And it was hard not to believe him.
In short, Matt Hughes had become one of those rare athletes, mixed martial arts or otherwise, that always seemed to come through. He'd won 19 of his last 20 fights coming into this second match with Georges St. Pierre. Further, the only fight he had lost during that streak- to BJ Penn- he'd already avenged in dramatic fashion just a few months earlier. In short, Matt Hughes seemed superhuman.
The fact that he had already beaten his Canadian opponent only added to the probability of his victory.
But on Saturday, November 18, 2006, we were once again reminded that athletes are human. All too human, in fact. And the man that had literally begged for a rematch on his hands and knees took advantage of his opportunity.
In short, Georges St. Pierre proved that Matt Hughes was wrong when he indicated that he could beat him in a stand up fight.
When Georges St. Pierre had spoken about the reasons why he'd lost to Hughes the first time, it always seemed to come back to confidence. "When I fought Matt Hughes the first time, I remember in the staredowns, I couldn't even look him in the eyes because I was too impressed. I was fighting my idol. I was fighting a guy that for me it was impossible to beat."
Right off the bat you could see that St. Pierre was different this time. There was no looking away in the staredown. Call it 'the eye of the tiger' if you want. Like Rocky Balboa, Georges St. Pierre had the look of a champion this time.
And that confidence continued to translate in the ring. He started off the more aggressive fighter. His jab was working; his low kicks were working; and Matt Hughes's rare takedown attempts during the fight continually fell by the wayside. Then with only mere seconds left in the first round, a round that he was clearly winning, St. Pierre landed a superman punch followed by a brutal combination that sent Hughes somewhere he'd never really been.
It sent him the canvas. Only the bell saved him from being stopped right then and there.
Still, it was hard to believe that he wouldn't come back. Matt Hughes had done so against Frank Trigg; he'd come through against BJ Penn.
Not this time.
The second round started off much the same as the first with St. Pierre the aggressor. Despite another clinch, the champion was still not able to take his opponent to the mat. Then St. Pierre really started to hit home with kicks and punches from a variety of angles that softened up Hughes.
For the left high kick that downed him. Several strikes later, referee John McCarthy was forced to step in.
Georges St. Pierre was the new UFC Welterweight Champion, winning the belt via KO at 1:25 of round two.
Afterwards, the Canadian fighter was very gracious. "I had a very hard way up here, and, wow, it's just amazing. You know, I'm so surprised; I'm so happy; I can't even, like, cry. You know? I can't describe my feeling right now; it's too much."
He also offered a glimpse of things to come in the broken English kind of way he's famous for. "Maybe I'm not from U.S.; I'm not an American; I'm not from U.S.A. But I will make everything possible to keep this title in North American territory."
What's next for Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre?
For Georges St. Pierre, the answer is relatively obvious. He will fight the TUF 4 winner, Matt Serra, for the belt. Serra is certainly a tough competitor; but assuming St. Pierre wins the fight, there really aren't many other obvious challengers out there for him.
Only two, actually. Either Matt Hughes or Diego "Nightmare" Sanchez ( assuming he defeats Joe Riggs ). Nothing else makes sense.
Usually, the UFC doesn't offer fighters rematches in their first fight back from losing the belt. But this is Matt Hughes: the greatest UFC welterweight fighter of all time. He deserves that chance if he wants it. However, does he? Or would he rather have a tune up beforehand?
Hard to know without asking him. One thing is for sure, though. Diego Sanchez is too good to be deemed a tune up.
Guess is, Hughes was thinking about moving up in weight to take on Anderson Silva had he won. Unfortunately for him, that's not how it all went down. Now it's decision time.
For both him and the UFC.
"Keep your head up; we're gonna fight again," St. Pierre said to the former champion afterwards.
The kind of words MMA fans want to hear.
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