DUBLIN, Ireland - Dan Henderson and Mauricio (Shogun) Rua celebrated wins Saturday night while Canadian Denis Kang was left to wonder what went wrong in his UFC debut.
UFC eyes were smiling after a successful debut in Ireland before a sellout crowd of 9,369 at the O2 Arena that sang and chanted its way through parts of UFC 93. The mixed martial arts show, which sold out in four days, drew a gate of US$1.3 million.
"One of the most energetic, incredible crowds I've ever been a part of," said UFC president Dana White. "It was an amazing night."
The card was pretty good, too.
Henderson used his big right hand and wrestling skills to win a split decision over light-heavyweight Rich Franklin in a battle of former champions. It was a solid performance by the 38-year-old former Pride title-holder, who managed to keep the 34-year-old former UFC middleweight champion off his game.
"Ultimately I thought that style-wise that's a good fight for me," said Henderson, whose ribs were aching after absorbing a Franklin knee in the second round. "Rich does real well on the outside and has some nice kicks. And I felt if I needed to, I could take him down. ...The fight was what it was. I felt I should have done a little more that third round."
Rua, who at 27 has 17 years on Coleman, emerged with less glory. He finally managed to stop a game Coleman with 24 seconds left in the third round, chopping down the UFC Hall of Famer with a half-dozen punches that included a giant uppercut that snapped Coleman's head back.
An exhausted Coleman exited to cheers, having won over the pro-Rua crowd.
"He did very well," said Rua. "I take my hat off to him. He did great."
The UFC thought enough of the card to give out two fight of the night bonuses rather than the normal one. Coleman and Rua each received an extra $40,000 for their bout, as did Marcus (The Irish Hand Grenade) Davis and Chris (Lights Out) Lytle for their welterweight war, which Davis won by split decision.
Davis-Lytle was a gimme, but the Coleman-Rua bonus seemed more of a tip of the hat to Coleman's endurance and refusal to quit. The first-ever UFC heavyweight champion scored some takedowns and showed glimpses of his once famed ground and pound but needed a guide to get to his stool both times between rounds.
German lightweight Dennis Siver (13-6) won the $40,000 knockout of the night bonus, finishing off American Nate Mohr in the third round with a spinning back kick.
And Alan (The Talent) Belcher picked up an extra $40,000 for submission of the night for his guillotine choke that ruined Kang's UFC's debut.
Henderson's win (scored 29-28, 29-28 for Henderson and 30-27 for Franklin) earned him a gig as coach of the U.S. team on Season 9 of "The Ultimate Fighter," which starts filming later this month, and a fight with UK coach Michael Bisping at middleweight after the series.
Franklin, a fine technical striker, was slow out of the blocks and was unable to use his size advantage against the durable Henderson (24-7) until the third round. Franklin (26-4 with one no contest) took a finger in the eye with some 35 seconds remaining, but finished out the fight.
"Thirty to 27 for him is a little off," Henderson said of the dissenting judge.
Franklin was cut twice on the forehead, one from an accidental head-butt and the other from a Henderson blow.
Coleman had not fought since October 2006 when he lost to Fedor Emelianenko at Pride 32. Rua, meanwhile, had been out of action since losing his UFC debut via submission to Forrest Griffin at UFC 76 in September 2007, after which he had two knee surgeries.
"I was sidelined for a year and a half, went through surgeries and that's not easy," Rua said through an interpreter. "So that took a lot of my conditioning. It's one thing to train, another thing to fight. When you get back to fighting, you've got to get back in rhythm. So I think I paid a price because of that, but I'm sure by my next fight I will be more prepared and in better shape, better conditioning to give my fans a great show."
White announced after the card that Rua's next outing will be against Chuck (The Iceman) Liddell at UFC 97 in Montreal on April 18.
Coleman scored a controversial win over Rua at Pride 31 in February 2006 when the Brazilian fell awkwardly during a takedown, dislocating his elbow. Both fighters' camps ended up in the ring, setting the stage for a bad blood rematch.
But the two seemed to make up after the rematch.
Kang (31-11-1 with two no contests) had been in the midst of a steady if not spectacular performance in his UFC debut when he attempted a takedown that Belcher (13-4) stuffed, then converted into a choke that forced the Pride veteran to tap at 4:36 of the second round.
Vancouver's Kang, a black belt in jiu-jitsu to Belcher's purple, took the 24-year-old from Biloxi, Miss., down three times, escaping his guard to get side control but could not damage his opponent.
Belcher, who had asked to fight the former Pride fighter, had promised before the fight that he had a few tricks up his sleeve. "You never know, I'm might slap a triangle or something on him," he told The Canadian Press.
Neither fighter attended the post-fight news conference.
Lytle (36-17-4) was the aggressor in the first round, with Davis (21-5) content to counter-punch. Lytle, an Indianapolis firefighter, had Davis running backwards at one point in the second, but Davis started finding his range later in the round.
Lytle, his body reddening from absorbing kicks, kept swinging for the fences in the third. Davis, his face bloodied and lumpy, chopped back with accurate counter-punches and won the round on two of the three judges' scorecards.
The fighter from Bangor, Maine, a popular winner due to his Irish heritage, is now 5-1 in his European UFC bouts but said the win in Ireland was extra-special.
"I can count how many times that I've cried on one hand in my life," Davis said. "I went back to my dressing room and I bawled my eyes out. This was a big deal to me. "
English welterweight John (The Hitman) Hathaway disappointed the Irish crowd, stopping local favourite Thomas (The Tank) Egan at 4:36 of the first round. Egan (3-1) was scrappy but outclassed by Hathaway (11-0) and the fight ended with the 21-year-old Hathaway glued to Egan's back, firing elbows at his head.
At 20, Egan is the youngest fighter on the UFC books and he was the only Irish talent on Saturday's card.
With the UFC thinking of returning to Dublin next year for St. Patrick's Day, Egan will probably live to fight another day. But he need only look at heavyweight Colin (Big C) Robinson for the reality of job security in the UFC. Robinson, a native of Northern Ireland who fought in Belfast at UFC 72 and UFC 80 in Newcastle, was working as security at the fight Saturday.