LONDON - Swedish striker Alexander Gustafsson couldn't have expected to look any better tonight at the O2 Arena, as he broke down feared Muay Thai exponent Cyrille Diabate in both the standup and grappling exchanges, eventually tapping the Frenchman out in the second round of their UFC 120 preliminary match.
Diabate vs. Gustafsson
Quicker to the draw from the off, Gustafsson lit Diabate up with numerous straight right hands and left hooks in the early exchanges. In between those punches, Gustafsson would cleverly utilise leg kicks to keep his French foe guessing. Then, just as Diabate expected a kick, Gustafsson cocked and unleashed a left hook, dropping Cyrille for the first time in the fight. Gustafsson instantly pounced, claiming top position and working Diabate over with a series of heavy blows.
Veteran Diabate managed to ride out the early barrage, but was again later dropped in the standup, as Gustafsson found a home for a sharp right uppercut. Seemingly blessed with the superior punch variation, Gustafsson was frequently picking holes in Diabate's patchy defence. The pair traded to conclude the round, but Gustafsson remained the fighter landing the cleaner and crisper shots.
Despite enjoying a clear edge in the striking confrontation, Gustafsson found most joy whenever the fight hit the deck. He secured a takedown early in the second round, thrived in side control and then looked to lock in a kimura finish. Unable to tighten the hold up, Gustafsson settled for full mount and began to work a prone Diabate over. He rained punches down on the Frenchman's bald dome, before clasping hold of his back and throwing on a rear-naked choke. Diabate tapped out at 2.42 of the round, thus punctuating Gustafsson's most impressive Octagon performance to date.
Broughton vs. Querioz
While British mixed martial artists have excelled in various weight divisions in recent years, the country has been in grave need of a successful heavyweight contender. On this evening's evidence, Rob Broughton could be that man. The St. Helens slugger overcame numerous takedown attempts to outlast and eventually submit Brazilian Vinicius Queiroz in the third and final round.
A noted grappler, Queiroz began the bout with clear intentions to take Broughton down and stifle any potential striking battle. The Brazilian dumped Broughton on the floor at will in the opening moments, but was unable to progress beyond working enticing positions. Fleshy but durable, Broughton rode out multiple storms, shaking Queiroz from his back and powering through dominant positions his opponent worked towards.
By the second round, Queiroz was now seeking takedowns through exhaustion rather than any method. Meanwhile, Broughton, buoyed on by vocal home support, thrived on being able to continuously climb to his feet and engage Queiroz in the kind of standup brawl he could have done without. The English heavyweight struck more and more striking poses as the bout wore on, a sign of both his own toughness and Queiroz' emptying gas tank.
Both swapped heavy blows in the third round, as the finish line appeared in sight. Broughton clumped the Brazilian with two right hands in close, and then pursued a standing guillotine attempt as Queiroz slumped to his knees. Exhausted and out of ideas, Queiroz managed to escape the choke, but the writing was on the wall.
Broughton was now in top position, and content to engage Queiroz in a ground battle. He was the stronger, more powerful and more dominant fighter by this stage, and Queiroz was unable to shake off the physically stronger fighter. One kimura attempt down, Broughton persevered with a submission and eventually found a rear-naked choke as he claimed Queiroz' back. Overwhelmed and low on energy, Queiroz tapped at the 1:46 mark, handing Broughton a debut UFC win and Britain a genuine heavyweight hope.
Sass vs. Holst
Who said Brits have no ground game? Step forward Paul Sass, a man who now boasts ten triangle choke victories to his name, all of which have been claimed during the first round. This extraordinary run continued this evening in London, as Sass added Canada's Mark Holst to his list of triangled victims, forcing the inevitable tap at 4:35 of the very first round.
Eager to drag the fight to the floor by any means possible, Sass was immediately looking for the submission finish. He pulled guard on numerous occasions and also shot for takedowns, all in an attempt to better utilise his long limbs in a grappling match.
Don't assume this tap-hungry Brit is a one trick pony, however. Although he eventually brought the curtain down with his trademark triangle, Sass was also seeking other methods of obtaining victory. He flirted with the idea of going for an omoplata and a leg-lock, before eventually arriving at his preferred destination.
Holst, now 8-3, remained game throughout, but there was a sense of inevitably to the finish, as Sass time after time threatened the Canadian's neck with his long limbs. Few are more dangerous than Sass from a grounded position, especially in the British Isles.
This feeling was confirmed in the final moments of the opener, as Sass tangled Holst up in a sea of stray limbs and bad intentions. Despite struggling desperately to free himself from the choke, Holst fell into Sass' triangle attempt and reluctantly tapped with 25 seconds of the round remaining.
Many beforehand were skeptical, but, yes, Paul Sass' triangle chokes are for real. Even in the UFC. He moves to 11-0.
Fisher vs. Warburton
Experience was the key in a lightweight three-rounder, as knowing veteran Spencer Fisher out-hustled and controlled newcomer Curt Warburton down the stretch to claim a 29-28 unanimous decision sweep.
Bishop Auckland's Warburton began the bout strongly, securing a takedown and smothering Fisher on the ground. He attempted an audacious guillotine choke midway through the round, and appeared to be free of the kind of nerves and anxieties that blight most other debutants.
Nevertheless, despite the positive start, Warburton succumbed to experience in the second and third rounds, as Fisher initiated a striking battle. Utilising quicker hands and feet, Fisher peppered Warburton from range and scored a flash knockdown off a solid right hand. Warburton swiftly grabbed a leg, only for Fisher to posture up and rain down blows from the top position. An extravagant axe-kick from the same position brought cheers from the London crowd.
By the time the second round wrapped up, both lightweights were looking for heel hooks, with Fisher's superior technique getting him closer to the desired result.
The fast-paced action continued into the final stanza, as Fisher enjoyed success with sharper and straighter shots. The longer and rangier of the two, Warburton was unable to match Fisher for sharpness and seemed to struggle with the pace as the bout entered its final knockings. However, the Brit remained game and pitching throughout, despite the obvious sway in momentum.
Fisher, now 25-6, brought out more of his box of tricks in the final session, as he buried a spinning back-kick into Warburton's gut and then later followed up with a stunning left knee. Warburton coped with the impact of both shots admirably, but Fisher's confidence was now sky-high, as he capped each success with his best Ric Flair impression.
This dominance continued into the final moments, as Fisher secured a mount position and attempted to lock in more than one rear-naked choke. Through a combination of tiredness and the desire of his opponent, it never came. Fisher settled for victory via the scorecards, sweeping a unanimous verdict at the bout's conclusion. Albeit in defeat, Warburton, in pushing a seasoned veteran on his first UFC start, comes out with credit, despite dropping to 7-3-1.
McSweeney vs. Maldonado
They'd hoped for a better start to their night, but British fight fans were forced to wait for their first victory at UFC 120, as light heavyweight rep James McSweeney was broken down and stopped by newcomer Fabio Maldonado in the third and final round.
The Colorado-based Brit figured to boast an edge in striking over his Brazilian foe, yet he was for long portions of the fight dominated by Maldonado's crisper work in the stand-up. McSweeney started the bout well, landing numerous kicks and tight punches in close, only to eventually slow down as the bout progressed. His work-rate dropped and Maldonado began making wise investments with body shots.
Sensing his foe was wilting, Maldonado picked McSweeney off from range and began grinding the British heavyweight down. Body shots continued to take the wind from McSweeney's sails, before Maldonado closed the show in the final round. The Brazilian moves to 18-3.