Jesse Juarez bested Manuel Rodriguez at CFC 18. | Photo: Chris dela Cruz
SYDNEY, Australia -- Jesse Juarez earned a unanimous verdict (50-45, 50-45, 49-47) over Manuel Rodriguez on Friday night at Luna Park's Big Top Arena, successfully defending his Cage Fighting Championship welterweight crown for the first time in the headliner of CFC 18.
It marked the first defense of the title for Juarez, who had won the belt that was vacated by UFC fighter Brian Ebersole, by defeating Australian Justin Murray back in April 2010.
Rodriguez's best chance for victory came in the first round, as he locked on a seemingly tight anaconda choke and rolled twice before Juarez was able to loosen the hold and slide out, landing on top in Rodriguez's half guard.
The second round started in much the same way as the first, as Juarez secured a takedown against the cage and Rodriguez tried to work off his back. However, he was cut off at the pass each time he tried to improve his position.
Juarez threatened with arm-triangle chokes on top but could not find a finish. By the start of the third round, it was plainly obvious how this fight was heading, as the process repeated for the remaining rounds, albeit at a slower pace than the first couple of frames. Periods of inactivity marred the final rounds, but the action that did occur belonged to the Bodyshop Fitness Team product, who earned the unanimous nod.
"Manny, you're an unbelievable fighter," Juarez said following the decision. "It took a long flight to get here two days before; sorry about how the fight ended. I'll try to get here sooner next time."
Torrance, Calif.'s Juarez is now 16-7 in his career, snapping a two-fight losing streak after losses to UFC veteran Josh Neer and Bellator Fighting Championships signee Douglas Lima. Rodriguez falls to 8-2, his four-fight winning streak snapped.
Juarez's trainer, UFC veteran Antonio McKee, earned a quick submission victory over popular Australian striker Jai Bradney in the first round.
Bradney was able to shut down the first couple of takedowns from the renowned wrestling practitioner but eventually succumbed to the third round. "Mandingo" dished out some knees to Bradney's hamstrings while inside his guard before passing directly
into full mount.
As the clock ticked, it looked as if Bradney was going to survive the round, but he gave up his back and McKee quickly locked in the choke. The tap came at 4:54 of the first round.
The 41-year-old McKee's win comes after his first loss in more than seven years, a split decision defeat to Jacob Volkmann in the UFC in January.
One of Oceania's brightest prospects, undefeated welterweight Robert Whittaker remained unblemished, defeating once-beaten Corey Nelson in an exciting 170-pound contest.
In a frantic bout, both fighters charged into the first round with an urgency befitting of two rising prospects looking to make a point. After exchanging on the feet, Nelson took the opportunity of top position with open arms, attacking the PMA product with hard punches to the body and then the head.
Whittaker took the back seamlessly and locked in a tight rear-naked choke that looked likely to finish it. However, the bell sounded shortly after, giving Nelson a chance to reset.
Nelson emerged from his corner with venom, swinging hard and fast, and Whittaker was happy to indulge him.
However, Whittaker was smart to change levels and take down his opponent into half guard. Both fighters threw elbows from top and bottom, until Whittaker again stepped over for armbar and sank it, this time ending a fantastic fight that raised the crowd to its feet.
The end came at 4:40 of the second round for the 20-year-old Menai, Australia, native, now 7-0 in his young career.
At 205 pounds, Tasmania's Priscus Fogagnolo bloodied Andrew Profilli with punches and elbows from inside the guard to take their bout at 2:26 of the second round.
A large cut on the forehead of Profilli gushed for the majority of the fight, with referee John Sharp stopping the fight when the damage from Fogagnolo was unrelenting. It was the first fight in more than two years for Fogagnolo, one of Oceania's most talented judokas, whose lone loss came in his last bout -- to UFC veteran James Te Huna in July 2009.
Once-beaten welterweight Regan Wilson bested Mohammed Kandeel, catching a rear-naked choke at 3:43 of the first round.
Lightweight Michael Morcombe halted Josh Payne after the first round due to a cut above Payner's eyes that impaired his vision and stopped the contest before round two.
Minto, Australia's Kian Pham finished late-replacement Mike Lim of Adelaide, catching a fight-ending guillotine just 95 seconds into their flyweight bout.
In the evening's opener, North Sydney's Jamie Rae punched out Adam Sarkis at 4:14 of the first round in their middleweight contest.