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Road to Toronto: Matt Serra knocks out Georges St. Pierre in the upset of the century

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Georges St. Pierre had just fulfilled his destiny in becoming the UFC welterweight champion.

And he did it by knocking out his idol Matt Hughes.

Now that he was atop the 170-pound mountain, it was time to start knocking off potential usurpers to his throne. The first such threat was The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 4 winner Matt Serra.

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.

As we continue our march towards the event, we'll take a look at the fight that might be the single most important moment in GSP's career: his shocking upset loss at the hands of Matt Serra.

St. Pierre was coming off a string off dominating victories in UFC's most stacked division. After first tasting defeat at the hands of Matt Hughes at UFC 50: "The War of '04," he rattled off wins against Jason Miller, Frank Trigg, Sean Sherk, and B.J. Penn before absolutely humbling Hughes in their rematch en route to his first taste of UFC gold.

He dominated Miller, a fixture on the Hawaiian MMA scene and went on to cement Frank Trigg's legacy of his uncanny lack of ability to defend against a rear-naked choke. St. Pierre's next victory was equally impressive.

 

Facing off against former welterweight title contender, Sean Sherk, GSP proved he had his eyes once again set upon the top of the 170-pound mountain. Sherk, a fighter whose only loss was a decision against Hughes, was completely destroyed by the French-Canadian in less than two rounds. It took Hughes 25 minutes to secure his victory over the stocky Minneapolis native.

In fact, the only time "Rush" looked less than invincible was against B.J. Penn.

GSP survived -- SURVIVED -- the first round but went on to control the fight in the second and third earning a split decision.

An injury delayed the title shot for a few months but the day finally came, St. Pierre failed to disappoint. He schooled Hughes on the feet and denied all of the American's takedown attempts.

When the French-Canadian's shin smacked against his opponent's jaw, it was only a matter of seconds before GSP was in the center of the Octagon on his knees as the newly crowed champion. It had the feeling of a storyline that had been in place since UFC 50 came to a disappointing close. 

His first defense was to be at UFC 67, part of a double main event promoting The Ultimate Fighter 4: "The Comeback" winners cashing in their "last chance." He was to square off against the welterweight winner, Matt Serra, while Anderson Silva would be defending his newly won middleweight title against Travis Lutter.

In what may of been the only instance of this in UFC history, a card with two planned title fights ended up having none as "Rush" suffered a knee injury, forcing his bout with Serra to be postponed, and Lutter failed to make weight.

Two months later, in UFC's Texas debut in Houston, St. Pierre was finally ready to defend the title he had literally begged for a shot at. At the time, betting websites had St. Pierre at as much as a -1000 favorite. The MMA community didn't seem too concerned in what seemed like a formality either. Most of the talk revolved around a rematch with Penn or a rubber match with Hughes.

A little over 200 seconds into the fight, Georges St. Pierre had his back on the mat, wondering, along with everyone else, what went wrong.

 

Let's take a look.

Serra immediately starts working a double jab but the reach difference forces him to get in close to the champ. His defense is solid, though, blocking or moving out of the way of most every strike GSP throws.

"The Terror" begins to come in low on his opponent, attacking the body with devastating hooks before immediately bouncing back out. "Rush" seems to have trouble finding his range against the stockier Serra, as his punches keep grazing the top of the challenger's skull.

Two minutes into the round and neither fighter has a distinct advantage.

That's when Serra begins to turn it on.

Shades of the champ himself, the TUF 4 winner hops forward and lands a Superman punch that cracks St. Pierre against the jaw. A head kick by the champ whiffs through the air. A leg kick is checked by Serra. A body kick is caught and nearly countered.

Serra is doing everything absolutely right.

And then it happens.

Serra comes around with a looping right hook and GSP reacts a fraction of a second too slowly. It clips him and he nearly stumbles to the mat. He backs away from his opponent and nearly falls over again.

The challenger goes in for the kill, swinging his fists like a madman. The champion gets tagged and drops to his knees, trying to secure a takedown. It's a weak attempt that Serra easily shrugs off.

"Rush" gets back to his feet and is met with two hooks that smash against both sides of his jaw. He stumbles to the mat yet again. Another weak takedown is denied by Serra. An absolute monster of a right hook barrels into GSP's jaw and he crashes onto the mat.

This time he doesn't get up.

Standing over the French-Canadian, Serra unleashes a flurry of ground and pound that no man -- not even Georges St. Pierre -- could recover from.

The referee stops the fight a split second before the now-former champion begins tapping the mat.

The champion, who had looked so unstoppable just one fight before, had given up.

Matt Serra had done the impossible and made in the process made a few adventurous gamblers a lot of money. Something St. Pierre had dreamed of, trained and fought for, for so long, was now gone. 

He was already in this position one time before and came back. 

Could he do it again?

Tomorrow: St. Pierre gets his chance at redemption against the man who took his belt.

Photo via UFC.com

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