The two rivals locked horns Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 123, fighting for a third time in front of a raucous crowd at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Mich.
In the pair’s first meeting, heavy underdog Penn (Pictured) shocked the world by choking out the dominant champion in the opening round at UFC 46 in 2004. The rematch nearly three years later belonged to Hughes, who outlasted Penn’s early offense to finish the fight in the third period by TKO. Tonight, the rubber match was over before it started, as the Hawaiian unleashed a dynamite counter right hand, flooring Hughes before following up with punches from top position to seal the deal.
At the post-fight press conference, the jiu-jitsu black belt was humble in victory.
“I felt fired up as soon as I got the phone call to fight Matt. Me and Matt put on great fights, and I’m just happy it went that way [tonight],” said Penn. “Matt Hughes is my idol, and he’ll always be my idol.”
When asked to describe how he set up the lighting-quick right hand that spelled the beginning of the end for his opponent, the former two-division UFC champion was frank in his reply.
“I don’t think that I really even set it up. I was just in there to fight. I wanted him to hit me, and I wanted to hit him,” he said. “I just wanted to go out there and fight like a kid.”
It’s been nearly seven years since Penn first clashed with Hughes. Over the course of that time, says Penn, a lot has changed for both men.
“I think we both evolved very much over the years,” he said. “When a fight goes the way it did tonight, it’s just one of those things. Who knows how it would have played out if it had gone longer. I’m sure Matt was in great shape.”
After the fight, Hughes was clearly upset by the outcome and the manner in which he was defeated. UFC president Dana White chimed in regarding Hughes’ commitment to the bout at the post-fight presser.
“I know Matt Hughes trained hard for this fight and he was motivated. It’s very rare for him to go train somewhere away from his family, and he trained for this fight in Utah with Jeremy Horn,” said White. “He took this fight very seriously. This is a big win for B.J.”
Regarding Hughes’ future, White would not comment other than to remind the press in attendance how important the hall of famer has been in developing White’s brand.
“Listen, there are guys I’ve talked about for years who helped build this company, and Matt is one of those guys,” said White. “We’ll talk and we’ll figure it out.”
Following the jaw-dropping knockout, Penn exited the cage almost immediately and began heading back toward the locker room, sparking the memory of his 11-second knockout over Caol Uno at UFC 34 in 2001.
“For the last 10 years, I was trying to recreate the Caol Uno fight,” said Penn. “But [after I ran out of the cage], I thought, ‘I can’t be disrespectful to Matt. I gotta go back in there and give Matt the honors.’”
In regards to the remainder of his UFC career, the Hawaiian is leaving the big decisions up to the powers that be.
“I want to get back in as soon as possible. I’m 31 and want to fight a lot more until I’m 35 and then maybe call it quits,” said Penn. “For the first time in my career, I’m going to let Dana make that call. Whatever Dana says, we’ll go with that.”
White looked on with approval, saying “it only took 10 years.”
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson had a serious problem before his fight.
“Man, I was horse as hell. I couldn’t even get my howl out the way I wanted to. It was rough.”
Jackson, who defeated Lyoto Machida in the main event of UFC 123 at The Palace of Auburn Hills in suburban Detroit, Mich., on Saturday night, caught an illness from his son prior to the bout. At the post-fight news conference, Jackson claimed he was thankful just to have fought that night.
“I’m just happy I made it to the fight. The fight was almost canceled a couple of days ago. I caught a fever from my son, and I was throwing up, and then I had to cut the weight,” said Jackson. “But I didn’t want to let my fans down. We don’t always see eye-to-eye, but [UFC president Dana White] has always been there for me. I just couldn’t tell Dana that I was pulling out of this fight. He probably would have cussed me the f–k out.”
The former light heavyweight champion barely got by Machida, earning a razor-thin split decision. In fact, after the fight Jackson even raised his opponent’s hand, figuratively admitting defeat.
“To be honest, me and Rampage are getting along again, but he pissed me off tonight. I scored that fight for Rampage. He was acting like he lost and was slumping down,” said White. “Machida put on that burst and then took him down, but you don’t win a fight by landing four of five punches. Rampage was the aggressor the whole time.”
Jackson, who unified the UFC and Pride 205-pound titles in 2007, entered the arena backed by a soundtrack that hardcore fans know well. As the iconic drums and strings of the Pride Fighting Championships theme poured in over the loudspeaker, Jackson stalked toward the cage with an intense look in his eyes.
“I just recently went to Japan on the ‘The A-Team‘ tour. One of the people interviewing me remembered me from Pride. Back in Pride I used to fight a different style, and he asked me why I didn’t fight like that anymore,” said Jackson. “When I first came to the UFC, I felt like an outsider. In Pride, everybody knew me and loved me. Honestly, I make more money now than I did in Pride. I think I kind of got greedy, so I wanted to come out with that old spirit. I almost slammed Machida, so I think it kind of worked.”
Once both men were in the cage, it was a game of cat and mouse. Machida, ever circling, generally avoided the powerful Tennessean, all the while landing kicks to Jackson’s legs and ribcage as “Rampage” moved forward unfazed. In round two, Jackson was even more aggressive and connected with a hard uppercut to Machida’s jaw. In the final frame, the Brazilian found a home for a hard counter-straight, followed by an ambush of punches before finally ending the sequence with a takedown. After talking a considerable amount of trash regarding his opponent’s fighting style, Jackson readily acknowledged Machida’s skill following the contest.
“I just had a one track mind trying to knock him out. It was really tough to stay on my game plan. I was focusing on cutting off the cage and staying close to him, but he’s really elusive and very tricky,” said Jackson. “It’s different fighting Machida than [it is to watch him fight]. I remember trying to punch him, and he was already over on my other side. I got more respect for his style, because I wish I could move a little better like that. I wouldn’t want to watch it, but I have more respect for it.”