This was it as solid match making showed top to bottom on this card, highlighted by impressive debuts, rematches between veterans and two title fights.
Well, I have to start off with an apology for the lack of pictures. Being the not so bright individual I can be at times, and not having personally attended a UFC since Tito Ortiz fought Ken Shamrock, I screwed up my press pass application and wound up taking what I could get when I got there, which were seats in the press box far, far above the ring. If you were going to attend one UFC in the last 18 months, this was it as solid match making showed top to bottom on this card, highlighted by impressive debuts, rematches between veterans and two title fights. It was a long road to Las Vegas (because of some errands I had to run in Los Angeles I DROVE the distance), but was quickly energized when hitting the Mandalay Bay because of the buzz at the place. Matt Serra over Jeff Curran unanimous decision 3 rounds Jeff Curran stepped up on nine days notice to be Matt Serra`s fourth scheduled opponent. This match up marked the second time American BJJ black belt were to meet in the Octagon (Jeff Curran representing Pedro Sauer and Matt Serra representing Renzo Gracie). Still, on paper this was a difficult matchup for Curran, who has had a stellar career in the 145lb division, where as Serra has fought as high as 170 in the past. The match up saw a brave Curran fending off Serra for most of the match, who employed an effective ground and pound strategy to victory. Serra was happy to be back on the winning track in the UFC, where as Curran should get another shot at the Octagon based on his credentials and performance. Josh Thomson over Hermes Franca unanimous decision 3 rounds This was perhaps the fight of the night. The first round started out slowly enough with both fighters feeling each other at the beginning of the first round. Thomson would score the takedown and land in Hermes guard. Thomson would strike but Hermes defended well and attempted a few Oma Plata attempts, which Thomson easily defended. A very close round, but Thomson was likely given the nod because of his aggressiveness. In the second round Thomson continued to press the action both on the feet and on the top from the ground. The third round however Hermes came back strong and after defending a few knees rocked Thomson with a series of punches that nearly had referee Larry Landless jump in to stop the match. Thomson recovered however and scored a takedown at the end of the fight to stave out what would have been a 10-8 Franca round. Thomson wins the decision in a very close match to determine top seed at 155, however a rematch seems inevitable. Georges St. Pierre over Karo Parisyan unanimous decision 3 rounds Making his debut in the Octagon, Georges quickly scored the takedown on Karo Parisyan and employed a ground and pound strategy. Karo looked to really didn`t seem to get much offense going and instead spent the first two round weathering the storm. In the third round Karo purposely gave up his back for a key lock attempt, but Georges shrugged it off and continued his offensive assault to the unanimous decision. Lee Murray defeats Jorge Rivera via Armbar 1:45 of the first round One of the first major surprises of the night. Rivera, well aware of Murray`s reputation as a knock out artist quickly score the takedown. From there, Rivera begins to pound away from within Murray`s guard who climbs his legs up and locks on a triangle choke! As Rivera defends he is swept over, and Murray capitalizes by taking the extended arm for the submission victory. During the post fight interview Lee exchanges words with a ringside Tito Ortiz (Murray first gained the attention of the international MMA audience by knocking out Tito in an altercation at the UFC London post fight party). At the post fight conference Murray was all business however as he announced his attention to take the 185 lb crown and to knock out anyone who stood in his path! Frank Mir beats Wes Sims by KO 4:21 in the second round. A bit of bad blood on this one, as you will recall this was a rematch where Mir was controlling the fight until Sims was able to reverse position, who then proceeded to illegally stomp to Mir`s head causing the DQ. Sims began this match with a crazy sort of stare designed to intimidate Mir, who looked back with quiet confidence. The round began with Mir getting a big takedown slam on Sims, and he then proceeded to work from side control to mount. Mir pounded away while looking for the submission, and settled for a head and arm triangle that looked tight, but Sims signaled with his hand that the choke was having no effect. Round two saw both fighters winded. Frank Mir scores another big slam, but Wes Sims is able to bring it back to the feet. Mir shoots again and again, but Sims stop the shot each time, delivering blows to Mir`s back each time. Mir finally gives up on the shot and makes it a stand up battle, where a combination punch finally fells Sims like a tree. Before Mir can deliver much more damage on the ground, referee Big John McCarthy jumps in and stop the contest. In a show of good will, Sims raises Mir`s hand. BJ Penn over Matt Hughes by rear naked choke 4:39 first round. The fight opens up with a display of BJ`s hand speed. The flurry caused Hughes to take a shallow shot, which was immediately stuffed by BJ who then proceeded to throw Hughes unto his back. Hughes pulled guard and scored with a few elbows as BJ began to methodically pass guard. When BJ finally did pass guard he came crashing down with a right hand that landed so hard that Hughes reportedly didn`t remember the next sequence in which BJ mounted, pounded a bit before Hughes gave up his back and then sunk in the rear naked choke for the victory. BJ shocks the world once again by moving up a weight class to take out the five time defending champion as a huge underdog. At the time of the post fight interview the reality of what he did after chasing a title for two years had not yet begun to sink in on BJ. Hughes for his part demonstrated his typical class by offering no excuses, and then by walking over and shaking BJ`s hand at the post fight conference. Word from the Akins brothers came that Rickson Gracie himself was so excitied about BJ`s performance he called during the event to say that it was the perfect fight. BJ won both the TapOut submission of the night and the Fighter of the Night honors. Renato "Charuto" Verissimo over Carlos Newton unanimous decision 3 rounds. Wow. Although most recognized Charuto`s talent in both jiu-jitsu and striking abilities (he dominated the veteran Gil Castillo at Rumble on the Rock) it was thought he would need more experience to take on the talented Carlos Newton. From start to finish Charuto dominated every aspect of the fight as Newton wasn`t able to create any type of offense. Charuto mounted and pounded Newton for much of the fight and even had the back at points en route to a clear unanimous decision to bring his record to 5-0. A good night for Hilo fans, and it was later pointed out that as one of BJ`s coaches, Charuto and BJ share much of the same style and knowledge. Vitor Belfort over Randy Couture doctor`s stoppage 49 seconds into the first round. After much hype, this fight was over almost as soon as it began, when a flurry from Belfort that seemed to miss the mark actually cut Randy on his lower eyelid. With a pause in the action, referee Big John McCarthy called the doctor in to look at the cut, and the fight was immediately called. Although everyone was obviously disappointed, there was actually a corneal abrasion and the cut itself required stitches in the lower and upper eyelid. Belfort was extremely emotional at the post fight press conference, and quickly offered Couture a rematch. Vitor has been through a lot in the past few months postponing his honeymoon to Joanna "Feiticera" Prado to train for the fight and then having his sister Priscilla disappear but he conducted himself thru ought like a champion. Afterwards there was a number of after parties (including the official UFC party at the House of Blues) but I would up at the Hawaiian after party at the Mandalay Bay`s Rum Jungle. I have to send out a special thank you to Rich from Fokai/Purebred who got my cover when I didn`t have any cash on me. Many BJ fans, family and supporters were there including the victorious Charuto, fighters such as Enson Inoue, Cabbage, and Shaolin, plus his brothers Jay, JD and Reagan (trivia fact: their father, as well as the oldest three of the sons are actually ALL named Jay Dee on their birth certificates. This is in case one of them died, so the name would continue on. Logical, I guess, but it makes for interesting time when trying to get through airport security, which is another interesting anecdote.) When the fight between BJ and Matt Hughes first entered the Vegas books, BJ was as heavy as an 8-1 underdog (word is that someone got $10,000 on that action!) By the time fight time had rolled around, the odds had evened out to +140 thanks to the considerable wagering of this now very happy crowd celebrating with us. With a gate of at least 1.7 million this was among the most successful UFC`s yet. The sponsorship of Miller Lite Beer also signaled the fact tha mixed martial arts fighting is here to stay and is is able to attract large, viable sponsors. The next UFC will be April 2nd in Las Vegas when the long awaited Tito Ortiz Chuck Lidell match up takes place. See you there!