Urijah Faber's bantamweight debut was a successful one as he submitted Takeya Mizugaki in the first round.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – The MMA world got its first glimpse of a reinvented Urijah Faber here Thursday night as he choked Japanese star Takeya Mizugaki out cold in the WEC 52 main event at The Pearl at The Palms. The first-round stoppage – which began as a one-arm rear naked choke – served notice to the rest of the bantamweight division that The California Kid is a force to be reckoned with.
“I’m a finisher,” said the former WEC featherweight champion, now 24-4. “It’s time to step it up and get my belt in the UFC. Now it’s my time to shine right now at my most competitive weight.”
Holding the distinction as the only man to beat current 135-pound kingpin Dominick Cruz, the 31-year-old Faber had difficulty taking Mizugaki down early, and abandoned leg and hip takedowns in place of a swift front headlock that did the trick and pulled the action to the canvas. That set into motion the fateful take-the-back sequence that rendered Mizugaki (13-5-2) unconscious.
In the evening’s co-main event, fellow Team Alpha Male fighter Chad Mendes also made a statement. Producing exciting, action-packed fights may not be Mendes’ forte just yet, but winning certainly is. The brutish wrestler rode his explosive takedowns and mistake-free style to his ninth straight victory, smothering the world-class jiu-jitsu of Javier Vazquez, who had irked the unbeaten Mendes by asserting he had not paid his dues while climbing the featherweight ranks and was being “spoon fed” non-elite opponents. Save for a solid high-kick that landed, and a right hand that temporarily stunned Vazquez, Mendes followed his usual blueprint of scoring takedowns and sticking like glue to his foes. Vazquez’ finest moments came in the first round when he fired elbows to Mendes head from the guard. Yet despite Vazquez’s repeated attempts to use rubber guard in a quest for a triangle choke, Mendes never appeared to be in much danger.
Erik Koch vs. Francisco Rivera
He wanted Josh Grispi, he got Francisco Rivera instead. And Erik Koch offered a rude welcome to the short-notice replacement, methodically controlling the fight in the standup realm before unleashing a vicious high kick that floored the unbeaten Californian. A few blows later, at 1:36 of the first round, the referee stopped the action and declared Koch the victor by TKO.
“That was perfect, man. Hopefully I get a bonus for this,” said Koch (11-1), roommate to No. 1 lightweight contender Anthony Pettis, who challenges Benson Henderson for the title next month at WEC 53. “I got to say it was a good knockout. That was an Anthony Pettis kick right there and it worked.”
Now 4-1 in the organization, the 22-year-old Iowan had been widely regarded as a slippery ground fighter and more of a volume puncher in the standup aspect until Thursday’s revelation. Afterward he thanked Rivera (5-1) for taking the fight despite an abbreviated training camp.
Joseph Benavidez vs. Wagnney Fabiano
True to his word, Joseph Benavidez not only tried to submit Wagnney Fabiano, but actually achieved the feat with a second-round guillotine choke that prompted the highly-decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt to tap.
“I got all sorts of guillotines and I had to keep trying them out on him,” said the Team Alpha Male fighter, who took the fight on five weeks’ notice after Brian Bowles bowed out due to injury. “He’s a great grappler but I tried that ‘Joe-jitsu’ on him and I got the tap.”
The triumph marked Benavidez’s fourth win over a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. The super-tight move was an exclamation point to a bout that began with both fighters waging a fierce stand-up battle.
Demetrious Johnson vs. Damacio Page
Tired of getting bullied around the Octagon by bigger foes, Demetrious Johnson committed to a powerlifting regimen that apparently paid dividends as he won a wrestling match against Damacio Page and eventually submitted the Greg Jackson protégé with a mounted guillotine choke at 2:37 of the third stanza. Ever cautious of Page’s potent right hand – arguably the most powerful right hand in the entire bantamweight division – the much-quicker Johnson excelled at closing the distance and achieving the clinch, minimizing Page’s force.
The bout predominately played out as a grappling match with both men trading takedowns throughout. It appeared that Page won the first round thanks to a takedown and top control, but Johnson stole the momentum in the second, even scoring with a high kick that prompted Page to mockingly stick his tongue out.
In the third round, Johnson unleashed a nice punching combo and capped it off with a high kick that put Page on the deck. In a scramble, Johnson ensured it would not go to the judges by securing a fight-ending guillotine choke, notching his second straight WEC win to improve his record to 12-1.
Raphael Assuncao vs. L.C. Davis
Assuncao, an Atlanta transplant who hails from Brazil, used his grinding style and timely takedowns en route to a unanimous decision victory over the equally rugged Davis. Though Davis, who for years trained with Pat Miletich in Iowa, has the more celebrated wrestling skills, he was outdone in that department by the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, who won a unanimous decision to halt a two-bout losing streak and improve to 16-3.
Anthony Njokuani vs. Edward Faaloloto
Crediting the hardest training camp of his life, Njokuani snapped a two-fight losing streak with a second-round TKO over previously unbeaten Faaloloto. In what was predominantly a boxing match, the lightning-quick striker imposed his will throughout, punishing and bloodying the Hawaiian lightweight with powerful right hands until a referee stoppage at 4:55 of the second round.
Njokuani improved to 14-4; Faaloloto fell to 5-1.
Dustin Poirier vs. Zack Micklewright
The most intense staredown at the WEC 52 weigh-ins involved these two fighters, who are in many ways mirror images of each other and looked like they wanted to do battle right then and there. When it came time for the real fisticuffs, Poirier – who had chastised himself for showing “30 percent” of his fight game in his WEC debut loss to Danny Castillo – opened up a can of blitzkrieg on Micklewright in the form of dozens of heavy punches. The all-out and one-sided assault forced the overwhelmed Iowan to retreat, but he was especially rocked by wave after wave of vicious hooks. How Micklewright remained upright is anybody’s guess (and a testament to the US Marine Corps vet’s valor and toughness), but the referee had seen enough and rightly halted the bout at just 53 seconds of the opening stanza, giving Poirier (8-1) his first WEC triumph in impressive fashion.
“I have huge respect for him,” Poirier, a lifelong Louisianan, said of his opponent. “He’s a hell of a fighter, a military veteran, and he’s got a tough chin. After the last fight I didn’t leave it all there. I went back to the drawing board and said, ‘What got me here?’ and that’s what I did out here tonight.”
Michael McDonald vs. Clint Godfrey
One thing we learned about 19-year-old Michael McDonald over the past few days: the kid likes to smile. A lot. He came to the weigh-ins smiling and smiled during the face-to-face staredown. He walked to the cage smiling (and singing along to his entrance song). Fittingly, the northern Californian left the cage smiling, too, courtesy of a first-round armbar submission victory in his WEC debut.
Anyone who mistook the kid’s kindness for weakness learned otherwise once the opening horn sounded. He tagged Godfrey with a crisp 1-2, and then put the South Dakotan on his rump with a textbook straight right counter. After eating some hard shots, Godfrey gamely got to his feet and proceeded to explosively slam McDonald. Apparently unfazed, McDonald soon transitioned to his fight-ending submission, pushing his record to 11-1.
Cub Swanson vs. Mackens Semerzier
A couple of things jump to mind: First, I’m amazed at how fresh and relatively undamaged each fighter was at the conclusion of their three-round war of attrition. I expected to see a lot of blood given the heavy blows that were flying and the breakneck pace these guys set. Second, it’s back-and-forth fights like this that make me happy I’m not a judge, because it’s a shame that one man had to be declared a loser in such a razor-thin close bout. That man, that loser by split decision, was Mackens Semerzier, though he should rightly hold his head high after leaving it all in the cage and “getting after it” in a battle that instantly became front runner for Fight of The Night.
Both fighters displayed an incredible variety of attacks – everything from standard punching combos, to flying knees, spinning backfists, headlock judo throws, upkicks to digging body shots – and it seemed like everything they fired was thrown with conviction. There was no “feeling out” process. Both fighters occasionally scored with takedowns, and Mackens scored the best ground-and-pound in the final 90 seconds of the bout.
In defeat, Semerzier fell to 7-3; Swanson improved to 15-4.
Yves Jabouin vs. Brandon Visher
On the heels of back-to-back losses and badly in need of a victory, noted striker Jabouin may have surprised Visher with a steady diet of takedowns (five, to be exact), effective top control and three submission attempts. Owner of 11 TKO’s, Montreal’s Jabouin seemed to play it safe on his feet, clearly respecting the one-punch knockout power in his Hawaiian foe’s right hand. Jabouin’s best moment in the standup realm came with a left kick that whacked Visher’s noggin clean early in the second stanza. Visher, who had been trying to rebound from the first loss of his career against Colorado’s Tyler Toner, was unable to find much momentum in against his bigger and faster opponent other than a flurry of body shots he landed in the first round that caused Jabouin to take it to the canvas. The 31-year-old Jabouin, who was cornered by former WEC bantamweight kingpin Miguel Torres, improved to 15-6. Visher fell to 13-2.