Today marks the 15th anniversary of UFC 58: USA vs Canada, which took place at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
UFC 58 was the first, and only, time in promotion history where fights were booked with specific countries rivalling each other throughout the night.
The eight-fight card was headlined by Middleweight Champion Rich Franklin who faced off with challenger David Loiseau, while Mike Swick and Steve Vigneault met in the co-main event.
Despite not holding a main or co-main event spot, former UFC Welterweight Champion BJ Penn and the red-hot Georges St-Pierre, a winner of four straight, was dubbed as “the fight of the year” by Mike Goldberg on the broadcast. It’s hard to disagree with him.
Two of the most legendary figures in MMA history engaged in a 15-minute war that featured high-level striking and grappling – both offensively and defensively. There were momentum shifts and adjustments made by both men which led to a close battle to it’s core. Let’s break it down.
This bout was the definition of a title-eliminator. Champion Matt Hughes preferred to avenge his loss against Penn in his next title defence, and already held a win over St-Pierre, but the UFC wasn’t willing to skip over GSP after the performances he strung together following his only loss. It was agreed upon by Penn, St-Pierre, the UFC, and Hughes that the winner of this matchup would earn the next title shot.
Path to Fight Night:
The former champion and the UFC reached an agreement which brought the 27-year-old back to the welterweight title picture after two years away from the promotion. His most recent fight in the UFC was his submission win over the aforementioned Hughes at UFC 46. Penn completed the upset when he took Hughes’ back in a scramble and secured a rear naked choke late in the first round to become the first Hawaiian-born UFC Champion.
Penn then agreed to fight with K1 shortly after the win and was consequently stripped of the title by the UFC, much to the chagrin of Penn.
In his time between defeating Hughes and his return against S-Pierre, Penn racked up a 3-1 record with wins over Duane Ludwig, Rodrigo Gracie, and Renzo Gracie. His lone loss came against the undefeated Lyoto Machida who had a 29-pound advantage.
With a win over St-Pierre, Penn could place himself right where he was in 2004; pitted against Matt Hughes in a title fight, once again as the challenger.
The French-Canadian looked to extend his win-streak to five and improve his record to 12-1 overall. The one loss on St-Pierre’s record came from Hughes. GSP’s chance at redemption against Hughes at the title depended on this performance. At the ripe age of 24, St-Pierre was fresh off a second round TKO victory over veteran Sean Sherk just 105 days prior, and the flashes of dominant-brilliance were becoming a regular part of his game.
Entering the Octagon:
GSP’s walk to the octagon became a routine, as he quietly became one of the promotion’s most active fighters with his third appearance in six-and-a-half months.
The former champion wasn’t afraid to make his presence felt when he entered the octagon. He donned the bold combo of a “WORLD CHAMP” shirt and the UFC gold he previously earned wrapped around his waist.
Tale of the Tape:
The opening frame was a striking affair with both men exchanging shots at a slower, technical pace with Penn dealing the larger dose of damage. This early uppercut nicked the nose of St-Pierre which poured blood for the remainder of the bout visibly affecting the Canadian.
GSP attacked the lead leg of Penn early on, but the former champion was ready to check kicks from the get-go. St-Pierre continued going to the legs but Penn’s anticipation lead to this heavy counter.
St-Pierre did his best to land a takedown throughout the round, but Penn managed distance well before displaying his incredible flexibility, balance, and takedown defense while he was against the cage.
After dropping the first round, St-Pierre adjusted his game plan and became more aggressive. After forcing the Hawaiian towards the cage in the clinch, GSP was able to drive him down even with Penn’s best efforts to stay up.
After the takedown, GSP controlled Penn for over a minute and avoided any issues from his world-class guard. Penn eventually escaped off his back despite the Canadian having ahold of his leg, and displayed impressive defensive awareness by avoiding the leg kick and right hook from St-Pierre.
During the striking exchanges, Penn continued to check leg kicks and counter them when possible, but GSP’s adjustment of no longer committing to fighting in the pocket paid dividends.
After a long bout of clinch work, St-Pierre landed another takedown to finalize the round in his favor.
The longer the fight went on, St-Pierre’s hunger seemed to increase. He relentlessly transitioned from a single leg to a double-leg slam, and once again avoided any troubles from Penn’s guard.
Penn’s heart continued to show as he worked his way up and eventually landed his first takedown of the fight, albeit brief, late in the contest. In what was a monumental transition, St-Pierre working his way back up and not allowing any top time for Penn, or giving up his back, may have secured himself the decision.
The Canadian attempted takedowns against the cage in a minute-long, grueling battle for positioning but Penn’s elite grappling defense held up. St-Pierre made the calculated decision to back into the center of the octagon, which baited Penn into a possible last slugfest, but GSP capitalized on his first opening and landed his fourth and final takedown of the fight.
Penn made a last-ditch attempt to keep the judges out of it with a few different shoulder lock attempts, but GSP avoided danger.
Following the spirited 15-minute affair, cameras immediately cut to Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes and UFC President Dana White who were on their feet in appreciation of both men’s efforts.
Scorecards were counted and Bruce Buffer’s announcement was longer than usual. He asked the crowd for one last ovation before reading the split decision results, which had the Canadian coming out on top 28-29, 29-28, 29-28.
St-Pierre earned the rematch and title shot he was working for, but due to a groin injury he was forced to withdraw from UFC 63. Despite the recent loss, Penn filled in for the Canadian against Hughes. The champion Hughes went on to retain his belt and avenged his loss original loss against Penn. The win came via a third-round TKO finish in their second of the eventual trilogy of fights. Penn’s losses to GSP and Hughes marked the first time he lost consecutive fights in his career.
GSP recovered from his injury and went on to finish the only man who had ever beaten him to that point. St-Pierre’s game looked as strong as ever against Hughes and the performance was capped off with an iconic head-kick which led to a ground and pound finish in the second round at UFC 65.
The first meeting of Penn vs St-Pierre was a razor-thin fight where the man who did more damage lost the fight, but rightfully so, due to being controlled for the majority of the final two rounds. In hindsight, Penn’s performance was one of the toughest puzzles St-Pierre had to solve during his illustrious career. GSP was clearly disappointed in himself after the opening round but dug deep to the last second to earn himself a champion-like victory.