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Decisions, Decisions - Fitch, Tavares, Howard all Winners in UFC 94 Prelims

Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - Japan’s Akihiro Gono may have won the battle of the Octagon entrances in UFC 94 preliminary action at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, but once the bell rang, it was all Jon Fitch, as the no nonsense welterweight contender pounded out a three round unanimous decision victory.

By Thomas Gerbasi

LAS VEGAS, January 31 – Japan’s Akihiro Gono may have won the battle of the Octagon entrances in UFC 94 preliminary action at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, but once the bell rang, it was all Jon Fitch, as the no nonsense welterweight contender pounded out a three round unanimous decision victory.

Scores were 30-27 twice, and 30-26 for Fitch, who was in action for the first time since losing a five round decision to Georges St-Pierre last August.

After coming into the Octagon as one of a bizarro world version of The Supremes, complete with wig and sequined dress, Gono found himself pinned against the cage as Fitch looked for the takedown. Gono weathered the early attack and broke free, landing some leg kicks before eating some close range knees from the former UFC welterweight title challenger. Midway through the round, Fitch got his takedown, but Gono quickly rose to his feet, only to be sent back to the mat with Fitch on his back. Fitch worked for the submission from there, and when that failed, he fired off strikes until the round ended.

Fitch kept the pressure on in round two, using his strikes to setup takedowns that in turn led to a ground and pound assault. Gono was game, but he really had no answers for Fitch, and as the round progressed, he started to take more and more punishment on the ground. With a little over a minute left, Fitch got Gono’s back and looked to finish matters, but the Japanese veteran was able to pull out of a last second armbar.

Refusing to let his foot off the gas, Fitch started the final round with strikes and followed up with a takedown of Gono. Gono got to his feet and looked to score with a flying knee, but it missed the mark and Fitch again mauled his foe against the fence and then on the mat before finishing off the fight with some more of his standup blows.

With the win, Fitch improves to 22-3 with 1 no contest; Gono falls to 28-14-7.

Thiago Tavares broke a two fight losing streak while issuing Manny Gamburyan his second straight loss, winning a three round unanimous decision in their lightweight bout.

Scores were 29-28 across the board for Tavares.

45 seconds of tentative standup was followed by a quick takedown by Tavares (18-3), who pounded away relentlessly on Gamburyan (10-5). “The Anvil” looked for a submission from the bottom, but Tavares, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, wasn’t having it. Gamburyan did score a nice throw with 1:45 left in the round, but he was unable to shake Tavares, even as the two rose to their feet. and when the fight got back to the mat, Tavares was just too strong for the smaller Gamburyan.

Gamburyan tried to keep his distance in the second, potshotting with kicks and the occasional haymaker, but the bout found its way back to the mat soon enough. This time, Gamburyan battled his foe from the top position, but was unable to do any significant damage. With 1:15 left, referee Josh Rosenthal stood the fight up, and a big right hand landed by Tavares was the big scoring blow before the bell sounded.

The two groundfighters decided to finish the fight on their feet, and while Gamburyan was landing his share of shots, they were having no effect on Tavares, whose less frequent but heavier blows were paying dividends. In the next minute, two Gamburyan takedown attempts were turned away, and at the bell, both fighters rose their hands, expecting victory.

UFC newcomer John “Doomsday” Howard became the latest New Englander to make his mark in the Octagon as he won an impressive three round split decision over veteran Chris Wilson in welterweight action.

Scores were 29-28 twice and 28-29 for Howard, who ups his record to 11-4; Wilson falls to 13-5 with 1 NC.

Both fighters were throwing hard from the opening bell, with Wilson holding a slight edge on the feet. Midway through the round, a nice punch-kick combination dropped Howard, with Wilson then trying to end things with a guillotine choke. Howard got free, but then ate a series of ground strikes before scrambling free and getting into Wilson’s guard in the final minute. Referee Herb Dean stood the fighters in the final 30 seconds, and Howard capitalized with a hard punch to the head and a takedown before the bell.

Howard didn’t let up in the second, as he rocked Wilson early. “The Professor” recovered and landed some kicks, but it was a slam by Howard that got the biggest roar from the crowd. The rest of the round featured some solid standup exchanges and good ground work, making it a tough round to call.

An early third round tie-up led to a nice takedown by Howard, who landed on Wilson’s back. The Boston fighter immediately got both hooks in and went to work with both hands before sinking in a rear naked choke. Wilson fought out of the lock, but Howard wouldn’t give up the position and he put on his hard hat and went right back to work. With 90 seconds left, Wilson finally escaped and fired off ground strikes from the top position until Howard went for Wilson’s leg. After a stalemate, the two rose, only to go back to the mat moments later to run out the clock.

Former heavyweight prospect Jake O’Brien made his 205-pound debut a successful one, scoring a three round split decision over another heavyweight turned light heavy, Christian Wellisch.

Scores were 29-28 twice, and 28-29 for O’Brien.

O’Brien drew first blood early, rocking and dropping Wellisch. A follow-up barrage stunned ‘The Hungarian Nightmare’ again, and O’Brien then took the fight to the mat. After a brief stalemate, O’Brien stepped back and allowed Wellisch up, again looking to work his standup. Midway through the round, the two were back on the canvas, O’Brien working his ground and pound until referee Yves Lavigne stood the fighters up. In an ensuing exchange, Wellisch scored well, forcing O’Brien to look for a takedown, but the round ended uneventfully.

The pace dipped in the second, but Wellisch, his nose bleeding, was the aggressor until a final minute takedown got O’Brien on the board in the round before the bell sounded.

Wellisch came out firing in round three, but O’Brien stopped his forward motion with a takedown 45 seconds in. Wellisch quickly rose to his feet and continued stalking O’Brien, who landed enough counters to keep his opponent honest before he scored another takedown. Two more takedowns followed for O’Brien, and though he wasn’t able to do anything while on the mat, it was enough for him to pull out the victory.

With the win, O’Brien ups his record to 11-2; Wellisch falls to 9-4.

The Ultimate Fighter season seven’s Dan Cramer didn’t get any breaks by making his professional MMA debut in the UFC, but after three hard-fought rounds, he eked out a split decision win over season six cast member Matt Arroyo in the welterweight opener.

Scores were 29-28 twice and 28-29 for Cramer, who is now 1-0 as a pro. Arroyo falls to 3-3.

After a brief feeling out process between the two, Arroyo got the fight to the ground and instantly worked into the mount position, an ensuing scramble saw Cramer get into Arroyo’s guard, but not after surviving a submission attempt in the process. The two traded elbows on the mat, with Arroyo holding an edge in the damage department as he continued to look for the submission. By the final two minutes of the round, Cramer’s punches started to hit their mark more frequently, and he finished the frame strong.

The second began the way the first ended, with Cramer throwing ground strikes from the top as Arroyo looked to catch an arm from the bottom. Arroyo also landed his share of strikes while on his back, both with his elbows and feet, but as the round progressed, the pace dipped, drawing boos from the crowd.

Arroyo ate a knee to the head while attempting a takedown in the opening moments of round three, but he stuck with the takedown and worked his way to Cramer’s back, where he sunk in a rear naked choke. Amazingly, Cramer escaped and fought his way into Arroyo’s guard, where he opened up with ground strikes. With under 90 seconds remaining, referee Steve Mazzagatti ordered a re-start, but Arroyo again brought the fight to the mat, where it remained until the final bell.