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Road to Toronto: Georges St. Pierre knocks out Matt Hughes to become UFC welterweight champion

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He spent the night in the hospital, I spent the night in a bar. - B.J. Penn

Georges St. Pierre had been brutalized by the Hawaiian at UFC 58 but emerged the victor by the narrowest of margins. With that victory came a title shot but a training injury put title aspirations to a screeching -- albeit temporary -- halt. 

In a move that placated Penn fans -- and likely Penn himself -- the former welterweight champ was put in St. Pierre's slot and got a chance to win back the belt he never lost. Penn fell short and Hughes vs. St. Pierre part deux was back on the board.

Road to Toronto is a special series leading up to UFC 129: "St. Pierre vs. Shields."

We'll take a look at some of the most important moments in the careers of the champion (Georges St. Pierre) and his challenger (Jake Shields), including the ups and the downs and the highs and the lows. We'll examine the instances in time that have helped shape the men that headline this Saturday's (April 30, 2011) card, the biggest in UFC history.

Today we'll focus on GSP's second fight with Matt Hughes. He was no longer the intimidated fan he was when they colllided at UFC 50: "The War of '04." St. Pierre was now battle-hardened and confident. While he wasn't yet ready to assume the welterweight crown in 2004, he was more than willing to take it -- by any means necessary -- in 2006.

Let's take a look at this 170-pound passing of the torch.

By the skin of his teeth, St. Pierre earned himself a second title shot. He survived a first round beating at the hands of Penn at UFC 58: "USA vs. Canada" only to go on and impose his will against the Hawaiian in the final two.

The bloody and battered face of St. Pierre only served to draw the ire of Penn and his handlers, feeling "The Prodigy" should have been declared the winner and awarded the title shot against Hughes.

To be honest, everyone wanted to see Hughes rematch both of these fighters and a bit of bad luck for St. Pierre ended up being a stroke of incredible fortune for those fans.

"Rush" suffered an injury during training and had to pull out of his championship bout. He was surely heartbroken, but a guaranteed title shot once he healed up no doubt serviced to ease that pain.

Penn stepped in -- a position he already felt he deserved -- and took on Hughes at UFC 63: "Hughes vs. Penn." Baby Jay controlled the first two rounds but wilted in the third. Skeptics claim "The Prodigy's" infamously rusty gas tank is to blame. Proponents of the Hilo boy point to a rib injury suffered by the Hawaiian.

Either way, Hughes was still the champion.

After the match, St. Pierre was brought into the cage and told Hughes that he was "not impressed" by the American's performance. For a fighter known for his milquetoast behavior outside the Octagon, this was the equivalent of the best trash talk Chael Sonnen could ever offer.

At UFC 65: "Bad Intentions," they finally clashed. And the welterweight division changed forever.

The first thing you noticed is "Rush" staring directly into Hughes' eyes. He knows something the champion doesn't.

Both fighters stake their claim to the center of the Octagon, neither wanting to give up an inch. GSP shoots off several head kicks, neither of which find their mark. An outside leg kick slightly buckles the American.

He smiles -- a bit of gamesmanship that everyone knows actually means, "That really freakin' hurt."

Hughes, as he has his entire career, looks stilted and clumsy in his stand-up. The memory of GSP's excellent takedown defense is likely still on his mind and he'd rather not waste energy on takedowns without setting them up. That may have worked before but "Rush" is a different animal altogether.

GSP spins and fires off a kick, shades of the strike he landed against Hughes in their first bout. It misses by a hair and the crowd roars. Hughes and St. Pierre exchange an awkward high five, something that is completely out of character for the ultra-competitive Pat Miletich trained country boy.

They circle the center of the cage and an inside leg kick catches Hughes below the belt. It leads to a short stoppage but another kick lands off-point and Hughes again crashes to the mat. The kicks are inadvertent but will GSP think twice before throwing them?

Upon the restart, "Rush" unloads a high kick that is blocked but pushes Hughes back. He tags the champion a couple of times before Hughes throws a kick that is caught. GSP drives his fist into the American's back, dropping him to the mat. He follows him down and begins to ground and pound.

Hughes is able to scramble out from underneath his opponent but is kneed in the face for his trouble. Both fighters are throwing but neither land. The champ is able to grab onto his challenger and attempts a takedown but GSP is almost superhuman in his defense.

Ten seconds left in the first round and GSP lunges forward with a Superman punch. It catches Hughes and he likely blacks out for a split-second -- an eternity it must seem to him. His body, previously as nimble as the human body could possibly get, becomes rigid and stiff. 

The blow smacked Hughes directly in the forehead and is followed by two left hooks that drops the champion to the mat. The bell sounds off and there's a bit of confusion as to whether or not the fight was stopped or the round had expired.

Hughes himself stood up and was unsure. He groggily made his way to his stool while "Rush" paced on his side of the cage.

You can't dangle a piece of steak in front of a tiger and then yank it away.

The second round starts and St. Pierre immediately begins throwing his legs at Hughes. It's fascinating to watch the next few seconds. GSP throws an outside leg kick that Hughes checks. Realizing this, "Rush" throws another, not to land against his opponent's thigh, but to sweep Hughes' back leg.

The champion falls to the mat. It doesn't cause physical damage but the thought that St. Pierre is leagues beyond you in the striking department must weigh heavily on the champion mentally.

"Rush" is able to land his jab at will. He catches the champion right on the chin over and over. He throws a kick, one that Hughes assumes is going low, but goes high and it catches him on the jaw.

Getting knocked out is a funny thing. Your brain feels it is in immediate danger and shuts your body down. It's survival instinct bred into your body from thousands of years of evolution. Your brain then reboots to a time before it was put in mortal danger.

In real time, it lasts a matter of seconds. To the victim, it seems like an infinity.

Matt Hughes felt all of this after collapsing to the mat and being met with several punches and elbows from Georges St. Pierre ... the new welterweight champion of the world.

Tomorrow: His first title defense and the little engine that could, Matt Serra.

Photo via ufc.com

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