After his three round unanimous decision win over Michael Johnson, Jonathan Brookins earned The Ultimate Fighter season 12 title, but what will be most remembered about Saturday’s bout at The Pearl at The Palms is Brookins’ ultimate comeback from a rocky first round to pull off the stirring victory over the next two frames.
Scores were 29-28 twice and 29-27 for Brookins, who, like Johnson, represented Georges St-Pierre’s Team GSP on the Spike TV reality series. See post-fight interview with Brookins
Trading strikes to open the bout, Johnson was the crisper puncher of the two lightweights, prompting Brookins to look for a takedown. Johnson’s defense was solid though, and he refused the trip to the canvas, opting instead to try to keep his luck going on the feet. With a little over three minutes left, a left to the head rocked Brookins and put him on the mat. Brookins weathered the storm, but after rising, Johnson delivered the hurt again with another left. With two minutes left, a right uppercut jarred the Floridian, but the game Brookins was able to hold on and clear his head. By this time though, Johnson was starting to impose his will on his opponent, not just turning away takedown attempts but pushing them off with ease, capping off a big first round.
“I was stunned,” said Brookins. “I said ‘Here comes Michael Johnson.’ He’s an incredible competitor.” See post-fight interview with Johnson
Looking to turn the tide, Brookins made an almost desperate takedown attempt early in round one, and while it wasn’t pretty, he got it, following up with a series of ground strikes as he battled his way back into the fight. Johnson unable to escape, was forced to take the punishment before eventually making it to his feet with less than two minutes left. Brookins wouldn’t let go of his foe’s leg though, and he used it for a throw to the mat with under a minute left, turning the tide in emphatic fashion.
With five minutes left, there would be no saving it for next time with these two 155-pounders, and after Johnson briefly rocked Brookins with a shot to the face, Brookins took Johnson back to the mat, where he had so much success in the previous round. After working to break Johnson’s defense, Brookins found himself in the mount position, but Johnson escaped, got back to his feet, and looked to fire off some fight-ending strikes. Brookins responded with another takedown and more ground strikes, and this late flurry of activity sealed the final round for the Orlando product.
With the win, Brookins improves to 13-3; Johnson falls to 9-5.
Bonnar vs. Pokrajac
Stephan Bonnar continued his 2010 resurgence, following up his July knockout of Krzysztof Soszynski with a clear cut three round unanimous decision win over Croatia’s Igor Pokrajac. See post-fight interview
Scores were 29-26 across the board.
Pokrajac met fire with fire as the bout opened, trading punches with Bonnar. After a brief lock-up against the fence, Bonnar took the bout to the mat, but Pokrajac scrambled to his feet and the two broke. Again, the two light heavyweights traded punches, and as the bout hit the mat again, Bonnar looked in a choke. It appeared that Pokrajac was in trouble, but he escaped, only to catch more heat from Bonnar’s ground strikes. Now in side control, Bonnar fired off elbows to the ribs before finishing up the round with punches to the head from the back position.
There was more solid close quarters action in round two, with both fighters battling it out until Bonnar was able to throw Pokrajac to the canvas. Bonnar stayed busy with strikes while the two stood on the mat, and after standing, he kept the heat on with knees in the clinch. Pokrajac didn’t wilt under the pressure, as he delivered strikes of his own, and in the final minute he appeared to rock Bonnar briefly before the “American Psycho” got him against the fence and finished the round strong. To add insult to injury for Pokrajac, he was docked a point by referee Steve Mazzagatti for illegal knees to the head when the two were on the mat earlier in the round.
Bonnar came out fast for the final round, getting a quick takedown. Bonnar kept his hands busy, throwing whenever he had the opportunity. With a little over three minutes left, Bonnar got the mount position and began digging to the body. After a scramble, Pokrajac appeared to find daylight, but only for a moment, as Bonnar again took the dominant position and fired away. At the bell, another point was deducted, this time from Bonnar for punches to the back to the head, but it had no impact on the final verdict for the longtime light heavyweight standout, who improves to 16-7; Pokrajac falls to 22-8.
Maia vs. Grove
In middleweight action, Demian Maia drilled out a close, but unanimous three round decision win over Kendall Grove. See post-fight interview
Scores were 29-28 across the board for Maia, who improves to 14-2; Grove falls to 14-8 with 1 NC.
Grove used his reach advantage well in the first round, reddening Maia’s face with accurate strikes. In response, Maia took Grove down in the second minute, and even thought ‘Da Spyder’ was able to fight his way back up, Maia stayed locked on to him and eventually got the bout back to the mat. By the three minute mark, Maia got into the mount position and then took Grove’s back, but in a scramble, the Hawaiian was able to get out of immediate danger. And while Maia’s strikes loosened Grove’s defenses and scored points, he was not able to finish his foe.
Maia’s first takedown attempt of the second round was turned away, and Grove’s striking continued to look sharp, but the next shot by Maia produced a takedown, and the Brazilian went back to work. With a minute left, Maia took Grove’s back in search of the choke, but again Grove was able to survive and make it out of the round.
After some tentative standup to open the final stanza, Maia started to get more confident in his punches as he tagged his opponent with quick counters. Grove didn’t start getting his own striking back in gear until under two minutes remained, and he needed something big to turn the fight around. Maia made sure that didn’t happen, as he pinned Grove against the fence and kept him there until the bell.
Hendricks vs. Story
Welterweight up and comer Rick Story made it five wins in a row, winning a hard-fought three round unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Johny Hendricks. See post-fight interview
“I knew it was gonna be a battle of wills, and it was close,” said Story, who earned the victory via scores of 29-28 across the board.
Showing off their chins after eating flush shots, Hendricks and Story knew immediately that they were going to be in for a rough night. Plan B turned into digging to the body for Story and kicking to the legs for Hendricks. And when they put everything together, it made for some high-level welterweight action. With 30 seconds left in the round, Hendricks scored the first takedown of the fight, but Story was able to make it back to his feet at the bell.
Hendricks (9-1) began the second with some quick counters, prompting a flurry of body shots from Story and a takedown. Story (12-3) almost caught Hendricks from the back, from the former National Champion wrestler got free and back to his feet. At close range, the two locked up, with Hendricks landing his own body shots as he looked for a takedown. With a little over two minutes left, the two broke loose, and after some spotty standup, Story scored a takedown. Hendricks stood, but remained locked up against the fence for much of the remainder of the round.
Opening the third round with a takedown, Hendricks appeared to have the upper hand, but Story turned things around with a guillotine choke attempt. As the two stood, Hendricks remained attached to Story’s leg, while the Washington native secured his foe’s arm. A stalemate ensued, with neither fighter able to pull loose until two minutes remained and the fighters got upright again. Hendricks wouldn’t release his foe, but he wasn’t able to mount any offense either, leaving the final round in a stalemate.
Phan vs. Garcia
The Ultimate Fighter season 12’s Nam Phan got a tough assignment in his UFC debut against Leonard Garcia, and it appeared to most observers that the Team Koscheck member had done enough to earn his first Octagon victory, but the judges didn’t agree, awarding an unpopular three round split decision to Garcia. See post-fight interview with Garcia
“I don’t know what they were looking at,” said a disbelieving Phan. “I thought I won all three rounds.” See post-fight interview with Phan
So did the fans that vehemently booed the 29-28, 29-28 and 27-30 verdict for Garcia, the former WEC featherweight standout who was making his first UFC start since 2007.
The pace was fast from the start, with both fighters taking their own unique ways to the same goal. For Garcia, it was his typical swing from the heels style, while the more patient Phan picked his shots. Regardless of the method, both were getting their shots in without even thinking of a takedown. And not surprisingly, as Phan began to land with more frequency in the final 90 seconds, Garcia would wing shots back even harder in order to get even, drawing frequent roars from the crowd.
Garcia came out aggressively for the second round, upping his work rate with his punches as well as his kicks. The “Bad Boy” even scored a brief takedown. But Phan stayed cool under pressure, and midway through the round he rocked Garcia with a series of pinpoint strikes and then got the bout to the mat. Phan quickly took Garcia’s back and tried to work for the rear naked choke. He didn’t get it, but he clearly locked up the second round.
Down, but not out, Garcia continued winging bombs at Phan, yet even the ones that landed were having little effect on Phan outside of a cut on his forehead. And when the Californian fired back, he was definitely landing the cleaner and more effective blows. In the final stages of the bout, Garcia was gassed, but still throwing, and Phan still looked fresh as he peppered his game foe with flush counters until the bell.
With the win, Garcia improves to 19-6-1; Phan falls to 16-9.