Eight years ago today - July 13, 2002 - the UFC journeyed to the UK for the first time, hosting UFC 38: Brawl at the Hall in London. These days the United Kingdom features very prominently in the UFC's international expansion. They have held more than half a dozen events there, featured several British fighters on their flagship Ultimate Fighter reality show, and dedicated one season of that show to promote a USA vs. UK rivalry. But all of that was still 5+ years in the future when the UFC first descended upon England in July 2002.
The event was notable for at least four wildly different reasons. First, for being the UFC's first venture into Britain. Second, for being the culmination of Zuffa's first ever television deal, just over a year after purchasing the organization. Third, for being not only Matt Hughes' second title defense, but a decisive victory over Carlos Newton, whom Matt had controversially defeated to win the belt in the first place; and finally and most notoriously, for being the scene of an infamous post-event streetfight involving among others Tito Ortiz, Pat Miletich, Lee Murray and Chuck Liddell.
UFC 38 was the first show promoted with the benefit of strong television.
UFC signed a 13-week deal with Sky Sports in the U.K. for one or two hours per week on Thursday night of prime-time fights from the company’s tape library. It was the company’s first-ever television deal, designed to build to a live appearance on July 13, 2002, headlined by Matt Hughes defending his welterweight title against former champion Carlos Newton.
The experiment was a huge success. Billed as "The Brawl at the Hall," it drew a nearly sold-out crowd of 5,000 fans to London’s Royal Albert Hall. Because the fans had seem the fighters regularly on television, they were viewed as television celebrities, as opposed to simply fighters, three years before this became the case in the U.S.
Dana White gave some insight into the situation and Zuffa's approach to conquering new territory in a 2002 interview with Submission Fighting UK:
Yeah we did [have research that indicated the UFC would be popular in the UK]. We worked here with the companies RDA, Clear Channel and Sky Box Office. We got together and kind of figured out the logistics of this whole thing and we got a great response. They didn’t announce it today, I thought they were going to, but the show (on Sky) is being bumped from one hour to two hours now on Thursday nights. We’ve had that good a response.
Dana gave his now-prophetic "this thing's gonna be global and we are going everywhere" or derivatives thereof a couple times in the interview, showing that even then the Zuffa plans for world domination were well underway.
Matt Hughes, long considered the greatest welterweight fighter of all time (arguably now surpassed by Georges St-Pierre) had won the UFC welterweight championship from Carlos "the Ronin" Newton at UFC 34 - won it dramatically but not without controversy. Carlos had caught Hughes in a tight triangle when Hughes, displaying his freakish power, stood up, triangle locked on, and carried Newton to the fence. After a few seconds both men crashed down to the canvas. With Newton being KO'd on impact, Hughes, who was seemingly out from the choke ("His choke had an effect on me...it made me unconscious a little bit...it made me not know exactly where I'm at" - Hughes from the UFC Ultimate 100 Fights televised special) was declared the winner via TKO and new champ.
Hughes defended his title against Hayato Sakurai at UFC 36; and at UFC 38 he got the opportunity to definitively defeat the classy Newton. Hughes staved off submission attempts from the wily grappler and dished out a country helping of ground and pound, eventually finishing the fight by pounding a defenseless Newton in the crucifix position until referee "Big" John McCarthy stopped the fight.
But among hardcore fans, UFC 38 is perhaps best known not for the event itself but for what occurred afterward. Various sources have cited slightly differing versions of events, but the consensus that emerges, confirmed by Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, and Pat Miletich among others, is that a streetfight broke out outside a club following the UFC 38 event. It may have started innocently with drunken horseplay, but events rapidly went downhill. The upshot was that up to a dozen or more men became embroiled in a wild melee; Chuck Liddell (not yet the light heavyweight champion) was said to have knocked guys out left and right; and Lee Murray apparently dropped Tito Ortiz and proceeded to soccer kick and/or stomp him. Understandably, this is a series of events which, while now eight years in the past, can do Zuffa and the UFC no good to recap or revisit, and as a result a coherent, consistent version of events has never arisen.
It all went down 8 years ago today - July 13, 2002.