Las Vegas, February 4, 2006 – Chuck Liddell won the battle and the war.
Before a sold-out Mandalay Bay Events Center Saturday night, ‘The Iceman’ retained his UFC light heavyweight crown with a second round TKO of Randy Couture, giving him the final 2-1 edge in the trilogy between the light heavyweight greats. After the bout, Couture, 42, the only fighter in UFC history to win the heavyweight and light heavyweight titles, announced his retirement, leaving barely a dry eye in the house.
“I’m retiring tonight,” said Couture. “This is it for me. I feel blessed to have been able to come in here and compete.”
LIDDELL vs COUTURE
As for the fight itself, after a pair of unforgettable openings (Couture to AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ and Liddell to DMX’s ‘Intro’) that put the crowd on their feet and kept them there, the two future hall of famers circled each other warily, looking for openings as the crowd alternately cheered for their favorite fighter. Each brief exchange brought a roar, but neither was willing to commit to a sustained attack. Liddell was the more active of the two though as Couture looked to counter the strikes of ‘The Iceman’. Couture continued to stalk behind a high guard, and his sporadic strikes seemed to take Liddell out of his rhythm. Liddell quickly recovered though, rocking Couture briefly with a right to the head. But as Liddell moved in for the kill, Couture, his nose now bloodied, was able to recover and take the champion to the mat for the remainder of the round.
Couture refused to deviate from his fight plan in the second round, as he followed Liddell around the Octagon while throwing in the occasional counter to Liddell’s heavier shots. But soon, Couture’s luck ran out, and as he shot in with a left hand, Liddell landed the same short right hand that ended the pair’s second fight, and Couture again crashed limply to the mat. Liddell’s follow-up shots on the fallen Couture were exclamation marks on the victory, and referee John McCarthy called a stop to the bout at 1:28 of the second stanza.
“We knew Randy was gonna try to make me over commit,” said Liddell. “But you stand in front of me for that long, eventually one will get through.”
Couture won the first bout between the two, stopping Liddell in three rounds in 2003. Liddell knocked Couture out in a single round last April to even the score, with Liddell breaking the tie tonight.
FRANK MIR vs MARCIO CRUZ
Former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir got a rude welcome back to the UFC after a 20 month absence due to injury, getting stopped in the first round by Brazil’s Marcio ‘Pe De Pano’ Cruz in a stunning upset.
“I’m greatly disappointed,” said Mir, who was sidelined by a motorcycle accident in September of 2004 that broke his leg and forced him to be stripped of his title. “It was too much time off. I thought I was ready, but I can’t give up. Monday, I’ll pick myself up and keep going.”
Mir immediately started throwing punches to start the fight, with Cruz looking for the takedown. By the one-minute mark, the two jiu-jitsu standouts were on the mat, with Cruz looking for a quick sub. It was the Brazilian’s elbow that did the most damage though, as he opened a nasty cut over Mir’s left eye that forced a look from the ringside physician. After the bout was allowed to continue, Cruz effectively worked the cut with both hands and his forearms. And as Mir’s face got covered in crimson, the crowd started cheering for the Las Vegan to come back, but it was not to be, as the constant punishment convinced referee Herb Dean to make the right decision and call the bout at the 4:10 mark.
“Beating the former heavyweight champ means I’m awesome,” said Cruz. “The cut had nothing to do with my victory, I would have beat him no matter what.”
SOBRAL vs VAN ARSDALE
Brazil’s Renato ‘Babalu’ Sobral cemented his position as the number one challenger for the UFC light heavyweight belt as he submitted veteran Mike Van Arsdale in the first round of a scheduled three round contest.
There was little action in the opening minute, with Sobral punning Van Arsdale against the fence and McCarthy breaking them up. After another tie-up, both fighters hit the mat and ‘Babalu’ got Van Arsdale’s back. That was all she wrote, as Sobral sunk in a rear naked choke and Van Arsdale tapped out at 2:21 of round one.
“I’m ready for my title shot,” said the 30-year-old Sobral.
RIGGS vs DIAZ
Joe Riggs showed off his impressive boxing skills in the pay-per-view opener, keeping himself in the welterweight title picture with a close unanimous decision over Nick Diaz in an entertaining three round scrap.
Scores for Arizona’s Riggs were 29-28 twice and 30-27. Both he and Diaz were coming off defeats – Riggs to UFC welterweight champ Matt Hughes, Diaz to rising star Diego Sanchez.
With the packed house giving a main event reception for this undercard bout, Riggs opened up with a leg kick and surprisingly followed up with a takedown. Diaz quickly worked for a submission, but when that didn’t work, both fighters stood. Riggs, looking quicker and stronger than Diaz, opened up with both hands, but Diaz absored each shot well. After a clinch along the fence, Diaz rocked and dropped Riggs. When they both stood, Diaz struck hard again, only to be met be a strong 1-2 from ‘Diesel’. Respectful of Diaz’ power, Riggs boxed from a distance, opting to pick his shots. With under a minute to go, the bout hit the floor, with Diaz scoring well from within Riggs’ guard until the bell rang.
Diaz began the second round obviously looking to land his big right again, and with his telegraphing, Riggs was able to land a quick combination that drew a roar from the crowd. Diaz was now showing blood from his forehead and Diaz responded with some quick combinations and effective movement as Diaz stalked but was unable to get inside effectively. The Stockton, California native kept moving forward though, hoping to pressure Riggs into a mistake. With 1:40 left in the second stanza, Riggs brought the fight to the mat with a takedown, which suited Diaz – a jiu-jitsu ace – just fine. Riggs worked his way out of trouble though, and finished the round with some effective forearms.
With the bout possibly on the line, Diaz made a concerted effort to get Diaz to the fence, where he smothered Riggs’ attack. Riggs broke loose though and got back to sticking and moving from long range until Diaz could tie him up again. With under three minutes left, the two battled along the fence with Diaz continually looking for the takedown, and once free, Riggs scored from long range in the middle of the Octagon. Riggs watched the clock in the final minute as he started to get winded, but with a strong barrage in the closing moments, he sealed the victory.
VERA vs EILERS
A heavyweight swing bout between rising star Brandon Vera and Justin Eilers ended quickly and explosively, as ‘The Truth’ dispatched of Eilers in 1:25 of round one.
“I kicked him in the head, kneed him in the face, call it a day,” said the charismatic Vera, who also announced his wedding, which will be held on Sunday.
Eilers and Vera engaged immediately, with Eilers pushing Vera to the fence after a brief exchange. One minute into the bout, referee Mario Yamasaki broke the two, and Vera worked effectively with kicks from long range. The last kick Vera threw, a left high kick on the top of the head, stunned Eilers, and as he started to fall to the canvas, a knee to the head provided the finisher, putting Eilers down and out, face first.
SINOSIC vs SAKARA
In a light heavyweight bout, Elvis Sinosic put on a courageous performance against heavy-handed Alessio Sakara, but the Italian’s superior striking and ground and pound were too much for him as he lost a lopsided unanimous decision.
Scores for Sakara were 29-26 twice, and 29-25.
“I fought a tough warrior that didn’t give up at any time,” said Sakara. “I look forward to getting better and giving a better performance on the ground in the future.”
Immediately closing the gap, Sakara tried to let his hands go but he was met by a flurry and tie-up from Sinosic. Sakara took his foe down and tried to open up with forearms and punches while in Sinosic’s guard. At the 3:10 mar, referee Steve Mazzagatti stood the fighters up, but seconds later they were back in the same position, with Sakara getting docked a point for a downward elbow strike. Now standing again, Sakara rocked Sinosic with a left to the jaw before the two tumbled back to the mat. With under 30 seconds to go, Sakara’s ground and pound paid off as he opened a cut on the Australian’s forehead that matched his dyed hair, but the bout was allowed to continue.
Smelling blood – literally – Sakara came out banging before the two hit the canvas again. Sinosic, always dangerous because of his submission game, courageously kept battling, but the Italian was in obvious control. With a little over two minute left, Mazzagatti stood them again, and true to pattern, Sakara landed some quick bombs to the body and head and the fight went back to the mat until another standup, flurry, and takedown to end the second stanza.
It was more of the same throughout round three, with Sakara in complete control, and Sinosic game, but outgunned, with his face showing the obvious scars of battle. Finally, with less than a minute to go in the bout, the boo birds came out as Mazzagatti’s standup was again greeted with a flurry by Sakara and then a takedown. Amazingly, Sinosic almost got a submission lock in on Sakara in the final seconds, but the Italian slipped out of trouble as the bell rang to end the bout.
BUENTELLO vs ALDANA
Heavyweights Paul Buentello and Gilbert Aldana kept the fans on their feet in their heavyweight bout, swinging for the fences with each shot until Buentello outlasted ‘El Peligroso’, stopping him in the second round.
“I give it up to Gilbert, he’s got a lot of heart,” said Buentello of his gallant foe, who was making his UFC debut after a 5-0 start that saw him fight a combined 3:43 seconds.
As expected, the fireworks started immediately, with Buentello missing a spinning backkick and getting taken to the fence. There, both fighters opened up with both hands, with a right by Buentello stunning Aldana. Aldana recovered quickly and jumped back into the fray with both hands, but it was Buentello doing more damage, this time with a left high kick that staggered Aladana. With two minutes to go in the round, Aldana struck paydirt with a right to the jaw that put Buentello down, but ‘The Headhunter’ was able to keep his compoisure against the ground and pound specialist. Rising to theire feet, Buentello tried another spinning back kick and bthis time, a backfist, and with under 30 seconds left, he fot the bloodied Aldana against the fence and opened fire. Amazingly, Aldana, with his nose gushing crimson, remained upright.
Aldana, hearing the bell for the second round for the first time in his career, came out firing, but suffering from the effects of Buentello’s bombs and fatigue, it was just a matter of time until Buentello lowered the boom. A series of knees put Aldana down, and after an array of forearms and even a couple of submission attempts from the knockout artist, referee John McCarthy wisely halted the bout at the 2:27 mark.
“I’m not here to call the champion out,” said Buentello, who was coming off a knockout loss to UFC heavyweight champ Andrei Arlovski. “I will deserve the championship fight. I’m back.”
MONSON vs HINKLE
Jeff Monson made a successful return to the Octagon in a heavyweight prelim bout, defeating Hammer House’s Branden Lee Hinkle with a knockout via arm choke in the first round.
The bout went to the ground almost immediately, with Monson controlling Hinkle from the side with knees to the midsection. With some slick movement, Hinkle escaped and reversed position, using knees of his own and forearms, With little over two minutes left in the opening stanza, both stood and threw bombs, with the bout going back to the mat moments later. Monson took over with strikes from the top, and while Hinkle tried to hang tough, ‘The Snowman’ locked in an arm choke that put Hinkle out and forced referee Herb Dean to call a halt to the bout at 4:35 of the first round.
“I knew I would get a submission,” said Monson, “I didn’t think I was going to get the submission I did. I held on to the submission and felt Hinkle losing his steam.”
JARDINE vs WHITEHEAD
In the opener, a battle between heavyweight cast members of the second season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show, Keith Jardine pounded out a three round unanimous decision over Mike Whitehead that saw both fighters drop to light heavyweight.
Scores were 29-28 across the board.
“I didn’t think the fight was going to go to the judges,” said Jardine. “I’m happy I got the victory, he was a lot tougher than I thought.”
Whitehead, looking like he lost a person in dropping to 205, stalked calmly in the early going before finding the opening for the takedown. Immediately working Jardine to the fence, White head held tight on his foe, even as Jardine rose to his feet. After a few seconds upright, Whitehead again out his foe to the canvas. After a bit of grappling on the ground, Jardine made it up with 1:45 left in the round and the two briefly traded punches, with Jardine mixing in kicks to get the better of the exchanges. With under 20 seconds to go, ‘The Dean of Mean’ landed a solid right hand, but Whitehead recovered and answered back with a knee to the jaw.
Jardine worked his standup well in round two, keeping his distance and tagging Whitehead until the three-time All-American put him down on the mat again. Battling all the while, Jardine made it to his feet again, but he appeared winded, a fact that was borne out when he was taken down again. After the two rose, Whitehead emerged with a cut over his left eye, but seemed to be unbothered by it. Jardine zeroed in on the eye with his strikes, throwing in leg kicks to switch things up a bit, and he seemed to find the range in the late stages of the round.
Appearing to get the better of the standup as the third and final round commenced, Whitehead suddenly roared back with strikes of his own, much to the delight of the crowd, and moments later he put Jardine on his back against the fence. The Albuquerque native rose again, but Whitehead again was the fresher of the two. That didn’t stop Jardine’s forward motion and striking though, and Whitehead’s work rate dipped as his own fatigue set in. Frustrated with his inability to land on Jardine, Whitehead tried for another takedown but failed, and the two opted to bang it out standing until the final bell.