Thursday, January 3, 2008

Liddell Redeems Himself in UFC 79

Liddell Redeems Himself in UFC 79
St. Pierre Takes Welterweight Match
By Ryan Mink
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, December 30, 2007; D10

Chuck Liddell never lost his fame. But after two straight losses, the Ultimate Fighting Championship megastar had seemingly lost the tenacity that made him beloved by fans and feared by opponents.

Last night in UFC 79, Liddell earned back everything he had lost. The fight that has been dissected and desired for years didn't disappoint as Liddell came out on top with a unanimous decision over PRIDE legend Wanderlei Silva of Brazil.

"It's great to be back," Liddell said in a television interview afterward.

As Liddell (21-5) walked into the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas last night, he came in jogging with a hop in his step. For the first time since his last win a year ago against rival Tito Ortiz, he looked like he thirsted to step into the cage.

The two fighters sized each other up for the first minute 30 seconds, but soon after delivered the fight fans were hoping for. It was a toe-to-toe brawl, the kind of fight Liddell became known for in his seven straight wins from 2004 to '06 and four defenses of his light heavyweight title.

"That was good ole fashioned banging each other," Liddell said. "He had a lot better chin than I thought he did. I hit him with a lot of shots real hard and he kept coming."

Silva (31-8-1) was also coming off two straight losses and looking to earn back some pride. He had won 18 straight fights from 2000 to '04 and was making his UFC debut.

The second round was the most furious of the fight with Liddell opening a pair of cuts on Silva's face with his classic big right hands. But with each roundhouse Liddell landed, Silva threw a flurry back at him. Liddell was bleeding behind his left ear by the end of the second round.

The third round was where Liddell's punches finally began to break Silva's will. Liddell began the round with a clean takedown, only the second time they went to the mat, but Silva was up in 20 seconds. Liddell then landed one of his biggest shots with a spinning backfist.

Liddell punched Silva into the corner and the two wildly threw punches at each other with Liddell landing the bulk of them. It looked like Liddell could have ended the fight on a couple of occasions as Silva was backed against the cage. But as if out of respect, Liddell backed off. Silva wiped away the blood and the two started trading blows again.

After the final bell sounded, Liddell got off the mat and raised both arms. He didn't smile. Rather, he displayed an expression of part exhaustion and part relief.

He was hesitant to say this was the biggest fight of his career, but others such as UFC President Dana White weren't. When Liddell, 38, needed a win most, he earned it swinging.

"I knew this was a big fight for everybody, especially me to get back on track and get my title back," Liddell said. "It would have been a travesty if we didn't fight. It was a great fight for the fans."

In the main event, Georges St. Pierre dominated four-time all-American Matt Hughes with a number of takedowns and fine work from the mount position to win the interim welterweight title.

St. Pierre ultimately won with an arm-bar submission with six seconds left in the second round and will get the desired rematch with current but injured champion Matt Serra, who shockingly took St. Pierre's title away in UFC 69.

After break dancing in the middle of the ring, St. Pierre (15-2) wore the interim belt for just a minute before taking it off and tossing it on the ground.

"Yes, it's a good collection," St. Pierre said in a television interview. "But the belt I want is with Matt Serra. Until I get my belt back, I'm not going to consider myself champion."

Afterward, the 34-year-old former welterweight champion Hughes (43-6) said he will have to think about whether he will fight again.

Other fighters making their UFC debuts had a tough time as Lyoto Machida (12-0) remained unbeaten by submitting highly-regarded and stronger Sokoudjou (4-1) with an arm triangle with 40 seconds left in the second round. Heavyweight Eddie Sanchez (10-1) pounded Soa Palelei (8-2) behind a technical knockout via strikes.

Lightweight Rich Clementi (38-12-1) submitted longtime rival Melvin Guillard (39-8-3) with a rear naked choke with 20 seconds remaining in the first round.

No comments: