UFC 98 played itself out on Saturday night in Las Vegas with two co-main events. Matt Hughes vs. Matt Serra and a championship bout between two undefeated light heavyweight fighters, Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans.
Both Lyoto "The Dragon" Machita and "Sugar" Rashad Evans were rather tentative for the first 2 minutes of round 1, drawing boos from the crowd.
Halfway through round 1 Machida launched an aggressive kick and began advancing and making consistent and confident excursions into and out of Rashad's punching range.
Machida bobbed on his feet as he continually and dispassionately chopped at Rashad's legs and chin with kicks, crosses and jabs.
Rashad adopted a bob-and-weave style that saw his hands almost waving in the air and forcing his boxer's dance to take him from side to side instead of front to back like Machida's. It looked as though Rashad was doing something new to throw his opponent off and try and solve Machida's awkward and unorthodox style.
Machida ate some of Rashad's wild punches during their brief exchanges but Machida was getting the better of Rashad. In the last half of round 2 Machida caught Rashad with a left and sent the champion reeling.
Machida unleashed a tsunami of left and right combinations which pinned a flustered Rashad against the octagon fence and continued to pummel the champion until another left knocked Rashad out cold.
Machida was emotional and boyishly exuberant during the post fight interview. Rashad, visibly disappointed, was very gracious and humble as he tipped his hat to Machida without any excuses for his devastating loss.
War of the Matts (Matt Hughes vs Matt Serra) was the most hyped fight of UFC 98. Much was made in pre-fight interview clips of the "bad blood" between the two UFC welterweights.
However, after a nail biting first exchange which saw Matt Hughes severely wobbled by an accidental headbutt, the two fighters' styles did not combine to create nitroglycerin, but rather vinegar and baking soda.
Although both fighters were willing to take risks and initiate contact, their styles combined to form a series of less than dynamite stalemates. Matt Hughes was repeatedly able to take Serra down but unable to finish or do any damage. Hughes controlled Serra the majority of the non-title match 3 rounds and won a unanimous 29-28 decision.
The two Matts managed a genuine hug at the closing bell and both will likely be back in the octagon.
Hughes hinted at a comeback attempt but with no more contracted fights he is now a free agent and will have to convince Dana White that he is worth throwing into top tier competition.
With the welterweight division the home turf of perhaps pound for pound best George St. Pierre. Hughes will have to eat GSP's left overs for at least one more fight if he is to get yet another crack at the impossible: a chance at dethroning "Rush" St. Pierre.