Glendale, Ariz. – UFC, are you ready for “Showtime?” Because he’s coming soon.
On a night wrapped in historical overtones, Anthony “Showtime” Pettis dethroned WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson at Jobing.com Arena to earn a UFC title shot. Both fighters waged a back-and-forth battle that was worthy of Fight of the Night and may have been decided in the final 80 seconds of the fifth round. With the fight apparently up for grabs, Pettis went airborne, acrobatically bounced off the cage fence and executed a beautiful high kick that landed flush on the hometown champ’s jaw and dropped him to the canvas. It was an electrifying and unprecedented move that no one in press row had ever seen, like something out of a “The Matrix” movie. It sent the live crowd at the arena into mass hysteria.
Henderson gamely weathered the crucial assault and got back to his feet, but that sequence may have anchored his defeat by unanimous decision. The riveting match was fittingly the last bout ever for the decade-old WEC, which is set to merge with its sister organization, the UFC. That means Pettis, a Milwaukee native who starred in an MTV episode of “World of Jenks,” is slated to fight the winner of the Jan. 1 bout between UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and unbeaten challenger Gray Maynard.
An emotional Pettis, whose father was murdered during an armed robbery in 2003, credited his coach Duke Roufus for the one-of-a-kind kick that made a lot of people’s jaw drop.
“We practice that all the time,” Pettis said, “and I’ve got 10 more kicks like that coming when I get to the UFC.”
Roufus called the kick an “Ong Bak” kick, noting it is an old Muay Thai technique. Pettis dropped Henderson on another occasion with a stiff right hand, but barely survived a rear naked choke in the fourth round that was close to being dead on.
Pettis was not the only man to make history Thursday night. Dominick Cruz did, too. Cruz’s handsome reward for a night’s work: Two world titles and a slice of history. The super-quick Californian used his ‘catch-me-if-you-can’ striking style to beat up No.1 challenger Scott Jorgensen for five rounds to become the UFC’s first-ever bantamweight champion. The 25-year-old Cruz may well be on a collision course with Urijah Faber, the only man to defeat him in 18 pro fights.
“I’m ready to fight whoever,” Cruz said with the UFC belt around his waist and the WEC title strapped over one shoulder. “I want to fight Urijah. Let’s do it in Sacramento.”
If you’ve seen any of his Cruz’s fights over the past three years, you’ve pretty much seen them all. He used the same unorthodox blueprint to tame Jorgensen, a former Division I wrestling standout who had entered the bout winner of seven of his past eight fights. Since losing to Faber in March 2007, no one has been able to put a dent in the rejuvenated Dominick Cruz. He has overwhelmed and baffled seven straight foes with a blistering combination of punches, kicks, knees and takedowns. No fighter has been able to match his speed or figure out his rhythm, as he mixes up his striking and takedowns as well as anyone in the game.
At times against Jorgensen (11-4), it looked as if Cruz was engaging in target practice. He effortlessly danced around the cage and landed three-and-four strike combinations almost at will. Jorgensen, one of the sport’s most durable fighters, never came close to wilting and always kept coming. But he had difficulty mounting a sustained offense because Cruz was simply too fast, elusive and scrappy to nail down. Jorgensen did manage to take Cruz down twice and even bloodied the champ’s nose. On the other hand, Cruz took Jorgensen down in every round, bloodied the challenger’s nose and busted up his right eye enough to cause heavy swelling.
“My conditioning was top-notch, I trained 10 straight rounds in practice with a different sparring partner each round,” Cruz said. “Scotty is very tough. He took everything I had, head kicks and everything. Just a tough dude, man … The future holds a lot of title defenses. Every time I fight I’ll be fighting for another belt. That will be my mentality from beginning to end.”
In other action Thursday night:
Donald Cerrone vs. Chris Horodecki
Opposing fighters know that Donald Cerrone loves the triangle choke, but stopping the lanky Coloradan’s slippery jiu-jitsu game still can be a tall order. In a fight where Chris Horodecki seemed to get the better of the standup battle in round one, Cerrone resorted to his most predictable move, forcing Horodecki (15-3) to tap at 2:43 of round two.
Immediately after the bout, “Cowboy” called out UFC lightweight Cole Miller for his next fight.
“Cole Miller beat a good friend of mine, Leonard Garcia,” said Cerrone (13-3, 1 NC). “Cole, I’m coming for you.”
Cerrone, who entered this contest coming off the finest performance of his career against Jamie Varner, credited coach Greg Jackson with helping him guard against a letdown.
Kamal Shalorus vs. Bart Palaszewski
The first round of this contest was a glorious testament to Bart Palaszewski’s toughness. The truth is, not many fighters could have withstood the ground-and-pound beating that “Bartimus” absorbed for the opening three minutes. Blow after blow of hard body shots, and occasional head shots, that produced loud thumping sounds for those sitting within 100 yards of cageside. Amazingly, once the human punching bag returned to his feet, Palaszewski’s face had neither blood nor swelling. But Shalorus, a world-class wrestler who hails from Iran and now trains in Austin, Texas, paid a price for his aggression. For the remaining 10 minutes he would be engaged in a nip-and-tuck battle, with Palaszewski (34-14) and his red Mohawk often getting the better of the standup exchanges with high kicks and fistic combinations.
“I took all of my strength trying to finish him,” Shalorus (7-0-2) said after judges awarded him a razor-thin split decision by scores of 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28. “I made a mistake and used all of my power and pretty much gassed out in the second round. I will make changes and come back stronger.”
Tiequan Zhang vs. Danny Downes
Fight aficionados, meet Danny “Boy” Downes. Highly intelligent, slightly geeky, and a young man who walked away from potential careers with the U.S. Secret Service or U.S. Commerce Department to be a fighter. On Thursday night, with his UFC future at stake, the Milwaukee product achieved what he called “the greatest accomplishment of my life” by upsetting previously unbeaten Chinese sensation Tiequan Zhang. The 32-year-old Zhang, a submission specialist, entered the bout with a sterling 17-0 record and furiously blitzed Downes for nearly the entire first round with submission attempts. Zhang took Downes down, and hunted for his trademark guillotine choke in vain. He wrenched on Downes’ arm with two armbars, squeezing with everything he had, and Downes kept coming. Most perilously, Zhang took Downes’ back with both hooks in and locked in several rear naked chokes. Downes, gasping for air, always managed to hand fight his way free or change the angle just a tad – though it was the Midwesterner’s heart, more than his technique, that seemed to set him free.
Never before in his career had Zhang been forced to fight beyond the first round. Downes had wanted to test his opponent’s gas tank and had succeeded. In the second round, a visibly spent Zhang looked like a 155-pound version of Shane Carwin during his UFC heavyweight title fight against Brock Lesnar. The turning point happened when Zhang went for a takedown, then oddly abandoned the takedown and pulled guard. The gesture signified his fatigue, and it was pretty much all Downes from that point on. The 24-year-old Duke Roufus protégé dominated positions on top and scored with ground and pound and threatened with rear naked chokes and an arm triangle. You could have arguably awarded Downes a 10-8 score for pitching a near-shutout in round two. The third round was mostly a carbon copy of the second, save for Downes (7-1) busting open Zhang’s right eye, causing significant swelling.
“I’m just really stubborn I guess,” a victorious Downes said afterward, alluding to his survival skills in the first round. “I trained really hard for this and made a lot of changes. Beating Zhang is the greatest accomplishment of my life.”
Judges scored the fight unanimously in Downes’ favor by scores of 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27.
Jamie Varner vs. Shane Roller
For a pro fighter, few moments are as exhilarating as triumphing in front of your hometown fans, and few as disappointing as coming up short on your home turf. Unfortunately for former WEC lightweight champ Jamie Varner, he tasted the latter experience on Thursday night. The Arizona native dropped Roller with a crisp left hook in the first round, but the Oklahoman recovered quickly. Roller, a highly-decorated wrestler, then scored a takedown and immediately transitioned to the back, sinking in a tight rear naked choke to win the tap at 3:55 of the first round.
The sudden and dramatic turn of events ended what has been a hellacious 2010 for Varner, who will finish this season with an 0-3-1 record. Roller, meanwhile, moved to 9-3, redeeming himself for a loss to Anthony Pettis.
“I just wanted to stay relaxed. I didn’t try to rush my takedowns and get it to the ground,” said Roller, who stood and traded with Varner for most of the fight and even cut Varner’s right eye. “I’ve got confidence in my hands and when the opportunity presents itself I’ll take it to the ground.”
Ivan Menjivar vs. Brad Pickett
The return of Ivan Menjivar to the UFC family produced an instant and leading candidate for Fight of the Night. In what played out as a predominantly standup extravaganza, Menjivar and Pickett took turns pounding each other with heavy leather, with the Montreal fighter rocking and wobbling Pickett in the second stanza and Pickett storming back in the third and returning the favor. The bout was awfully close but two Pickett takedowns in the opening round may have been the difference as the judges awarded him a unanimous decision by scores of 29-28 across the board.
The British-born fighter, who trains with American Top Team, said that some of Menjivar’s punches caused him to see “my mom, my dad.”
’I said ‘Dad, I’m fighting!’ and then came back to the fight,” said Pickett, who demonstrated both an iron jaw and iron will during the fight and ran his record to 21-5. “He hit me with some good shots, I hit him with some good shots, so I’m happy. In my opinion this is the biggest win of my career. A lot of people don’t know about him, but he’s been fighting a long time … “
Eddie Wineland vs. Ken Stone
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, if he was watching, could definitely relate to what transpired in this matchup between former WEC bantamweight champ Wineland and WEC newcomer Stone. It was Stone, a member of American Top Team, who executed early with a bevy of stinging leg kicks that caught Wineland’s attention. One of MMA’s better boxers, Wineland momentarily stunned Stone with a potent right hand, though Stone would retaliate by cracking the Indiana fighter with a gnarly spinning backfist. Things got especially interesting when Stone jumped guard with a body triangle, forcing Wineland to stand and bear the weight of both men. Hoping to avoid going to the mat, Wineland – still carrying Stone’s weight – walked him toward the cage and eventually slammed him hard to the canvas with violent force. The impact of the blow knocked Stone unconscious at 2:11.
“His first leg kick – wow! -- he’s got a nice leg kick and I really wasn’t expecting it,” Wineland (18-6-1) conceded afterward. “That’s definitely not a slapping leg kick. I tried to stay composed. I listened to my corner and (it was) lights out. I’m so hungry, I want it bad.”
Danny Castillo vs. Will Kerr
We now know this about Danny Castillo: Thursday was not his “last call” in MMA’s biggest league. The northern Californian was on the defensive for much of this bout, which lasted only 85 seconds but never delivered a dull moment. Kerr stormed Castillo at the opening horn, firing off a flying knee that just missed. A scramble ensued, with the ultra-aggressive Kerr applying a guillotine choke that Castillo escaped. On the mat, Kerr immediately unleashed yet another trick, threatening with a deep series of heel hooks. Castillo defended the moves, but Kerr kept insisting on the submission. Heel hooks and foot locks can be wonderful surprise attacks, but there can be a downside. Focusing two hands on an opponent’s feet means no hands to defend your chin from punches. As it turned out, Kerr would pay for his insistence as Castillo landed a few heavy shots on top, putting his Connecticut adversary out cold.
“I’ve been working on staying composed in there and making the cage a home for myself,” said Castillo, a Team Alpha Male fighter who improved to 10-4. “Right now I feel like this is my house. I feel like I’ve found myself as a fighter, I know my identity as a fighter. I’m ready to move forward and to keep winning.”
Ricardo Lamas vs. Yuri Alcantara
This fight taught us that Yuri Alcantara, a training partner of Lyoto Machida, might be a fighter to keep our eyes on. Tonight, the hot-blooded Brazilian literally punched his ticket to the UFC. Equally dangerous on his feet and on the mat, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt eschewed his ground game and instead demonstrated devastating punching power, knocking Lamas out cold with a wide left hook at 3:26 of the opening stanza. The one-punch explosion ended what had been a fairly competitive standup fight, with each lightweight scoring in the clinch with knees.
“My hands are real powerful. Thank god I have another victory,” said Alcantara, who improved to 24-3 and is riding an 11-fight win streak.
Chris Cariaso vs. Renan Barao
What looked like an intriguing matchup on paper turned into a decidedly one-sided affair as Barao, a much-hyped bantamweight and training partner of WEC featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo, dominated en route to a victory via submission. The 23-year-old Brazilian burst out of the gate with a steady stream of leg kicks. When the action hit the mat, Barao deftly passed Cariao’s guard and threatened with a kimura, then smoothly transitioned to an armbar attempt before finally settling on Cariaso’s back with both hooks in. The San Franciscan’s attempts to fend off Barao failed, and Barao cinched in the choke and won the tap at 3:47 of the first round.
Pettis Dethrones Henderson in Final WEC Event
On a night wrapped in historical overtones, Anthony “Showtime” Pettis dethroned WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson at Jobing.com Arena to earn a UFC title shot.
See post-fight interviews with all of the night's winners at WEC.tv
See post-fight interviews with all of the night's winners at WEC.tv