Frank Curreri, UFC – By the end of the third round, one of Urijah Faber’s cornermen carried the battered fighter to a stool. The hometown superstar could barely stand on his left leg, the unfortunate recipient of dozens of devastating kicks from former semi-pro soccer player Jose Aldo. The world featherweight champion from Brazil, who hasn’t lost in over four years, had ravaged his charismatic and courageous challenger with wicked kicks to the ribs and legs, and also repeatedly pounded The California Kid’s body with hard punches.
SACRAMENTO – By the end of the third round, one of Urijah Faber’s cornermen carried the battered fighter to a stool. The hometown superstar could barely stand on his left leg, the unfortunate recipient of dozens of devastating kicks from former semi-pro soccer player Jose Aldo. The world featherweight champion from Brazil, who hasn’t lost in over four years, had ravaged his charismatic and courageous challenger with wicked kicks to the ribs and legs, and also repeatedly pounded The California Kid’s body with hard punches. Video: Watch post-fight interviews with all of the night's winners
On at least three occasions Aldo’s super-quick leg kicks – arguably the fastest in all of MMA – swept Faber off his feet and onto his rump. And for the better part of five rounds, an unscathed Aldo methodically punished Faber and left everyone wondering – not if Faber could magically end the fight – but if he would survive until the end. Once it became apparent that Aldo owned Faber on their feet – late in the second round -- Sacramento fans kept hoping Faber could score a takedown. Despite several diving efforts, he could not, as Aldo easily rebuffed the former Division I wrestler’s attempts.
“I trained to defend those leg kicks … but it was impossible to get something going when he’s attacking like that,” Faber would say later.
It was a breakout performance for the incredibly talented Aldo (17-1), who won the title in November by stopping Mike Thomas Brown and was competing for the first time on pay-per-view, in a main event no less. Basically everywhere the fight went, the champion shined. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt cracked Faber with a high kick and knocked his legs out from under him in round four, then trapped Faber in a beatdown position and rained down dozens of mini-punches and elbows. Fans briefly got excited when Faber escaped from Aldo’s back control and hunted in vain for a guillotine choke. To Faber’s credit, he came out very aggressive in the first round and took the fight to the champion – though despite his activity, few of Faber’s strikes landed. Faber (23-4) also showed uncommon valor when most fighters would have found a way out. There was no quit in Faber as he absorbed the carnage, which continued in round five when Aldo made him double over with a hard shot to the midsection.
Aldo conceded afterward that he played it a little bit safe in the later rounds because Faber continually switched to a southpaw stance to try and avoid further damage to his left leg.
“I didn’t want to go outside of my limits and do something I couldn’t because he has a very strong right cross and I didn’t want to get caught by that,” Aldo said.
In the end, judges awarded Aldo a unanimous decision by scores of 50-45, 49-45 and 49-45.
Faber, meanwhile, had to be helped from the cage by his trainers and seemed physically exhausted.
“I had limited mobility,” Faber said afterward, as if straining to talk. “He’s very good and very fast. It was a tough fight and I tried my best.”
BEN HENDERSON VS. DONALD CERRONE
In the evening’s co-main event, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Benson Henderson squared off in a lightweight championship rematch. Cerrone is known as a notoriously slow starter and Henderson exploited that vulnerability Saturday, becoming the first man to finish the five-round machine. Henderson kept Cerrone from finding his groove by clinching with the challenger and bashing him with knees to his thigh area. Henderson then scored a takedown, and when Cerrone transitioned to a turtle position, the champ applied a tight guillotine choke – similar to the choke Henderson had used to dethrone former champ Jamie Varner a few months back. Unable to free his neck, Cerrone was forced to tap for the first time in his career.
“My hat’s off to Ben,” said Cerrone, who lost for the third time in a world title fight. “He’s a great fighter.”
Henderson had made his 11th straight victory look easy, quite the contrary to his last go-round with Cerrone four months ago. In that epic five-rounder, Henderson survived some nasty submission attempts en route to a razor-thin unanimous decision triumph. The glory was temporarily replaced by misery as Henderson spent the night in the hospital battling dehydration.
In other action Saturday:
MIKE BROWN VS. MANNY GAMBURYAN
Manny Gamburyan has always been known for having tremendous power – power in the clinch, powerful takedowns, and incredibly strong submission holds. But his punching power was an entirely different story. He was one of those guys who punched the mitts hard, or impressed when he hit the heavy bag, but that never really translated inside of the cage. In fact, 10 years into his pro career, the Armenian-born fighter had but one knockout on his record.
So when Mike Thomas Brown claimed in the build-up to this fight that Gamburyan didn’t like getting hit, it didn’t seem that far-fetched. Yet when Brown hit Gamburyan with a 1-2 to the chin in the first round Saturday night, Gamburyan calmly stayed in the pocket and uncorked a short right hand to the jaw that dropped the former featherweight champion. A bevy of punches later, after winning his third straight since cutting to the 145-pound division, Gamburyan was screaming at the top of his lungs in jubilation and is now a potential No. 1 contender.
“All I’m doing is improving,” Gamburyan said. “I did it!”
It was a disappointing night for Brown (23-6), who felt confident with the matchup and particularly with his ability to exploit Gamburyan on their feet. Sacramento is where Brown had toppled Faber in a championship rematch, and fans here actually cheered Brown before this bout. The defeat spoiled Brown’s hopes for a potential shot at the world featherweight title, which he relinquished to Jose Aldo last November.
SHANE ROLLER VS. ANTHONY NJOKUANI
Shane Roller notched his third straight win, choking out the always-dangerous Anthony Njokuani midway through the first round. It’s no secret that standing for too long against Njokuani would be a bad idea – as evidenced by the Nigerian-born fighter’s three Knockout of The Night awards – and Roller imposed his will early with a takedown. The former Division I All-American wrestler quickly transitioned from mount to back control, and trapped Njokuani in a tight body lock before cinching the choke and earning the tapout.
“It’s fun when you train something the entire time in training camp and you execute it; it feels good,” said Roller, who improved to 8-2 with seven finishes.
Njokuani, who like Roller trains out of Las Vegas, fell to 12-3.
SCOTT JORGENSEN VS. ANTONIO BANUELOS
Heading into this rematch, Scott Jorgensen vowed he would not leave the verdict to the judges, believing he had been “robbed” when Banuelos won a controversial split decision in their first encounter 11 months ago. So the Idahoan sucked all suspense from the outcome this time around, stalking and battering Banuelos in the final two rounds of Saturday’s sequel en route to his fourth straight victory. It was a stark change of momentum given that Banuelos had outclassed Jorgensen in a first-round boxing match, even snapping “Young Guns’” head back with punches and flooring him with a powerful left hand to the jaw. But Jorgensen never wavered, relentlessly stalking Banuelos about the ring and starting to find his mark with lead jabs and potent combinations that eventually made a bloody mess of Banuelos’ face. A right hand by Jorgensen dropped the Chuck Liddell understudy in the second round, and he let loose a hail of punches as Banuelos turtled up but survived the round.
The third round was a continuation of the second, with Jorgensen landing his own head-snapping punch and again dropping Banuelos. But Banuelos had no quit in him, surviving a rear naked choke and a ground and pound onslaught and even defiantly tagging Jorgensen with punches – as Jorgensen clung to his back.
The judges gave the nod to Jorgensen by scores of 29-28 across the board. He improved to 9-3; Banuelos fell to 17-6-1.
CHAN SUNG JUNG VS. LEONARD GARCIA
Fight of the Year candidate? Try Fight of The Decade! In all probability, the 15-minute slugfest that Chan Sung Jung and Leonard Garcia waged will go down in history as an all-time great. Pretty much every line I write about this fight could rightfully be concluded with an exclamation point.
So wild and gripping was the action that cageside commentator Joe Rogan, a longtime fight fan, dubbed it perhaps “the craziest fight that I’ve seen in my entire life.”
UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, who can be a harsh critic when he needs to be, concluded it may have been the best fight he had ever seen.
Words on this page will not do justice to the dramatic theater, which began with the men punching each other in the face, and ended the same way. It was a sprint from the beginning between an American and Korean fighter who are essentially mirror images of each other – gunslingers with granite chins. They swung for the fences in round one, everything hard and wild, bringing fans at Arco Arena to their feet. Garcia (14-5-1) clipped Jung (10-2) with an overhand right, and it was back and forth from there. Suddenly, Jung dropped Garcia with a wicked left hook on the button. Jung, nicknamed “The Korean Zombie” because of his incredible durability, pounced on the Greg Jackson protégé, but could not finish him. Instead, Garcia gamely bought himself some time by transitioning to an armbar attempt, then to an omo plata. As Jung pinned Garcia against the cage and punched away, Garcia smiled and stuck out his tongue, showing that he relished being in a scrap. Garcia would return to his feet, a golfball-sized welt forming under his left eye.
As the final seconds ticked away for the first round, Garcia and Jung shot each other a smile and the packed crowd erupted into a rousing ovation. It seemed like the lid to the arena was going to blow. Spectators just started looking at each other like, ‘Is this real? Am I really watching this?’
As the fighters came out for round two, the wear and tear of the first round was obvious. Both fighters hold their hands unusually low, but their battle with fatigue meant defense was pretty much out the window. Big questions hung over each man: “Whose stamina can hold up? Whose will can hold up? Whose will can hold up?”
Jung kicked off the second by cracking Garcia with a hard right, and in the breathtaking toe-to-toe exchange that followed The Korean Zombie hit the deck. The crowd was on its feet, many collectively chanting “Garcia! Garcia! Garcia!”
And Jung came to his feet, head down, still swinging away wildly. Everything was unleashed. Knees. Spinning back fists. Haymakers. Garcia had blood on his face. Both men appeared to be standing on wobbly legs, as if the slightest push might cause them to fall. Still they swung away, Jung landing a hard right and then jumping on Garcia’s back and sinking in both hooks. Garcia escaped and sprung to his feet, where the wildness resumed. In the final minute of the round Jung poured it on thick with another hard combination and Garcia smiled back and unleashed his own bombs.
In round three, Garcia – a brawler by nature – surprised Jung by resorting to an uncharacteristic and methodical approach. He danced a bit more, jabbing more and scoring with leg kicks. With the fight up in the air, there were more toe-to-toe exchanges sprinkled in, but a rejuvenated Garcia seemed to steal the round with his intelligent approach and the occasional 1-2-3 combination.
By the end of the fight, fans were again on their feet chanting “Garcia! Garcia! Garcia!” as the two warriors swung away.
Garcia, who had taken the bout on only three weeks’ notice as a replacement, prevailed by split decision by judges’ scores of 29-28 across the board. Some in the crowd booed the decision.
“I’m not a judge, man, I’ve been on the bad side of it,” Garcia said. “My job is to give you guys the very best fight that I can and that’s what I do every time.
“I broke my hand in the first round and my corner said, ‘It doesn’t matter, keep fighting.’”
ANTHONY PETTIS VS. ALEX KARALEXIS
In the build-up to this fight, Karalexis had generously referred to 23-year-old Pettis as “The Future” but vowed the rising lightweight star was not quite ready to handle a wily veteran such as himself. It turns out, based on his sterling display on Saturday, that the man they call “Showtime” just might be banging down the door to the Big Time.
Karalexis was cornered by Mark DelaGrotte and NFL All-Pro defensive lineman Jared Allen, and waged a spirited campaign early. The 32-year-old Bostonian took Pettis down early and scored with ground and pound shots. Back on their feet in the clinch, Karalexis added some effective uppercuts. Yet just when Karalexis was doing his best work in the round, Pettis turned the tide with high kick that seemed to rock Karalexis and force him to retreat to regain his senses. Later, with the round up for grabs, Pettis unleashed vicious leg kicks to Karalexis’ left knee and rib cage, one after the other, that compelled Karalexis to retreat and even switch his stance.
In the second stanza, Karalexis resorted to swinging for the fences and used the ruse to score a double leg takedown. On top, Karalexis landed a hard punch to the body, but Pettis popped to his feet and the seasoned kickboxer faithfully went right back to his leg kicks. Going into this bout, Karalexis was well-aware that Pettis is slick and dangerous on the ground. Yet Karalexis nevertheless found himself trapped in a tight triangle choke, eating punches as well, and was forced to tap at 1:35 of round two.
Pettis improved to 9-1; Karalexis fell to 10-5.
BRAD PICKETT VS. DEMETRIOUS JOHNSON
Who says British guys can’t grapple? Brad Pickett devoured that argument with a nonstop assault that saw him repeatedly slam Demetrious Johnson throughout a riveting 15-minute bout that was a strong candidate for Fight of The Night. Johnson captivated the crowd on his feet, showing extraordinary energy while darting about the cage and peppering his British adversary with flying knees, punches and kicks. The only way for Pickett to negate that speed was to put the Matt Hume protégé on his back, which he did in every round. Yet no matter how dominant the positions Pickett established were – he mounted Johnson on a few occasions, trapped him in the so-called “Beatdown” position and rained down punches – and yet Johnson kept coming and coming and coming.
But every time a round seemed to be turning in Johnson’s favor, Pickett would hoist the unbeaten fighter high in the air and send him crashing thunderously to the canvas.
In the end, Pickett won a unanimous decision.
“I think my size helped a little bit,” Pickett said. “He’s a bit of a small guy for the 135 … I swear I broke my collar bone in the second round, man, it was hurting.”
CHAD “MONEY” MENDES VS. ANTHONY “CHEESESTEAK” MORRISON
Mendes, a promising featherweight who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, entered to a rousing ovation. Once the action started, he quickly learned that it might not be such a good idea to stand with Morrison – courtesy of several Morrison jabs that found their mark. Mendes soon scored a takedown and during a scramble sunk in a deep arm-in guillotine that caused “Cheesesteak” to tap at 2:13 of round one, igniting another encore from the fired up crowd.
“Anthony was using his jab pretty well, trying to keep me away,” said Mendes, a past NCAA Division I wrestling national runner-up who improved to 7-0. “I’ve been practicing that choke for the last two weeks.”
Morrison, the pride of Philadelphia, fell to 15-8.
RANI YAHYA VS. TAKEYA MIZUGAKI
As is his custom, Yahya furiously hunted for a takedown early and successfully executed a double leg, only to watch a defiant Mizugaki immediately spring back to his feet. Yahya clung to a body lock, jumped on the Japanese fighter’s back and then switched his focus to a front choke, in vain. In the first three minutes of action, Yahya attacked and Mizugaki deftly defended the chokes, occasionally scoring with elbows. While Yahya controlled for most of the round, the last two minutes saw Mizugaki tagging the Brazilian with punches, causing a trickle of blood to stream from Yahya’s left eye. Yahya swung away wildly at times, failing to land anything of consequence. Mizugaki also took Yahya down with a trip from a bear hug and clearly inflicted the most damage in the round.
Mizugaki kicked off round two – literally – with a few leg kicks and a hard overhand right that found its target. The round saw Mizugaki again dictating in the standup realm and Yahya unable to score takedowns and resorting to pulling guard.
In the final stanza, it seemed Yahya probably needed a stoppage to prevail, and he came up big – taking Mizugaki down and taking his back with both hooks in. But Mizugaki eventually escaped, preserving a unanimous decision victory.
BRANDON VISHER VS. TYLER TONER
In a battle of finishers, Visher and Toner exchanged blows early and often, and the plot thickened when Toner whacked the Hawaiian with a high kick to the head. Though Visher managed to partially block the shot, he was clearly agitated and charged forward, tagging Toner with two solid right hands. Toner, who was five inches taller than his 5-feet-3-inch foe, stayed on the outside and unleashed another high kick that glanced Visher’s head – then immediately followed up with a powerful left hand that landed flush and floored Visher. As the stunned Visher desperately turned to his knees and clung to a single leg, Toner rained down a bevy of unanswered elbows to the face, forcing a referee stoppage at 2:36 of round one.
“I had a cold all week, I didn’t know if I would be able to come out here and perform, but the crowd fired me up,” said Toner, who improved to 10-1 with the triumph. “When I followed him down I thought I was going to crack but I ended up hitting the mat, I hope I didn’t do any damage.”
Visher, a rising star in Hawaii known for having one-punch knockout power, suffered the first loss of his career after 13 straight wins.