This Day in MMA History: April 2

On MMA’s historical calendar, April 2 overflows with riches. On this day in 2006, Pride Bushido 10 provided a complete Pride Fighting Championships hat trick: the sublime (vintage savagery from Phil Baroni and the apex of Jens Pulver’s last great run), the terrible (lightweight champion Takanori Gomi getting embarrassed by Marcus Aurelio in a non-title fight) and, of course, the ridiculous (Ikuhisa Minowa using Paulo Cesar Silva as a jungle gym in a sideshow spectacle that was not nearly as fun as it looked on paper).

However, with all due respect to Pride Bushido 10 and UFC Fight Night 13 in 2008, which gave us Nate Diaz’s legendary double-bird triangle choke of Kurt Pellegrino, one event stands above the rest. UFC 47 saw the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s two biggest stars, Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, finally meet after what seemed like an eternity of public posturing and sniping. The UFC assured fans it was the biggest fight ever, and with Pride still facing its own uphill battle to get Fedor Emelianenko and Mirko Filipovic into the ring together, it did not feel like hyperbole.

That is not to say that the “biggest fight ever” had not suffered by being delayed so long. Rather than the title fight it might have been if booked a year earlier, it was a No. 1 contender fight between two men who had been beaten convincingly by Randy Couture in recent memory. Then it was not even that, as Couture’s title defense against Vitor Belfort at UFC 46 ended in one of the most freakish cut stoppages ever, leading the UFC to book an immediate rematch.

Nonetheless, the fight felt big—was big—and for such a one-sided affair, it delivered big. As a pure clash of styles between a ground-and-pounder and a sprawl-and-brawler, the writing was on the wall a little over halfway through the first round, where Liddell effortlessly shucked off Ortiz’s second earnest takedown attempt. Nonetheless, Liddell’s customary wariness, paired with Ortiz’s surprising success striking, made for a subdued first frame, until the final seconds, when “The Iceman” rocked “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” with a punch combination punctuated by a head kick. Ortiz bounced on his toes and screamed defiantly as the horn sounded, but the damage was done. When the second round began, Liddell picked up right where he left off, walking Ortiz into the cage and authoring one of the sport’s truly iconic finishes. The image of Liddell chain-gunning punches as Ortiz melts under the barrage is a staple of UFC highlight reels to this day.

Liddell would go on to capture the light heavyweight title from Couture once “The Natural” concluded his business with Belfort and after he and Couture took a few weeks off to film some little reality show. Liddell would then defend the belt four times, handing Couture and Ortiz each another brutal knockout in the process, before losing it to Quinton Jackson. Meanwhile, Ortiz’s high-water mark had already passed; while he remained a viable star for another decade, his days as a top-level contender were numbered.

More importantly, UFC 47 was the highest-selling pay-per-view of the Zuffa era to date and only the second—after Ortiz’s first meeting with Ken Shamrock—to break 100,000 buys. It continued the UFC’s growth, a slow, steady curve that would go exponential almost exactly a year later with the finale of the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter” on April 9, 2005.