UFC 65 was a night of surprises. Who knew that Tim Sylvia had a ground game, almost choking out a guy (who looked like the love child of Danny DeVito, that guy from The Shield, and a neckless Uncle Fester on steroids) to defend the heavyweight title? Who knew James Irvin would do a better job of knocking his own ass down than would Hector Ramirez? Who knew Joe Stevenson's shirt would put up a better fight than his opponent? Who knew Vera would make Frank Mir his bitch? Ok we kinda saw that last one coming.
But what about the big event of the night... the Welterweight Title Fight?
Unless you've been living under a rock (or just don't give a shit about the UFC), you know that Matt Hughes is the dominant welterweight in the history of the sport. Corn-fed Illinois boy like me, you either love him or hate him, but you gotta respect him. Love him, because he's relentless in his quest to be the best. Hate him, because it seems like he's unstoppable. Or because of that annoying sanctimonious Jesus fetish he has, as if the Lord gave a shit who won UFC 65.
News flash Matt, Jesus doesn't watch the UFC. He's a Red Sox fan.
Respect him because he has an astounding record of 42-4, having just come off wins against UFC legend Royce Gracie and then BJ Penn, one of the few people to hand him a loss. He is arguably at the top of his game, which includes being one of the strongest ground 'n' pounders in the business; an extremely strong college wrestling career coupled with training under Pat Miletich has left him with formidable striking and submission skills. His raw strength is frightening; he can virtually pick anybody up from most any position and body slam them into submission or unconsciousness. He is very technically proficient on the ground, making him hard to submit, and his striking power guarantees that even staying out of his grappling range makes you unsafe.
So how does somebody like Georges St. Pierre, whose only loss is to Hughes, defeat such a fighter? Simple-- beat Hughes at his own game by fighting the perfect bout. GSP did just that on Saturday.
I like GSP. He reminds me a lot of me, or rather what I'd look like if I hit the gym that much. Aside from that we're nearly the same size and have similar frames. He moves like I do, fast on his feet and gauges ranges very well, and is deceptively strong for his size. If there ever was a fighter designed to beat Hughes, it is Georges St. Pierre. He is nearly as strong as Hughes, having tossed around his share of opponents. His ground game is formidable, as he has a brown belt under Renzo Gracie. He also has wrestling and boxing experience. He, like Hughes, has beaten BJ Penn, which demonstrates he can handle somebody of Hughes's calliber. But Hughes has many, many more fights and much more experience.
Saturday, however, that experience didn't matter. GSP came out light on his feet, dancing around the typically more flat-footed Hughes. And he did everything right. He capitalized on Hughes's lesser mobility by firing jabs to keep Hughes off-balance, and every punch came by stepping off the line to get inside Matt's guard while simultaneously removing himself from the line of fire. He used 2 & 3 punch combinations masterfully, slipping and teeing off Matt's jabs. He fired kicks low and high, mixing them expertly with punches to keep the attacks coming from every angle.
Twice GSP nailed Hughes in the inside thigh of his lead leg with Thai round kicks. Hughes claimed that his groin was struck and GSP received a warning. I don't buy it; if you watch the tape closely, GSP's shin clearly blasts directly into Matt's thigh muscle, and his foot flops residually into Matt's groin. Now I know from experience that when somebody nails your leg with a kick like that and their foot flops into your cup, you don't care about the foot. And if you watch the tape closely, I'm not sure Matt does either; his hands first move to the point of impact and then redirect to his groin a split second later. If I'm wrong, fine, but if I'm right then that was a really smart move on Matt's part to work out the kinks from the leg shots.
GSP did a fantastic job of shutting down Hughes's ground game by positioning his body to neutralize the shoot and employing knees on the rebound to keep Matt standing. That sort of thing is usually Matt's game, yet not only did St. Pierre take it away, he one-upped Matt when he caught one of Hughes's kicks and took the fight to the ground, where once again he controlled the pace. The fight went back to stand-up and Matt was literally saved by the bell when GSP leapt in with a flying punch that connected solidly with Hughes's forehead and knocked him down. Totally jacked him in the noggin. GSP was all over him the second he hit the ground but referee Big John McCarthy had to stop what would have been a first round TKO because of the bell.
Second round, more of the same. GSP executes the perfect setup for a Thai cut-kick and sends Hughes to the mat again, then moments later his strategy of harrying Hughes with low and high strikes (and especially leg kicks) pays off; Matt Hughes drops his guard to catch what he thinks is a low kick, and GSP slams his shin into Matt's head. Hughes goes down, dazed, and GSP falls on him, blasting with punches and elbows. Big John wisely calls the fight.
GSP won big, and not just by being in top physical condition and fighting a technically proficient bout. He won because he never let up mentally. You can see it from the first instant he entered the ring, his energy was boundless and from the moment the bell rung, he was 100% focused on his objective. He got in Hughes's head and took him apart bit by bit.
Whew. What a night. I can't wait for this rematch.
You can find the fight here until it is taken down due to copyright issues.