LAS VEGAS -- The Chuck Liddell-Wanderlei Silva fight took years to stage, but the wait was worth it.
Liddell, 38, outslugged Silva in what the Ultimate Fighting Championship's former light-heavyweight champion called a "good old-fashioned, hand-to-hand" battle Saturday night, claiming a unanimous-decision victory in front of a sellout crowd of more than 11,000 at Mandalay Bay Events Center.
The fight's excitement outperformed the night's main event, which former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre won in dominant fashion in the second round. St-Pierre twisted ex-champion Matt Hughes' right arm grotesquely into an armbar and Hughes submitted with six seconds left in the round.
The victory gave St-Pierre the UFC's interim welterweight belt and a 2008 date with current champion Matt Serra, who upset St-Pierre in April, then suffered herniated back disks in November while training to fight Hughes.
"Until I get my belt back, I'm not going to consider myself champion," St-Pierre said while holding the interim belt.
Hughes, pummeled on the canvas throughout by St-Pierre, said the Canadian "is the better fighter, nothing I can say beyond that." Hughes also hinted at retirement: "I don't know how much longer I've got in this," he said.
Liddell significantly delayed any retirement talk.
He staggered Silva in the second and third rounds, rallying from a trying majority of the second round as Silva unleashed combination flurries that left Liddell (21-5) vulnerable to a third straight defeat.
"It's good to be back," Liddell said in the Octagon afterward. "He [Silva] had a lot. I hit him with a lot of stuff hard and he kept coming. As I've said for a long time, it would have been a travesty if we hadn't fought."
Two judges awarded Liddell all three rounds, and another gave Silva one round.
Silva (31-8-1), a multiple champion of PRIDE Fighting tournaments, hadn't fought since February when he suffered a stunning loss to Dan Henderson in the final PRIDE show in the U.S. The organization was purchased by the UFC later, and Silva's contract talks with the UFC labored on until the summer, delaying a Liddell showdown again.
The pair were poised to fight in 2003, but Quinton "Rampage" Jackson upset Liddell in Japan, derailing a PRIDE Grand Prix meeting.
The long wait was extended 45 seconds as both spent the early first round waiting for the other to come forward. Liddell threw the more vicious swings, and landed enough, including a left-right combo, to leave Silva's face puffy at the break.
Liddell slipped twice in the second round, and appeared to be knocked down off a Silva right with two minutes left. But the former champion shrugged off Silva's increasing barrage and unloaded his own that backed Silva into the cage.
Liddell then staggered Silva with a big right hand and a late powerful left, and Silva was left bleeding from the right eye.
In the third, Liddell mixed in a scoring back kick and backed up Silva to the cage twice more with liberal use of his powerful right, as Silva gasped for air. Liddell's fatigue was most evident at the closing bell, when he raised his arms in victory.
"I knew it was a big fight for me to get back on track of getting my title back," Liddell said.
Said Silva: "I did my best. Maybe next time."
Silva was taken to a hospital as a precaution.
Earlier, light-heavyweight Lyoto Machida stamped himself a legitimate top title contender by placing Temecula's Thierry Sokoudjou in a decisive arm triangle that forced a tapout with 40 seconds left in the second round. Machida (12-0) says he's "ready for the belt now," after first knocking down Sokoudjou (4-2) earlier in the round.
Also on the undercard: Lightweight Rich Clementi forced Melvin Guillard to tap out late in the first round when Clementi positioned Guillard in a rear naked chokehold. . . . Temecula heavyweight Eddie Sanchez scored a third-round technical knockout over Soa Palelei. . . . Hollywood lightweight Manvel Gamburyan (6-3) defeated Nate Mohr by first-round ankle lock, apologizing to Mohr and speculating he broke the loser's right leg as Mohr was carried out of the Octagon. . . . Light-heavyweight James Irvin defeated Luis Cane. . . . Middleweight Dean Lister defeated Jordan Radev by unanimous decision.