UFC 34 on Nov. 2, 2001, was another of those great shows that few people saw.
Before the card, Dana White felt UFC 33 put Zuffa back one year in its quest to get the sport popular and profitable. Later, he would say the letdown put them back even longer. But after the lack of firepower on the previous show, White told the fighters before the show that while it's important to win, it's also important to have entertaining fights.
He said if the fighters put spectators to sleep, ultimately there would be no UFC.
He didn't need to worry this time, because the main event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena pitted heavyweight champ Randy Couture against top contender Pedro Rizzo. When Zuffa purchased the company earlier in the year, the first thing it did was lock in Rizzo as the highest paid fighter in the company at $175,000 per fight. With his size, takedown defense and Muay Thai skills, UFC gambled he would become the next champion, big-time superstar and dominant heavyweight in the sport.
It turned out the fight did feature a future big-time superstar of the sport, but it wasn't Rizzo. Rizzo was coming off a loss to Couture at UFC 30 in a split decision – one of the best and closest title matches in history.
Couture was in a bad mood and even years later would bring up that he didn't believe Rizzo should have gotten another title shot so fast, and that Zuffa was trying to get the title off him. Couture brought up the controversy it up when the sides had their split in 2007.
But this time there was no dispute about who the rightful champion was, as the 38-year-old Couture was dominant, finishing Rizzo at 1:38 of the third round. In the process, Couture cut Rizzo's nose and his left eye, then took him down and opened up more cuts and pounded him with unanswered blows until it was waved off.
But as big as Couture's win was, the welterweight title match with Carlos Newton defending against Matt Hughes was the most memorable, providing a finish still talked about today.
A great first round saw Hughes score with high slams, but Newton, a spectacular fighter at the time, reversed the All-American wrestler twice. During the second round, after Hughes took Newton down, Newton locked on a triangle from the bottom. Hughes picked Newton up, draped him on the top of the cage, and slammed him down hard with a power bomb. The move knocked Newton out cold and ref John McCarthy awarded Hughes the match and the championship. McCarthy didn't notice that Newton's triangle had put Hughes out at almost the exact same moment.
Hughes came to and found out he was the winner of the fight. He went on to become one of MMA's most dominant champions over two title reigns that stretched out to Nov. 2006.
But the moment of the night came when B.J. Penn earned his nickname "The Prodigy," by taking out Caol Uno in only 10 seconds. Uno went for a flying kick, missed and Penn unloaded on him.
There was drama in a Ricco Rodriguez vs. Petey Williams heavyweight match, as Tito Ortiz was in Rodriguez's corner and Ken Shamrock was in Williams' corner. But Rodriguez dominated Williams, a former heavyweight contender, finishing him with a second-round stoppage.
Josh Barnett earned himself the next heavyweight title shot by stopping Bobby Hoffman in the second round, throwing punches on the ground until Hoffman tapped.
A future heavyweight champion, Frank Mir, surprised everyone by submitting well-known Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Roberto Traven with an armbar after knocking him down, winning in only 1:02.
Frank Mir def. Roberto Traven, submission, 1:05 R1
Matt Lindland def. Phil Baroni, majority decision
Evan Tanner def. Homer Moore, submission (armbar), 0:55 R2
Josh Barnett def. Bobby Hoffman, submission (strikes), 4;25 R2
B.J. Penn def. Caol Uno, KO, 0:11 R1
Ricco Rodriguez def. Pete Williams, TKO, 4:02 R2
UFC welterweight championship: Matt Hughes def. Carlos Netwon, KO, 1:27 R2 (Hughes wins title).