In just over a decade, Zuffa has promoted more than 100 numbered UFC events. Before every new UFC event we'll take a look back in time to a show 100 UFC's prior. With input from the athletes who were in the cage, we'll bring you the history of the Zuffa era one event at a time.
Venue: MGM Grand Garden Arena (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Attendance: 9000 (Gate: $502,550)
PPV Buys: 67,000 (estimate)
Announcers: Mike Goldberg, Jeff Osborne,
This show was everything the UFC wanted their inaugural return to pay per view to be. Packed from top to bottom with action packed fights, it was a spectacular night of mixed martial arts. Unfortunately, it followed the abysmal UFC 33, the actual first show back in front of the nation, and any chance of gaining significant momentum had already been lost.
The show also marked the first time cracks began to show in the united "pro Zuffa" stance. The industry had embraced the UFC's new owners, but this event was rife with controversy. Initially the top two fights were going to be Randy Couture taking on top challenger Pedro Rizzo for the heavyweight crown and Pat Miletich looking to regain his welterweight title from the charismatic Carlos Newton. A great card on paper, but there was one small problem - those fights were the headliners for UFC 31 and Zuffa didn't want to run an exact replay.
Miletich was pulled from the fight. In his place? His own protege, wrestler Matt Hughes.
Matt Hughes: I told (manager) Monte (Cox), I'm not taking this fight unless Pat tells me it's okay. Period.
Miletich was upset not to get the shot, but decided it was better to have the shot go to Hughes, a teammate, rather than a randomly selected fighter from outside the camp. Hughes left the farm to train with Pat and the Miletich Fighting Systems team in Bettendorf, Iowa, confident he would be Newton's downfall.
Couture was also upset about Rizzo's immediate rematch. He felt the UFC was once again looking to push him to the side. Zuffa was betting big on Rizzo. Couture, after all, was 38 years old. No one knew how long he could keep fighting and the new team running the UFC felt strongly that Rizzo was the future of the division. They signed him to a $175,000 a fight contract, the biggest in UFC history at that time, and hoped to turn him loose once again on Randy.
Things were tense between Couture and the new owners already, before Rizzo was put across the cage from him a second time. The two parties had trouble coming to an agreement for a new contract and Zuffa paid big bucks to have Couture airbrushed out of a national ad campaign. It was a problem that would fester for years until the two sides temporarily parted ways in 2007.
Frank Mir def. Roberto Traven, submission, 1:05 R1
Matt Lindland def. Phil Baroni, majority decision
Evan Tanner def. Homer Moore, submission (armbar), 0:55 R2
Josh Barnett def. Bobby Hoffman, submission (strikes), 4:25 R2
B.J. Penn def. Caol Uno, KO, 0:11 R1
Ricco Rodriguez def. Pete Williams, TKO, 4:02 R2
UFC welterweight championship: Matt Hughes def. Carlos Netwon, KO, 1:27 R2
UFC heavyweight championship: Randy Couture def. Pedro Rizzo, TKO, 1:38 R3
The only fight of the night that went to a decision was perhaps the best bout on the undercard. Phil Baroni and Matt Lindland went after it for three full rounds before the Olympic silver medalist had his hand raised in the end. The two were like oil and water, the classic battle of red and blue states, the loud mouthed New Yorker versus the mild mannered man from Oregon, the striker versus the wrestler. It was a feud ahead of its time, a ground breaking battle of trash talk and internet hype that the UFC has since turned into an art form.
Phil Baroni: The first time I was having fun with it. I always watched pro wrestling growing up and that's what the guys did. I was a fan of mixed martial arts and boxing too and I always wanted to see the fights with the guy that talked sh*t. I always wanted to see that guy fight. When I had the chance to become a professional athlete, I wanted to be that guy. The guy that people wanted to come see fight.
Matt Lindland: UFC wasn't highlighting the athletes like they are now. They didn't do the pre-fight build up. That stuff wasn't going on so we had to create that hype ourselves. I think we made it a lot of fun. And those fights, they were great fights.
Baroni: It was my second UFC fight, my big opportunity to talk sh*t. I did my first fight too, but not many people were listening.
It was a closely contested fight. Baroni dropped Lindland with a left in the first round, but the Olympian got several big slams and did some serious damage on the ground. Lindland was announced as the winner and the crowd gave both fighters a standing ovation.
Lindland: Phil was a great athlete. He was a great fighter. As far as getting in there and competing against him, I was really new to the sport. I remember eating a lot of straight right hands trying to walk in and clinch him. Anytime I tried to do anything, he would throw a straight right. He connected with a lot of punches.
Baroni: The judging sucks now, but it was so bad back then and they counted a takedown more than anything. I scored knockdowns and both times finished the fights with him just hanging on. I think they were 10-8 rounds, the last two rounds of both fights. At worst the fights should have been a draw, but I think I definitely won those fights.I really think I got screwed. People talk about the judges now, but it's night and day.
Lindland: He really doesn't think that. But it sounds good. I spent more time riding Phil and pounding him than any other position. I was in controlling positions and there was a lot of damage being done. He's certainly a tough guy and was able to endure a lot of damage. There is no way you could make an argument for him winning either of those bouts.
The other highlight of the night was B.J. Penn's 11 second destruction of top contender Caol Uno. Penn, unbeknownst to almost everyone, had injured his leg training for the fight and was worried about how it would hold up.The short fight was a god send for the proud Hawaiian who had decided not to drop out of the fight. The two were fighting for a shot at Jens Pulver's lightweight title. Pulver was on commentary duty, so he had the best seat in the house to see his two potential rivals in action.
Before the bout, Uno went crashing to the mat; the Japanese star thought laying on the mat put him in a mental state to fight at his best. Penn remembered thinking something else.
B.J. Penn: He was there on the ground and I thought 'You're going to be right back down there soon when I knock you out.
Uno shocked everyone by dashing across the cage and throwing a leaping high kick. It looked like a move straight out of a martial arts movie. Penn had expected the Japanese star to approach the fight methodically, not like a Bruce Lee clone.
Penn: So much for him being cautious in the early rounds right?
He backed Uno up against the fence and obliterated him with a right uppercut. After some vicious shots on the ground, referee Larry Landless jumped in to stop the fight. The whole thing had barely lasted 10 seconds, perhaps the most exciting 10 seconds in UFC history. Penn made the knockout even more memorable by springing out of the cage and sprinting to the back. Then he came running back to the cage when they told him he still had to do a postfight interview.
In the semi main event, Carlos Newton was set to defend his welterweight title for the first time. He couldn't have been more different from his opponent, Illinois's Matt Hughes. The divide was symbolized perfectly by their entrances. Hughes came out with a serious expression, Kid Rock's "American Badass" blaring. Newton, by contrast, danced his way to the cage wearing an afro wig to the beat of Destiny Child's "Bootylicious." Newton was having fun, but Hughes was deadly serious. Carlos had taken the belt from Pat Miletich, the long time champion, something that didn't sit well with Pat's students.
Matt Hughes: I didn't like that a bit, the guy beating my coach and mentor. It was very important to me to go out and avenge that loss and come back and beat Carlos.
Hughes warmed up hard in the back, not just to prepare his body for the strenuous activity to come, but to build up enough of a sweat that it would be hard for Newton to lock on one of his vaunted submissions. After an exciting first round that saw Hughes score several takedowns and Newton manage a couple of sweeps and reversals, the action really picked up in the second round.
Hughes opened the stanza with a giant takedown, but Newton was able to weather it and lock on a tight triangle choke. Hughes stood to his feet, hoping the threat of a slam and the power of gravity would make Newton let go of his hold. But the Canadian was persistent. Hughes felt consciousness begin to fade as he pulverized Newton with a powerbomb fans could feel all the way through their televisions.
No one seemed to know exactly what was going on. Newton was out cold, but Hughes was sitting still with a glazed look on his face. While referee "big" John McCarthy was checking on Newton and calling off the fight when he saw the submission specialist was clearly unconscious, Matt's teammates were trying desperately to get him to wake up. He was dazed and confused - teammate Jeremy Horn had to tell him that he had won the fight. Then the celebration began.
Hughes: I don't think I was out. I was dazed. In the first round I was winning pretty handily, I think all the judges had me winning the round. In the second I came out and took him down and he slapped me in a triangle. To get out of the triangle I lifted him up and he tightened the triangle up even more. Now the triangle's starting to get to me a little bit and I can feel pressure on my neck. So I take a step back and slam him down. The triangle was hurting me so bad it took me probably two seconds to know what was going on. After I slammed him down. It was a couple of seconds before I realized he was unconscious. By no means was I l knocked out I was just groggy from him having a chokehold on me. Me hitting the floor and slamming him had nothing to do with the triangle. I jumped up and ran around for a little while. When I got done running around he was still laying on the ground. He was hurting.
Carlos Newton: I won that fight. I know I did. Because Matt told me, pretty much, ‘Yeah, I was out.’ He made it pretty clear to me that he thought it was a lucky break. That fight was a great fight and it’s shows why this sport is so appealing. It’s so unpredictable. You have to consider so many variables. At the end of the day, when a guy really does dominate in this sport, he isn’t just the better man. He’s the guy that has the wind to his back, making it happen.
Excerpt from The MMA Encyclopedia
In the main event,heavyweight champion Randy Couture defended his title against Rizzo. The Brazilian striker had whalloped Couture's legs in the first match, a close decision win for Couture at UFC 31. Many were surprised to see Couture's hand raised. To this day, Rizzo is insistent he was the rightful winner.
The fight spurred Couture to make some changes to his game. He and Team Quest teammate Nate Quarry traveled to Seatle, Washington to train with kickboxing legend Maurice Smith. They brought a much more refined striking game to their home base in Oregon and Couture was able to deal with Rizzo's pounding leg kicks much more effectively in the second fight.
Couture: I went back and analyzed his other fights, especially the Kevin Randleman fight. Neither guy was really willing to engage and Rizzo had a lot of trouble executing any offense. He relied completely on the other guy's aggression. Once I figured that out, I just tried to be patient. I wasn't going to move into range unless I was going to go all the way.
Couture was clearly much more comfortable standing against Rizzo, opening with his own pair of leg kicks and taking the challenger down out of the clinch. In the second round he opened a cut that McCarthy thought was bad enough to demand a doctor's inspection. The cut seemed to spark life in Rizzo, who landed a crushing leg kick early in the third round. But when Couture again took Rizzo down, the fight seemed to go out of the Brazilian star.
Couture: I figured that if I could get an underhook, get in the clinch, then I could take him down whenever I wanted to. He was cut and tired by the third round and when I took him down the fight was over.
It was a tremendous night of fights, perhaps the best single card in UFC history. Zuffa was on a roll, artistically at least. The sole exception was the hideous UFC 33 - unfortunately the one that mattered most.
airs tomorrow night live on pay per view. Check back at MMA Nation for up to the minute updates in real time as the show goes on.