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On Sept. 27, 2002, the Ultimate Fighting Championship went to Uncasville, Connecticut, for UFC 39. In the main event, Ricco Rodriguez took on Randy Couture for the vacant Heavyweight title. After two rounds of back-and-forth action, Rodriguez turned up the intensity and began to overwhelm Couture with his wrestling, his top control, and his ground-and-pound. In the fifth and final round, Rodriguez fractured Couture’s eye socket with an elbow and forced “The Natural” to verbally submit, resulting in Rodriguez becoming the UFC Heavyweight champion.
UFC 39 also saw the first round of the Lightweight tournament in which Caol Uno beat Din Thomas and B.J. Penn beat Matt Serra to advance to the finals. The card also featured the UFC debut of Tim Sylvia, who defeated Wesley Correira. Sylvia would go on at UFC 41 to be the first challenger for Rodriguez’s Heavyweight title, ultimately dethroning the newly-minted champion with a first-round knockout.