In the MMA world, much has changed in four years. Fighters have come and gone, champions have risen and fallen, and sport has grown into the mainstream. Today we take a look back at what was, and try to remember the best we can of just how things were way back.
UFC 79, on December 29, 2007, was a much anticipated card featuring the long awaited Chuck Liddell - Wanderlei Silva matchup, as well as the rubber match between Georges St-Pierre and Matt Hughes for the interim welterweight title. Originally Matt Serra was to headline in place of St-Pierre, however a back injury forced him to withdraw, and the interim title fight was set up as the headliner.
This card also featured a young Lyoto Machida, 3-0 in his three UFC bouts, all unanimous decision victories, against none other than Rameau Thierry Sokodjou, the Pride veteran making his UFC debut, coming off of knockout wins over Ricardo Arona and Little Nog. This fight designed as Machida's true test, and the winner would take another step towards the light heavyweight belt.
Kicking off the main card was a lightweight bout between Rich Clementi and Melvin Guillard. Clementi was in his second UFC stint and coming off a win against Anthony Johnson (this was at 170, not 155 to clear any confusion) and a regional win against Antoine Skinner (who?) in October. Alas, this was the Melvin Guillard of old, young, cocky, and confident. He was coming off of a loss against Joe Stevenson and saw no reason to change his game. And he paid for it , tapping to a rear-naked choke late in the first round.
The aftermath: Guillard was momentarily out of the UFC, however after a regional win in March, he was right back in, where he knocked out Dennis Siver, then beat Gleison Tibau a year later. After a loss to Nate Diaz, he began his recently struck down winning streak that nearly got him a title shot.
One could say Clementi had reached or was about to reach the high point of his career. This win began a three fight winning streak, adding in decisions over Sam Stout and Terry Etim. Clementi hit the wall in October 2008, though, losing a decision to Gray Maynard and then being submitted by Tibau. The UFC closed the door on him, and he has alternated wins and losses since.
Next up was that anticipated bout between Machida and Sokoudjou. Machida was not a name fighter at this point; he hadn't ever done anything spectacular or even noteworthy so far in his undefeated UFC career. At the same time, this Sokoudjou's fight to win and then climb the ladder relatively quickly. That was not the case. Machida dominated Sokoudjou with takedowns and superior BJJ, eventually cinching up an arm-triangle choke in the middle of round 2.
The aftermath: The Machida train keeps on rolling. This win gave him a huge step up in competition, and after beating Tito Ortiz and knocking out Thiago Silva and then Rashad Evans for the strap. Since then, even though he's 2-2 in his last four, fate has it that he be destroyed by, erm, be pitted against Jon Jones to retake the gold.
Two fights later, Sokoudjou was out of the UFC and has since gone the Clementi route. He has held no really notable wins except over Bob Sapp at Dream 11 if you want to count that. Yesterday he lost to Jan Blachowicz at KSW XVII. It's safe to say his glory days, fleeting as they were, are over.
In our third bout, heavyweight Eddie Sanchez was pitted against New Zealander Soa Palelei. Palelei made his UFC debut at this event against a seasoned Sanchez, who was coming off a win against Colin Robinson (who I'm sure you've all heard of). Palelei, as a BJJ black belt, seemed to want the fight on the ground or in the clinch and a lot of time was spent grinding against the fence, making the crowd restless for most of the fight. By the third round, Palelei was gassed, and Sanchez literally smelled blood. The ref finally stopped it after a series of unfeathered uppercuts that left Palelei's face a mess.
The aftermath: This was the last we ever saw of Soa Palelei, as he was promptly let go after the fight. He took a 15 month break before returning to the cage, and he has posted a 4-1 record on the Australian regional circuit since, including a loss to the surging Daniel Cormier.
This fight was arguably the high point for Eddie Sanchez as well. He followed up his TKO victory with two losses to Antoni Hardonk and Justin McCully before he was also let go. He has two short stints in Bellator and currently fights for Titan FC, getting a split decision over Brett Rogers.
The co-main event feature the fight everyone knew would be an instant classic between the hard hitting legends Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva. However, both the Iceman and the Axe Murderer were in the midst of tough times. Just seven months earlier, Liddell was the light heavyweight champion, however, a first round knockout from the fist of Rampage and a split decision loss to Keith Jardine had questions of retirement hanging over him.
Silva had a similar problem. This was his UFC debut, but he also was coming off of two straight losses: a knockout from Dan Henderson, losing his Pride middleweight belt, and a head kick KO from Mirko Cro Cop in the open weight grand prix semifinal round. Silva needed a victory just to get back to his winning ways, and to relevancy in UFC title discussions.
With both fighters desperate for a win, a epic brawl ensued. Liddell won the first round with superior standup in a back and forth war. By second round, both men were still on equal footing when the Iceman opened up a cut near the eye of Silva. Liddell also scored a late takedown. In a similar fashion in the third, Liddell continued to chop up Silva on the feet and then scored another late takedown. Chuck had a clear cut unanimous decision, in the fight of the night, and later the World MMA Fight of the Year.
The aftermath: This fight could be known as the Iceman's last stand. He looked good in the final win of his career, however, three straight knockout losses would drastically change his standing in the UFC, and the calls to retire were finally answered after UFC 115. He still retired a legend, though a reminder that a fighter needs to know when to stop. Don't worry Chuck, we still love you.
Wanderlei Silva came back stronger than ever in his next brawl, knocking out Keith Jardine. But after recent knockout losses to Rampage and Chris Leben, calls for retirement are coming to him as well, especially as he can go out on top with his win over Cung Le. I can't imagine what would've happened to him if he would've fought Vitor Belfort, as was the original plan.
Riding the high of the last fight brings us right into what many considered already the welterweight championship. Georges St-Pierre, after losing his title to Matt Serra in what many believe was a fluke, cruised to his first decision win over Josh Koscheck. After Serra's back injury, the scheduled title fight between TUF coaches Serra and Matt Hughes was scrapped, and St-Pierre was back in the mix with an opportunity for the interim belt against Hughes.
Hughes was coming off a decision win over Chris Lytle before taking the TUF coaching job. His series was tied at one win each with St-Pierre, with the rubber match happening for Hughes only one fight after the second, an armbar loss to the Canadian.
From beginning to end, St-Pierre dominated Hughes, simply being faster than him in getting the takedown. By the end of round one he had full mount and was raining down shots on Hughes as the horn sounded. In the second round, St-Pierre mounted him again, then after an escape, threw him back to the canvas in to side-mount and landed a kimura, forcing Hughes to submit.
The aftermath: We all know what happened to St-Pierre.
Matt Hughes made his return six months later against an overweight Thiago Alves, who knocked him out with a flying knee and punches. After St-Pierre methodically knocked Serra off his throne, he finally got his match and won a fight of the night decision over him at UFC 98. Since then, his chin has been criticized, and the calls to retirement have come and gone. He is currently on a break after he was knocked out by Josh Koscheck. Don't worry, Matt. We still love you, too.
There was a story on MMA Junkie about how the torch was passed at this event from one great to another (Hughes to St-Pierre) As I look back, I think that that applies to the entire event. This was the last great fight for Chuck Liddell, the beginning of the long drawn out end of Wanderlei Silva that is still ongoing, and the bowing out of Matt Hughes from being a title contender. We saw the rise of Lyoto Machida and Georges St-Pierre, a new breed of fighters, better than their older counterparts (just ask Randy Couture). And best of all, we still got that reminder that most heavyweights suck.