LAS VEGAS – It’s no longer speculation, and he’s no longer a secret: Jose Aldo is clearly one of the world’s best pound-for-pound mixed martial artists. It will be hard for anyone to argue otherwise after the explosive Brazilian notched his ninth straight win by destroying WEC featherweight champion Mike Brown.
The outcome, which had been hotly debated by pundits leading up Wednesday night’s mega-fight at The Palms, was never in question once the bout commenced. In a battle billed as speed versus power, Aldo was the aggressor early, whacking Brown with leg kicks and drilling him with combinations. Brown tried to take the fight to the ground, where he presumed he would enjoy a sizable advantage, but Aldo proved even more difficult to take down than Urijah Faber had been, and he fought off the attempts. Brown scored here and there with kicks, but his hard overhand rights were largely blocked and did little damage to the composed challenger.
In round two, Aldo revved up his assault, and in a fistic flurry by both men, Brown slipped to the canvas on his knees and Aldo, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, pounced on him and took Brown’s back with hooks in. Brown ended up in a terrible position, face-down, and unable to move his hips. Brown’s head became an easy target and Aldo unleashed a rapid sequence of heavy punches upon it. With Brown failing to intelligently defend himself – and probably unable to defend himself because his hips were trapped – referee Steve Mazzagatti halted the bout at 1 minute 22 seconds of round two. The new champion fell to his knees and burst into tears.
“He was a pretty tough fighter,” said Aldo, who is now 16-1 and hasn’t lost in nearly four years. “Mike is very strong …I had to wait for the right moment to finish the fight.”
Plenty of people had questioned the quality of Aldo’s ground game, since all five of his prior WEC wins had come via TKO. But those who train with him recalled how he often beat multiple time world champion Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles in practices, and he showed his mettle on the ground by beating Brown, who coming into this fight had beaten Urijah Faber twice and had the look of a champion who could reign for a long time. Now the fallen champ will have to contemplate what went wrong and how he can fix it.
“He had a great night,” said Brown, who fell to 23-4 and sported a welt under this right eye. “He was landing the shots and I wasn’t; that’s how the game is. He’s a great fighter. He did a great job and exposed some holes that I have. It’s time for me to go back and start (improving) again.”
Manny Gamburyan vs. Leonard Garcia
With a potential title shot at stake, Gamburyan frustrated Garcia with takedowns and a smothering top game to claim a unanimous decision. Garcia tried to unleash his monstrous right hand, but Gamburyan judged his distance well and either stayed out of range or stayed super-tight in the clinch, stifling much of Garcia’s offense. The first round saw both men acting with extreme caution, though many judged the round in Garcia’s favor because he was more active in the standup realm with wild punches and kicks. Garcia’s best blow was a straight left to Gamburyan’s grill followed by a body shot.
In round two, Gamburyan found his groove, sidestepping Garcia’s punches and securing two takedowns. The judo expert controlled Garcia from the top, landing a few clean elbows and knees to the body. In round three, after a hard 1-2 punching combination from Gamburyan, Garcia’s frustrations boiled over as he dropped his hands, glared at his opponent and yelled, “Come on! … Come on!” Garcia then swung for the fences, hitting only air. Moments later, with Garcia hyper-emotional, Gamburyan capitalized with another takedown. Garcia stood up and was taken down two more times and ended the match on his back.
The judges awarded Gamburyan the decision by scores of 30-27, 29-28, and 29-28.
“I mean come on … He’s a tough dude,” said Gamburyan, who improved to 11-4. “When Rashad Evans said he hits the hardest…guys, he does hit hard!”
Rob McCullough vs. Karen Darabedyan
Coming into this fight, there was every reason to believe that Karen Darabedyan was in way over his head. The longtime training partner of Karo Parisyan and Manny Gamburyan had taken this fight on short notice, was set to battle a former WEC lightweight champion, and he was making his WEC debut. But it’s a safe bet that anyone who watched this fight card will remember Darabedyan after his performance against McCullough.
The Armenian-American largely abandoned his judo black belt training and instead beat McCullough to the punch for most of their three-round affair. The first round was a boxing match, with Darabedyan repeatedly landing crisp, 1-2 and 1-2-3 combinations. McCullough closed the gap in the second round, and was perhaps more active, but Darabedyan still seemed to land the more telling shots.
The third round was a toss-up as Darabedyan seemed to slow down, fighting like a man who was either tired or presumed he had won the first two rounds and wanted to play it safe. Again, McCullough was the busier fighter with kicks and combinations, but Darabedyan’s blows seemed to hold more consequence. The judges awarded Darabedyan a split decision by scores of 30-27, 27-30 and 29-28. With the win, the promising lightweight improved to 9-1.
Shane Roller vs. Danny Castillo
It’s not often we see Shane Roller, a three-time All American wrestler at Oklahoma State University, on his back, but Castillo managed to put him in that disadvantaged position several times in their fight. Castillo seemed to win round one on the strength of crisper punching, two takedowns and sustained top control. Roller evened things in the second stanza, landing a nice knee to Castillo’s face and securing a double leg takedown midway into the round. Roller then mounted the Californian and transitioned to his back, but eventually got too high and lost the position. Both men got to their feet and the round ended, with Castillo appearing to be the more winded of the two.
With the fight up for grabs, it was Castillo who stole the momentum, digging into Roller with a hard punch to the body and then stuffing a takedown, spinning behind Roller and then mounting him. Only two minutes or so remained, and Roller needed to come up big in the clutch. And he did, slamming Castillo to the mat, taking his back and sinking both hooks in. Roller cinched in a rear naked choke and at 3 minutes 32 seconds of the round, it was a wrap. Castillo tapped out and Roller was lobbying for a shot at the winner of January’s WEC lightweight title bout between Jamie Varner and Benson Henderson.
“I definitely think this gives me a shot. I’ll be disappointed if they give me anything other than a shot at the title.”
Will Kerr vs. Kamal Shalorus
Shalorus, a former Olympic wrestler, impressed during his WEC debut with an 86-second demolition of Kerr, a hard-nosed New Englander who took the bout on short notice. Shalorus swarmed Kerr in the opening seconds and dropped him with a fistic flurry, and floored him a second time with a booming right hand that prompted the referee to immediately halt the fight. Shalorus remained unbeaten in his pro career, pushing his record to 5-0-1.
“I am from a very small village in Iran,” Shalorus said. “Thank you America for giving me this opportunity! I love you!”
L.C. Davis vs. Diego Nunes
Using a roughhousing style, Davis outmuscled and wore down Nunes, handing the Brazilian his first loss in 14 pro fights. Davis repeatedly stuffed takedown attempts and imposed his own wrestling on Nunes, who appeared to gas midway into the second round and courageously fought on fumes the rest of the way. Time and again Davis, who trains with Pat Miletich’s team in Iowa, took Nunes down and the pace of the wrestling match and clinches seemed to take its toll on Nunes. Nunes had heavily wrapped his right ankle, and it was uncertain if the injury perhaps hindered his ability to get into maximum condition for this battle.
Regardless, Davis (15-2) landed the more telling shots on their feet. It was a commanding performance, save for a close call at the end of the first round when Nunes trapped Davis in a tight guillotine choke. Thanks to the referee deducting one point for Nunes for repeatedly grabbing the fence, Davis coasted to a unanimous decision by scores of 30-26 across the board.
“He hasn’t been pushed as hard as I can push,” Davis said afterward. “After I kept taking him down over and over I felt him start to break.”
John Franchi vs. Cub Swanson
After making the switch to Greg Jackson’s gym in New Mexico, Swanson delivered what was quite possibly his finest performance yet. He landed high kicks galore to Franchi’s cranium, including several cartwheel-type capoeira kicks. He landed hard right hands. He executed a beautiful judo throw to send Franchi, a former collegiate wrestler, crashing to the canvas. And when he put Franchi on his back, Swanson made the New Yorker pay with booming ground and pound shots.
Franchi was game, cracking Swanson with punches here and there, but Swanson always turned the tables and asserted his will. Jackson, working Swanson’s corner, tried to keep his student loose and confident.
“OK, why couldn’t the tree solve the math problem?” Jackson asked in between rounds.
In the second and third rounds, Swanson showed a very diverse assault and got the better of Franchi in the standup realm. Someone in Swanson’s corner yelled “I want a knockout.” That wish went unfulfilled, but Swanson delivered the next best thing – catching Franchi in a guillotine choke, unleashing a caveman-style “AAAAAaaaaahhh!” Seconds later, with only 10 seconds left in the fight, Franchi tapped out.
Swanson, who improved to 13-3, went to the hospital afterward to be treated for a broken hand and a broken finger.
Kenji Osawa vs. Antonio Banuelos
This bout saw Osawa’s head being snapped back with alarming frequency throughout an entertaining yet one-sided slugfest. The speedy and mobile Banuelos repeatedly victimized Osawa with hard overhand rights in every round, including an overhand right that dropped the Japanese showman in the first stanza. While many fighters wisely make adjustments when being battered with the same move, Osawa never did. The fearless bantamweight always kept charging forward, often with his hands low, and consistently circled to his right – which is ill-advised when fighting someone looking to counter with a big right hand. To Osawa’s credit, he did prove he is extremely resilient and durable, enduring when many in his circumstance would have crumbled. His best moment came in the second round when he attempted to take Banuelos’ back and popped Chuck Liddell’s buddy with several hard shots. But Banuelos (17-5) quickly got back to his feet and, despite a bloody nose, controlled the action for much of the remainder of the bout.
At conclusion of the fight, Osawa inexplicably thrust his hands into the air and exalted as if he had won. The judges saw it otherwise, awarding Banuelos a unanimous decision by scores of 29-28 across the board.
Ricardo Lamas vs. James Krause
Lamas, coming off a devastating TKO loss to Danny Castillo, rebounded nicely by outshining Krause in nearly every aspect of the game. Krause, 10-1, pushed the pace early and clocked the Chicagoan with several flush uppercuts during the contest, but Lamas always answered with crisp punching combinations of his own, takedowns, and dominant positioning on the mat. As the action intensified in rounds two and three, Lamas repeatedly put Krause on his back, stood over him in open guard and punished the Missouri product with ground and pound. To Krause’s credit, he quickly escaped harm every time Lamas took his back or mounted him, but could never seem to place Lamas in a precarious position or on his back.
Despite being 6 feet 2 inches tall and having a significant 6-inch reach advantage, Krause was unable to dictate the action in the standup realm, and by the third round, he seemed to slow considerably as Lamas put him on his back and teed off with big punches. In the final minute of the fight one of Lamas’ cornermen could be heard yelling “Krause you don’t got time!” And then time ran out and the judges awarded Lamas a unanimous decision by scores of 30-27 across the board. With the win, Lamas moved to 7-1 overall and 2-1 in the WEC.
Seth Dikun vs. Frank Gomez
Gomez, a bantamweight, pushed his record to 8-1 by outwrestling Dikun and achieving superior position on the ground, where much of their tussle took place. Not much damage was inflicted by either fighter, other than a Dikun head kick that dazed Gomez in the second round, though Gomez broke his fall and quickly recovered. Though Dikun often seemed to be the aggressor, he was repeatedly outmuscled by Gomez, who scored takedowns in each round and was able to defend Dikun’s rubber guard and submission attempts.