One of the most memorable trilogies in mixed martial arts history got under way at UFC 50.
Future UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes lost his welterweight title to B.J. Penn in Jan. 2004, his only defeat in a string of 20 matches that spanned nearly eight years.
George St. Pierre, at the time, was a 23-year old up-and-coming hot shot. He was considered the future of the division, unbeaten at the time in seven fights, but perhaps not ready for a title shot.
Ready or not, though, St. Pierre got a crack at the crown, after Penn bolted the company in a contract dispute and left the title vacant. So the young Montrealer was matched up with Hughes to fill the title on Oct. 22, 2004 at "The War of '04" in Atlantic City, N.J.
St. Pierre showed glimpses of the fighter who has become what many consider the world's best pound-for-pound fighter in the early on, keeping Hughes off-balance with an aggressive standup and a takedown. But GSP fell victim to inexperience late in the round, as Hughes maneuvered into side control on the ground and locked in an armbar. St. Pierre, unaware the round was about to end, tapped out with one second remaining in the round.
Hughes began his second reign, which lasted just more than two years. "I knew when I stepped in there with him that night that he was going to give a lot of people trouble a couple years down the road," Hughes said. "Frankly, I was glad I was getting him out of the way then."
St. Pierre proved Hughes' hunch correct at UFC 65 on Nov. 18, 2006. Ready for the main-event spotlight, GSP dominated Hughes for two rounds before taking him out with a high kick, followed by a ground-and-pound assault.
"That first night, the first time I fought Hughes, I wasn't even able to look him in the eyes," St. Pierre said. "By the time we met for our second match, I wasn't afraid of him anymore. It wasn't me fighting my idol, it was just another opponent." And in case there were any lingering question whether the torch had passed, St. Pierre took the rubber match at UFC 79. In a poetic closure, St. Pierre submitted Hughes with an armbar in the final seconds of Round 2.
The planned UFC 50 main event was former light heavyweight champ Tito Ortiz against longtime rival Guy Mezger. However, Mezger suffered stroke-like symptoms a week before the fight and had to pull out. The episode ended Mezger's career. Then-undefeated Patrick Cote, who was scheduled to fight in the opening match of the card, was asked to fill in for Mezger. While Cote fueled the crowd's hopes by dropping Ortiz with an early strike, Ortiz recovered and then went on to win a unanimous decision in a dull fight.
Two matches that had a direct impact on the middleweight division went down at the War of '04. In the first one, the late Evan Tanner submitted Robbie Lawler in the first round. The loss was a ticket out of the UFC for Lawler, who some had touted as a future champion. Tanner, turned right around and beat Dave Terrell at UFC 51 for the 185-pound title. Rich Franklin, meanwhile, beat Jorge Rivera via submission in his first match at middleweight after starting his career at light heavyweight. The following summer, at UFC 54, Franklin defeated Tanner to win the title, then held it for 15 months before losing to current champ Anderson Silva.
Travis Lutter def. Marvin Eastman, KO, 0:33 R2
Ivan Salaverry def. Tony Fryklund, submission (body triangle), 1:36 R1
Evan Tanner def. Robbie Lawler, submission (triangle choke), 2:22 R1
Frank Trigg def. Renato Verissimo, TKOUFC welterweight championship: Matt Hughes def. Georges St. Pierre, submission (armbar), 4:59 R1 (Hughes wins vacant title)
Rich Franklin def. Jorge Rivera, submission (armbar), 4:28 R3
Tito Ortiz def. Patrick Cote, unanimous decision.
- Matt Hughes