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Hughes Claims Victory After a Slow Start

He scores third-round TKO over Penn to claim Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight title.

September 24, 2006|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Matt Hughes figured if he could survive the opening rounds Saturday night against B.J. Penn, in the long run he'd be in good shape to defend his Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight title.

Hughes survived a brutal start at the Arrowhead Pond, but then overpowered Penn to score a technical knockout with a little more than a minute remaining in the third round. The victory allowed Hughes to retain his title and avenge a loss to Penn in January 2004.

"If he would have had the gas to go all five rounds, he could have won every round," Hughes said. "I knew his cardio was going to be his weak spot."

After a difficult first two rounds for Hughes, it was Penn who appeared more taxed heading into the third. Hughes landed a combination of punches and then took Penn down in the middle of the octagon.

Hughes managed to keep Penn on his back while lying horizontally across his chest, then kept Penn's right arm pinned above his head, leaving him vulnerable to overhand rights. After about a dozen blows to the side of Penn's head, referee John McCarthy stepped in and stopped the scheduled five-round bout with 1 minute 7 seconds remaining in the third round.

"I knew I lost the first two rounds, but I had three left over," Hughes said.

With chants of "B.J." filling the arena during the opening round, Hughes went for an early takedown, grabbing Penn by the left leg and then holding onto his waist while Penn leaned against the octagon's wall. Penn slammed Hughes with a series of knee blows and uppercuts, causing Hughes to bleed from his mouth.

The fight was stopped for about a minute midway through the opening round when Penn poked Hughes in the right eye with a left jab.

Hughes, 32, went after Penn's left leg at the start of the second round and put him on his back, but Penn managed to wiggle out of the move and put Hughes in a arm bar, then nearly secured a triangle choke hold. Hughes appeared close to tapping out, but he held on for the last 25 seconds of the round.

"The arm bar was worse than the triangle," Hughes said.

Penn sat Indian-style in the middle of the ring after the loss, then had to be helped from the octagon, his face and head covered in welts. He was taken to UC Irvine Medical Center for observation.

"I watched his last fight against George St. Pierre, so I knew his gas tank was not going to be full," Hughes said. "I might get it in the first round, or even the second, but I wasn't going to lose it."

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