UFC 31: Penn’s debut
The five weight classes that the UFC uses today were adopted for this card, held May 4, 2001, at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J.
Randy Couture won a unanimous decision over Pedro Rizzo to retain the heavyweight title in what was a terrific 25-minute battle. It was a fight that could have gone either way. Rizzo left bitterly disappointed.
The fight was so good, though, that UFC president Dana White ordered a rematch for UFC 34.
In the other title fight, Carlos Newton upset Pat Miletich to claim the welterweight belt, winning with a bulldog choke.
Many of the UFC’s current stars competed on this card. Chuck Liddell knocked out former heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman at 1:18 of the first round, establishing himself as a top contender in the 205-pound weight class.
B.J. Penn, who would go on to win both the lightweight and welterweight titles and become one of the icons of the sport, was exceptionally impressive in his mixed martial arts debut. He defeated Joey Gilbert via strikes in the first round.
The highlight of the night was Shonie Carter’s spinning backfist knockout of future welterweight champion Matt Serra. It happened with seconds remaining in a fight Serra was winning on the scorecards. That remains one of the best KOs in UFC history.
Ricardo Almeida was disqualified in his fight against Matt Lindland for three fouls, all of which were kicks to the head. Those kicks were barred under the unified rules that New Jersey had adopted several months earlier.
Semmy Schilt, the tallest fighter in UFC history at nearly 7 feet, made his UFC debut with a victory over Pete Williams. He was already a battle-tested MMA veteran at that stage and brought an 18-9-1 record into the cage.
Tony DeSouza def. Steve Berger, unanimous decision
B.J. Penn def. Joey Gilbert, TKO, 4:58 R1
Matt Lindland def. Ricardo Almeida, DQ (various fouls), 4:21 R3
Semmy Schlit def. Pete Williams, TKO, 1:26 R2
Shonie Carter def. Matt Serra, KO, 4:51 R3
Chuck Liddell def. Kevin Randleman, KO, 1:18 R1
UFC welterweight championship: Carlos Newton def. Pat Miletich, submission (bulldog choke), 2:50 R3 (Newton wins title).
UFC heavyweight championship: Randy Couture def. Pedro Rizzo, unanimous decision (Couture retains title)
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