MONTREAL - For the first time in over four years, Patrick (The Predator) Cote savoured victory in a UFC cage.
But for the hometown favourite at UFC 154 in Montreal, the win came in the worst way possible.
Cote's opponent, Alessio (Legionarius) Sakara, used the back of his head as a punching bag Saturday during their middleweight bout — a dangerous attack that led to a disqualification.
The referee stopped the fight at 1:26 of the first round, but only after Sakara left Cote — who was on his knees — dazed from more than a half-dozen hammer-fists to the back of his scalp.
Cote (19-8) snapped out the subsequent dizzy spell and was awarded the victory.
"I'm the first one who is not happy about this win," said Cote, who was disappointed Montreal fans didn't get to see a full fight.
"The paycheque is better, but the situation — it's not fun."
A frustrated UFC president Dana White later said the official was "way late" jumping in to stop Sakara's pounding on Cote.
White called the offensive "probably the worst illegal punch you can throw in the sport."
"I counted between seven and nine illegal punches to the back of the head — it was crazy," White told the post-event news conference.
"The ref absolutely, 100 per cent failed to do his job tonight in a dangerous, dangerous way."
White said he believes there are problems with the quality of officiating in mixed martial arts.
He added that he thought the fight should have been ruled a no contest.
Cote was disappointed the referee didn't step in after one or two illegal blows, but he thought he escaped the barrage without serious injury.
Still, he said Sakara (19-10 with one no contest) hit him so hard, in such a vulnerable spot, that he didn't really know what had happened.
That is, until he watched the replay on the big screen from the octagon immediately after the bout.
"I thought maybe one or two (illegal blows), but it was like six, seven, eight," the former Canadian soldier said.
"I was like, 'OK, damn, that's a lot.'"
Sakara and Cote exchanged heavy blows in the first minute of the tilt. But Cote appeared to be in a bit of trouble and had lunged for Sakara's legs before the illegal flurry.
The passionately partisan Bell Centre crowd didn't even try to contain its anger in the moments after the bout was halted.
The building rumbled with boos when Sakara's thickly bearded mug appeared on the big screens. The fans then cheered wildly when the camera shifted to Cote.
Sakara, 31, apologized into the cage microphone after the fight.
"I was caught up in the moment and the adrenaline of the fight," the native of Rome said through a translator.
"It was unintentional."
Then Sakara himself added a couple of words in English. "I'm sorry," he said.
Cote, 32, didn't think Sakara targeted the back of his head on purpose.
"I think he thought I was in trouble and he tried to finish the fight," he said.
This was the first UFC win for Cote since he defeated Ricardo Almeida July 2008 at UFC 86.
Cote lost his next four UFC matches, including a battle against middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 90 in October 2008. He lasted two rounds before blowing out his knee.
Cote's UFC career dates back to October 2004 when, on short notice, he was moved up a weight class to the main event against Tito Ortiz at UFC 50.
He lost but put up a good showing, earning him the gratitude of the UFC.
Saturday's fight was the third straight loss for the heavily tattooed Sakara. He hasn't won in the UFC since March 2011.
Cote said he would be happy to square off against Sakara in a rematch, perhaps even in Montreal, where the UFC is scheduled to return in March.
"For sure, I didn't want to win this fight like that, especially in front of my hometown," he said, adding he couldn't believe how loud the crowd got during the bout.
"They're hardcore fans — if they like you, they like you. If they don't, they don't."