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Hughes gets new challenge

A back injury to Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight champion Matt Serra that forced him to withdraw from his Dec. 29 title defense against Matt Hughes could have left the organization and its fans with little to be thankful for last weekend.

But Monday’s announcement that Hughes will instead fight Georges St. Pierre gave fans an early Christmas gift.

Serra informed UFC president Dana White late last week that a herniated disk was going to force him out of his first title defense, which was to be the co-main event of UFC 79 at Mandalay Bay.

Instead, Hughes will meet St. Pierre for the third time.

Each fighter owns a victory over the other, with Hughes winning by first-round submission in 2004 and St. Pierre returning the favor by way of second-round technical knockout in 2006.

The bout will be for the interim championship, with the winner presumably meeting Serra, should he get healthy, for the undisputed title next year.

Hughes and Serra are opposing coaches on the current season of “The Ultimate Fighter” on Spike, and their mutual dislike for one another is displayed in each episode. Their meeting for the welterweight title (which Serra won from St. Pierre in an upset in April) was to be the culmination of all that buildup.

But St. Pierre is a much bigger name than Serra and is widely considered to be the top welterweight in the world.

On his blog, Hughes couldn’t resist taking a swipe at Serra while building up the fight with St. Pierre.

“Before I was fighting a guy holding the belt, now I’m fighting a guy that I consider number two in the world,” Hughes wrote.

Presumably, he ranks himself at the top spot.

The announcement means the card will remain one of the most anticipated of the year.

The long-awaited battle between Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva works well as a co-feature, but as a main event on its own, it might have been a tough sell with both fighters coming off consecutive losses.

• BUSY MONTH — After a few slow months MMA-wise in Las Vegas, there will be plenty of action inside the cage in December.

Things get started Dec. 8 when, on the same night boxers Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Ricky Hatton fight, the Palms hosts “The Ultimate Fighter” finale.

The season championship will be decided as part of a card that features Roger Huerta taking on Clay Guida in the main event.

On Dec. 12, the Hard Rock Hotel will host a World Extreme Cagefighting card. Three title fights and the WEC debut of Jens Pulver highlight the event.

The aforementioned UFC 79 rounds out the month. After that, the next UFC pay-per-view event scheduled for Las Vegas is Feb. 2 at Mandalay Bay.

• GETTING ANOTHER SHOT — After returning to the UFC and losing to light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in September, Dan Henderson will get another title shot in his second fight back in the organization.

This time, Henderson will drop down a weight class and fight for Anderson Silva’s middleweight belt at UFC 82 in March in Columbus, Ohio.

Henderson previously held both the 183- and 205-pound belts in the Pride Fighting Championships.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or (702) 224-5509.

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