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“This Week in MMA History” UFC 52: The Beginning of the UFC’s Golden Age

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While MMA has not been around as long as most major sports, it is no longer the red head step-child of the sports world. We have been enjoying this sport for almost 25 years depending on who you ask, and now it is time that we look back on the historical nights that we have witnessed. In “This Week in History” we will take you back to the fights of yesteryear and examine their lasting impact on the sport that we love so much. This is the first installment and in it, we will cover a night that changed the landscape of the MMA world and helped to usher in what I like to think of as the first golden era on MMA. So get ready to get nostalgic with us once a week as we remember the great fighters and fights that made MMA what it is today.

UFC 52: Couture vs. Liddell

Set at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, April 16, 2005 might have been the most epic night in all of MMA history. Ahead of this main event title match, Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell had served as coaches on the first ever “The Ultimate Fighter.” The show was a pivotal turning point for the company. If TUF Finale was the show that saved the UFC, this was the PPV that coincided with that resurrection. At the time this event was the highest-grossing UFC event ever with a live gate of $2,575,450.

Couture, former 2 time UFC Heavyweight Champion, had just won his UFC Light Heavyweight title back after losing it to Vitor Belfort at UFC 46 via doctor’s stoppage due to a severely cut eyelid and he had already defeated Liddell for the interim belt at UFC 43. Liddell was quoted as saying that he had “underestimated” Couture in their first meeting, causing him to neglect his cardio training. He vowed to not make that mistake again. At the time of this fight, Couture was at the middle of a messy divorce with his second wife, and mother to his three kids, Tricia. Couture later admitted that the divorce caused himself not to be able physically and mentally apply himself the way that usually did during training camp, and he felt that reflected in his ability to perform to his fullest potential inside of the cage that night. This was a highly anticipated rematch due to the exposure on TUF that drew in more casual fans than any PPV before it.

The fight itself was a short one. During a clinch at the beginning of the round Couture complained about being poked in the eye. The crowd and fans watching at home held their collective breath, hoping that there was not another freak injury like the one we had seen in Couture’s first fight against Belfort. The fight was stopped and after over a minute of examination, the doctor said that Randy was fine to continue. When the fight was restarted Couture, seemingly mad from the infraction, dashed towards his opponent throwing a flurry of punches and was caught with by a punch that hurt, but did not drop the champion. In true “Captain America” style Couture continued to come forward attempting to land shots of his own. Liddell back pedaled and kept his composer, waiting to land the more precise blows and he did just that in the form of a straight right that sent Couture down, laying on his right side and not defending himself. A few follow-up punches, and Big Jon called a stop to the contest at just over 2 minutes. Liddell was now the new champion.

770 days later Quentin Jackson knocked him out with a right hook after a second ill-advised lead punch to the body at UFC 71. That loss would signal the beginning of the end of the “Iceman’s” career as he would only win one more bout against Wanderlei Silva in 2007 and suffer three knockouts in a row to end his career. He had made 4 title defenses and was the poster boy for the UFC during it’s meteoric resurgence to mainstream America.

Couture would lose the rubber match with Liddell 10 months later but go on to win the UFC Heavyweight Title for a third time his very next fight against Tim Sylvia. He stands as the only 5 time UFC Champion, the only fighter to hold any one UFC title 3 times, the only 3 time UFC Heavyweight Champion and the only man to ever regain the UFC Light Heavyweight title.

Not to be overlooked on the card was another rematch between UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes versus Frank Trigg. Their first fight had been at UFC 45 and was also for the title. Hughes won that contest with a standing rear naked choke in the first round that left Trigg unconscious. He lost his title to BJ Penn in his next fight and regained by beating Georges St. Pierre after the title had been vacated when Penn left the company to compete for K-1. This fight was to be the first defense of his second title reign.

Just like their first fight, this one did not make it out of the first round. When Hughes was hit with a low blow in the groin early in the contest, he looked to the referee for assistance, but the ref had not seen the foul. Sensing his opponent was not 100 percent, and seeing that he was not protecting himself while complaining to the official, Trigg launched an pugilistic attack that staggered Hughes and sent the fight to the canvas. “Twinkle Toes” started a in with a ground and pound volley and then went for a rear naked choke as Hughes gave up his back as a result from the assault. The Champion struggled to fend off the submission attempt for almost two minutes, but once he finally freed himself, the immensely strong wrestler from Illinois lifted Trigg into the air, carried him across the Octagon and slammed him to the ground. It was, and is still, one of the most memorable slams in the history of MMA. Now it was Hughes’ turn to show his ground and pound skills before securing his title with a rear naked choke of his own.

There will not come a day when this fight is not in the conversation for top 5 of comebacks of all time. In 2015 this bout became the first fight to be ever be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. Dana White, a longtime boxing fan, has been quoted as saying it was not only his favorite fight in all of MMA, but of any type of fight in general.

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Announcement

Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz in the works for UFC 223

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UFC 223 looks to add a variety of intriguing bouts. With Paul Felder vs. Al Iaquinta reportedly set for the unannounced UFC 223 card, the promotion looks to add a high stakes female flyweight match-up. According to MMANYTT.com, sources confirmed a bout between Felice Herrig and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, is in the works for the pay-per-view card.

 

Assuming the match-up does come to be, both women have much to gain from a victory. For Herrig, she currently sits on a four-fight win streak. A streak in which the strawweight contender defeated Kailin Curran, Alexa Grasso, Justine Kish, and Cortney Casey. The MMA veteran, Herrig, began fighting professionally in 2009. As of late, her issues with the marketing machine that is the UFC have intensified.

After demonstrating her technical prowess over Justine Kish at UFC Fight Night 122: Chiesa vs. Lee, Herrig put her emotions on display. She stated at the post-fight media scrum, “Sometimes, I feel like, I’m not young and beautiful enough for the UFC to want to promote me. And it’s sad because I’ve really worked so hard to be here and it’s hard to see these people who’ve not been through what I’ve been through. Who just got into the UFC at the right time. They’re getting all these opportunities and I see how hard I work to get here and it’s just like, it doesn’t matter. I just feel like, ‘I’m not pretty enough and I’m not getting any younger'”.

A frustrated Felice Herrig then spoke to MMAJunkie.com in December. She claimed, “Aside from (former UFC women’s strawweight champ) Joanna (Jedrzejczyk), I’m the only strawweight who’s gone on a four-fight winning streak. That’s a fact. At this point, I want to fight someone in the top 10. It doesn’t really make sense for me to keep fighting girls that are ranked below me. That’s the whole point. If I want to keep working my way up. I fight the most dangerous girls outside the top 10”. The #9 ranked women’s flyweight has a point. In her UFC career, she recorded one loss in six appearances. Yet, she has one co-main event booking, while fighters like Michelle Waterson, booked the main event in her second UFC bout. In Waterson’s third bout, she received a co-main event scheduling. Understandably, Felice Herrig is upset with her situation.

Later in her interview, Herrig brought up Kowalkiewicz as a potential next opponent. “For whatever reason, I really want to fight Karolina. I just think that would be an exciting fight… Stylistically, I really like that fight. She’s ranked above (me), and it may be a good gauge for me,” she stated. Right now, it looks like Herrig is close to getting what she wants.

Kowalkiewicz last fought in her native country of Poland on the UFC Fight Pass card, UFC Fight Night 118: Cowboy vs. Till, in October. The Polish star defeated Jody Esquibel, after losing consecutive contests to former UFC female strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejcyk and Claudia Gadelha, respectively.

A win for either makes a good case for the next or an eventual title challenger. Kowalkiewicz holds a victory over current division champion, Rose Namajunas. While a win for Herrig would further establish her impressive win streak and undoubtedly give her the boost in the rankings she deserves.

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Bellator

Douglas Lima found out about change to co-main event at Bellator 192 from the internet

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Bellator 192 fight card has gone through a shake-up over the past week. Bellator president Scott Coker revealed last week that the scheduled welterweight title fight between Rory MacDonald and champion Douglas Lima will now be serving as the co-main event and the heavyweight matchup between Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson would instead take top billing. At the time no explanation was made for the change. Monday Douglas Lima was a guest on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to discuss this change.

“I was little bummed, but it is what it is, it’s business you know. I was pretty excited you know? Being the main event, having Rampage fight as the co-main event, I was happy there. Then I was bummed out that they changed it back to the co-main event. It’s not going to change a thing for me, I’m just focusing on the fight.”

Lima has been notoriously looked over in the eyes of fight fans. A longtime member of Bellator and a two-time champion has not gotten the notice he deserves and hopes to get.

“I found out through the internet, nobody tells me anything, I didn’t know. the same thing happened in New York, I thought my fight would be before the two main events there, but it ended up being the first fight of the night on Pay-Per-View. Hopefully, it doesn’t take anything away from the fight, you know spotlight and stuff.”

Lima is looking to make all the naysayers take notice at Bellator 192 that takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, Califonia on January 20th.

“This is the fight I’ve been waiting for for a long time. To get my name out there, to get people to know who I am. I’ve been delivering a lot of good fights, fights fans like to watch but no attention yet. I’m hoping though that after a win over Rory this week it will really put my name out there and show all these welterweights out there that I am for real.”

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Fight Announcements

Al Iaquinta vs. Paul Felder rescheduled for UFC 223 in April

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MMA fans around the world wept in deep sorrow when Al Iaquinta withdrew from a bout scheduled for UFC 218 against Paul Felder. Weep no more, for Paul Felder faces Al Iaquinta at UFC 223. Rumblings behind the match-up, first reported by FloCombat.com, came Sunday night before MMAFighting.com confirmed the bout scheduled for unannounced pay-per-view card, later in the evening.

 

The original bout fell through due to a severe knee injury to Iaquinta. He spoke to BJ Penn Radio about the injury nearly a week before the December 2nd, PPV event in Detriot. The Long Island real estate agent claimed, “I tore my PCL and my MCL maybe three or four months ago… for me to really put in a full training camp and do what I need to do, I would’ve had to just focus on fighting and physical therapy… it was the kind of thing where all roads led to me not kind of taking a risk and fighting on December 2nd”.

Iaquinta went on to say, “I kind of accepted the fight, but I never signed a bout agreement… I was kind of told I had to give them an answer pretty quick. It was a fight I thought I really wanted. I thought it was a good stylistic match-up for me, so I accepted the fight, and then thinking about it over the course of a day, we realized it probably wasn’t a smart decision for my health, for everything”.

An outspoken lightweight, he is not the first of his kind. Al Iaquinta is no stranger to idly waiting on the sideline for the UFC to make a move. Contract disputes and other bad strokes of luck left the Serra-Longo with three octagon appearances since 2015. The feud between Iaquinta and the promotion comes as a surprise when looking at the credentials of the aforementioned fighter. With an octagon record of 8-2, he earned notoriety as one of the best lightweights in the world. During his time in the UFC, he defeated Kevin Lee, Ross Pearson, Joe Lauzon, Jorge Masvidal, and most recently Diego Sanchez.

His opponent, “The Irish Dragon”, Paul Felder, holds an impressive UFC record of his own. At 7-3, Felder defeated tough competition as well. His record notes wins over Daron Cruickshank, Jason Saggo, Stevie Ray, and Charles Oliveira. Even more impressive than his record, his knockout ratio. At this stage of his career, Felder knockouts 55% of his opponents (10 knockouts in 18 career pro bouts).

Like his opponent Iaquinta, Paul Felder has a separate career outside of fighting. As many should notice, Felder found a role as a color commentator with the promotion he fights for. Following the footsteps in a long line of fighters before him, Felder announced multiple events alongside another new addition to the UFC broadcast team, Brendan Fitzgerald.

PPV card, UFC 223 and its location are not official yet. Despite a lack of an announcement, the event takes place in Brooklyn, New York at the Barclays Centre, according to multiple reports. Currently, the card features no official bouts. Reports state Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (per Jim Edwards), and Evan Dunham vs. Mairbek Taisumov (per Farah Hannoun) are both in the works for UFC 223.

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