|September 27th, 2002, the small town of Uncasville, Connecticut got a chance to house several thousand MMA and Ultimate Fighting Championship fight fans, all in one night. The Mohegan Sun arena held UFC 39: The Warrior's Return. A lightweight tournament, bouts between emerging fighters, and a new heavyweight title-holder was to be named.
September 27th, 2002, the small town of Uncasville, Connecticut got a chance to house several thousand MMA and Ultimate Fighting Championship fight fans, all in one night. The Mohegan Sun arena held UFC 39: The Warriors Return. A lightweight tournament, bouts between emerging fighters, and a new heavyweight title-holder was to be named. Although it was a late night for all East Coasters, the show commenced in front of a sold out crowd once again and ready to explode with one of the most anticipated cards to date. You had veteran fighters going up against up-and-comers, as well as two vacant titles soon to be filled by its new champion. The newly vacant lightweight title-holder, vacated by Jens Pulver, brought on a lightweight tournament that was to determine who would be the next UFC lightweight champ. Equal to this, the recently vacated heavyweight title-holder also, was to be determined by former UFC heavyweight champion--Randy Couture versus Ricco Rodriguez. The Warriors Return was nothing short of action, explosion, and some of MMAs best technicians throwing down and going to work. The late night didnt even phase all the fans who had their picks of the night. There were some surprises and some disappointments but all in all, it was a night where these athletes proved that they were the true warriors.
In the first match of the evening, Benji "The Razor" Radach met Sean Sherk in the first preliminary bout. The buzz on this match was would Radach be able to avoid being taken down by Sherks powerful drives? And would Sherk be able to avoid Radachs heavy right hand? With both competitors coming in with impressive win records, it was going to be interesting to see who would outlast the other and just who would be the physically stronger competitor. They both have a lot of tools to use as both, Radach and Sherk are good wrestlers, have good stand-up, and are both, in great shape. However, with Sherk never really being put to the test with his hands, it was going to be interesting to see if he would actually have to use it in this bout.
As the match begins, Sherk tries to take Radach down but Radach works to keep it on his feet. Radach manages to keep it standing and looks to work to test Sherks yet to be proven stand-up skills. Radach catches Sherk with a shot to the head, which makes Sherk drop to one knee. Sherk drives in hard for a single leg but Radach sprawls and keeps his legs away from Sherk. Sherk picks Radach up and walks over to the fence and slams him down on his backside. Sherk works to keep Benji up against the fence. These two tough competitors are evenly matched, where the match could go either way. As we all know, Sherk prides himself on his cardio and what lengths he goes to make sure that he never runs out of gas. Sherk can shoot in all day but will Radach be able to defend against his attempts to take him down all day? Radach pounds on Sherk from his back. Sherk slams a hard forearm to Benjis face. The ref stops the fight because of a bad cut on Benjis face. His face is covered with blood, impairing his vision. The doctor comes in to take a look and to see if he can continue. Benji is cut above his right eye. Its a deep cut that requires stitches. The doctor stops the fight and Radach cannot continue due to the deep cut. Sherk wins the match in the first round by doctors decision at 4:16.
This would be a match that a lot of fans would like to see again, as Radach looked to be doing pretty well against Sherks takedown attempts. These two competitors would make for a great re-match.
In the second prelim bout of the evening, Matt "The Law" Lindland met IvanSalavarry. The discussion around this match-up was a matter of Lindlands time being up. Salavarry was favored to win this match and it seemed as if Lindland wasnt given enough credit with the skills he possessed.
Ivan starts out by throwing leg kicks. Lindland tries to stand for a bit and then shoots in and takes Salavarry down. Salavarry works the fence to turn himself around. Ivan gives up his back and Lindland throws knees to his backside, then picks him up and slams him down onto his knees. Salavarry and Lindland work to get ground control. Lindland ends up in Ivans guard and Lindland tries to throw strikes. Ivan keeps his distance with his legs. Lindland tries to work from Salavarrys guard but then stands to come back in and land some strikes. Salavarry keeps Lindland in the guard and Lindland stands once again. Ivan looks cut by the eye. Lindland smothers Salavarry. The first round ends with Lindland in control of the match thus far.
In the second round, Ivan Salavarry throws a high kick. Lindland shoots in and Salavarry keeps it standing up. Lindland gets Ivan down. Lindland gets a takedown on Lindland. Ivan gives up his back only to have Matt on him and rolls out of it so that hes once again, standing up. Salavarry gets Lindlands back and works to get a rear naked but Lindland maneuvers out of it. Lindland and Salavarry work hard to get positioning. Lindland catches Salavarry with a few shots. Ivan throws two weak high kicks but has nothing behind them. Ivan looks gased. Ivan practically falls down only to have Lindland on top of him, landing a forearm and ground and pounds him. Lindland works from Ivans guard and Ivan looks to be done. Great round between the two fighters who really worked hard beat the other. The second round ends.
In the final round, Salavarry throws a high kick, blocked by Lindland. The two keep it standing. Ivan tries to work the leg but Matt counters with a few shots of his own. Ivan continues to throw kicks but seems pretty winded. Lindland waits it out to catch Salavarry with a hard shot to the head. Salavarry continues to work the leg and Lindland catches Salavarry with a decent right cross. The two scramble and Lindland closes in to try and take Ivan down. Ivan fights him off and the two scramble for positioning. One cant keep the other on the ground. The two are throwing strikes and keep it on their feet. The round ends. The decisions goes to the judges card where Matt Lindland wins by unanimous decision, proving to fight fans that he definitely, still has it in him to stay on top the game.
In the first match of the main card, Dave "The Warrior" Menne vs. Phil "The New York Bad Ass" Baroni. The favorite on this match was split, although it seemed as if more were rooting for Menne, with Phils knack for being extremely aggressive and for his severely focused workout regime, made for a dangerous opponent. Baroni wanted this win badly and when talking to him before this match, he went to great lengths to make sure he would come out victorious. With Menne coming off a loss, it was uncertain just how aggressive he would be. However, weve all seen the tools Menne possesses and it would be a matter of Baroni showing us his newly sharpened skills, he has now acquired.
Coming out like the showman he is, Phil Baroni makes his opening entrance, New York style. Menne comes out with Miletichs camp. Baroni comes out of the gate ready to stand against Menne. He throws two left jabs and then rocks Menne with a hard right, which stumbles and stuns Menne. Baroni immediately goes swinging for the fences with a flurry of shots--10 to be exact, to Mennes head, which knocks Menne down. In an all time impressive win, Phil Baroni is the winner in a whopping 18 seconds by KO!
The first shot managed to rock Menne so fast that he looked beyond stunned, not knowing what had actually happened. This match showed that Baroni is one opponent that is not to be taken lightly. He seems to improve with every match and is proving that hes working to become a very dangerous contender for the title. When speaking to him after his match, Baroni had one thing to say, he wants to fight Matt Lindland again. Its the one thing he wants to take care of, finish some unfinished business and stop all the talk that goes around about that match.
Pedro "The Rock" Rizzo takes on Gan "The Giant" McGee next. Although a lot of People were not aware of the skills that Gan possesses, he is a potential threat to Pedro. A trim and lean Gan McGee has the reach and height advantage over Pedro, standing at 610". Hes also great wrestler and has strong stand-up/kickboxing skills. The question here is will Rizzo be able to close the gap by connecting his shots with Gan or will he get taken down and have to prove his ground skills? Rizzo, looking to be out of shape may not have taken this fight as seriously has he shouldve.
Pedro tries to work the leg and Gan tests Rizzo out, not even having to make much of an effort to reach Rizzo with his strikes. Gan continues to stand with Rizzo testing him out and looking for an opening. Looking like the protégé of Chuck Liddell and his fighting style, Gan seems to move and strike like the Iceman. If Gan is in trouble, his option would be to take Rizzo down. Gan is lumbering around Rizzo, taking cautious shots at Rizzo. Rizzo begins to work the leg while Gan exchanges back with a leg kick of his own. Rizzo gets Gan with a 1-2 combo and a big jab. Gan shoots in and theyre back up on their feet. Rizzo makes it known that he wants nothing to do with the ground. McGee starts to get a little more aggressive but still real cautious. Rizzo gets Gan with a hard shot to the leg, which opens him up for McGee to come in swinging, but not connecting. Rizzo looks to be in control. Gan throws a big right which makes Rizzo stumble back. Instead of following up with several shots as Rizzo stumbles into the fence, he tries to take him down. The bell rings and the first round ends. Rizzo looks to be cut. He ends up with a cut around the eye, leaving some skin possibly disrupting his vision and his corner throws in the towel. Gan McGee wins by Corner Threw in Towel.
Din Thomas vs. Caol Uno is the start of the lightweight tournament. Who will be the new UFC Lightweight Champion? It would depend on four of the top contenders in this class, Din Thomas, Caol Uno, Matt Serra, and B.J. Penn. Penn is heavily favored to be in the finals but who will he have to get through in order to get that belt around his waist--thats if he can defeat Matt Serra.
Din Thomas meets Caol Uno in this first bout of the tournament. Thomas seemed to be the favorite of this match but with Uno coming off his loss, he will need this win to redeem himself and to be able to get a shot at that title, hes worked so hard to get. The match starts off with lots of movement. Caol throws a leg kick and Din catches Uno. Din jumps on him, the two scramble for positioning. Din mounts Uno and throws shots to the head. Uno gives up his back with Din sitting high on his back. Uno is out the back and Thomas is working for an armbar. Uno amazingly, maneuvers out of it and gets the tables turned as he works from Thomas guard. Thomas keeps him close to him. Thomas attempts to sink a triangle and Uno gets out of that as well. With only 30 seconds on the clock, Uno now works from Thomas guard and the round ends.
In the second round, Uno throws the first shot and Din gets the takedown. Din maneuvers in Caols guard. The two scramble for positioning and the two are up. Uno throws a knee. Thomas looks to be a little sluggish, possibly getting tired. Uno is back in the guard. Thomas gets a warning by ref for kicking to the back of the head. The ref stands them up and re-starts the match. Uno gets in a shot to the jaw and Din changes levels and gets the takedown. Uno works from his feet as Thomas is on his back. Uno jumps back on Thomas, trying to get in some shots. Thomas works to control Unos hands. 15 seconds left and Uno lands a shot to Thomass head. The round ends.
In round three, Thomas gets a point taken away, meaning he needs to get a KO or submission in this round, due to the kick to the back of the head. The two keep it on their feet. Thomas swings away and Uno goes for the clinch. Uno is in the guard and works from the guard. Thomas tries to get another triangle but Uno gets his head out. Ref stands them up and the two exchange shots. Thomas gets yet another takedown and Uno maneuvers and works from Thomass guard. Thomas swings his legs at Uno and Uno jumps into his guard lands a solid forearm. Uno throwing shots and Thomas trying to defend the shots. The round ends. Both fighters worked hard for that win as it was an evenly matched bout. The decision goes to the judges card and the winner by Unanimous Decision goes to Caol Uno.
B.J. "The Prodigy" Penn vs. Matt "The Terror" Serra in the second
lightweight tournament match-up of the evening. There was a lot of talk and hype surrounding this match. With Serra being from the East Coast, he was the hometown favorite. Yet, B.J. looked to be the favorite on paper. If anything, this match was going to be a toss-up because both competitors are well-versed on the ground. However, it is known that although Penn is infamous for his ground skills, he doesnt necessarily like to take it down there. Hes comfortable enough with his stand-up skills and has great striking power. Serra is known more for his ground game than his stand-up but has been working hard on his stand-up. Itll have to be proven here if he cant take Penn down and keep him down on the ground.
B.J. comes out ready and seems to be on fire. He shows a lot of energy and looks ready to get this win. Serra looks calm yet focused. The crowd goes crazy waiting for this match to start. The fight starts and Serra goes for a single leg then tries for a double instead. Penn holds on and Serra gets Penn up against the fence in the clinch. Penn throws knees and shoves Serra down. Serra looks to try and stand with Penn but shoots in for the single leg. They tie it up and Matt keeps B.J. up against the fence. B.J. gets Matt with a shot but Serra shakes it off. The two are center and squaring off once again. Serra gets rocked as he tries to throw a shot of his own and B.J. ducks and comes back with a hard counter. Serra stumbles back and then tries to follow-up but Serra clings on to B.J.s leg. The two clinch and then the two are squaring off again. Serra avoids Penns shots and shoots in but cant take Penn down. Penn gets in a shot to the leg. Serra tries to strike again. B.J. wants no part of the ground game and keeps it standing up. The first round ends with an exciting beginning. Matt looks strong and is works to push the action of this match. Penn is physically strong and makes sure to take advantage of the knockout power he possesses. Serras stand-up skills are sharper as he hangs in there with Penn on his feet. Here we have, two jiu jitsu specialists--one trying to get it on the ground and the other not wanting to have any part of it. Round 2, B.J. goes in with a high knee and tries to throw another kick and Penn slips and falls. He scrambles back up but Serra gets his takedown. Penn maneuvers back up, making it known that he does not want to stay on the ground. Serra throws some hard forearms standing up with Penn up against the fence then working to get a single leg. The East Coast crowd goes crazy, rooting for Serra as the favorite. Penn is focused and cautious. Serra shoots in for another single. Penn gets Serra down with a sweep. Serra stays calm and relaxed. Serra throws a big right and clips Penn and then gets the single leg and impressively, pops up and throws another big right, catching Penn. Serra keeps Penn tight up against the fence. The round ends.
Round 3, Penn gets a solid leg kick in but has to be quick with the hands because of Serras quick jabs. The two exchange shots and Serra goes for the single leg, holds the leg and pops back up with the right. Penn is onto it now and defends against the shot. The two are defending and countering with a lot of movement, quickness, and agility. Matt works hard for that single but Penn is too hard to keep down. 42 seconds left on the clock and Penn throws a leg kick. Penn has to get a KO or Serra looks to take the fight at this point. Penn shows that he has a tough jaw. This was a war. Serra works to push the action of the fight. The decision goes to the judges. It seems as if people are split on this match, with some saying Serra has the fight and others saying it was a split decision, while the rest say its Penns game. The winner by Judges Decision was given to B.J. Penn but the crowd is shocked and disappointed. To the home crowd, Serra had that fight and it was given to Penn as a finalist for the Lightweight Tournament. A disappointing night for Serra who worked hard and fought like a champ but congratulations to Penn who also fought his heart out and is deserving of the win.
In one of the most anticipated matches of the night, those fight fans whove seen Cabbage fight before, are familiar with his "give me your best shot first" style of striking. Wesley "Cabbage" Correira meets up against his nemesis who he feels took away something that belonged to him in a recent heavyweight tournament. Tim "The Grizzly Bear" Sylvia from Miletichs camp won the Superbrawl Heavyweight Tournament and met up against Wesley in the finals. However, in a turn of events, Cabbage broke his finger(s) and lost his chance at the title, with Sylvia as the reigning champ. This match was to become proving grounds for Cabbage, who feels that that title rightfully belongs to him and his intention is to stop at nothing to prove just that. If anything, these two heavies are contenders for the future UFC belt. Theyre all heart, all warrior, and anything short of determined.
In their debut UFC bout, Standing at a whopping 68", Sylvia stands to be the favorite of this match. He has the reach advantage over Correira and although he has the proven wrestling skills, he made claim that he will stand with Correira to make this bout the stand-up, slugfest match of the night. Will Sylvia be able to break the titanium head of Correiras? Its been proven before that Cabbage can take a hit or two, or three--well you get the picture. Who will knock who out?
Cabbage makes his entrance sporting a colorfully dyed red, white and blue hairdo. Sylvia comes in serious and focused, yet looking a little nervous. Cabbage and Tim exchange shots immediately. Were looking at a super slugfest. Theres a lot of movement from Cabbage. Sylvia looks calm and focused. Cabbage connects with repeated shots and Sylvia gets his distance with a knee to the body. Sylvia then throws his shots and a double-handed knee. Sylvia throws a switch hit and Cabbage cant seem to defend against that. The two egg each other on. Cabbage catches Sylvias knees and leg kicks. Sylvia works hard with shots to the head and uses forearms. Cabbage is looking a bit gased but hangs on tough, allowing Sylvias shots to connect but wowing the crowd with how un-effected he is. He has no visible cuts to the face, even after taking all those shots. Hes not punch drunk in any way, just a little out of wind. The doctor checks Cabbage to see if he can still go on, possibly to check to see if this competitor is human because of taking those shots and still stand straight. With amazingly little damage to the face, Cabbage goes on--all heart, all warrior.
In the 2nd round, Cabbage immediately starts to take more shots from Sylvia but throws some back. Cabbage shoots in to avoid all the shots Sylvia throws his way. Cabbage is gased but still hangs on and isnt rocked by the hits, more or less by the fact that he has no gas left. The crowd is going crazy and Sylvia continues on with shots to the face and head. Sylvia looking confident, takes advantage of the tired Cabbage. Cabbage begins to take some repeated punishment but wont give in. With no ref stoppage, Cabbage is taking a beating and is not defending the shots to the head from fatigue, and knowing that he wont stop or give-up himself, Cabbages corner throws in the towel for him. In 1:43 seconds by Corner Throwing in the Towel, in the second round, Tim Sylvia wins the match.
In the main event of the night, the much-favored Randy Couture is to meet up against a forever improving Ricco Rodriguez for the newly stripped title that once belonged to Josh Barnett. With Randy being the favored patriotic American hero, everybody loves, will his window of opportunity come to an end, or will his physical strength and will prevail by returning the belt to him once again? The one thing that stands in his way is the hard-working and determined Ricco Rodriguez, who has trained extremely hard for this match. This East Coast favorite will be able to use his newly acquired skills and put them to the test against a veteran competitor. Will Rodriguez be able to compete against the top-notch shape Couture is in, considering Couture is set to compete in the upcoming Eco-Challenge once again? Rodriguez has been working on his stand-up to sharpen his skills and give him more tools to use against the warring veteran.
Randy gets in a hard leg shot as he shoots in on Ricco. Ricco is moving around a lot, around the octagon. Randy gets in a shot on Ricco and the two tie it up. Randy has Ricco against the fence. Randy throws knee. Ricco tries for a double leg and Randy stumbles sideways. Randy is on the ground and gets back up, not wanting anything to do with the ground. His game plan is to stand with Ricco. Randy and Ricco exchange some shots. Randy beautifully, sweeps Riccos legs from under him and gets Ricco on the ground. Randy has the half mount and jams his shoulder into Ricco. Smothering Ricco, Randy works to gain control on the ground. Ricco gets a nice reversal on Randy and theyre back on their feet but not for long. Randy gets an immediate takedown and Ricco is saved by the bell. Randy is favored in the first round.
In the 2nd round, it looks as if the veteran (experience) is keeping things strong for Randy. Ricco catches Randy with his knee as he attempts a leg kick. Randy takes him down. Randy has control in Riccos guard. Randy lands forearms and Ricco tries to keep Randy from landing shots to the face. Ricco not really doing anything on his back, looks relaxed yet, Randy still seems to be in control. Randy lands more shots to Ricco as he stands out of the guard and then falls back into the half guard. Ricco looks to have a small cut. The two are up and Randy slams Ricco down, who looks up in pain. Randy is dominating all the way with more shots to the head at this point. Ricco apparently, popped his knee out from getting slammed down by Randy.
Round three, Ricco throws shots but doesnt close the distance with his feet, and looking a little timid with his stand up. Randy takes him down. Randy works from Riccos guard. Ricco is up against the fence trying to maneuver out of the bottom position. Ricco gives up his back and Randy starts throwing hard knees to the body. Ricco is up and Randy throws shots to the head. Ricco reverses and gets control of the top. Ricco is in the half guard and works to pass his guard. Randy remains calm. Randy looks for the reverse but Ricco lands forearms. Ricco inches his way towards the fence and continues to land forearms. Ricco gets the guillotine on Randy but cant sink it in. Ricco tries to do a step over knee bar, which looks a little sloppy. The round ends. Ricco has a cut below his right eye but doesnt prevent him from going on.
In the 4th round, Ricco swings away but doesnt connect. Hes still not closing the gap. He chases Randy down and the two are down with Randy on his back. Ricco tries to smother Randy and uses his forearms. Ricco now working to gain control of his upper position. Randy stays calm on his back with Ricco in his guard. Ricco uses his forearms but is still not a real threat to Randy. Randy tries to maneuver out of the position but has some trouble. The rowdy crowd cheers for Ricco while others tell him to run away. Ricco passes Randys guard and gets Randy in the guillotine. Randy is out and the tables are turned. Ricco is tired and Randy starts throwing shots at Ricco. The bell rings and Ricco throws a frustrating kick at Randy who ducks. The ref pulls Ricco away, giving him a warning.
Round 5 begins, and Randy connects with a shot to the side of the head. Ricco shoots in on Randy and gets him down. Ricco gets Randy up against the fence once again. Ricco continues with the forearm and controls the position. Ricco uses his forearms to smother Randy. He pushes on Randys head with is forearms, making it difficult for Randy to maneuver. The Ref stops the fight. Apparently, Randy got caught in his eyes and his orbit was broken. Ricco wins the fight and is emotional from the disbelief of his win. The winner is announced and its Ricco Rodriguez by Tapout at 3:04 in the 5th round.
Its always hard to see a competitor that trains so hard for their matches, not come out on top. It obviously comes with the territory that youll have your winners and losers, but its always so hard to see the not-so-victorious, especially if they come out injured. There were a few competitors that ended up in the hospital after their bouts. Gan McGee ended up with a broken arm and his arm in a cast but he still had something to celebrate about, with his victory over Pedro Rizzo. Wesley "Cabbage" Correira went to the hospital to get checked out and came out with cuts and some swelling. He had a fat lip and his face was a bit banged up but he was feeling good, knowing that he gave it his all. I believe the doctors also checked to see if his head was made of titanium or not. Randy Couture had a broken orbit and was not in the best of shape after his match. He spent some time in the hospital and seemed to have difficulty seeing. Benji Radach had his cut stitched up but seemed to be in good spirits after his match. He was physically fine and anxious to compete again. Ricco Rodriguez got checked out by the doctor and popped his knee out. He was limping and having difficulty walking but will recover in no time.
Our hats off to the warriors of this sport. They all come out as winners in our book because they definitely gave it their all in UFC 39. Congratulations to the victorious and great job to those who didnt come out on top but fought their heart out. It may be back to the drawing board for them but at least theres always a next time!