In June 2010, Canadian featherweights Mark Hominick and Yves Jabouin duked it out in a largely overlooked WEC featherweight bout that yielded Sherdog.com’s “Round of the Year.” Bantamweights Roland Delorme and Nick Denis followed in the footsteps of their countrymen by putting on a similarly unexpected thriller at UFC on Fox 3 on Saturday in New Jersey.
Denis was pegged as a sizeable favorite by the oddsmakers -- and with good reason. Once considered a solid featherweight prospect, the 28-year-old Ontarian had recently reestablished his status as a 135-pound terror with vicious, back-to-back knockouts of Nick Mamalis (via suplex) and Joseph Sandoval (via standing elbows). His opponent, Manitoba judo wiz Delorme, entered the contest on less than three weeks’ notice as a replacement for injured “The Ultimate Fighter 14” castmate Johnny Bedford.
The timing hardly fazed Delorme, who had been pursuing a bout with Denis outside the UFC for years. Delorme had his adversary well-scouted and he even had an idea of how the first round might play out, but he could not have known how it would end.
“I went into that fight knowing I was probably gonna lose the first round,” Delorme, 28, told Sherdog.com afterward. “I knew he hit hard, and I knew he’d probably rock me in the first round, so I just expected that. It wasn’t a big deal.”
Rock him Denis did, and despite Delorme’s claims, it seemed like kind of a big deal.
Early on in the matchup -- which took place on the Facebook-streamed, pre-preliminary portion of the show -- Denis appeared to have the situation firmly in hand. He denied repeated trip attempts from the two-inches-taller Delorme while utilizing the cage to close the gap. Denis even flashed some of the nasty elbows which put away his last opponent while in the clinch, giving Delorme cause for concern.
“I don’t like to be too close. I didn’t want to take any elbows, either,” said Delorme. “Not only did the Nick Mamalis fight give me an idea that maybe I don’t wanna clinch with this guy, but the Joseph Sandoval fight was, like, ‘OK, I really don’t wanna be in the clinch with this guy. That’s a bad idea.’”
After being hurled to the ground on a botched trip, Delorme tried to produce something from his guard, but Denis punched right through a triangle attempt and easily slammed his way free of an armbar. Back on the feet, Denis’ more accurate strikes began to take their toll, with a right uppercut and a knee midway through the round putting Delorme on roller skates. When the injured man tried again for the outside trip, Denis punished him with another hard knee that had referee Keith Peterson watching intently from inches away. Saucily, Delorme threw a standing elbow of his own from the clinch but then retreated behind it, clearly still trying to compose himself.
Denis got a rear waist lock, the same position from which he choke-slammed Mamalis unconscious, and Delorme almost immediately pulled guard. “I didn’t want to get thrown on my head, that’s for damn sure,” he said. When the bantamweights returned to their feet 40 seconds later -- Denis requested it after slipping away from an armbar -- it became apparent that Delorme had his legs underneath him once again.
A left hook snapped back Denis’ head and sent “The Ninja of Love” backpedaling for the first time in the fight. Delorme kept the pressure on with hooks and uppercuts, repeatedly tagging his dazed opponent, who was suddenly offering nothing in return. Denis tried to slow the tempo by wrapping up Delorme on the fence, but the damage inflicted by the strikes finally allowed Delorme to hit the trip he had wanted all along. The problem: they hit the canvas with only 20 seconds remaining in the first frame.
“I figured at the end of the round I’d be able to come back and throw a lot of big punches, stumble him maybe, hopefully hurt him, and go into the second round winning,” explained Delorme. “I didn’t expect to choke him out in the first round with one second left.”
Although he did not expect to get the finish, it seems Delorme saw no harm in trying. From side control on the left, he leaned over to Denis’ right side. That is when Denis made a fatal error.
“He did the exact same thing when he fought Nick Mamalis, where he turned his back and exposed his neck out,” Delorme said. “With me, I was hoping that was gonna happen, because I knew if he did that to me, he wasn’t getting out.”
Sure enough, Delorme baited his man into rolling over, making Denis think he was sweeping to top position. Instead, Delorme was waiting to snake his right arm underneath Denis’ chin and squeeze his left bicep. The rear-naked choke looked deep enough to force a tap even without hooks, but Delorme dug his heels in for good measure. “It was super close,” said Delorme. “I knew there was 10 seconds left ... that’s why I squeezed with all my might, hoping he was either gonna go out or the bell was gonna go.”
Denis could not make it. On the brink of consciousness, with just one second left on the clock, he grimly tapped his own face in submission. Delorme’s grit and keen scouting had kept his momentum intact and his official UFC record blemish-free. Denis remained on his knees for moments afterward, perhaps still dazed but more likely dejected. Nevertheless, Denis’ early contributions combined with Delorme’s late surge to make a fine fight -- one that could be heard from again come year’s end.
Jordan Breen contributed to this report.