Penn split the air with a beautiful counter right hand that leveled Hughes and then finished off the hall of famer with four clean punches on the ground in the UFC 123 "Rampage vs. Machida" co-headliner Saturday at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Mich. Hughes met his demise 21 seconds into Round 1, as the trilogy between two of the sport's fiercest rivals came to a decisive climax.
"Matt, you're my idol," said Penn, who snapped a two-fight losing streak with a spectacular return to the welterweight division. "You will always be my idol. Thank you."
Hughes was never in the fight. The counter right from Penn put him on his back and it was over a few seconds later, the former welterweight champion teetering briefly near unconsciousness.
"Well, he hit me hard," said Hughes, whose 24 Octagon appearances rank first all time. "When I felt the hit, I thought it was a knee or a kick. It wasn't a clip. He hit me pretty hard."
Hughes entered the rubber match with Penn on a three-fight winning streak. The decisive defeat -- only Dennis Hallman has finished him more quickly -- left the 37-year-old's immediate future uncertain.
"I don't know what the plan is now," Hughes said. "I had a perfect training camp. This is one of those fights where I would have paid my purse to [UFC president] Dana White to put this fight together. I had a lot on the line. To be honest, I don't know what will go on now."
Rampage gets split nod over Machida
In a battle between former light heavyweight champions, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson earned a controversial split decision against Lyoto Machida. All three cageside judges scored it 29-28, two of them siding with Jackson.
Aggression was Jackson's primary weapon, as he controlled the center of the cage and kept Machida's back to the cage. However, Machida landed more strikes of consequence.
"I think [me being the aggressor is] the only thing that earned me a decision," Jackson said. "I think that's what the judges saw -- me being aggressive. The fight was so close that it's unfair for Machida. Even though I don't want to, I have to give him a rematch."
At a distance, Jackson struggled to find the range on his power punches. He invited a clinch on more than one occasion and scored from in tight with uppercuts, knees to the body and foot stomps, but much of what he delivered was of little substance.
Machida closed strong, rattling Jackson with a multi-punch combination in the third round, backed him against the cage and landed two knees, one to the body and another to the head. Rampage answered but left himself open to a takedown, and Machida obliged. The Brazilian worked from half guard, passed to side control and ultimately moved to mount with 90 seconds left. He threatened Jackson with an armbar but released the submission when Jackson hoisted him skyward for one of his patented slams. Somewhere, Ricardo Arona shuddered.
"Machida whooped my ass tonight," Jackson said. "My coaches must be so mad at me. I didn't do what I wanted to do; then he took me down and he bloodied my nose. I consider that an ass-whooping."
Machida was humble in defeat.
"I did the best that I could tonight, but if the judges thought that Quinton won, then that's what they saw," he said. "That's up to the UFC, but I'd like an immediate rematch also."
'Big Rig' decisions Harris
Chute Boxe Academy representative Maiquel Jose Falcao Goncalves defeated "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 7 alum Gerald Harris by unanimous decision in a featured middleweight match. Scores were 29-27, 29-28 and 29-28 for Goncalves, who has rattled off eight consecutive victories.
Goncalves, 29, dominated and nearly finished Harris in the first round, wobbling the Tulsa, Okla., native with a flurry of lightning-quick punches and putting him down with a knee to the body. The Brazilian then worked for a rear-naked choke in the closing seconds of the round and had the submission all but wrapped up when the horn sounded.
Harris, who carried a 10-fight winning streak into the cage, again found himself in deep trouble in the second round, threatened by another choke. He rebounded briefly with one of his patented slam takedowns but couldn't string together any offense of note. An uneventful third period saw Goncalves coast, much to the chagrin of those in attendance who answered the inactivity from the two middleweights with a chorus of boos.
Davis stays unbeaten, taps Boetsch
Davis submitted the International Fight League veteran with a modified second-round kimura in a featured light heavyweight duel. Boetsch, who entered the match on a four-fight winning streak, tapped to the hold 2:55 into Round 2. Afterward, UFC color analyst Joe Rogan suggested Davis name the submission the "Mr. Wonderful."
"All right," Davis said. "Well, that's what we're gonna call it."
A four-time All-America wrestler at Penn State, Davis scored with takedowns in both rounds and manhandled Boetsch from the clinch. He pounded on the Lincolnville, Maine, native from half guard for much of the last half of Round 1 and made quick work of Boetsch when the two hit the ground in the second. Davis worked for a far-side kimura against the cage, broke from Boetsch's loose half guard and wrenched his opponent's arm behind his back. Helpless to defend and in visible pain, Boetsch tapped out after a brief struggle.
"I kind of make the rules up as I go," said Davis, who moved to 4-0 in the UFC. "I almost didn't go for it. I was trying to get it on Rodney Wallace [at UFC 117] and it didn't work, but I was, like, nah, I gotta go for it. I do what I can out here. I'm trying."
Sotiropoulos submits Lauzon
Surging Australian lightweight contender George Sotiropoulos submitted "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 5 semifinalist Joe Lauzon with a second-round kimura in a pivotal showdown at 155 pounds. Lauzon, his arm torqued awkwardly behind him, succumbed to the hold 2:43 into Round 2.
Lauzon roared out of the gates in impressive fashion, as he popped his foe with a series of straight right hands in the first round and stuffed an early single-leg takedown attempt. Sotiropoulos rebounded to take mount on Lauzon in the closing seconds of the round but surrendered position in search of an armbar.
"There's always the calm before the storm," Sotiropoulos said. "I weathered the storm and I found my range."
As the second round dawned, it became clear Lauzon was not the same fighter. Visibly winded and slowed, his mouth agape, he did not have the steam necessary to hold off Sotiropoulos. The Aussie scrambled into side control, isolated Lauzon's arm and finished him there. The victory improved Sotiropoulos to 7-0 inside the Octagon.
"I want to face the best," he said. "I want to make a case for the belt. That's the goal. That's the destination, and I'll continue making my case."
Brian Knapp is a contributor to Sherdog.com.