Broomfield, Colo. – Who’s next for Jose Aldo?
Whoever it is would be wise to perfect defending his lead leg from kicks because Aldo just might be MMA’s most brutal leg kicker as he showed yet again during a relatively effortless knockout victory over No.1 contender Manny Gamburyan on Thursday night at the 1st Bank Center.
The WEC featherweight champ from Brazil masterfully executed the same blueprint that has worked so many times before. He loosened Gamburyan up with vicious leg kicks in the first round, even buckling the Judo black belt. In the second round, with Gamburyan wary of those kicks, Aldo went upstairs and dropped Gamburyan with a potent uppercut. Gamburyan fell to his knees and Aldo quickly pounced and hammered away with hard shots until his foe went limp and referee Herb Dean intervened at 1:32 of the second round.
“In the first round I was just studying to see what he was doing,” said Aldo, who improved to 18-1 and has now defeated Urijah Faber, Mike Brown and Gamburyan (13-6) without revealing the slightest vulnerability. “If it’s up to me my reign will last forever.”
The victory marked the 24-year-old Aldo’s second successful title defense. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and former semi-professional soccer player has not tasted defeat in nearly five years.
The co-main event, the grudge rematch between Donald Cerrone and Jamie Varner, had most at 1st Bank Center on the edge of their seats. How many fights have you watched where two guys repeatedly talk about how much they don’t like each other and yet, when they step inside of the cage and get the chance to crack the other guy in the mouth, all they do is dance around and feel each other out for minutes on end? Thankfully, this wasn’t one of those letdowns. The ill will was apparent from the get-go with Cerrone, in particular, storming after the former WEC lightweight kingpin at the opening horn just as you would expect from a man who has been fuming for 20 months to avenge a loss to his arch-rival.
Simply put: this was a Donald Cerrone unlike any we’ve seen before. To a heavy chorus of “Cowboy! Cowboy!” Cerrone delivered his finest 15 minutes ever inside of the cage. Branded a slow starter, he jumped on the Arizonan early and was the aggressor throughout. Normally vulnerable to big punches and takedowns, his defense was more stout on both counts (Varner, a former collegiate wrestler, failed to score a takedown). And, in a surprise twist that Varner would later concede caught him off-guard, Cerrone put Varner on his back three times with double-leg takedowns. He battered Varner’s lead leg with kicks, cracked him with knees to the face and body, and even momentarily dropped Varner with a hard straight left hand in the first round.
The outcome was never in doubt as the homegrown Coloradan’s face showed little wear afterward while Varner’s face was covered in blood. Judges awarded Cerrone a well-deserved unanimous decision by scores of 30-27 across the board.
“Jamie, if you want a rematch in Arizona I’d be more than happy to give it to you,” said Cerrone. “I’ll give you a rematch.”
Cerrone was asked whether the simmering feud is now squashed.
“Nah, hell no,” he said, shaking his head.
Varner took his defeat in stride.
“I put on a good fight,” Varner said. “He’s tough, he fought a lot better so my hat’s off to him. That was a different Donald Cerrone… he mixed it up a lot more than the first time we fought.”
In other WEC action Thursday night:
Charlie Valencia vs. Miguel Torres
He wanted to show fans that he wasn’t slipping, wasn’t in decline, that his best days inside of the cage were not behind him. And, based on his performance tonight, Miguel Angel Torres looks like he may indeed be revitalized and poised to make another run at the WEC bantamweight crown he once held. The colorful 29-year-old snapped a two-fight losing streak with a thorough thrashing of Charlie Valencia, forcing the veteran fighter to tap due to a rear naked choke at 2:25 of the second round.
Now training in Montreal under Firas Zahabi, Georges St-Pierre’s head coach, Torres seemed much more tentative and calculating early in the bout, eschewing the relentless hard-charging punching combinations and risk-taking that defined his style in the past. This much-improved defense proved difficult for Valencia to penetrate, yet when Torres saw an opening – as he did late in the first-round – he put Valencia on his rump with a combination and then ferociously unleashed 16 unanswered punches on top and added an elbow for good measure.
Another Torres right hand hurt Valencia early in the second. The southern Californian went down again and covered up as Torres dished out more damage on top, setting into motion the scramble and choke that would halt the bout.
In victory, Torres improved his official record to 37-3; Valencia fell to 12-6.
George Roop vs. Chan Sung Jung
Hard luck has had a way of following George Roop around, from growing up dirt poor, to losing fights because of bad decisions, to burying a young son last year. The lanky 28-year-old predicted that his fight against Chan Sung Jung (better known as “The Korean Zombie”) would be the turning point in his up-and-down four-year career. The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show veteran, fighting on his first-ever main card under the Zuffa umbrella, wanted people to finally know his name. They just might now after Roop’s devastating high-kick knockout over Jung in Broomfield.
The Tucson, Ariz., native had controlled the first-round with a methodical assortment of punches and kicks. The heavy-handed Jung, meanwhile, kept hunting for a homerun shot that never surfaced. The South Korean, coming off a potential Fight of The Year performance against Leonard Garcia, lived up to his nickname by habitually walking through punches, holding his hands dangerously low and throwing caution to the wind. At 1 minute and 30 seconds of the second round, Roop made the flamboyant South Korean pay with a show-stopping shin to the jaw. Jung fell to the canvas like a ton of bricks, out cold. Roop, now just the third man to defeat Jung, celebrated by putting his hands together in a “go to sleep” gesture.
Leonard Garcia vs. Mark Hominick
The resurgence of Mark Hominick continued tonight on the strength of a crisp and persistent left jab that carried him to a split decision victory over Leonard Garcia. In a bout that never hit the mat, it was Garcia who got off to a quick start, controlling round one with a diverse and surprisingly technical attack that included punching combinations and kicks. Hominick found his groove in the second round, getting the better of the standup exchanges behind a left jab he seemed to land at will.
Garcia certainly kept it interesting with his own combinations and kicks, but in the end it was the left jab that spelled his undoing, prompting two judges to adjudicate the fight 29-28 for Hominick, while the other judge gave the nod to the “Bad Boy” by the same margin.
Hominick improved to 19-8 and has now prevailed in four straight and six of his past seven, making him a serious contender to watch in the featherweight division.
Tiequan Zhang vs. Pablo Garza
In a battle of unbeatens, Zhang, the first fighter from mainland China to ever compete in the WEC, shined in his U.S. debut by putting away Garza in the first round with his signature guillotine choke. The 25-year-old pushed his professional record to 17-0 – and has never allowed one of his bouts to see the second round.
“I’m so excited, I have so much support and I’m just happy to fight,” Zhang said afterward. “I didn’t know if it (the submission) was going to happen or not. I just take every opportunity as it comes.”
In defeat, Garza fell to 10-1.
Mike Thomas Brown vs. Cole Province
Coming off a knockout loss to Manny Gamburyan, Mike Brown rebounded in impressive style with a 78-second demolition of former 4-time Division II national wrestling champion Cole Province. Province scored early with a few punches before being rocked and floored by an uppercut from the former WEC featherweight champ. Brown followed him to the mat and let loose a bevy of thunderous blows on his covered-up foe, prompting the referee to halt the bout. Province instantly jumped to his feet and confronted the ref to protest stoppage, but it was a moot point.
“It’s like one of my coaches says, it’s a new chapter, turn the page,” said Brown, who improved to 24-6.
Province, meanwhile, fell to 7-2, 1 NC.
Chris Horodecki vs. Ed Ratcliff
Ed Ratcliff fought the third round of this bout with an alarming conservatism, as if he presumed he were up two rounds to none on the judges’ scorecards, needing only to make it to the finish line to have his hand raised.
Chris Horodecki, on the other hand, was at his most aggressive in the final stanza, unleashing combinations with his fists and kicks with his feet at his showboating foe. In the end, it was Horodecki who walked away with a split decision triumph by scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 28-29.
The first two rounds seemed nip-and-tuck, with the speedy Ratcliff landing the harder shots but Horodecki being busier and more active. A crisp, straight right hand by Ratcliff knocked Horodecki to the canvas in the first round (more of a balance shot), and another momentarily buckled the Canadian in the second round. But it became clear that while Ratcliff behaved like a man who was outclassing his opponent – at times even looking into the audience, as if disinterested and bored by the threat in front of him – Ratcliff seemed to lack the will to truly up the ante and try to hurt or finish Horodecki.
Tyler Toner vs. Diego Nunes
Best known for his kickboxing arsenal, Diego Nunes reminded everyone that he is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and a decent wrestler with a smothering three-round victory over hometown favorite Tyler Toner. Nunes was sly from the get-go. With Toner perhaps expecting a stand-up war – since that has been Nunes’ preference in his WEC career thus far – the Brazilian leaped in and secured a double-leg takedown, then transitioned to a deep guillotine choke. Toner’s prospects for survival didn’t look good, yet, even as Nunes insisted on the choke and spent a lot of energy squeezing, the University of Colorado graduate refused to tap. Toner found himself on the wrong side of a guillotine choke again in the second yet again showed resilience and survived.
Toner would have preferred a standup battle and occasionally landed some decent shots, but in limited action on their feet Nunes was also effective with spinning backfists and backkicks.
Judges scored the fight 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 for Nunes.
Antonio Banuelos vs. Chad George
Banuelos, a high-octane fighter, was uncharacteristically timid for stretches of this fight, favoring single punches instead of combos. George was equally methodical, making for a surprisingly slow-paced bout that featured far more circling and dancing about the cage than most fans care to see. Nevertheless, Banuelos earned a unanimous decision victory on the strength of takedowns and ground and pound, though he was quite fortunate to survive a deep D’arce choke late in the first round. Just as it appeared that Banuelos was on the verge of raising his hand to tap out, he was saved by the horn signaling the end of the five minute round, otherwise George’s hand likely would have been raised. Banuelos conceded as much in his post-fight interview, saying “with a D’Arce you don’t tap you just wait till you go to sleep … It was probably one of those (submissions) that, if he had more time, I probably would have went to sleep.”
Banuelos also offered an explanation for his atypical performance, saying he had been slowed by a recent foot injury.
Demetrious Johnson vs. Nick Pace
A relatively close contest evolved into a one-sided affair as Johnson aggressively hunted Pace, punishing the unbeaten New Yorker with strikes and repeatedly taking him down hard to the canvas. The first round seemed up for grabs until the final stretch, when the undersized Johnson earned the round with a takedown and a few kicks to the face.
The Matt Hume protégé swarmed Pace at the start of the second round with knees and hard-digging body shots and never looked back. At times it seemed as though Pace was hesitant to punch back, perhaps doubting himself and just trying to survive in his WEC debut. Johnson punctuated the assault in the third round with a Matt Hughes style, walk-you-across-the-cage-and-slam-you-hard style slam. Pace seemed to emerge from his shell in the last 30 seconds, taking Johnson’s back and fishing for a rear naked choke, but it was not to be as time expired.
The judges awarded Pace a unanimous decision by scores of 30-27 across the board, pushing his record to 11-1.
“I’m a small 135er,” Johnson said, “but I can hang with these big boys.”