Las Vegas Sun

September 19, 2019

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Thomas & Mack Turns 25:

No. 14: Legendary fighters highlight first UFC show

Couture, Liddell along with PRIDE’s U.S. debut top Mack’s MMA list

Beyond the Sun

Editor's Note: In conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Thomas & Mack Center's opening on Nov. 21, 1983, the Sun is celebrating the building's colorful history with a top 25 countdown - to No. 1 on Nov. 21, 2008 - of the biggest events held inside the arena located on UNLV's campus.

There might have been only one major UFC card held in the Thomas & Mack Center, but it was an event of epic proportions.

On June 6, 2003, two of the sport's legendary stars met for their first of three battles when Randy Couture squared off against Chuck Liddell inside the Octagon in front of a crowd of nearly 10,000.

Couture, who was on the heels of back-to-back setbacks, scored a third-round technical knockout to become the Interim Light Heavyweight champ, marking the first time a UFC fighter had captured titles in two different weight divisions. Couture was also a two-time heavyweight champion.

The card also featured the likes of champs Frank Mir and Vitor Belfort.

There have been other big MMA events in the Mack as well, including the first-ever PRIDE Fighting Championship held outside Japan when PRIDE 32: The Real Deal came to town Oct. 21, 2006.

Lots of smoke, boxer “Butterbean,” and arguably the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter in Fedor Emelianenko highlighted a show seen by more than 11,000.

Emelianenko submitted Mark Coleman in the second round while Dan Henderson took down Belfort in another match.

Eric “Butterbean” Esch, decked out in his patented American flags trunks, made fast work out of Sean O'Haire, knocking him out in the first 30 seconds of Round One.

Orginally Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipović and Wanderlei Silva were also scheduled to fight on the card, but “Crop Cop” pulled out due to an injury and Silva was deemed unable to participate because he had recently been knocked out in a previous fight.

At the time, UFC president Dana White praised other fight organizations’ attempt at growing the sport.

"I'm going to go and watch it," White said. "I'm not going to counter it. There are shows popping up all over the place, and the more shows there are out there, the more opportunity younger guys get to fight.

“There's going to be other promotions, and it's good for the sport. It's good for me."

Smaller shows, like last month’s Night of Combat II, have also held fight fans’ attention inside the Mack. The first Night of Combat saw the return of Couture, who came in support of his wife, Kim, who was making her MMA debut. While she suffered a broken jaw in a loss, the night was a roaring success as nearly 9,000 fans attended — solidifying the Mack’s spot alongside Mandalay Bay and MGM in the fight game.

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