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By: Chris Park, MMATorch UK Specialist
This Saturday night at UFC 123 two greats in MMA history will enter the Octagon when B.J. "The Prodigy" Penn and Matt Hughes face off for the third and final time.
Matt Hughes was once regarded as "the perfect MMA fighter" as he saw off all comers during his reign at the top of the 170 lb. division.
Regardless of the opposition, Hughes rose to the challenge, always finding a way to win. Successful in his first championship reign, Hughes became a five-time defending champion; seeing off the likes of Frank Trigg, Sean Sherk and the man he initially took the title from - Carlos Newton.
During a second stint at the top Hughes produced some of the most memorable moments in welterweight history: the submission victory that handed a young George St. Pierre his first loss; the comeback against Frank Trigg in their re-match, and not to forget the UFC 60 marquee fight against the returning legend Royce Gracie.
The comeback win against Trigg will go down as one of the defining moments of Matt Hughes' glittering career. An accidental low blow handed Trigg an opportunity, and one he was happy to capitalize on, as he threw a barrage of shots that sent Hughes to the canvas. The title looked on the verge of changing hands as Trigg locked in a rear-naked choke with Hughes struggling to defend himself.
A test of a true champion is how he responds to adversity, and as Hughes worked his way back to his feet, he scooped Trigg up onto his shoulder, ran the length of the Octagon, and brutally drilled the challenger into the canvas.
After a dose of heavy ground and pound, Hughes secured a match winning rear-naked choke of his own to once again defend the Welterweight Title.
While Hughes has already claimed his seat in the UFC Hall Of Fame, it is expected that B.J. Penn will soon follow as "The Prodigy" looks to continue the writing of his legacy with Saturday night's co-main event.
Penn will undoubtedly go down as one of - if not the - very best lightweights in UFC history, having dismantled the likes of Joe Stevenson, Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez.
Penn has recently suffered a slump in fortunes, losing his title at UFC 112 to Frankie "The Answer" Edgar, and then falling victim to a one sided white-wash during their UFC 118 instant rematch.
The manner in which Edgar defeated Penn made many question what was next for "The Prodigy," and if he would even fight again. The general consensus was that another charge in the welterweight division may be the correct move, and shortly after, Penn vs. Hughes III was confirmed.
Holding a victory over one another, this rubber matchup is a long time in the making, and Penn himself has referred to the fight as "a reason to live." Penn will be looking to recreate the kind of performance that saw him defeat Hughes, and shock the MMA world, when they first met back in 2004.
With Hughes pretty much clearing out all of the challengers available at welterweight, the UFC turned to 155 lb. standout - Penn - to offer their champion a fresh challenge.
Hughes himself stated that he found it insulting that a fighter from a weight class lower imagined they could prise the welterweight crown away from his grasp.
At UFC 46 that is exactly what happened as B.J. dropped Hughes to the canvas before taking his back and submitting the shell shocked defending champion inside of the very first round.
Penn had achieved the unthinkable by moving up in weight and defeating the "invincible" Matt Hughes in devastating fashion. As Penn celebrated he kissed Hughes while knowing he had not only become the Welterweight Champion, but had cemented himself as an MMA superstar.
In their rematch two years later, Hughes again suffered an early scare as Penn took the first two rounds before Hughes came back in round three. Hughes trapped Penn in an extremely effective crucifix position, which allowed Hughes to land over 30 unanswered blows, forcing the referee to stop the fight, and subsequently hand Penn the first stoppage loss of his career.
A win this Saturday for Hughes may see him thrown into the title mix for what would be a fourth and final shot at the welterweight crown, while victory for Penn could be just what is needed to revitalise "The Prodigy," and help him return to the form that once saw him defeat Hughes and capture the UFC Welterweight Title.
Chris Park is the MMATorch UK Specialist and guest columnist at ESPN.co.uk. Please email any comments or questions to Chris at; email@example.com or look us up at http://www.facebook.com/mmatorchuk2 our new MMATorch Facebook home for UK Fans!
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