It took Chuck Liddell two years to get a second light heavyweight title shot. But it took him only two minutes to win the crown at the record-setting UFC 52, the first event of the new era of the sport.
Liddell knocked out Randy Couture with a right cross in 2:06 to win the UFC light title at the April 16, 2005, event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The show set what at the time were all-time records for mixed martial arts in North America with 14,274 fans and $2,575,450 in gate receipts, breaking the record set in 2002 for Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock by more than $1 million. It also became the first UFC event in history to do 300,000 pay-per-view buys, breaking the mark of 260,000 buys done by UFC 5 in 1995.
The card was the first after the premiere season of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show. Over TUF's 13 weeks, the entire face of mixed martial arts went from struggling to skyrocketing.
To show the difference between TV exposure and non-exposure, the first Liddell vs. Couture fight two years earlier, which Couture won, did 5,517 paid attendance, a $645,140 gate and 48,000 buys on pay-per-view.
The match was fought standing, with Couture's strategy to get the fight in a clinch, his strongest position, and work for takedowns from there. Liddell danced backward, forcing Couture to come forward, and Liddell counter punched as Couture came in. The turning point was when Couture got an accidental finger in the eye, which caused ref John McCarthy to call for a time out. When it restarted, Liddell caught Couture with a left hook, followed by a right cross, and Couture was done. It was the first time Couture had been knocked out in a fight.
The show also featured one of the most exciting fights in UFC history, as welterweight champion Matt Hughes retained against Frank Trigg, who later became a TV and Internet radio voice for the sport. Highlights of this fight still air at every UFC live event in music video form, including Trigg's attempt to kiss Hughes during pre-fight instructions, which prompted Hughes to shove him away.
Trigg accidentally kneed Hughes in the groin, unseen by ref Mario Yamasaki, and followed up by beating Hughes half to death on the ground. Most refs would have stopped the fight at that point. Trigg then got Hughes' back for a choke. Hughes escaped, and in the signature moment of his career, picked Trigg up and ran across the octagon with him, delivering a running slam on the other side of the cage. Hughes then overwhelmed Trigg on the ground and choked him out at 4:04.
At this event, Dan Severn became the third man, after Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock, to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.
Georges St. Pierre won a decision over future MTV "Bully Beatdown" host Jason "Mayhem" Miller. Miller came in just overweight the day before, when announcer Joe Rogan told him to take out his false teeth and get on the scale again. Miller did and made weight. But St. Pierre turned out to be just too strong for him and won a unanimous decision.
Two future middleweight title challengers lost on the undercard. A young Patrick Cote was choked out by Joe Doerksen, while Travis Lutter, who won season four of "The Ultimate Fighter," lost via guillotine to Matt Lindland.
Mike Van Arsdale def. John Marsh, unanimous decision
Joe Doerksen def. Patrick Cote, submission (rear naked choke), 2:35 R3
Ivan Salaverry def. Joe Riggs, submission (triangle choke), 2:42 R1
Georges St. Pierre def. Jason Miller, unanimous decision
Matt Lindland def. Travis Lutter, submission (guillotine choke), 2:42 R1
UFC welterweight championship: Matt Huges def. Frank Trigg, submission (rear naked choke), 4:05 R1 (Hughes retains title)
Renato Sobral def Travis Wiuff, submission (armbar), 0:24 R2
UFC light heavyweight championship: Chuck Liddell def. Randy Couture, KO, 2:06 R1 (Liddell wins title).