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UFC 128 Prelims: Brazilians Win Big

Read below for the UFC 128 prelim report...

NEWARK, March 19 – Light heavyweight knockout artist Luiz “Banha” Cane got back on track after a two fight losing streak, stopping returning Eliot Marshall in the first round of their UFC 128 preliminary bout Saturday night at Prudential Center.

Cane vs. Marshall
“I wanted this win so bad,” said Brazil’s Cane, who dropped back-to-back bouts against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Cyrille Diabate. “I lost two fights in a row, but I came back to my team The Armory, we trained for eight months straight, and that was the result.” Watch post-fight interview

After stuffing an early takedown attempt, Cane calmly stalked, waiting for his opportunity to pounce. It came soon enough, as he stunned Marshall with a shot to the head, sending him to the canvas. Cane’s ensuing attack was relentless, and though Marshall tried to clear his head, the unanswered blows kept coming, forcing referee Dan Miragliotta to halt the bout at 2:15 of the opening round.

With the win, Cane improves to 12-3, 1 NC. Marshall, who saw a three fight losing streak snapped in his first UFC bout since March of 2010 falls to 11-4.

Barboza vs. Njokuani
Unbeaten Brazilian powerhouse Edson Barboza kept his unbeaten record intact in a clash of lightweight kickboxers with a close and exciting unanimous decision victory over Anthony Njokuani that earned both men Fight of the Night honors. Watch post-fight interview

All three judges scored it 29-28 for Barboza, who ups his record to 8-0; Njokuani, who was making his UFC debut after a successful WEC stint, falls to 14-5.

Barboza took about a minute to get warmed up, and then he started unleashing his ferocious strikes to the head and legs, immediately getting Njokuani’s attention. The shots appeared to wake Njokuani up, as he proceeded to get his own offense in gear. With 90 seconds left, Njokuani looked for a breather after taking a shot to the eye, but referee Keith Peterson wasn’t having it and he waved “The Assassin” back into the fight. Fired up, Njokuani landed some solid shots, finishing the round strong.

The two Muay Thai standouts began trading almost immediately in round two, with Njokuani taking the lead and landing more shots. By the third minute, the bout strayed to the mat as Njokuani caught a Barboza kick and sent him down, but after some quick ground strikes by the Nigeria native, it was back to the feet, where a spinning back fist from Njokuani drew a roar from the crowd. They erupted again in the final 30 seconds as Barboza ended his offensive action for the round with a takedown.

Njokuani stalked his foe confidently in round three, firing off a variety of strikes from all angles. Barboza still had some heat behind his fastball though, and he let Njokuani know it with each retaliatory punch or kick. Midway through the round, Barboza opened up his attack, with Njokuani patiently waiting for him to finish until dealing out his own response. With 30 seconds left, it was Barboza again looking for – and getting - a takedown, but what left a more lasting impression was a spinning kick to the head just before the bell that staggered Njokuani.

Almeida vs. Pyle

Welterweight vet Mike Pyle didn’t show the spectacular form he displayed in his UFC 120 win over John Hathaway last October, but he did enough on the judges’ scorecards to take a three round unanimous decision win over Hamilton, New Jersey’s Ricardo Almeida. Watch post-fight interview

“I’m 70 percent happy tonight," said Pyle. "I didn’t want this to go to decision. When he dropped me earlier, that was the turning point of the fight because it woke me up. I want to fight the best in the world. I feel better than I have ever felt.”

Scores were 29-28 across the board for Pyle.

What was expected to be a ground war began as a kickboxing match in round one, with a trading of quick takedowns the only forays to the mat. Almeida (13-5) walked to his corner with a bruise under his left eye, courtesy of some stinging Pyle shots, but he was able to get his own licks in as well during a close frame.

In the opening minute of the second, Almeida landed takedown number two, but he was unable to keep Pyle (21-7-1) on the mat for long. In response, Almeida pinned his foe to the fence until Pyle was able to break loose. The ensuing lack of action brought some boos, but each fighter stuck to their plan of attack. Almeida finished up the round with another takedown, but there was little action on the mat.

Pyle provided practically all the offense in the first half of the final round, predominantly with leg kicks, but there was little else going on from the veteran welterweights outside of those strikes and then a momentary trip to the canvas. A brief takedown by Almeida in the final 30 seconds got an even briefer rise from the crowd, but that would be the extent of their good-natured cheers.

Pellegrino vs. Tibau
Brazil’s Gleison Tibau spoiled the homecoming of Point Pleasant’s Kurt Pellegrino, scoring a close split decision victory over “Batman” in a lightweight bout. Watch post-fight interview

Scores were 29-28 twice and 28-29 for Tibau.

Tibau had a strong opening frame, taking Pellegrino to the mat while avoiding the Jersey product’s own attempts, and also scoring with the harder shots in the standup game.

With a little over three minutes left in the second round, Pellegrino got on the board, rocking Tibau with a right punch to the head and then capitalizing with a slam. Tibau quickly cleared his head, but Pellegrino now had the Brazilian where he wanted him, and he proceeded to pile up some points as he tried to improve his position. With 40 seconds remaining, Tibau, now cut over the left eye, scrambled to his feet, but he was unable to score with anything significant for the rest of the round.

“After I got knocked down in the second I knew it was time to go," said Tibau.

The combatants spent the first three minutes of the final round working their standup games, but neither was able to pull ahead striking-wise. Tibau made a statement with a takedown as the bout entered its final 120 seconds, and though he wasn’t able to do anything with it, he was scoring points, just like he did in the final minute as he gave Pellegrino another trip to the canvas.

With the win, Tibau improves to 32-7; Pellegrino falls to 21-6.

Benavidez vs. Loveland
Sporting a new nickname and a new fight venue, former WEC bantamweight contender Joseph “Joe-B-Wan Kenobi” Benavidez made a smooth transition to the Octagon with a hard-fought three round unanimous decision win over scrappy Ian Loveland. Watch post-fight interview

“I didn’t give him much of a chance," said Benavidez. "I thought I was going to finish him. The difference in the fight was my speed and my conditioning. I do have to give him credit on his wrestling and his defense."

Scores were 29-28 and 30-27 twice for Benavidez, who improves to 14-2; Loveland falls to 14-8.

While not fought at a frenetic pace, the first round was still packed with consistent exchanges that kept the crowd in the bout. Benavidez’ slightly busier work rate may have put him in the lead early, but Loveland got enough of his own shots in to keep the Sacramento resident honest and his takedown defense was solid as well.

The pattern stayed intact in round two, but Benavidez threw a wrench in the works late in the stanza with his first takedown of the bout. Loveland was able to avoid any serious trouble though as he scrambled back to his feet just before the bell.

Loveland opened the third with more urgency with his striking game, but he was unable to dent the chin of Benavidez.  Benavidez had better luck, dropping Loveland to a knee with a quick right and following up with a takedown. Loveland deftly escaped but found himself back on the mat moments later. He made it back up, but wasn’t able to land the equalizer before he ran out of time.

Catone vs. Philippou
Late replacement Costa Philippou was game throughout his catchweight bout against Nick Catone, but the Brick, New Jersey native was too much for him on the mat as he pounded out a three round unanimous decision win. Watch post-fight interview

“I had 250 people here to see me fight," said Catone. "I heard them up in the stands screaming for me and that gave me the inspiration to keep pushing forward.”

Scores were 30-27 across the board for “The Jersey Devil,” who was scheduled to face Dan Miller until Miller was moved up to the main card a week ago to face Nate Marquardt.

The action was tentative in the early going, but things heated up in the final minute, as a flurry by Philippou prompted a takedown from Catone and some effective ground and pound that opened a cut on the top of the Cyprus native’s head.

Philippou scored effectively in round two when he fired off strikes from long range, but once Catone closed the gap, he took control, even when unable to take the fight to the mat. As the round progressed, Catone began to throw his strikes more confidently, effectively goading Philippou to get too close, thus leading to a tie-up by Catone against the fence. With a minute left, Catone got the bout to the mat, and again he closed strong with ground strikes.

Catone wasted no time taking Philippou down to begin the final round, and eager to finish the bout, he sent a series of punches down on the former Ultimate Fighter competitor. Philippou gamely hung in there, but with no escape plans, the last five minutes were painful ones for him.

With the win, Catone improves to 9-2; Philippou falls to 7-2 with 1 NC.

Assuncao vs. Koch

Former WEC featherweight Erik “New Breed” Koch introduced himself to UFC fans with a bang, knocking out veteran Raphael Assuncao in the first round to land himself a $70,000 knockout of the night bonus. Watch post-fight interview

“Words can’t describe how I feel right now. That’s a big win over a tough opponent. This was my UFC debut and I came out looking to impress,” said Koch, 12-1, who was coming off a highlight-reel finish of Francisco Rivera last November.

After a slow start, Koch began to find his range with his kicks, but it was his right hand that ended the bout, as he landed a short shot to the head that sent Assuncao (15-4) crashing to the mat. Referee Kevin Mulhall immediately jumped in, halting the bout at the 2:32 mark.