau finally lands a couple of leg kicks. The crowd begin to get restless now as Loiseau blocks a Swick high kick, and we get more of the same as Swick circles around. Finally Swick lands a jumping knee, but it glances off and Loiseau gets a clinch, but Swick gets the takedown to half-guard. Swick lands some elbows to the body, and although it’s slow action, he stays busy enough to keep the position for the remainder of the second.

Everyone seems to have Swick up two rounds to none going into the final one, so Loiseau basically needs to stop him, and between rounds we see Georges St-Pierre going APESHIT in Loiseau’s corner, pounding on the cage and trying to fire him up.

3rd and final round then, and Loiseau comes out more aggressively, coming forward, but Swick still lands a glancing combination, and then ducks a punch and gets a takedown to half-guard. He works to pass, grinding his forearm into Loiseau’s face, and then gets a brief guillotine as Loiseau sits up, before landing some punches. Loiseau gives his back, but as Swick looks to get his hooks in, he slides out and stands. Into a clinch, and Loiseau suddenly comes alive, landing a hard knee to the midsection, followed by a beautiful right inside elbow! Two more follow and Swick looks hurt, backpedalling before shooting in, but Loiseau blocks and lands some more chopping elbows and a heavy low kick.

Swick ends up against the fence, and Loiseau keeps coming, landing a flurry of vicious elbows and some hard body punches, as Swick looks in trouble. Trip takedown from Loiseau follows, and Swick ends up holding half-guard, covering up desperately as Loiseau chops away with some elbows. Finally Swick manages to escape to his feet, but Loiseau keeps coming and lands a couple more elbows into the clinch. They slow down from there, and end up being broken, and then Swick decides for some reason to showboat a little, swinging his arm around before landing a combination and a knee. Loiseau tries to answer, but Swick avoids his shots, and then gets a takedown off a missed flying knee to end the fight.

To the judges, and it’s a unanimous decision, all 29-28 for Swick, but let’s be honest now, this was hardly a great performance from him. For the most part it seemed like Loiseau was completely gun-shy until the third round, when for some reason, Swick either gassed out or decided that he was two rounds up and could coast the third. Credit where credit is due – Swick fought well in the first two rounds and beat a higher-level competitor than he’d ever done before, but I honestly think if Loiseau had fought in the first two rounds like he’d done in the third, he would’ve taken this fight. The potential title shot for Swick seems to have been put on the backburner since (he’s rumoured to be fighting Yushin Okami next) and I think that’s smart for him, as he could do with some more fights against higher-level guys before he makes that step up. As for this fight, while it wasn’t a bad one by any means, it certainly wasn’t as explosive as we were all anticipating.

UFC World Welterweight Title: Matt Hughes vs BJ Penn

As all fans of MMA know, most of the time when a fighter drops out of a scheduled bout, the fighter who takes the injured one’s place is normally a step below the guy they’re replacing. In some very rare instances though, that’s not the case. And so it was here, as Georges St-Pierre pulled his groin in training and was forced out of his title challenge against Matt Hughes. Rather than throw in a gimme for Hughes, Zuffa somehow pulled off one of the coups of the year, and brought in the last guy to beat Hughes, BJ Penn, for the title shot. Granted, Penn was coming off a loss – to St-Pierre in the eliminator match for this title shot, but that was a razor-close fight and it was hardly like Penn was a step down from GSP for Hughes. In fact, a lot of fans (though I’m not one of them) claimed Penn was a tougher fight than GSP would’ve been. So from one mega main event, we suddenly ended up with another.

Hype was off the charts; naturally, as the opinions seemed split between people thinking Penn had Hughes’s number and would tool him again, and people thinking that Hughes had improved his game since the last fight while Penn had stagnated or even gone backwards, and we’d see a completely different fight this time around. I was with the latter, personally. And fittingly for such a match, we get AWESOME entrances too, with Penn coming out to some tribal music into ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley (though that’s replaced with generic music for the DVD) looking like a cat on a hot tin roof, and Hughes entering to his customary ‘Country Boy Can Survive’ track looking as cool and collected as ever. Joe Rogan’s line “I can’t believe this is my job!” has never seemed more appropriate than here.

They get underway, and Penn comes out looking to strike, and Hughes teases standing with him, even throwing a high kick, before shooting for a single leg. Penn shows some sick balance to stay on his feet, and Hughes drags him towards the fence by the leg, but still can’t get BJ down. The champ keeps trying the takedown, but somehow Penn resists, showing unbelievable balance and tenacity, before landing a couple of hard uppercuts to break Hughes off! They circle, with Hughes trying to establish a left jab, but Penn cracks him with a right cross, and he decides to shoot in again. This time Hughes gets a single leg on Penn’s left, but STILL can’t get him down as BJ goes into a crazy position, almost in the full splits with Hughes hanging on his left leg and his right leg sprawled behind him. Finally Hughes gives up and they stand and break, and Penn tags him with a one-two, causing Hughes to smile. Hughes looks to work the left jab again, but a right hook from Penn goes awry and a thumb catches Hughes right in the eye; for a moment he looks stunned, but then manages to recoil and calls for time, which McCarthy obliges. The champ recovers quickly, and they go into a clinch and exchange knees. Hughes goes for the takedown again, but Penn blocks once more, and they break again, this time to end the round. Eddie Bravo has it 10-9 for Penn, and I’m not disagreeing.

Tables seem to have turned coming into the 2nd as Penn looks relaxed while Hughes looks amped now. Hughes lands a good body kick, and follows with a takedown attempt, but Penn sprawls, showing sick flexibility again. This time Matt keeps driving though and manages to get him on his back in guard! BJ immediately squirms from the bottom, looking for the rubber guard as Hughes tries to both pass the guard, and keep him on the mat. Penn begins to pull his left leg up, possibly looking for a gogo-plata, but Hughes lands a couple of elbows and manages to keep him firmly down by the fence. Hughes suddenly opens up, throwing some monstrous elbows, but then Penn switches position, and somehow swings himself around to take Hughes’s back! Holy God. Penn gets a body triangle and looks for the choke, but he seems to be too high on Matt’s back to get anything. Hughes tries to roll free, but Penn’s clamped firmly on his back, and then slides up further, trying to lock in a triangle from the back position! Crowd are going APESHIT as the triangle looks sunk, but he can’t put Hughes away, and now BJ goes for the triangle/armbar combination ala Nogueira, as Hughes desperately tries to escape....but survives as the round ends! Jesus Christ what a fight.

Announcers point out that Penn looks winded going into the 3rd, and although we don’t see it, apparently he staggered to his corner after the 2nd. More on that later. And sure enough, as the round begins Penn looks like a walking zombie, and Hughes lands some clean punches on him from the get-go, working the left jab and throwing in a nasty leg kick for good measure. Hughes continues to tag BJ with hard, clean punches as Penn just stands and takes them, no head movement, just acting like a heavy bag. Finally BJ tries a half-hearted shot, but Hughes easily blocks and then drags him to the mat with a front facelock, putting him on his back with Hughes on top in half-guard. Couture is SCREAMING on commentary now that Hughes shouldn’t go to ground with Penn, as is Rich Franklin from Hughes’s corner, but Hughes ignores the advice and covers BJ’s mouth, while working to pass the guard. He gets into a side mount, and from there it’s BEATDOWN TIME, as Hughes gets his crucifix position ala his second fight with Carlos Newton, and uses it to rain heavy, unanswered punches down onto Penn’s grimacing face until McCarthy steps in to call the fight.

Post-fight Hughes basically admits to losing the first two rounds, but then tells us that he knew he had another three to win the fight, and that Penn’s conditioning clearly wasn’t good enough to go the distance. And then GSP joins us and tells Hughes he wasn’t impressed by his performance, but that’s another story for another show.

Epic main event, incredible fight that was easily the most engaging main event of 2006 for the UFC. For two rounds it looked like BJ Penn had just completely returned to form, as he basically owned Matt Hughes in a way that nobody had done since, well, BJ Penn at UFC 46. But Hughes showed that sometimes, sheer heart, willpower, hard work and determination can overcome even the most skilled fighter, and by the time the third round rolled in, Penn’s tank was empty and Hughes took over and finally became the first fighter to ever stop Penn in MMA competition. Granted, the fact that it later emerged that Penn sustained a serious rib injury during the 2nd round takes away from the “Penn’s cardio was bad” theory, but regardless, you can’t take a thing away from Matt Hughes’s performance here. I love St-Pierre to death, but I can’t agree with his sentiments on this fight – even if Hughes fought better in other encounters, the heart he showed here to win this one was perhaps the most impressive showing he’s ever had, in my opinion.

-Announcers wrap things up, awarding Tyson Griffin with the Tapout of the Night, and we hit the credits. Whew.

Final Thoughts....

UFC’s decision to fill this card with Lightweight fights sure as hell paid off, as what they got in return was easily the most entertaining card of 2006 from top to bottom. The prelims outside of the lone Heavyweight fight were great for the most part, especially Huerta-Dent, which, for a somewhat lopsided fight was tremendous. The televised undercard was as good as any all year too, with Evans-Lambert and Guillard-Ruediger especially shining. Swick-Loiseau wasn’t the fight we were expecting, and so it was somewhat disappointing, but Hughes-Penn surpassed any sort of expectations I had and was certainly, for me at least, the best main event UFC put on all year. I went into UFC 63 expecting an outstanding night of action, and I wasn’t let down in the slightest. Best UFC of the year, and highest recommendation from me.

Coming Soon....

Pride: 18, Total Elimination 2005, Critical Countdown 2005, Final Conflict 2005.
UFC: 64, 65 and 66.
Cage Rage: 16, 17, 18 and 19.
WEC: 10 and 11.
WFA: 1, 2 and 3.
King of the Cage: 15, 18, 21, 23, 29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 42 and 48.
Best of Shooto 2003 vols. 1 & 2.

Until next time,

Scott Newman:

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