Frankie Edgar could not have made a more resounding statement.
Edgar (20-4-1, 14-4-1 UFC) took care of Team Alpha Male’s Chad Mendes with a two-punch combination and follow-up blows in “The Ultimate Fighter 22” Finale on Friday at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. “The Answer” brought it to a shocking conclusion 2:28 into round one, cementing his place as the No. 1 contender inside the Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight division.
It was fun while it lasted. Mendes ripped into the New Jersey native with inside and outside leg kicks and seemed content to exchange with him in the pocket. That decision proved costly. Edgar clipped him with a counter right above the ear and fired a left hook behind it. Mendes (17-4, 8-4 UFC) collapsed where he stood and was met on the ground with the finishing shots.
Edgar, 34, has rattled off five straight wins and now turns his attention to the UFC 194 unification bout between featherweight champion Jose Aldo and interim titleholder Conor McGregor.
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Hall Crowned ‘Ultimate Fighter’
Two-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion and 2009 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships bronze medalist Ryan Hall ran a grappling clinic on SBG Ireland’s Artem Lobov in “The Ultimate Fighter 22” lightweight final, picking up a clear-cut unanimous decision. Scores were 30-27, 30-26 and 30-26. Hall (5-1, 1-0 UFC) replaced Saul Rogers after he reportedly falsified information on a visa application, precluding his participation in the final.
Lobov (11-11, 0-1 UFC) was lost. Under constant threat of submission from the relentless Hall, his powerful hands were rendered powerless. According to preliminary FightMetric data, Lobov landed just 19 strikes across 15 minutes, only three of them deemed significant. Hall provided the signature highlight in the first round with a majestic back take, spent the entire frame attached to Lobov and never looked back.
Hall dragged the Cage Warriors Fighting Championship alum into his guard repeatedly over the final two rounds and rode out the decision in the third, where he jumped on a standing Lobov’s back, threaded a body triangle and remained there until the horn sounded.
Ferguson Chokes Barboza in ‘Fight of the Year’ Contender
“The Ultimate Fighter” Season 13 winner Tony Ferguson submitted Edson Barboza with a second-round brabo choke in a memorable lightweight showdown sure to show up on “Fight of the Year” lists. A replacement for the injured Khabib Nurmagomedov, Barboza (16-4, 10-4 UFC) conceded defeat 2:54 into round two.
Two of the UFC’s premier lightweights emptied their respective tool boxes, and it was spellbinding. Ferguson weathered a point deduction for an illegal upkick in a remarkable first-round in which the action never stopped. Barboza countered beautifully, fired a number of his lightning-bolt kicks and dodged three rolling kneebar attempts from the Californian.
They picked up where they left off in round two. There, Ferguson (20-3, 10-1 UFC) continued to press forward in the face of serious artillery and opened a cut on the Brazilian’s forehead with a standing elbow. Blood poured down Barboza’s face and onto his chest. The onetime Ring of Combat champion shot for an ill-advised takedown and wandered into the choke during the scramble that followed. Once Ferguson’s arms were in place, there was no escape.
Resurgent Dunham Routs Lauzon
Evan Dunham had his way with “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 alum Joe Lauzon, as he cruised to a unanimous decision in a featured match at 155 pounds. Judges scored it 30-26, 30-27 and 30-26 for Dunham (17-6, 10-6 UFC), who will cruise into 2016 on the strength of a three-fight winning streak.
Lauzon (25-11, 12-8 UFC) spent 15 minutes eating sustained multi-punch combinations to the head, often followed by a thudding kick to his lead leg. Dunham tuned him up with two-, three- and four-punch volleys, leaving the Massachusetts native with significant damage to his face. Lauzon’s situation deteriorated the longer the fight went, as Dunham became less and less concerned with return fire and grew more and more comfortable in the pocket.
Kawajiri Grinds Past Knight
Repeated takedowns and punishing ground-and-pound spurred former Shooto champion Tatsuya Kawajiri to a unanimous verdict over Jason Knight in a three-round featherweight showcase. All three judges arrived at the same conclusion: 30-27 for Kawajiri (35-8-2, 3-1 UFC), who won for the eighth time in nine outings.
A fill-in for the injured Mirsad Bektic, Knight (15-2, 0-1 UFC) had some early success but hope faded quickly. Kawajiri bludgeoned him with elbows, hammerfists and short punches, all while neutralizing his submission game. The Japanese veteran chipped away at Knight, drew some blood with ground strikes and buried the Alan Belcher protégé with a suffocating top game.
The loss put an end to Knight’s run of eight consecutive victories.
Erosa Edges Castmate Wrzosek
Former two-division Super Fight League champion Julian Erosa recorded his fifth straight win with a split decision over Marcin Wrzosek in a featured lightweight pairing between “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 22 semifinalists. Scores were 29-28 and 29-28 for Erosa, 29-28 for Wrzosek.
Wrzosek (15-2, 1-0 UFC) employed a clinch-heavy attack and delivered three second-round takedowns but ran out of gas down the stretch. Erosa (10-3, 0-1 UFC) made his move in the third, where he cracked the Cage Warriors Fighting Championship veteran with a pair of flying knees, landed two takedowns of his own and separated himself in the eyes of two of the three judges.
The defeat snapped a four-fight winning streak for Wrzosek.
Gonzaga Halts Three-Fight Skid
Two takedowns and some third-round ground-and-pound drove Gabriel Gonzaga to a tepid unanimous decision over Konstantin Erokhin in a preliminary heavyweight encounter. All three judges saw it 30-27 for Gonzaga, who threw the brakes on a three-fight losing streak.
Not much took place between them, as they spent the majority of their 15-minute matchup circling and feinting. Gonzaga (17-10, 12-9 UFC) executed a takedown late in the first round and another in the third, consolidating the latter with by dropping some punches and elbows before achieving full mount. Erokhin (9-3, 0-2 UFC) offered almost nothing of note from an offensive standpoint. It was a watch-the-paint-dry performance.
LaFlare Downs Returning Pierce
Former Ring of Combat champion rebounded from his March 21 defeat to Demian Maia with a unanimous decision over Mike Pierce in a three-round scrap at 170 pounds. LaFlare (12-1, 5-1 UFC) swept the scorecards with 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 marks from the judges.
Back in the cage for the first time in more than two years, Pierce (17-7, 9-5 UFC) struggled to get in gear. He wobbled LaFlare with a left hook in the second round and tried to force the issue with a flurry late in the third but spent the majority of his time absorbing kicks to the body and eating punches upstairs. To make matters worse for the Oregonian, an inadvertent clash of heads resulted in a gruesome hematoma on the side of his head. LaFlare worked his combinations, shut down Pierce in the clinch and steered clear of danger.
Replacement Herrera Zaps Sanchez
Resurrection Fighting Alliance veteran Geane Herrera made the most of his opportunity as a short-notice replacement for the injured Justin Scoggins, as he cut down Joby Sanchez with a left hook and follow-up punches in the second round of their preliminary flyweight affair. Herrera (9-1, 1-1 UFC) finished it 4:28 into round two.
Sanchez (7-2, 1-2 UFC) handled his business in the first round, as he moved in and out of striking range, operated behind a probing jab and hammered away at the body with power punches. Round two was a different story. Herrera countered effectively, punched in combination and bloodied the Jackson-Wink MMA prospect. Late in the round, he sent Sanchez crashing to the canvas with a clean left hook and polished him off with a volley of crouching punches to the head.
Gruetzemacher Pushes Streak to 12
High-volume punching, stifling pressure and heavy leg kicks carried MMA Lab representative Chris Gruetzemacher to a unanimous decision over Abner Lloveras in a three-round undercard clash at 155 pounds. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 29-28 for Gruetzemacher (13-1, 1-0 UFC).
Lloveras (19-8-1, 0-1 UFC) never could answer the Arizonan’s pace. He staggered Gruetzemacher with a left hook and threatened with a standing rear-naked choke in the second round but too often found himself pinned to the cage. Gruetzemacher mixed stinging kicks to the legs with punches to the midsection and the head, opening a cut near the Spaniard’s right eye.
Gruetzemacher, 29, has won 12 fights in a row.