Before UFC 123, I said in my preview you can "flip a coin", as that's how evenly matched the card was from top to bottom. No bigger evidence of this came than in the main event where Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson (31-8, 14 KO's 7 subs) won a highly disputed split decision over Lyoto 'The Dragon' Machida (16-2, 5 KO's 2 subs) in their light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) fight.
However, before discussing my views on the main event, I want to jump right to the co-main event, because guess who's back and stole the show? Back at welterweight (170 lbs.) and more importantly, back to his winning ways? 'The Prodigy' B.J. Penn (16-7-1, 7 KO's 6 subs) needed all of just 21 seconds to dispatch of Hall of Famer Matt Hughes (45-8, 17 KO's 18 subs) in their rubber match (pictured above) as he scored a quick, but devastating knockout.
A short right hand that Hughes never saw coming dropped the former champion and Penn followed him to the ground for a couple more before the ref jumped in to stop the assault. There was no question the stoppage was legit, as was the KO. If there was, it was answered when Hughes got up and uttered the words "what happened" to the ref.
Penn, who many people, not myself, were saying was done because of two consecutive losses to Frankie Edgar at lightweight (155 lbs.), looked inspired and motivated going into this bout. At only 31 years old, if he can sustain this enthusiasm for one more run, which he says he wants to do most likely at welterweight, things could get very interesting in an already stacked welterweight division.
How interesting; UFC President Dana White announced after the fight that Penn has already been matched up for his next fight @ UFC 127 against top contender Jon Fitch, winner of his last five in a row. That fight likely will take place in late February in Australia. With welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre set to defend against Fitch's teammate Josh Koscheck in three weeks and the winner set to face Jake Shields, all I have to say is wow!
Hughes meanwhile at 37 years old, who was on a three fight win streak before the loss and appeared to be on one final run of his own, has to now decide what the future holds for him. No fighter ever wants his or her last fight to be a loss, especially one like this, but what does he have left to prove? A two-time welterweight champion and already a UFC Hall of Famer, Hughes legacy is already cemented, whatever he decides.
Now to the main event, which had its moments of excitement, but left a lot to be desired. The fight played out the way I expected and predicted it would. Jackson the aggressor pursuing his opponent looking to deliver that one hitter-quitter power he's known for and Machida the technician, counter punching and evading as he looked for his opening.
Problem is, for Machida that is, when you fight this way and don't finish, you leave it to the judges interpretation and as we have seen many times before that can come back to haunt you. In this case it did, that is, depending on whom you talk to. Dana White thought Jackson won; however Jackson himself, as was evidenced by his reaction to the decision, didn't really echo those sentiments, as he was shocked to hear that he had won a split decision.
However, since this is my column, my opinion is the only one that matters here and I think Machida should've won a close decision. While Jackson was the aggressor during the fight, stalking someone doesn't mean anything if you're not landing anything. That is not to say that Rampage did not hit Machida throughout, but an occasional uppercut or right cross here and there should not be compared to precision striking that Machida was doing with both his hands and feet.
In the second round, Jackson was able to take Machida down, but inflicted minimal damage at best as he was unable to keep him there. Meanwhile, in the third round Machida took Jackson down, after hurting him with a quick and precise combination. Like Jackson, his punishment from the top was minimal. However, unlike Jackson he worked towards a submission, although unsuccessful.
This was MMA's version of Hagler/Leonard, the Superfight from 1987, where Sugar Ray defeated Marvelous Marvin by using quick flurries in and out, while avoiding Hagler's constant pressure throughout. Back then, the majority of judges rewarded the counter puncher; however, this time they rewarded the aggressor. I bet Hagler wishes he had these judges' 23 years ago. BTW, back then, just like last night, I scored for it Leonard as well. Regardless, it was a good night of fights and on this night, guess who came back and stole the show?