Date: September 26, 2003
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Attendance: 10,400 (approx.)
If there was one UFC fight in 2003 that was pondered, debated and anticipated above all others, it was Randy Couture versus Tito Ortiz at UFC 44: Undisputed.
It was the big fight of the year for the organization, and White and Co. built a solid card around the matchup, booking Andrei Arlovski, Nick Diaz, Caol Uno, Rich Franklin and Tim Sylvia, who was making his first defense of his heavyweight title.
And the card started off strong, with Hermes Franca defeating Uno via knockout in a fight that was all over the Octagon for seven minutes and 41 seconds. At one point, it looked like Uno had broken his neck thanks to a throw that caused him to land on the point of his head.
Uno came back, but eventually he was caught with a hard punch that knocked him senseless. The end followed quickly.
Then, Nick Diaz made his UFC debut, fighting Jeremy Jackson for the third and final time. Their first bout had seen Jackson blitz Diaz and win via TKO, and their second bout had seen Diaz even the score, winning by submission.
Both men looked good in the fight, with Diaz looking to avoid most of the striking exchanges in favor of getting the fight to the floor. The strategy paid off; Diaz won the bout via armbar at 2:02 of Round 3.
Josh Thompson and Karo Parisyan both won the next two fights (by TKO and submission) in the first round, the prelims were in the books, and the main card was about to begin.
Rich Franklin took out the overmatched Edwin DeWees with relative ease, stopping him in Round 1 via TKO. It wasn’t a fantastic fight, but it was emphatic, giving the card its fifth fight in a row to end by stoppage, with three of those fights ending in the very first round.
That all came to a halt when Jorge Rivera and David Loiseau fought hard for all three rounds of their bout, which ended with Rivera earning a deserved decision. He survived the vicious elbows of Loiseau early (which left many nasty lacerations on his head) and battled back to attack the Canadian in the clinches, finally knocking him down.
Rivera couldn’t seal the deal, but both men fought hard and there was enough action to keep the crowd entertained.
Following Rivera and Loiseau, Arlovski stepped into the Octagon to take on the always-tough Vladimir Matyushenko. Arlovski battered Matyushenko badly, sprawling often in the beginning before catching “The Janitor” with a hard uppercut that dropped him. From there, a few hard shots on the ground saw the bout stopped and another first-round stoppage in the books.
The action continued, this time for the UFC heavyweight title. Tim Sylvia took on Gan McGee in a bout of truly big men, but it was of little importance as McGee came out looking to strike with his hands down and his chin up and out in the open.
Sylvia landed a hard right hand that buckled McGee, but the challenger paid no heed to what should have been a clear warning of what was to come. The next time Sylvia landed his right hand, McGee fell and Sylvia followed him down, unloaded countless punches and earned his first successful title defense.
After the fight, Sylvia would test positive for banned substances and would be stripped of his title.
Finally, the main event had arrived: Randy Couture versus Tito Ortiz.
Nearly everyone cage-side who was interviewed before the bout predicted that Ortiz would simply be too much for Couture, save for Joe Rogan, who felt that Couture was bringing into the bout a package Ortiz had never faced before.
As the story unfolded, round after round, he was proven correct.
Couture took Ortiz down in Round 1, which had never been done before. He continued to take Ortiz down in every round, controlling from the top position, gaining the mount position and basically dominating the entire fight.
It was shocking how easy Couture made it look. Granted, he had to fight for some takedowns, but even when Ortiz reversed the position, Couture would reverse it again and go back to work, sending Ortiz back to his corner, frustrated and more and more desperate as the rounds slipped away.
During the final round, it was all Couture once again, forcing Ortiz against the cage and snatching another takedown 95 seconds into the round. From there, Couture pounded on Ortiz as he had done all night, ending the bout on top as the buzzer sounded.
Couture was the new undisputed light heavyweight champion, and Ortiz was not.