After six years away, the UFC's return to The Joint inside Las Vegas' Hard Rock Hotel was marked by a rousing undercard of finishes and star-making performances from prospects including Rustam Khabilov, Hugo Viana and TJ Waldburger.
Mike Pyle vs. James Head
In the night's featured bout, Mike Pyle scored his third first-round TKO of 2012 with an impressive Muay Thai knee that ended Oklahoma wrestler James Head’s own win streak in 1 minute and 55 seconds..
Though Head connected early with a left straight, Las Vegas’ Pyle dodged out of harm’s way and used a Thai clinch to throw knees and reset. As the welterweights clinched again, Pyle locked on a perfect Muay Thai plum, landed a knee to the head that dropped his foe, and followed up with vicious punches that left no doubt that the fight was over.
The 37-year-old Pyle’s record rises to 24-8-1, with his only loss in his last seven bouts coming at the hands of top-ranked Rory MacDonald; Head’s record slips to 9-3.
Johnny Bedford vs. Marcos Vinicius
After a year away from the Octagon due to injury and a last-minute opponent scratch, “Brutal” Johnny Bedford lived up to his nickname, finishing TUF Brasil’s Marco “Vina” Vinicius in six minutes.
Bedford moved forward with big shots throughout the fight, including one thudding body blow. A right hand dropped “Vina” in the first and Bedford swarmed, issuing ground-and-pound and threatening with a crucifix. Besides one guillotine attempt off an early takedown, Vinicius was mostly stuck on the bottom using guard and butterfly guard to try and neutralize his opponent.
The second round was more of the same, with a brief break due to a low blow by Vinicius. Bedford continued to back up the Brazilian, who seemed unable to find his range against his lanky opponent. Against the cage, Bedford dropped his cornered quarry with a right hook and followed with punches and a perfectly-placed kick to the body as Vinicius crumpled to the mat. Referee Kim Winslow called things off a minute into the second round. The win is Bedford’s 19th with 10 losses; Vinicius falls to 20-5-1.
Watch Bedford's post-fight interview
Vinc Pichel vs. Rustam Khabilov
Russian-born, Jackson’s-trained Rustam Khabilov needed just two minutes and fifteen seconds to end the unbeaten streak of TUF Live knockout artist Vinc Pichel. The sambo champion used relentless wrestling to control – and eventually knock out – Pichel.
Khabilov’s first takedown started via single-leg, and he peppered Pichel’s body and head from half guard. As Pichel got back up, the Russian wrestler treated him to a suplex, then threw him back down again as he stood. Two more takedowns – including another suplex – followed, until the third suplex dazed Pichel. Khabilov’s followup ground and pound erased any doubt as the fight was waved off at 2:15.
Khabilov’s performance in his UFC debut improves his record to 15-1; Pichel, a Californian with a hardy fan presence inside the Hard Rock, is now 7-1.
Watch Khabilov's post-fight interview
TJ Waldburger vs. Nick Catone
In a welterweight battle of jiu-jitsu brown belts, TJ Waldburger’s technique got the best of Nick Catone’s size advantage as Waldburger earned his 13th career submission win.
Catone, making his debut at 170 after a career at middleweight, used his strength to assert back control throughout the first frame, struggling against the fence for much of the time to drag or throw his opponent to the ground. It was Waldburger who had more dangerous submission attacks that he followed from the feet to the ground, particularly a guillotine early in the fight and a kimura.
Catone landed a high kick at the opening of the second, but shortly after was dropped by a punch. Waldburger pounced on “The New Jersey Devil,” raining blows and setting up a guillotine as Catone scrambled to his feet. Waldburger pulled guard, moved one leg over Catone’s shoulder, and transitioned into a triangle choke. Elbows from the bottom triggered Catone to cover his face, which gave Waldburger the arm control he needed to render Catone fast asleep at 1:04 of the second.
"I figured he’d be strong in the first round so I just weathered the storm and tried to tire him out as much as possible," said Waldburger. "Very happy I was able to lace in the triangle and finish it early.” Waldburger now owns 16 wins with 7 losses and Catone slips to 9-4.
Watch Waldburger's post-fight interview
Reuben Duran vs. Hugo Viana
went 2-0 inside the Hard Rock Saturday as Mike Rio and Hugo Viana both picked up
wins for the lupine nickname. After a plodding performance from the
night’s first lightweights, bantamweights brought The Joint back to
life with a bout that saw Reuben Duran dropped no less than five times
by TUF Brasil star Viana.
The muscular 135ers bobbed and weaved, and
Viana dropped Duran on his first connect. Duran appeared injured and
was wobbled twice more in the next minute or so, but beat his chest and
implored Wolverine to keep coming forward. The two tied up on the cage
briefly before returning to the center, where Viana, despite a two-inch
reach deficit, continued landing single shots directly on Duran’s chin,
some of which sent the Californian to the mat. A left straight dropped
Duran flat, but Duran somehow returned. A giant right hand was the
final blow, its force literally spinning Duran around as he fell at 4:05
of the first round.
The win was the powerful Brazilian’s seventh (with one loss); Duran now sits at 8-4-1.
Watch Viana's post-fight interview
Mike Rio vs. John Cofer
Two TUF Live lightweights met in Las
Vegas as John Cofer and Mike Rio patiently circled and grappled for most
of three rounds before Rio earned his ninth career win.
was mostly a standoff, save a couple of Cofer left hooks that connected
and a few efforted takedown attempts from Rio. Rio finally succeeded
with one late in the round, but Cofer reversed and the stanza ended with
both men working for kneebars. The pace picked up in the second, with
both lightweights moving forward, throwing (and eating) punches, but not
being wobbled. Rio used Cofer’s forward momentum to score a huge slam,
which he followed into side control before backing off. He struggled to
avoid Cofer’s upkicks until the referee stood them both back up. Rio
dragged Cofer for a takedown and got Cofer’s back as Cofer got to his
feet, but Cofer shook him off and wound up in top position.
persistence paid off as he got a takedown in the third and stayed heavy
in side control, transitioning over several minutes into an armbar
attempt. Cofer survived and reversed, trying some ground and pound
before getting both arms caught in the armbar again, this time forced to
tap at 4:11.
"I was in side mount and I knew that if I popped up it would’ve released the pressure on his chest and give him a chance to counter," said Rio. "When I moved he capitalized so I transitioned to the arm and it worked.” The win lifts Rio’s record to 9-1; Cofer departs 7-4.
Watch Rio's post-fight interview
Jared Papazian vs. Timothy Elliott
The night’s action began in the always-entertaining flyweight division, as Jared Papazian made his debut in the weight class against Timothy Elliott. Missouri's Elliott overcame an inadvertent illegal knee in the first to punish Papazian over the next two rounds and score a lopsided unanimous decision win.
At the bell, Elliott wasted no time in charging forward and locking on a guillotine, then stayed busy trying for a guillotine in between ground and pounding in the floor scramble that followed. After freeing his head from the sub attempt for a second time, Papazian nailed Elliott with an illegal knee to the head on the way up. Rocked and wobbled on the feet, the doctor checked on Elliott and the bout seemed in danger of being waved off. However, after giving Elliott time to recover and taking a point from Papazian, referee Chris Tognoni allowed the fight to continue. Papazian tried to capitalize on his injured opponent but but was dropped by a short hook then taken down again by a single-leg. A tie-up on the fence slowed things, but Elliott showed he was still in it by diving for a heelhook in the round’s final seconds,drawing cheers from the already half-full arena.
Elliott’s footwork returned in the second, and both men connected with wide, winging shots. Elliott scored early with a single leg and did more damage with elbows from on top of his increasingly bloodied foe before returning to the feet. Both circled, hands down and stances wide. Both threw occasional short combinations of punches, switch kicks and switch knees that generally whiffed, though Papazian landed a couple of shots. Elliott ended the round the way he began it – with a takedown followed by elbows from top.
Elliott scored a takedown to start the third, and the two grappled in a stalemate on the ground before a referee standup. Papazian increased his pace, but as he moved forward, he was dropped by a short shot. Elliott pounced into mount, and the rest of the bout was all Elliott, who dropped elbows and hammerfists. Elbows inspired Papazian to turn around, giving up his back. Elliott continued his fistic attack until he could sink in a rear-naked choke attempt twice in the final minutes, Papazian only escaping due to the slipperiness of his own blood.
The point deduction plus the 10-8 final frame on two judges' scorecards rendered the scores 30-25 twice and 30-26 for the now 9-3-1 Elliott. Papazian’s record slips to 14-9 1 NC and 0-3 in the UFC.