ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The Resurrection Fighting Alliance organization has a new flyweight champion in Alexandre Pantoja, who gave an impressive performance against incumbent Matt Manzanares in the RFA 18 main event on Friday at the Albuquerque Convention Center.
Pantoja’s primary weapon remains muay Thai, but the time he has spent at Nova Uniao has netted him the ground skills needed to round out his game.
Manzanares dominated the striking exchanges between the two, his years of boxing experience evident in the volume and accuracy of his combinations. However, a takedown to full mount from Pantoja in the second round spelled the beginning of the end for Manzanares. Though Manzanares returned to his feet and landed several powerful shots, Pantoja (15-2) displayed a solid chin and countered with another takedown. The 24-year-old Brazilian prospect quickly transitioned to back mount, locking in the rear-naked choke. Manzanares (7-3) chose not to tap and instead blacked out, the referee stopping the fight 2:38 into the second round.
The co-headliner served as a return to the cage from a three-year layoff for former King of the Cage champion Abel Cullum, as he submitted Ulysses Gomez with a first-round guillotine. Gomez began his attack with leg kicks. Cullum (19-6) checked most of them and then displayed his core strength with a takedown into guard. Gomez (9-5) reversed, but Cullum held onto his head, applied the choke and finished it 1:29 into round one.
Chidi Njokuani won a unanimous decision over Steve Hanna, who gave the Janira Muay Thai-One Kick’s Gym representative a run for his money in the first two rounds. By the third round, however, Hanna’s repeated takedown attempts and grinding wrestling had come at a price, and he had nearly nothing left to give over the final five minutes. Njokuani’s sharp elbows opened a cut on the face of Hanna (4-2), who stayed in the fight despite the damage. Scores were 30-26, 30-27 and 30-27 for Njokuani (11-4), the younger brother of Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Anthony Njokuani.
Brenda Gonzales, whose only loss came at the hands of Pancrase champion and recent UFC signee Rin Nakai, made short work of Heather Basset. Gonzales (5-1) read Basset’s movements, avoiding head kicks and spinning backfists, while landing her own jabs and leg kicks. Basset (2-2) later executed a takedown that left her in Gonzales’ guard. It proved to be a mistake. Although Gonzales has a boxing background, her skill set includes a slick ground game, and she quickly put it to use, dragging one of Basset’s arms into position and applying an armbar within seconds. Basset tapped 2:48 into the first round.
Black House prospect Mehdi Baghdad made a successful promotional debut against a game Evan DeLong. Hammer House’s DeLong pressed the action at first, catching Baghdad (10-3) with an early hook, but the Frenchman bided his time, catching leg kicks and looking for an opening. He found it in the second minute, landing hook after hook and then a flush head kick, which nearly finished DeLong. Baghdad followed with left hooks that put down DeLong (13-8) and resulted in a knockout victory 1:55 into the first round.
The first main card bout was a short and brutal. Only seconds into the first round, Justin Linn and Adrian Cruz threw simultaneous leg kicks. The crack was audible, and when Cruz (5-2-1) tried to come forward, he was unable to put weight on his leg and fell to the mat. Linn (7-1) went into finish, but referee Raul Porrata immediately stepped in and stopped the fight just 22 seconds after it started. Cruz suffered a complete break of his tibia, requiring immediate surgery.
Finally, Tim Sosa (2-2) took a three-round decision from Zac Riley (1-2), earning 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 marks from the judges; and Adams State University graduate and former wrestler Jesse Long (1-0) choked Federico Betancourt (0-1) unconscious with a brabo choke 3:35 into the first round.