Georges St. Pierre captured Ultimate Fighting Championship gold for the first time at UFC 65 on Nov. 18, 2006. The ascent seemed long overdue, but his stay at the top -- at least in terms of his first title reign at 170 pounds -- would be shockingly brief.
Ten years ago today, St. Pierre faced Matt Hughes for the undisputed welterweight crown in a rematch at the ARCO Arena in Sacramento, California. Hughes had submitted the Tristar Gym superstar with a first-round armbar two years earlier, but their second meeting went as most expected. St. Pierre dominated the future hall of famer before dispatching him with a head kick and follow-up ground strikes in the second round.
Almost nothing went according to plan for Hughes. St. Pierre cut off his takedowns, trapped him on the feet and probed for openings from the outside. A stinging jab and punishing leg kicks -- two of them inadvertently went low -- were his chief weapons. St. Pierre also incorporated a spinning back kick to the body, a few overhand rights and a takedown in the first round. He nearly stopped Hughes in the closing seconds of that frame, as he floored the Miletich Fighting Systems rep with a Superman punch and a sweeping left hook. Finish or not, the message had been sent: Hughes was living on borrowed time.
A little more than a minute into the second round, a St. Pierre head kick sent Hughes crashing to the canvas, where he was met with a volley of punches and elbows that prompted referee John McCarthy to intervene. The end came 1:25 into Round 2.
“I knew he was worried for my leg kick,” St. Pierre said. “I decided to fake a leg kick, so I looked down and I kicked at his head. I practiced a lot this move in training.”
The decisive victory made St. Pierre the fifth undisputed welterweight champion in UFC history, alongside Hughes, Pat Miletich, Carlos Newton and B.J. Penn.
“I come from very far,” he said. “You know, I had a very hard way up here. Wow, it’s just amazing. I’m so surprised, I’m so happy, I can’t even cry. I can’t describe my feeling right now. It’s too much.”
St. Pierre was respectful toward Hughes, who passed the torch after spending 1,577 days atop the division across two title reigns.
“He’s the best fighter by far that I’ve fought so far,” St. Pierre said. “Keep your head up, man. We’re going to fight again, so don’t let this loss put you down.”
Less than five months later, St. Pierre was victimized by Matt Serra in what most still consider the greatest MMA upset of all-time. He went on to defeat Hughes for a second time in 2007 before reclaiming the welterweight championship by avenging his loss to Serra at UFC 83. He remained at the top until December 13, 2013, when he vacated the throne after 2,064 days.