UFC 53 - Heavy Hitters featured two (or 1 ½) title matches along with interesting match-ups to round out the card.
The night was kicked off with a fight featuring young, but experienced Cesar Gracie fighter Nick Diaz. Diaz had already 4 fights under his belt with only one loss against the talented Karo Parisyan. His opponent was Pancrase fighter who was experienced and versatile. Koji Oishi was a solid fighter who had many decision victories in the Pancrase Organization. This fight Diaz and Oishi would end in an obvious knockout considering the strategy the loser would pathetically employ. Easily, the funniest fight of the night.
Canadian fighter David Loiseau and his sharp elbows was back to reestablish himself as a contender for Evan Tanner's 185lb belt. Loiseau nearly sliced Gideon Ray's head in two at UFC 51. In this awesome display, he lined himself up for a tough challenge against a UFC newcomer. As a smaller show standout, Charles "Chainsaw" McCarthy was pumped and ready for a shot at the big leagues. The fight between the Crow and Chainsaw would feature a rare spinning thrust kick that set up a match ending flying knee! A true highlight reel of a fight!
The sport of MMA has characters and veterans; the one fighter that has both of these two in check is "Mr. International" Shonie Carter. As a veteran of 50 MMA fights and other countless combat related arts, Carter was accustomed to a fight, regardless of what level. His charismatic behavior provides as a plucky comedy relief at times, but in the ring he is all business. This was to be his first fight in the UFC since losing via knockout to Pat Miletich at UFC 32 in June of 2001. His opposition this night would be against a veteran in age only, but certainly not a novice. A common misconception to most viewers of the UFC Cable TV series, The Ultimate Fighter, was that the fighters were newcomers. Such an example was Nate "the Rock" Quarry, who at 33 had already 7 fights and 4 years of experience. Still though he was a relative novice compared to his opponent. The Carter and Quarry fight would end with a stoppage following a solid punch that would send the losing fighter dancing around looking to find his balance.
Fresh off a UFC 51 knockout of Justin Eilers, Paul Buentello quickly established himself as a heavyweight with strong striking skills. His career started off in smaller shows, but he appeared to have found a home in the UFC. His opposition would be similar to him in regards to his path to the UFC. Kevin Jordan coming in had amassed a 6 fight win streak in smaller shows, but his test in the big leagues would be quite a task. The two former small show standouts would battle hard and a tired winner would find a submission in the end.
With a new "star" in Forrest Griffin, the UFC was now ready to test their Ultimate Fighter show winner against formidable opposition. In the Ultimate Fighter (TUF), Griffin dominated his fellow light-heavyweight opposition, climaxing in an exciting fight to determine the winner against Stephan Bonnar. Griffin was eager to prove he was in the UFC to stay. His first test would come against a tough Canadian MMA fighter making his UFC debut. Canadian fighter Bill Mahood was a standout in the MMA scene in Canada, but was scouted as an ideal opponent for the UFC's newest star, Griffin. Mahood recognized this opportunity, but also would try to use his experience to try to score an upset. Their battle would hit the ground and end in a text-book rear naked choke.
The only true championship fight of the evening would be next, unfortunately taking second billing to an interim Heavyweight championship match. This fight for the UFC Middleweight (185lb) championship would be a rematch of an earlier fight contested 2 years prior.
Rich "Ace" Franklin was a fighter on a mission. His goal was UFC gold he had been chasing for over two years, amassing an impressive 18-1 record. He was coming off a dominant TKO of veteran fighter Ken Shamrock in the Ultimate Fighter Finale show. The man standing in front of his goal was ironically the very same man he defeated in his UFC debut. Middleweight champion Evan Tanner is a true veteran of the UFC and MMA. He began his career in 1997 and saw his share of highs and lows alike. He made his debut in a victory over Darrel Gholar in 1999 at UFC 18. By 2001 he found himself face to face in the octagon against (then) Light Heavyweight Champion Tito Ortiz. His grand opportunity had arrived, but even the biggest experts could not have predicted the manner he lost his this opportunity. Within the first minute and first clinch, Ortiz ko'd Tanner via slam from the under-hook position. The loss devastated Tanner, but he remained determined to climb the ladder back. By 2003 he was almost back at the top of the light-heavyweight contenders list, but suffered a surprising TKO to a fighter making his UFC debut...that fighter was Rich Franklin. Two years later, both fighters found themselves down a weight class (middleweights 185lb.), but both fighting for the same thing. Franklin to capture gold and Tanner to retain what was presently his. Their battle would be bloody, but a clear winner would have his hand raised in the end. This should have been the main event.
The bout before the main event was next and on paper it seemed to fit the roll of perhaps the most exciting fight on the card. On one corner stood young Judo fighter Karo Parisyan who employed the best throws in the business, coupled with a dangerous Kimura. His opponent would be an equally exciting fighter who was a blackbelt under Renzo Gracie. Matt Serra jiu-jitsu is unlike many other MMA fighters. While other BJJ fighters focus on control and patience, Serra usually goes for broke and risks himself in the process of obtaining a victory. The two exciting fighters would clash, but the affair would be one-sided and not provide the fireworks many fans and experts alike predicted.
No one likes a title handed to them; it does little in regards to earning respect from fans, critics, and peers. In Andrei Arlovski's case, his inevitable fight against Heavyweight champion Frank Mir was scheduled, but cancelled due to a motorcycle accident Mir suffered. The UFC acted quickly and awarded the "interim" Heavyweight Championship to Arlovski in the hopes of drawing fans in. They put their new "champion" to the test in the card relying on popularity of hard hitting heavyweights. Andrei Arlovski certainly fit this description. His opponent thought would be a late addition and a clear mismatch on paper. Justin Eilers found himself in a unique position fighting for the interim Heavyweight Championship with a 1-1 UFC record. Still though, his strength could not be denied and the rumors of Arlovski's weak chin made this fight actually closer than most thought otherwise. Their battle would end in a very freakish manner, but the "interim" title would remain as Frank Mir healed his wounds.