LAS VEGAS, December 30 - Certain fights ramp up the human adrenaline-meter and live up to the hype. Friday night’s UFC 141 co-main event between Nate Diaz and Donald Cerrone at the MGM Grand Garden Arena was one of them.
But while Cerrone entered this contest red-hot and having plowed through his first four UFC foes, it was Diaz who turned the tables on the lightweight juggernaut, battering and bloodying Cerrone with pinpoint boxing combinations from start to finish.
In a clash of two fighters who rarely take a step backwards, Diaz was the far more aggressive hunter, unleashing a ridiculous volume of punches while holding his hands low with little regard for Cerrone’s return fire. It seemed like every couple of seconds, the southpaw Diaz was landing a flush right to Cerrone’s chin or a 1-2-3 combo that snapped Cerrone’s head back. The first round was particularly one-sided as Cerrone, normally one to impose his will, seemed unusually hesitant to let his hands go under such heavy fire.
“Listen, This kid is just trying to overwhelm you,” Greg Jackson counseled Cerrone in his corner after the first round. “This kid is overwhelming you.”
Cerrone found a slight vulnerability in the second round, repeatedly kicking Diaz’s legs out from under him. Cerrone never opted to follow Diaz to the canvas to test his ground skills versus the Cesar Gracie BJJ brown belt. Diaz always popped to his feet and simply continued with his blistering fistic assault.
“Thanks Donald Cerrone for the fight,” Diaz said to Joe Rogan afterward. “Sorry about all of the (stuff) that went down.”
The all-out war was as predictable as rats at a landfill. Diaz (15-7) had shoved Cerrone and slapped the cowboy hat off the native Coloradan’s head during a pre-fight staredown. Both fighters eschewed the traditional touching of the gloves to commence the fight, which was made more comical by referee Herb Dean’s instructions to them.
Said Dean to the fighters before the opening horn: “At this time you can touch gloves… (pregnant pause) … or not.”
Just for good measure, Diaz flipped the bird to Cerrone right before the third round. But when it was all said and done – when judges’ scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 had been announced -- the ill will had been vented. Sportsmanship and an embrace ensued.
“Man, he brought it,” Cerrone said. “Tough dude. Vegas, thank you. That was the best I could give you all.” Watch Nate's post-fight interview.
JOHNY HENDRICKS VS. JON FITCH
Up until tonight, despite amassing an 11-1 record against mostly high-level competition, Johny Hendricks had been something of an afterthought in the welterweight division. That perception changed in the blink of an eye as Hendricks uncorked a monster and nearly perfect overhand left – bringing all of his weight into the shot – that sent Jon Fitch falling to the canvas stiff as a statue.
Another clean left hand prompted referee Steve Mazzagatti to rush to the rescue and, in just 12 seconds flat, Hendricks had toppled the man widely considered to be the No. 2-ranked welterweight in the world.
“I feel awesome,” said the former two-time NCAA wrestling champion. “In every interview I said ‘I have a left hand.’ Everybody’s been counting me out. I knew if I hit him with it I could knock him out.”
Leading up to the bout, Fitch had been marching toward a rematch with 170-pound champ Georges St-Pierre. The hard-nosed Purdue University grad had been unbeaten in his past six contests but was caught off-guard by the tremendous hand speed of Hendricks, who became the first fighter to finish Fitch over the past nine years. Watch Hendricks' post-fight interview.
VLADIMIR MATYUSHENKO VS. ALEXANDER GUSTAFSSON
Is Alexander Gustafsson a title contender at 205 pounds? He sure as heck looked like it Friday while TKO’ing the grizzled vet that is Vladimir Matyushenko. A stiff left jab by Gustafsson greeted Matyushenko as he charged in, sending the 40-year-old light heavy to the mat and covered up in the fetal position. A few punches later the referee halted the action and the 6-feet-4-inch Swede had pushed his record to 13-1, 5-1 in the UFC. With all but one of his wins coming via finish, Gustafsson’s only loss came to Phil Davis. Notably, Gustafsson teamed up with his conqueror for his most recent training camp, taking up residence in San Diego to train alongside Davis and under the direction of top trainer (Eric Del Fierro).
“It was my day today,” Gustaffson said, praising Matyushenko as “someone I looked up to. “It was my dream to fight in Vegas. It’s the biggest win of my life.” Watch Gustafsson's post-fight interview.
JIMY HETTES VS. NAM PHAN
Perhaps taking a page from his stablemate, lightweight kingpin Frankie Edgar, Jimy Hettes set a furious pace and physically overwhelmed Nam Phan for almost all of their 15 minutes inside of the Octagon. To Phan’s credit, he refused to be finished, despite being on the receiving end of a vicious ground and pound assault in the first stanza. A bloodied Phan, a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, also had to fight off an armbar attempt and arm triangle in the bout, which had some wondering how it is possible that Hettes (who trains under Ricardo Almeida) is still ranked as a BJJ purple belt. Also a brown belt in judo, Hettes repeatedly utilized foot trips in the clinch to put Phan on the deck and harass him at every turn.
The unanimous decision nod kept Hettes unbeaten at 10-0. Phan fell to 17-11. Watch Hettes' post-fight interview.