AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Quinton "Rampage" Jackson looked stunned as he beat Lyoto Machida.
B.J. Penn left no doubt against Matt Hughes.
In the UFC's first card featuring four former champions, one main event ended quickly and the other marquee matchup went the distance Saturday night.
Jackson was awarded a split-decision victory against Machida – after raising his opponent's hand.
"When he dominated me in the third round, I forgot what happened in the first two rounds," Jackson said. "At the time, I thought I got whooped because he landed a flurry on my face."
Penn, meanwhile, screamed as he celebrated a 21-second knockout of Hughes at UFC 123.
He knocked Hughes flat onto his back by countering with a right cross, then unleashed a flurry of shots to his head that led to their fight being stopped.
"He hit me hard," Hughes said. "When I felt the hit, I thought it was a knee or a kick."
There weren't many punches or kicks in the Jackson-Machida fight, but Jackson's aggressive style seemed to pay off for the judges against Machida's passive ways.
"I think that's the only reason that earned the decision," Jackson said.
Machida shuffled and backpedaled more than he punched or kicked, but took Rampage down in the third after two rounds without much action.
He didn't bristle at the decision that didn't go his way, losing a second straight fight after starting 16-0.
"If the judges saw that Quinton won, then they saw Quinton win," the Brazilian said through a translator.
Jackson (31-8) was determined to show he can still be a force in the UFC after playing B.A. Baracus in "The A-Team" movie. He was unimpressive in a loss to Rashad Evans in May, one of just two setbacks in a 10-fight stretch, and was lackluster against Machida.
"I was really going for the knock out," he said. "I am kind of disappointed in my performance a little bit."
It looks as if Penn made the right decision to keep fighting.
Penn (16-7-1) surrendered his UFC lightweight title earlier this year. The former two-division champion – still known as "The Prodigy" at the age of 31 – considered walking away from mixed martial arts after two straight losses to Frankie Edgar.
"A lot of people have been questioning if I'm motivated," Penn said. "I wanted to show everybody my fighting spirit."
UFC President Dana White gave him a chance at redemption in a third match with Hughes, just the sixth trilogy in the rapidly growing sport.
Penn took advantage at The Palace in suburban Detroit.
"I felt fired up as soon as Dana gave me the phone call that I was going to fight Matt Hughes," he said.
Penn and Hughes exchanged a few blows in the opening seconds before it ended suddenly, leaving Hughes dazed and dumbfounded.
Hughes (46-8) was the only one of the four headliners that was coming off a victory.
"I don't know what the plan is now," he said. "This was a huge fight for me. I had a lot riding on this."
Penn stunningly claimed the UFC welterweight title in his first matchup with Hughes in 2004. He moved up in weight and submitted one of the sport's first stars with a choke late in the first round, adding a kiss on the dazed Hughes' lips.
Hughes beat Penn on punches in their second fight four years ago.
Penn went on to claim the lightweight title, but moved back to the welterweight division for the first time since his loss to champion Georges St. Pierre last year.
"I think he looks good at 170, when he walked into the octagon he had that crazy-talking-to-himself energy like the old B.J." White said. "He didn't look that way at 155 pounds."
Hughes planned to take the rest of the year off after submitting Ricardo Almeida in August for his third straight victory in a career revival, but the 37-year-old from Hillsboro, Ill., jumped at the chance to resume his rivalry with Penn. He fought for the third time in seven months after being on only one UFC card each of the previous two years.
Now, Penn plans to get and stay active.
"I want to get right back in as soon as possible," he said. "I'm 31 and I want to fight a lot before I'm 35 and call it quits."