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SAN JOSE, July 11 - Karma was in full effect on Wednesday’s UFC on FUEL TV card at the HP Pavilion, as unbeaten Andrew Craig survived THREE knockdowns and repeated showboating from Rafael Natal before turning the tables on the cocky Brazilian with a spectacular highlight reel high kick that produced one of the most dramatic knockouts of the year.
While the tough-as-nails Texan was deserving of kudos for his never-say-die determination, referee Marcos Rosales also did a fantastic job by not stopping the fight earlier in the second when Natal had rocked Craig with punches.
“The guy hits really hard. He hit me with a few bombs … that was the first time I been on wobbly street,” said Craig, who improved to 8-0 overall, 2-0 in the Octagon.
Bleeding from his left eye, Craig seemed irked by the chronic shows of disrespect from Natal (14-4-1), a BJJ black belt who got the better of the standup early and repeatedly taunted Craig by sticking his chin out and holding his hands by his side. While those types of audacious antics worked for, say, boxer Roy Jones, Jr., in his heyday, that kind of overconfidence proved reckless for Natal as the second round wound down.
Almost foreboding what was to come, Craig dared his tormenter, “Well, stop me this round!” Not too long thereafter came the high kick that wowed and stopped the collective breath of everyone inside the arena. As Natal fell to the canvas, Craig landed two hard shots for good measure, putting Natal out cold at 4:52 of the second stanza.
It’s hard to believe that just two years ago, Damacio Page was regarded as a premier bantamweight. But the New Mexico native hasn’t won a pro fight in roughly 20 months and his downward spiral continued Wednesday as Alex Caceres became the latest prospect to dim Page’s star. Dealt his fourth straight loss, the 29-year-old Page again succumbed to a submission. Brazilian jiu-jitsu has been the glaring glitch in the brave brawler’s game and he had no answer for Caceres on the ground as the Miamian trapped Page in three triangle chokes, finally earning the tap at 1:10 of the second round.
Page (15-8) had scored takedowns in both the first and second stanzas but inflicted little damage on top.
“I did feel him rushing a bit so I kind of waited for my opportunity,” said the 24-year-old Caceres, who improved to 7-5 and has won two of his past three UFC bouts. “I said to myself (during the fight) ‘If he keeps grounding and pounding like that I’m going to catch him. My coaches kept telling me, ‘You’re going to catch him, don’t worry.’”
Finally, Chris Cariaso got to fight someone his own size inside the cage. The result was a unanimous decision triumph over fellow flyweight Josh Ferguson that saw Cariaso (14-3) land the heavier shots on their feet and top it off with takedowns and ground and pound. Fighting close to home, San Francisco’s Cariaso stunned Ferguson (7-5) with a straight left early and then wobbled the Kentucky native with a hard left. Hard elbows and punches from Cariaso busted Ferguson’s mouth and opened a cut over his left eye. Ferguson was competitive throughout, however, landing a nice high kick and some hard shots of his own that caused a sizable lump on Cariaso’s forehead.
Trailing on the judges’ scorecards, Ferguson managed to make it interesting down the stretch. Cariaso scored a takedown and controlled on top, but Ferguson eventually threatened with a kimura and parlayed that into taking Cariaso’s back. Cariaso fought the hands well to preserve his victory by scores of 30-27 across the board.
“I feel like this is my weight class,” Cariaso said. “I’m really excited to be fighting guys my size.”
Guimaraes, a past champion of Jungle Fights in Brazil and an unbeaten welterweight prospect, failed to impress in his UFC debut, yet walked away with a split decision victory over Dan Stittgen. It was a curious verdict – met with boos from many at HP Pavilion – considering that Stittgen was never taken down in the final two rounds and landed much more frequently with strikes and kicks, even briefly putting the Brazilian on the deck in the second frame.
Though not a particularly exciting bout, it nevertheless offered a few comedic moments as Guimaraes (8-0-1) repeatedly grunted and groaned while landing punches in the clinch and fighting for inside position. The audible and odd grunts (and intense facial expressions that accompanied them) were reminiscent of the loud grunts Monica Seles popularized during the 1990s on the professional tennis circuit. Seles, however, was a frequent champion and one of the finest players of her era. Guimaraes, meanwhile, has a long road ahead of him if he is ever going to progress to the pinnacle of MMA. Drained by his first-ever weight cut to welterweight, he spent a lot of time in the clinch Wednesday evening, forcing Stittgen’s back to the cage, not his own. Judges scored it 29-28 across the board.
Known more as a grinding, impose-your-will kind of fighter for much of his career, Raphael Assuncao demonstrated newfound patience and artistry in notching his second straight win since reinventing himself at 135 pounds. When opportunity knocked, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt seized the moment with an explosive second-round TKO over the very dangerous and heavy-handed Issei Tamura.
Assuncao (17-4) controlled the action throughout the skirmish, methodically whacking his Japanese adversary with a wide variety of kicks in the first round, including a kick that grazed Tamura’s head and a spinning kick to the midsection that knocked Tamura back a few feet.
Noteworthy was the fact that Tamura only threw one punch for the bout’s opening three and a half minutes – indicating his desire to time Assuncao for counterpunching opportunities.
Tamura turned aggressive early in the second stanza, charging forward with punches after evading an Assuncao high kick. A potent left hook by Assuncao stunned the Tokyo product, and Assuncao immediately unleashed a barrage of punches that forced a referee stoppage just 25 seconds in.
“I’m just trying to improve,” Assuncao said. “Not just grinding but working on concepts and trying to get better.”