Seldom does a grudge match live up to the hype. But Matt Hughes and Matt Serra lived up to their promises of war, grinding out a 15-minute battle which the judges scored as a unanimous decision win for Hughes.
But the distinguished former UFC welterweight champion had no easy road, and had to overcome a near first-round knockout to recover and capture the final two rounds en route to the win.
Serra had Hughes hurt badly within the first minute of the fight. After an accidental headbutt and a right hand rocked Hughes, Serra followed up with a series of powerful right hands that had Hughes on wobbly legs. But Hughes' experience proved huge as he forced Serra into a clinch against the cage, giving him valuable recovery time. By the middle of the round, Hughes was able to score a takedown and worked to Serra's back, threatening a rear naked choke. But Serra, a jiu-jitsu black belt, escaped. With just seconds left in the round, they got back to their feet, and Serra implored Hughes into standing and trading with him as the crowd roared.
Hughes started to take control in the second, using double underhooks to take Serra down, where he employed his trademark ground and pound to varying degrees of effectiveness. Serra was never in big trouble, but the effort was enough to earn the round on the judge's scorecards.
The third was pivotal. Hughes scored a takedown, but Serra stifled most of his offense with a pair of omaplatas. Then he tried a triangle before the referee stood them up. Late in the round, Serra turned the table on Hughes and took him down, but wasn't able to mount much offense as time ran out, giving the judges the responsibility of scoring the close third round as the decisive win.
All three judges scored it for Hughes. The pair hugged afterward, putting the bad blood behind them as Serra clearly earned Hughes' respect if not the victory that he longed for.