MMA: Matt Hughes

A history of the UFC rematch

December, 24, 2013
By Andrew R. Davis
ESPN Stats & Information
Royce Gracie and Ken ShamrockNagao SusumuThe "Gracie challenge" laid the groundwork for what became the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The UFC was to crown its first ever superfight champion on April 7, 1995, at UFC 5. Royce Gracie, the three-time tournament champion against Ken Shamrock, whose only loss was to the Brazilian jiu-jitsu master at UFC 1 in just 57 seconds. The two men fought for 36 minutes, with Shamrock gaining a takedown shortly into the fight and holding top position for the remainder of the 31-minute period. A five-minute overtime settled nothing and the fight was declared a draw. Despite being in top position, Shamrock landed 10 significant strikes (98 in total). And so began the legacy of the UFC rematch.

Over its 20-year history, the UFC has had more than 100 rematches. Some bouts such as Gracie versus Shamrock have changed the course of UFC history.

Battles that Changed History

UFC 52: Couture vs. Liddell 2

[+] EnlargeChuck Liddell and Randy Couture
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesChuck Liddell, left, stopped Randy Liddell in the 1st round to win the UFC light heavyweight title in their rematch.
After coaching the first season of the Ultimate Fighter, Randy Couture versus Chuck Liddell 2 took place almost two years after their first matchup, won by Couture. Couture was poked in the eye early on, but after being checked by the doctors, the fight continued. Couture went on the offensive, but it was Liddell who would counter and knockout “The Natural” at 2:06 of the first round to win the UFC light heavyweight title. Liddell would avenge another loss in his first defense against Jeremy Horn, then defeat Couture, Renato Sobral and rival Tito Ortiz before falling to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 71. Both Liddell and Couture would be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.

UFC 65: Hughes vs. St-Pierre 2 (aka Bad Intentions)

Matt Hughes had defended his UFC Welterweight Title twice when he fought Georges St-Pierre for the second time at UFC 65. Hughes won the first matchup at UFC 50 by way of armbar, with one second remaining in the opening round. In the rematch, St-Pierre dominated, outstriking Hughes 45-10 and landing a brutal head kick and punches to dethrone the champion. Hughes would fight St-Pierre at UFC 79 and lose again, his last shot at a UFC title.

UFC 77: Silva vs. Franklin 2 (aka Hostile Territory)

[+] EnlargeAnderson Silva and Rich Franklin
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesAnderson Silva, right, destroyed Rich Franklin in their rematch, finishing him in the 2nd round to keep the UFC middleweight title.
In 2006, Anderson Silva was relatively unknown to the UFC audience when he UFC fought Rich Franklin, who was making his third title defense. Silva destroyed “Ace” in the clinch, landing 26 of 28 strikes, ending with a devastating knee at 2:59 of the first round. The rematch would take place in Franklin’s hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, and the result was just the same. Silva was 27 of 29 from clinch position, ending the fight with knees to the body at 1:07 of Round 2. Silva would defend the title eight more times before being knocked out by Chris Weidman at UFC 162, leading to Saturday night’s rematch.

UFC 100: Lesnar vs. Mir 2

By November 2008, Brock Lesnar had become the UFC heavyweight champion. But there was one man who had his number: Frank Mir. Mir defeated Lesnar by heel hook at UFC 81, and after Mir became interim champion, it set up the rematch at the UFC’s century mark event. Lesnar would control the action from the opening bell, bloodying Mir and outstriking the interim champ 47-4 in significant strikes. Lesnar would make one more title defense before health issues and losing the title led to his departure from MMA in 2011.

UFC 100 would be a night of redemption for Lesnar, much like these rematches.

Battles of Redemption

UFC 49: Belfort vs. Couture 2 (aka Unfinished Business)

Randy Couture was the UFC light heavyweight champion when he defended his title against Vitor Belfort at UFC 46 in January 2004. The end of the fight was marred in controversy when the doctor halted the bout just 49 seconds into the opening round because of a cut on Couture’s eyelid from a Belfort punch. Belfort was awarded the title because of the doctor stoppage, resulting in an immediate rematch in August. In the rematch, Couture gained two takedowns and damaged Belfort on the ground, ultimately leading to a doctor’s stoppage after the third round. Couture landed 33 of his 50 significant strikes on the grounded Belfort.

UFC 63: Hughes vs. Penn 2

UFC 46 also saw another title change in the co-main event when BJ Penn submitted Matt Hughes to win the UFC welterweight title. Penn would leave the UFC because of contractual issues, but would return in March 2006. He would again fight Hughes at UFC 63, but the result was much different. Hughes was the UFC welterweight champion, and proved why in defeating Penn by TKO stoppage in the third round. They would rematch once more in 2010 with Penn winning by KO 21 seconds into the fight.

UFC 83: Serra vs. St-Pierre 2

[+] EnlargeGeorge St-Pierre
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesAfter losing to Matt Serra at UFC 69, Georges St-Pierre stopped Serra in the rematch a year later to regain the UFC welterweight title.
There’s something about UFC upsets and guys from Long Island. Long before Weidman and Silva, there was Matt Serra. Serra won season 4 of the Ultimate Fighter, meaning he would get a crack at Georges St-Pierre and the UFC welterweight title. Serra would pull the upset, but eventually would face St-Pierre again at UFC 83. The rematch was again one-sided, this time to “GSP” as he took Serra down four times and landed 42 significant strikes to Serra’s three en route to a second round stoppage due to knees. St-Pierre would remain the UFC welterweight champion until vacating the title on Dec. 13.

UFC 148: Silva vs. Sonnen 2

The matchup against Weidman will be Silva’s third rematch in his MMA career. In his second set of rematches in 2010 and 2012, Silva fought Chael Sonnen and picked up two victories. But the first fight was three minutes away from going to Sonnen. At UFC 117, Sonnen gained takedowns in each of the first three rounds and had Silva on his back in the final round up on the cards when Silva forced a tap out with a triangle choke and armbar. Many thought Sonnen had Silva’s number when the two would rematch at UFC 148, but the Brazilian had other ideas. Sonnen landed 76 total strikes on Silva while the champion threw just two, missing both. But Silva battled in Round 2, eventually striking after a Sonnen slip and finishing the fight with knees against the cage.

All of those battles took place over time, but some rematches remain timeless for their bad blood and exciting results.

Timeless Rematches

UFC 61: Ortiz vs. Shamrock 2 (aka Bitter Rivals)

While Ronda Rousey-Miesha Tate may be the preeminent feud of today’s MMA, it all started with Ortiz and Ken Shamrock. The two fought at UFC 40 in 2002, at the time the most watched UFC PPV of all time. The fight was one-sided as Ortiz dominated Shamrock for three rounds before the fight was stopped. The rematch took place 3 1/2 later at UFC 61 after the rivalry reignited on Season 3 of the Ultimate Fighter. Ortiz, in the middle of his career, beat the aging Shamrock with strikes 68 seconds into the first round. They would rematch in October 2006, and again Ortiz pounded Shamrock into a stoppage. But the rivalry and the bad blood is what kept the feud going for almost 10 years.

UFC 66: Liddell vs. Ortiz 2

[+] EnlargeChuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesTito Ortiz, right, wasn't able to avenge his defeat to Chuck Liddell, falling again in the rematch 2 and a half years later.
Ortiz made another enemy in Liddell in 2004 when the two met at UFC 47. Liddell outlanded Ortiz in both rounds of the fight, eventually putting the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” down with strikes at 38 seconds into Round 2. The rematch would take place almost 2 1/2 years later at UFC 66 for Liddell’s light heavyweight title. Liddell’s striking was again on display, landing 49 significant strikes to 21 for Ortiz. The end came in the third round with Liddell in mount position raining strikes down on Ortiz. The two were scheduled to fight at UFC 115 after coaching Season 11 of the Ultimate Fighter, but Ortiz was injured and replaced by Rich Franklin.

UFC 71: Liddell vs. Jackson 2

In 2003, Liddell was sent to Japan by the UFC to represent the company in the PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix. Liddell would face “Rampage” Jackson in the semifinals and the winner was expected to face Wanderlei Silva in the final. Jackson would defeat Liddell by TKO due to corner stoppage in the second round. Fast forward to 2007, and Jackson became the No. 1 contender to Liddell’s UFC light heavyweight title. Once again, Jackson would catch Liddell with big punches, putting him to the mat and winning the bout 1:53 into the first round.

UFC 125: Edgar vs. Maynard 2 (aka Resolution)

The rivalry between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard began in April 2008, when Maynard beat Edgar by unanimous decision. Edgar would go on to win the UFC lightweight title from Penn in April 2010 and would defend it against Penn in August. After winning that rematch, it was time for UFC 125 and a rematch against Maynard, the only man to beat him. Edgar was knocked down three times in the opening round and Maynard looked to be on his way to another win. But Edgar battled back, outstriking Maynard 95-71 in significant strikes and earning a split decision draw. The two men would fight one more time in October 2011, but this time the clear winner was Edgar by fourth-round knockout.

This Saturday night, UFC 168 is headlined by not one, but two of these rematches. Will they be battles of redemption for the challengers, Silva and Tate? Or will Weidman and Rousey continue to cement their places as champions and put their foes out of the title picture for good? Either way, these fights will become part of the ever growing legacy of the UFC rematch.

Georges St-Pierre: Past, present and future

April, 30, 2013
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
George St. PierreJon Kopaloff/Getty ImagesWhat are the reasons for George St-Pierre's enduring success? A panel of experts take a closer look.
At the age of 31, UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre has accomplished so much that rumors of a two-fight retirement plan shouldn't come as a shock.

St-Pierre (24-2) holds the record for total UFC wins (along with Matt Hughes) at 18 and is second in title defenses with eight. He ranks No. 1 in the UFC in career takedowns, takedown accuracy and total strikes.

From August 2007 to April 2011, St-Pierre won a record 33 consecutive rounds.

Prior to his recent title defense over Nick Diaz at UFC 158, St-Pierre's former manager Stephane Patry penned a column for a Canadian website that outlined St-Pierre's plan of two more fights -- a title defense against Johny Hendricks and a "super fight" against Anderson Silva -- and then retirement.

Whether or not that comes to fruition, decided to speak with some of the brightest minds in the sport on what has fueled St-Pierre's historic career, what it will take to disrupt his success and whether or not he's still at his peak.

"We kind of always knew he would eventually become a champion ... "

Pat Miletich, former UFC champion, longtime trainer, analyst: I used to go up to Tristar Gym years and years ago because my wife is from Montreal. I would teach a bit here and there when those guys were younger. Georges was always very respectful. He actually came into one of my seminars and sat in and watched when I was teaching up there at different spots in Montreal. We kind of always knew he would eventually become a champion. It was just something you could tell. Before Matt [Hughes] even fought him the first time, Matt and I both publicly said in interviews, "Georges is going to be the world champ. Just not yet."

Matt Hume, trainer, matchmaker, ambassador: The moment I recognized he was a very special martial artist was when he did Abu Dhabi (Submission Wrestling championships). He went against a guy named Otto Olsen. Otto Olsen, the first time he did Abu Dhabi, he went all the way to the finals against Marcelo Garcia with only six months training. Otto was great. He got really good at head control and started destroying people. The next Abu Dhabi, his first match was against Georges St-Pierre, who wasn't known as a great grappler, and he beat Otto that day. He shot a double on him, which is something he's very well known for now and escaped what a lot of people call the D'Arce now. Georges' posture on his shots was perfect and his explosiveness and awareness of where his head was when he got to the ground. That was the moment that told me this guy really gets out of his element. He really learns.

Matt Hughes, former UFC champion, went 1-2 in three fights against St-Pierre: Usually when I tie up with somebody, I feel I'm stronger than the other person and with Georges, I can't say I was stronger than him. I'm a big welterweight. I probably cut more weight than Georges does, which you think would give me a strength advantage but I didn't feel I had that advantage against Georges.

Miletich: After the first time Matt fought him and beat him, I asked Matt, "He's pretty strong isn't he?" We were walking through the tunnel back to the locker room and he looked at me and said, "You're damn right he's strong."

Hughes: I don't think he's a great wrestler. I think if you put him on a wrestling mat against Josh Koscheck, Josh would beat him up. What Georges does so well is mixes everything up and camouflages his takedowns with his striking. When you're out there against Georges, you don't know if he's going to kick, punch, close the distance and gets his hands on you or take a shot. He's pretty one-dimensional on the ground. You don't see him going for many submissions. He is really there to keep people down. But he's effective at his striking. He likes to stand up in people's guard and that gives him power in his punches. But his No. 1 thing is to keep people down.

Marc Laimon, grappling coach, trains Hendricks: One of my black belts and I were talking about this and he was saying St-Pierre kind of reminds him of a guy who pushes to half-guard, does enough to get the advantage to win and stalls the rest of the match. Against Nick Diaz, for somebody to talk so much trash, I didn't see that killer instinct. I saw a guy win and stay busy and active and do enough to win, but not a scary, killer, bloodthirsty guy wanting to kill you. I see a pro athlete doing his job very well.

Mark Munoz, UFC middleweight, NCAA wrestling champion: Pure wrestling is a totally different sport than MMA wrestling. In MMA wrestling, you can't shoot to your knees anymore. If you shoot to your knees, you're being stopped because there's too much distance to cover when you change levels. You've just got to explode and run through them in a power double and that's what Georges St-Pierre does. He is such a gifted athlete at first-step explosion and he's got long arms.

Hughes: He does everything pretty well. His lead strike, I believe, is his left leg. Usually, it's people's rear leg but I figured out real quick his left leg in the front of his stance is what he has all his power with.

Hume (on St-Pierre's intimidation factor): It's not the same extent as [an Anderson Silva.] Anderson put Rich Franklin's nose on the other side of his face and what he did to Forrest Griffin, making him miss the punches and dropping him with the jab -- it's the striking aspects, getting the bones broke in your face from an unprotected knee bone, those things scare people. I think with Georges, people don't look at him the same way as Anderson. They see it more as, "I don't know how to beat this guy." Not so much, "This guy is really going to hurt me bad."

Laimon: He still does things very well. The timing on his double leg is impeccable. He's still very fun to watch but when he was going for the title and he murdered [Frank] Trigg and murdered Hughes -- oh man. That guy is a killer and I don't see that guy anymore.

"What's going to beat Georges, is a hit ... "

Georges St. Pierre Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comHas Georges St-Pierre become vulnerable to taking a big shot over the second half of his career?
Hume: You don't make a game plan for Georges St-Pierre. You make a game plan to be the best you can be. You have to try to be better than him at every aspect of the game, which includes the mental aspect, conditioning and technical aspects. If you're better than him at every aspect, then you can beat him.

Munoz: The guy that beats St-Pierre is the guy that is able to counter the jab. Able to circle, have good footwork, and counter while moving his feet. Not countering in front of him, because that's where GSP is able to capitalize -- when he jabs or throws punches, the other guy counter punches and then he drops down and shoots.

Miletich: You have to take him out of his comfort zone. It's not like there are a lot of guys out there who are going to take him down and submit him, but a guy who can actually take Georges down and make him nervous on his back a little bit is certainly going to help. In terms of striking, guys that use feints and fakes very well and they've got to be able to do that better than him. When somebody is throwing feints and fakes at you, they're trying to make you guess on what's real and what's not. When you're not able to do that (as good as St-Pierre), he is sticking you with the jab. Then he's able to progressively chips away at you because he feints the jab and throws the cross. Then feints the cross and throws the hook. It goes a lot deeper than that, but a guy who can do that better than Georges and throw it back in his face and has the power to hurt him standing, plus the technique to take him down, is pretty much what it's going to take.

Hughes: That's a very easy question for me to answer. What's going to beat Georges is a hit. You can tell it in the way he fights. He does not want to get hit. You see what happens when he gets hit. Any big hit is going to hurt Georges. My speculation would be that Georges has been hit in practice and he don't like it. This is all my speculation -- that he's been hit, knows his body doesn't like it and he's not going to get hit anymore.

"Johny is a different breed of cat ..."

HendricksDave Mandel/Sherdog.comHis wrestling pedigree and punching power make Johny Hendricks a dangerous out at 170 pounds.
Miletich: Hendricks is just a mean guy. His mentality is he's just a rough cat. Very good wrestling, very powerful and his left hand can kill a bull. After I saw him slide Martin Kampmann across the canvas like a sheet of ice, you realize how hard he hits. That's a guy I think to a certain extent just says, "I don't give a s--- what you're doing. I'm just going to hit you." Those guys can be tough to fight because they don't bite a lot on your feints and fakes. They don't necessarily move the way they're supposed to. What we're going to see is when Georges starts putting feints and fakes on him, we may see a totally different Johny Hendricks who gets confused. That's very possible.

Munoz: St-Pierre is not going to want it to be a brawl. He's going to want to execute that jab, circle around him, stop shots, drag behind him and take his back. I don't think he's going to be able to hold Johny down. Everybody who wrestled him [in college] had trouble holding him down. What you're going to see Johny do is knee slide -- which is, shoot his knee forward and stand up to his feet. He's not going to stay turtled up. He's going to hand fight, look for wrist control and get up.

Hughes: Being the best wrestler doesn't mean that Georges can't take him down. He disguises things so well that he can get in on somebody by throwing punches, but Georges is going to have to work for it. He's going to have to spend more energy and that's a good thing in a fight -- to make somebody spend energy and take punishment along the way. I think if you look at who Georges has fought, Johny is a bad matchup compared to everybody else.

Laimon: I really think I've got a guy who matches up very well with him and is going to present problems. Johny is a different breed of cat. He operates on a different frequency. He's hungry and I think Georges is ripe for the picking. I think Johny Hendricks is coming into his prime and I see St-Pierre as an unbelievable LaDainian Tomlinson-type guy who is kind of at the [New York] Jets now. He was so dominant, the premiere guy, but if you look recently ... how many guys defend his takedowns? How many guys have been able to get back to his feet? Every time I see Georges, his face is busted up. These guys are putting their hands on him. Georges is hittable and being hittable against a guy like Johny Hendricks isn't good.

"I actually think the [Silva] fight will be pretty close ..."

Anderson Silva, George St. PierreAP PhotosAnderson Silva's striking versus the wrestling of Georges St-Pierre could prove to be an epic match.
Hughes: I actually think the fight will be pretty close because of Georges' takedowns. He's going to take him down and control him on the ground. It might not be the most exciting fight because it's going to be a lot of ground game. I don't think Anderson can beat him on the ground, especially with Georges on top. If I had to pick a winner, I might say Georges gets his hand raised.

Hume: Anybody who stands with Anderson is risking what he does to everybody. Anderson has been taken down. He's been mounted. He has been armbarred, but he has survived those things. He has a great ground game, too. Georges has great takedowns. He knows how to put people at their weakness. If you're going to try and fight Anderson at his weakness, it's going to have to be on his back.

Munoz: I think it's a bad matchup for Georges. Anderson is a big 185-pounder. I wouldn't say St-Pierre is a big welterweight. I've seen Anderson upwards of 215 pounds. At the same time, St-Pierre has double leg takedowns, which Anderson has trouble defending at times. I would give Anderson the nod because of his movement on his feet, elusiveness and precise punching.

Miletich: Georges is not going to win that standup fight at all. Anderson will shut down his feints. The victory is going to lie in Georges' ability to take down Anderson, which I think he certainly can. He could take him down and control him all five rounds because he's strong enough to do it. Anderson's takedown defense has gotten better over the years, but I still think Georges could take him down.

Penn returns with something left to prove

December, 7, 2012
Gross By Josh Gross

Along the way, BJ Penn committed himself to doing only what he wanted. If it wasn't fun, it wasn't worth his time.

To the delight of many people over the past 11 years, that sometimes meant walking into a cage to fight.

So the 33-year-old former UFC welterweight and lightweight champion's decision to end a brief retirement, get off the couch and accept a bout with hotshot Canadian welterweight Rory MacDonald wasn't a surprise. Penn can be impulsive, and time is not on his side; he sought an itch and scratched it.

Oh, he wanted to return. He wanted to put young MacDonald in his place and take another crack at a Tristar Gym fighter. Penn also missed being mentioned in rarefied terms. He wanted that again -- a vain, revealing and honest admission. The same could be said over his concerns about legacy, which, to be fair, are hardly new.

Yet none of these things pushed boundaries, a Penn specialty. What did? Random amped-up drug testing administered by a group unaffiliated with the UFC. Via the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, Penn and MacDonald are the first fighters in mixed martial arts to undergo urine and blood testing for substances including EPO, human growth hormone and synthetic testosterone. On Wednesday, VADA tested Penn for the third time.

"If I was gonna make a comeback I wanted to make it as safe as I can,” the Hawaiian said last week in the run-up to Saturday’s UFC on Fox 5 event in Seattle. “I’m not saying Rory MacDonald is using steroids. That’s all it is. I’m protecting myself.”

Penn surely didn’t return to the UFC to be tested for drugs, but he wasn’t going to do so without being tested as rigorously as he wanted.

In a nutshell, whether it works out or not, this is how Penn has handled his career.

He angled to make it to the Octagon. He is among a select few fighters who can say he began his career there.

He pushed to fight for a UFC title and did in his fourth contest. Penn, however, wasn't ready for the moment.

He obtained a shot against Matt Hughes at 170 pounds. This time he shocked the world in his debut at the weight and captured the belt.

He coveted a contract with the UFC that allowed him to fight for Japan’s K-1 promotion. That didn’t happen, and it led to a contentious departure from the UFC and an odd sequence of matches that hurt the way his legacy is viewed. He wanted to fight at middleweight and light heavyweight, and he did. And he looked chubby and sluggish, infuriating as it was for fans who love him, away from the Octagon in the midst of his prime.

He desired the UFC welterweight title once more and re-signed with the promotion, though the belt never returned.

He aimed at the UFC lightweight title, the one that eluded him in his fourth fight. This played out the way he hoped when he ran through Jens Pulver.

Because fighting at lightweight, where he appeared dominant, wasn’t challenging enough, Penn eyed a rematch with Georges St-Pierre at 170. He suffered through a rough TKO after 20 minutes. All for an itch he wanted to scratch.
[+] EnlargeTBD
AP Photo/Eric JamisonBJ Penn bit off more than he could chew in a rematch with Georges St-Pierre.

Penn has come off like a happy warrior leading up to Saturday’s card.

He restocked his camp with old faces, tailored, like always, just the way he wants. One Penn associate described the fighter as being "so relaxed and confident. He hasn’t been like this in a while. I’m feeling good about it."

The Prodigy maintains a unique place among fighters. Admittedly not much of a stick-and-ball athlete, Penn was preternaturally talented for MMA. Speed, flexibility, balance, technique -- he possessed it all, yet on the eve of bout No. 27, scuffling at 1-3-1 since 2010, this is a man lamenting that his name is missing from discussions of the best, a man craving a lasting, meaningful legacy.

MacDonald, nearly a head taller than the Hawaiian, suggested thinking like that could get Penn hurt.

"He said he's fighting to get his legacy back," MacDonald said. "I don't know if it's true or not, if it's his motivation or not. But if that is true, if you're fighting for someone's opinion, for some status, it's the wrong reason to fight."

Penn, it so happens, wants his opponents to chirp. Last week he claimed it was wonderful that MacDonald called him fat, among other things. Said Penn: "I couldn't ask for more."

Looking directly at MacDonald during the final pre-fight news conference in Seattle on Thursday, Penn reiterated the point. He wanted to tell the young fighter that he better be ready to live up to his words.

So he did.

"I’m a glass half-empty kind of guy," Penn said. "I don’t want to be known as being good back in the day. I want to be one of the best. I still think I have something left to accomplish."

Hughes: GSP would be too quick for Silva

November, 13, 2012
By Ben Blackmore
Former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes believes Georges St. Pierre would beat Anderson Silva despite a height and weight disadvantage. More »
Georges St. Pierre claims Carlos Condit will be the toughest fight of his career when the pair clash for the UFC welterweight title on Nov. 17. More »
Matt Hughes says UFC president Dana White has the power to persuade him into another fight, but White's reluctance to do so is making it easy from him to contemplate retirement. More »
Dan Hardy has moved to correct the constant media claims that he wants to fight Matt Hughes, telling ESPN he simply does not like the veteran welterweight and could not care less if he fights him. More »

Maguire: Hughes fight would be scary

September, 25, 2012
By Ben Blackmore
England's John Maguire is a lifelong fan of UFC legend Matt Hughes, but admits he would have to think twice before ever accepting a fight with the former welterweight champion. More »

Hardy won't chase Hughes forever

March, 19, 2012
By Ben Blackmore
Dan Hardy insists he will not chase Matt Hughes for a potential welterweight encounter, even though the Brit "can't stand" the former UFC champion. More »

Confidence no longer a detriment to Alves

March, 1, 2012
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
Thiago AlvesJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesAccording to Thiago Alves, making weight isn't an issue these days.
From 2008 until August of 2010, Thiago Alves’ strongest asset wasn’t his tremendous striking skills. It was the poker face he wore before each fight.

On the surface, Alves had the look of a man assured of winning. It did not matter who the opposition happened to be -- Matt Hughes, Josh Koscheck, UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre or Jon Fitch -- Alves always gave the impression he would leave the Octagon victorious.

But too often that wasn’t actually what he believed.

On many occasions there was doubt in his mind. Alves wasn’t always 100 percent confident he would be the best man inside the cage on fight night.

The lack of confidence had nothing to do with believing in his skill-set -- he's always believed in his physically abilities; it’s what gave him the strength to step in the cage against top 170-pound competitors. The source of Alves’ doubts would creep in during training camp. He wasn’t comfortable with the folks calling the shots -- his coaches.

In the past, Alves and his handlers weren’t on the same page during training camp and it reduced his confidence and performance on fight night.

After an impressive 2008 campaign in which he registered wins over Hughes and Koscheck, Alves suffered unanimous decision losses to St. Pierre and Fitch.

“For you to step in there and give your best, you have to know that the entire team gave its best, that everything was done right,” Alves told on Tuesday. “If you have any doubts in your mind it’s going to show in the fight.

“It was just a matter of getting the right people behind me, and getting my confidence back. I’m still at American Top Team, but like in every camp there are coaches who come and go. Right before my fight with Koscheck, we [the coaches and I] had a falling out. That dragged on until after the [St. Pierre] camp.

“After that fight [against St. Pierre], I found new people. It took me a few fights to get adjusted to the new coaching staff.”
[+] EnlargeThiago Alves vs Papy Abedi
Martin McNeil for ESPN.comPapy Abedi, bottom, learned first-hand what Thiago Alves is like at 100 percent.

Alves (19-8) has won two of his three most recent fights and his confidence level is at a career high. He will carry that confidence into his welterweight showdown Friday night against Martin Kampmann. The two meet in the main event at UFC on FX 2 in Sydney.

Kampmann (18-2) is as tough as they come, and is looking to maintain the momentum he regained with a unanimous decision over Rick Story in November. That win allowed Kampmann to halt his losing skid at two.

But Kampmann could be facing his stiffest test as a professional in Alves. The Coconut Creek, Fla.-based Alves appears to be in the best shape of his career, both physically and mentally.

Alves, who has struggled in the past to make the 170-pound limit, gives a large chunk of credit for his turnaround to nutritionist Mike Dolce.

“I brought in Mike Dolce after the Fitch fight and that took me to another level in my career,” Alves said. “My old strength and conditioning coach used to pretty much abuse me when it came to the weight cut. It was painful. It would make me think about quitting my job.

“Since I started working with Mike Dolce, I’ve enjoyed the whole process. Three days before the weigh-in and I’m just 11 pounds over the limit. This has never happened before in my career. And I feel great. I’m ready to fight right now.

“When I know I have the right people behind me and I know I did the right training I know I can go out there and perform at my best. That’s what happened in my last fight [a first-round submission victory over Papy Abedi in November] and that’s exactly what’s going to happen Friday night.”

Jake heads new class of hurdles for GSP

February, 16, 2012
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
OMAHA, Neb. -- Don’t look now, but the UFC welterweight division is quietly making a case for the promotion’s premier weight class.

Rising 170-pound prospect Jake Ellenberger made another splash Wednesday, outpointing a very determined Diego Sanchez in an early "Fight of the year" candidate. It was a big win for the 26-year-old and yet another significant fight in the division -- a division that’s been in big need of significant fights in years past.

As of late, this group of 170-pounders hasn’t exactly been raising heart rates. Not long ago, fans clamored for a fight between Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch not only because of the "teammate versus teammate" angle, but because there weren’t many intriguing options left for each of them.

Dan Hardy earned a title shot in 2010 based on a couple split decisions and a knockout of Rory Markham. Jake Shields earned one a year later for being really good in a different division, fighting for a different promotion.

Not only did the weight class fail in numerous attempts to dethrone champion Georges St. Pierre, for 33 straight rounds, it failed to earn a 10-9 score against him.

Not to say the division has been downright awful, but as far as areas where the UFC needed new blood, it was near the top.

It’s safe to say that new blood has arrived.

Ellenberger represents one of the most intriguing future opponents to St. Pierre. Ahead of him on the division’s ladder is interim champion Carlos Condit. Around him are Johny Hendricks, Rory MacDonald and Nick Diaz. Below him are still Josh Koscheck, John Fitch, Thiago Alves, Martin Kampmann and Jake Shields.

Basically, iron sharpens iron. And there’s finally a ton of iron at 170 pounds.
[+] EnlargeJake Ellenberger
Ross Dettman for ESPN.comJake Ellenberger's explosive style has lit up the welterweight division in recent months.

“There’s no easy fight, that’s for sure,” Ellenberger said. “[The division] is stacked with young, hungry guys. I’ve been that guy for awhile.”

The influx of new talent at welterweight has more than likely killed any shot of a super fight between St. Pierre and UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva -- but if that’s a casualty the UFC and its fans should be able to live with.

This division has played a major part in the organization since Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta purchased the company in 2001. Even though it may have never eclipsed the light heavyweight division in terms of popularity, it was widely viewed as arguably the deepest in talent.

“The welterweight division has been a massive division for us since the first day,” UFC president Dana White said. “From Pat Miletich to Matt Hughes to Carlos Newton.”

For the first time in years, the welterweight division is capable of generating the type of excitement it drew during those years. Part of that excitement comes from the perception one of these guys can beat St. Pierre.

“This guy [Ellenberger], in my opinion, is tougher than St. Pierre,” Sanchez said. “He has a better chin than GSP. This guy is strong and he’s a warrior.”
Matt Hughes has hit back at Dan Hardy and critics of hunting, using a quote from the bible to justify his killing of bobcats and deer. More »

Hardy slams Hughes, eyes May return

January, 5, 2012
By Ben Blackmore
Dan Hardy has told ESPN he is targeting a potential May return to action in Las Vegas, and he shined the spotlight firmly on Matt Hughes once again on Wednesday evening. More »
Britain's one and only UFC title challenger Dan Hardy is finally looking at making at a return to the Octagon, and he wants to smash Matt Hughes. More »

Best American? Henderson stands alone

November, 25, 2011
Gross By Josh Gross
Liddell/EvansMartin McNeil for ESPN.comChuck Liddell has given us a fair share of thrills, but his ledger doesn't stack up with Dan Henderson's.
Speaking from experience, it's easy to appear foolish when analyzing mixed martial arts. Sport in general lends itself to the unpredictable, but there is, it seems, based on what I’ve come to know about MMA over the last 18 years, a special place reserved on the "And you get paid for this?" rung of the "expert" totem pole when it comes to predicting what’s next in the fistic universe.

For that reason, it can feel at times trifling to make an attempt at context. If anything can ( and does) happen in MMA, it's simple sense to question the necessity of perspective, be it regular divisional rankings or, in this case, suggesting one fighter is better than the rest.

Shut up and enjoy the fights, right? Well, I never bought into that way of thinking. I see value in this sort of discussion, and will try here and now to illustrate that.

Save politics, is there an industry that thrives on embellishment more than sport? MMA observers know this well. So when I tell you that Dan Henderson is the most accomplished mixed martial artist America has produced, please take it for what it's worth. But I’ll assure you at a minimum, I believe it to be true. And I think if you look at everything Henderson has accomplished since he entered the sport in 1997, no American fighter -- not Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, Randy Couture, B.J. Penn, Quinton Jackson nor anyone else -- can claim his level of sustained success.

Keep in mind, this is a man with eight losses -- such is the slim margin between triumph and failure in which fighters like Henderson operate. Eight losses. As much as I'd like it to be different, if only because it would deliver an added strain of credibility to the sport, the last two decades have proven MMA isn't a profession that yields perfection. Hardly. That threshold differs sharply from boxing, particularly if a combatant is consistently tested like Henderson has been. Perhaps that changes as the latest crop does their thing. Who's going to defeat Jon Jones? Dominick Cruz looks untouchable at 135 pounds. Frankie Edgar flat out refuses to lose. Who knows, 10 years from now, one of them could be written about in similar tones to this trumpeting of Henderson. But not yet.

So as MMA approaches its 20th anniversary of the UFC era, Henderson, all guts and guile, resides at the top of my American born-and-bred list.

What separates him from some of the decorated fighters I mentioned above?
[+] EnlargeHenderson/Shields
Dave Mandel/Sherdog.comDan Henderson, top, wasn't exactly fighting Jake Shields on his own terms.

First, let's deal with his setbacks, because if there's an argument to be made against Henderson, it would be found there. Wanderlei Silva. Ricardo Arona. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Kazuo Misaki. Quinton Jackson. Anderson Silva. Jake Shields.

Misaki and Shields is the pair that should raise some eyebrows. The Misaki fight came four months after Henderson defeated the tough Japanese middleweight and, putting it mildly, he was completely disinterested in a rematch. For that reason, this one is considered by most to be an aberration. Henderson, a two-division champion in Pride, essentially no-showed.

As for Shields, Henderson walked into that fight hampered by neck and back issues. Still, he almost knocked Shields out in the opening round. And maybe it’s worth crediting Shields, who survived an onslaught many fighters could not have.

As for the rest? Well, Henderson is either on equal footing, having picked up wins in other contests, or there’s no shame to be found in losing to Anderson Silva.

Each great mixed martial artist has losses and setbacks to contend with, so in this way there’s hardly a discernible difference between Henderson and the rest of the bunch.

But if you’re looking for an argument in the affirmative, let’s not gloss over the fact that at the age of 41 he has, insofar as names of the vanquished opposition, orchestrated one of his most impressive streaks of his career. Some might say that Henderson’s success at an age better suited for retirement is tainted because he competes under the treatment and benefit of hormone replacement therapy. Without the prescription, would he have romped to similar results? No. He admits as much. Whatever side you come down on, though, it’s indisputable that he’s playing within the rules. So there’s that.

As for the wins and the wars and all the stuff that makes Henderson my choice as the best American mixed martial artist since the sport emerged in the States in 1993, you really can’t do much better. Last Saturday against Mauricio Rua, Henderson displayed everything that makes him terrific. This doesn’t necessarily make him better than Liddell, Hughes, Couture, Penn or Jackson. They all reached the highest level of the sport and delivered similar moments.

In the final analysis, Henderson deserves this recognition because of the fast start to his career; his accomplishments across multiple weight divisions; his record in high-stakes tournaments; the fact that his win-loss record is peppered with consistently grade-A opposition; and his recent successes.

Go ahead and argue that there are American fighters with résumés equal to Henderson’s. Maybe that’s the case. But as best as I can tell, I’ve yet to see one that’s any better.