The day was April 7, 2007. The event: UFC 69. The place: Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
The card was headlined by defending UFC welterweight champion, Georges St. Pierre, and the Ultimate Fighter 4 winner, Matt Serra.
Las Vegas had listed the champion as an 11-to-1 favorite over the New York native, a staggering disparity for a title fight. Yet, no one seemed to argue.
The Canadian, a physical Adonis, had mowed down top 10 welterweights with relative ease to earn a rematch with Matt Hughes, a fighter GSP lost to in 2004. The fight was far different from their first, as St. Pierre defeated Hughes by technical knockout to win the welterweight championship.
However, Serra, a self-proclaimed "five-foot, six-inch meatball," had amassed a record of .500 since joining the promotion in 2001. In a last-ditch effort, Serra joined the Ultimate Fighter: Comeback, which collected fighters who had yet to earn a title shot, a proverbial land of lost toys. With a win against Chris Lytle in the finale, Serra was given the exciting, yet daunting opportunity to fight GSP for the welterweight crown.
So when fight night arrived, who could blame the journalists and fans for a lack of enthusiasm? It was, after all, a fight between a sophisticated thoroughbred and a dark horse.
Serra, who had claimed he would shock the world, entered the cage with the calm demeanor of a man who was sauntering through a dream. GSP, on the other hand, moved like a machine programmed to kill.
"It's time!" Bruce Buffer, in announcing the fighters, seemed to sever the air with a sharp "Pierre!"
The fight was on. GSP and Serra touched gloves and imparted proper spacing to feel out one another. Sure nothing happened in the first minute, but all seemed to believe it was a matter of time.
And then something did happen.
Serra clipped GSP.
On wobbly legs, the champion attempted to evade Serra's attack, but the cage only has so much space. GSP was hit again. Then again. And then GSP was on the ground. Serra stood over him raining down punches. The crowd was on their feet. Could the 15,269 in attendance, and millions viewing around the world, really be seeing what they were seeing?
GSP tapped. And Serra celebrated with a patented one-handed cartwheel. Before he even landed, his team was piling into the octagon. The celebration wasn't just for a title; it was about overcoming the impossible. The crowd and journalists knew that. It was easy to spot on their agape mouths and silent faces. All of them had just witnessed history.
And, now, after three years of inactivity, Serra announced his retirement, barring a potential fight at Madison Square Garden.
Now whenever a fighter retires, journalists and fans always ask "what is his/her legacy?" Well, in truth, most fighters will never earn a legacy. Most will retire as quietly as they fought, never to be heard from again. But, in some rare cases, a fighter will leave behind a mark, a story, a moment that no one in the MMA community will forget.
So, despite the fact Serra's UFC career ended with a 7-7 record, and despite the fact he didn't successfully defend his title, he will always be part of UFC history, as the fighter who pulled off the greatest upset. Because while we cheer the unstoppable athlete, we always relate with the underdog.
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