The official UFC line was that the event was a "sold-out" success; but several viewers of the pay-per-view broadcast have noted that there were several empty seats scattered throughout the giant building, largely on the 200 level where tickets were priced from $400 to $800.
One can only conclude that whatever the pre-fight hype, most felt sure that Matt Hughes, current Welterweight Champion in the UFC and considered by many the best active pound-for-pound fighter in the world, would easily take care a man who--however great his storied past--hasn't set foot in a UFC ring since the mid-90's.
They were right.
In many ways, the Hughes win was both amazing and heartbreaking. It's not that many were surprised Hughes would win--it's that he won so damn convincingly. Gracie was never seriously in this fight; Hughes destroyed Gracie by employing his patented ground-and-pound style for a breathtaking TKO at 4:39 of round one.
So how did the fight go down? Put simply, Royce Gracie, who made Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu one of the basics of any UFC fighter's arsenal during a stint that saw him go 11-1-1 in the UFC from November '93 to April '95, morphed from legendary figure to out-classed challenger before our very eyes, in almost the time it took him to disrobe his now iconic Jiu-Jitsu gi.
Promoted as a clash of new and old styles, of living legend against the best fighter working today, UFC 60's main event was billed as a "dream match," one of those "what-if" matches that fight fans rarely get to see.
Instead, referee John McCarthy was forced to stop the pummeling of Gracie at 4:39 of round one. The May outcome offered a common refrain: a once-great fighter was devastated by a great new champion.
Could it have simply been age? Perhaps. Little by little, speed is said to be the first thing which begins leaving any aging athlete. Then the other abilities, with power usually going last. That's why age never seemed to bother George Foreman during his comeback; power was always Foreman's best ability, and it stayed with him throughout the second stage of his boxing career, which he enjoyed well into his 40's. And speed was never an issue with Foreman, because that man was never fast.
With most fighters however, elements like speed and quick hand-eye coordination are essential factors. But while Gracie probably has lost some quickness, I doubt age was his main problem that May evening. To an observer, it seemed that Gracie's very style, which had once dominated the UFC, was simply rendered obsolete by Hughes' balanced, all-encompassing fighting technique.
It was less like a worn-out car losing to one still fresh, than like a modern sportscar racing a Model T. It didn't seem to be a loss due so much to a physical difference, but more of one fighter whose style simply out-classed the other.
Of course, Hughes knows better than anyone else what was the essential difference that evening, since he is the one who actually fought and won against Gracie. But to an outside observer, it appeared that it was a simple matter of one fighter's technique being much better-rounded and diverse than another.
"It just seemed like I was a step ahead of him," said Hughes, who raised his record to 39-4-0 with the victory. "I was really surprised."
"I was [also] surprised by the strength difference," Hughes continued. "And especially when I was on the ground with him. Wherever I wanted his hand, I put it there. I really shouldn't be able to do that with somebody as talented as Royce."
Though Hughes had promised to attack with his new Pat Miletich-trained stand-up game, Hughes merely dabbled with this gameplan against the smaller Gracie until the two clinched along the cage. There the welterweight decided there had been enough striking for one night. An instant later, the 175-pound Hughes began manhandling the slender Gracie from side-position.
Later in the round Hughes went after Gracie's left arm, and according to Hughes actually popped Gracie's elbow. Whatever the case, Gracie fought on.
"Sure I was wanting the stop but he's never going to tap," Hughes said. "No matter what's going on. He would have let me break his arm."
Unanswered punches to the side and back of Gracie's head forced McCarthy to put a halt to the contest.
"Of course I'm disappointed," said Gracie, falling to 13-3-3. "But [Hughes] is the welterweight champion...I got a couple more in me...I'll be back."
Perhaps. But only time will tell.
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