Fabricio Werdum has rattled off five straight wins since returning to the UFC. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
More than 21,000 tickets were sold for UFC 180 at Mexico City Arena on Saturday in Mexico City, and hundreds of thousands of others watched on pay-per-view. Not many expected to see Fabricio Werdum earn a technical knockout over 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix winner Mark Hunt to claim the interim Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight crown.
Yet, that is how it unfolded in the second round. Set up by a flying knee, Werdum picked up the sixth knockout win of his 25-fight career, polishing off the popular 40-year-old kiwi with punches and hammerfists on the ground.
Hunt stepped into the headliner after reigning champion Cain Velasquez suffered a knee injury in training and was forced to withdraw. Having last fought in September, when he knocked out Roy Nelson in Japan, “The Super Samoan” appeared to be in much better shape than usual entering the bout. His standup was effective and he controlled the first round, where he landed nine of the 25 significant strikes he threw and scored the only takedown of the fight. Round two proved to be a different story, as Hunt was credited with one significant strike, compared to 13 from Werdum.
“I waited a long time. I prayed a lot for this moment,” Werdum said. “I knew it was [going to be] a hard fight because he punched very hard, but I stayed two months here getting ready for the altitude. Two months I’ve been preparing my body for this moment. When he punched me, [it] wasn’t like I was dizzy or anything. He hit me hard, though. I followed my strategy. We did exactly as we planned. He knows I’m a takedown man. It’s a normal thing. I just faked one and boom, [I caught him with the knee] -- timing.”
For his efforts, Werdum was awarded a $50,000 “Performance of the Night” bonus. He also pushed his current win streak to five fights, tying his career-best mark. However, in becoming the fifth interim heavyweight titleholder in UFC history, it should be noted that only one of the previous four went on to become the undisputed champion. Perhaps that is why Velazquez does not seem too concerned about there being a second UFC heavyweight with gold wrapped around his waist.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Velasquez told Fox Sports. “I don’t care. As long as I fight and the next fight will be for a title, I’m happy with that. I really don’t care about having the title [and] the name that comes with it. I really don’t care as long as I fight for the title and I earn it.”
STAR ON THE RISE
Kelvin Gastelum-Jake Ellenberger was not the co-main event for which Mexican fans had hoped, especially when one considers the original bout was supposed to pit Diego Sanchez against Joe Lauzon. However, the boisterous, high-energy crowd quickly got behind “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 17 winner, as he made short work of the far more experienced Ellenberger.
Working on the ground, Gastelum won a scramble and quickly locked in a rear-naked choke to secure the win and remain undefeated at 10-0; seven of his victories have come via stoppage.
It was the fourth straight fight on the main card that ended in the first round and helped earn Gastelum one of the four post-fight “Performance of the Night” bonuses handed out by UFC President Dana White.
“This is my job and I want to be one of the best in the world, so I always get ready and I work very hard. This was the biggest fight of my career,” Gastelum said. “You cannot compare tonight with any other night.”
LINING ’EM UP
Many experts tagged the Dennis Bermudez-Ricardo Lamas clash as a strong candidate for “Fight of the Night,” though conventional wisdom had Bermudez walking away with a victory. Lamas had other ideas, as he finished his opponent with a guillotine choke 3:18 into the opening stanza.
Since moving to the UFC a little more than three years ago, Lamas has gone 6-1, with his only loss coming to featherweight champion Jose Aldo via unanimous decision. Afterward, a certain Irishman was on his mind.
“I want to get back to the title shot,” Lamas said. “The biggest guy everyone is talking about in this featherweight division is Conor McGregor. I’d love a fight with him. I know he’s matched up [with Dennis Siver] in January, but if he wins that fight, I think he has to fight a wrestler like me before he gets [a title fight with Aldo].”
Mexican-born fighters went a perfect 5-0 against foreign opposition at UFC 180 ... In the only female fight on the card, Leslie Smith suffered the first stoppage loss of her career and clearly was not happy about it. While she may have thought continuing was a good idea at the time, let us hope she had different thoughts after seeing the replay, as the top half of her left ear was barely hanging on. Jessica Eye split it open with a punch, and the blood spewed. “In MMA, it’s about how much damage you can do. If you see blood, keep going for it,” Eye said. “When I connected and saw her ear blow up, that became my main target. I was going to keep hitting it until they stopped the fight or it fell off.” Smith’s resolve impressed her boss.
“She is awesome. What a warrior she is. She has a big bandage on her ear after getting stiches, but she was already asking me when she can fight again,” White said ... Enrique Briones and Guido Cannetti each netted $50,000 bonuses for their “Fight of the Night,” which took place as part of the UFC Fight Pass preliminaries. The two graduates of “The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America” engaged in a real slugfest early, with Briones eventually stopping Cannetti with a rear-naked choke in the second round ... In “The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America” finals, Alejandro Perez defeated Jose Alberto Quinonez at 135 pounds, and Yair Rodriguez outpointed Leonardo Morales at 145 pounds. Both bouts resulted in unanimous decisions for the victors. The first of those two finals was incredibly entertaining and included a German suplex from Perez. The fight took place over nearly every square inch of the cage. A blatant head butt from Quinonez was something of a stain on the matchup and led to a two-point penalty from referee “Big” John McCarthy. Meanwhile, the Rodriguez-Morales final featured spinning kicks, multiple submission attempts and plenty of punches