Joseph Benavidez (12-2) entered the ring to James Brown’s classic anthem “The Big Payback” looking to avenge the only loss of his professional career against current bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz (16-1).
The pair met for the first time one year ago. In the first meeting, Cruz used superior wrestling and late takedowns to earn the unanimous decision win.
Since the first bout, both men have gone unbeaten with Cruz reaching the upper echelon of the division first, snaring the title from Brian Bowles at WEC 47.
Though both have shown marked improvements, Cruz rode the same wave to a surprising split decision victory to retain the title.
The champion went to work from the moment the bell sounded, setting his trademark frantic pace that kept Benavidez unable to land a series of clean shots. The two traded punches in the early going, with Cruz weaving in for strikes and Benavidez countering on the escape.
Two things separated Cruz from his rival: speed and takedowns. Though both men possess speedy hands, it was Cruz who remained a hair faster while remaining active through the majority of the bout. As if on cue, Cruz took the Urijah Faber protégé down at will in each round as time threatened to expire.
Cruz also showed excellent cage presence, backing himself into the cage, thwarting most of Benavidez’ takedown attempts. When the challenger was able to close the distance, he was simply outmuscled and shrugged off like a rag doll.
Heading into the final frame, the very pro-Benavidez crowd roared with approval when their hero landed a clean strike. As the challenger’s pace slowed, the crowd at The Pearl hoped to will Benavidez to a spectacular come from behind win. In the face of the hostile environment, Cruz scored one final takedown and finished the bout in a dominant position on the mat.
“He’s a really good fighter and I respect him in every way,” Cruz stated over a chorus of boos immediately after the bout.
Though an immediate challenger remains unknown, one thing is clear, in the bantamweight division Dominick Cruz stands to reign supreme for a long time.
The judges scored the bout 48-47, 47-48 and 49-46. –Anthony Springer Jr.
Pettis lives up to moniker, dominates Roller
In the evening’s co-feature, Anthony Pettis passed his stiffest test to date with flying colors and put himself in line for a title shot against lightweight champion Benson Henderson with a last second submission victory over Shane Roller. The impressive three round performance by Pettis was punctuated with a beautiful triangle choke finish that ended Roller’s night at the 4:51 mark in the final round.
“Showtime” demonstrated excellent takedown defense from the start as he nullified the 3-time All American from Oklahoma State’s wrestling background and clipped Roller with an assortment of kicks and punches. The Duke Roufus student held the edge in athleticism and it certainly showed throughout the duration of fight.
It was no secret that Roller would look to drag this fight to the mat in order to steer clear of Pettis’ impressive striking. But Pettis was more than prepared to shut down the takedowns and make Roller pay dearly for each attempt with a number of punches and kicks whenever he got close. Roller would occasionally land a powerful punch but it just wasn’t enough to stop Pettis. Down 20-18 on all three judges’ scorecards heading into the final round, Roller went for broke and his desperation wound up being what did him in.
After scoring a takedown within the first minute, Roller sought to finish Pettis off with some heavy handed ground and pound. But Pettis was extremely active off his back and nearly cinched in a triangle. Roller would then find himself briefly in a guillotine before escaping and tossing power shots from the top position in the closing seconds of the fight. Roller left one of his limbs out for too long and Pettis quickly snatched up and arm, hiked his legs around Roller’s head and locked in a beautiful triangle that Roller had no choice but to tap out to. The victory is Pettis’ third in a row (11-1 overall) and sets him up for what could be a very interesting title fight with Ben Henderson. – Andres Hale
Mendes dominates Swanson, remains undefeated
Chad Mendes remained unbeaten, putting on a wrestling clinic in a lopsided decision win over Cub Swanson (14-4).
Mendes set the pace in the opening moments, rocking the Jackson’s MMA fighter with a big overhand right. Swanson returned fire but struck nothing but air winging wild punches and kicks. After dodging the initial flurry, Mendes scored his first of many takedowns.
The opening round proved to be a sign of things to come.
Mendes’ suffocating grappling game kept Swanson off balance over the course of the three rounds. Each time the man fighting out of Orange County got in rhythm, The Team Alpha Male fighter brought the fight right back to the canvas.
The judges scored the bout 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 for Mendes who was the clear crowd favorite.
“That was a fun fight,” a very happy Mendes remarked. “His stand up is great but I’ve been working on mine a lot so I wanted to show it off.
“I’m a wrestler and I feel most comfortable on the ground.”
Cub Swanson found out the hard way. – Anthony Springer Jr.
Jorgensen moves into title contention, decisions “One Punch” Pickett
After finding himself on the losing side of a stand up war, Scott Jorgensen (11-3) returned to his wrestling base to grind out a decision over the hard hitting Brad Pickett (20-5).
From the outset, it looked like “One Punch” was going to make it an early night, flooring the Utah born fighter with a straight right hand in the early going.
Pickett continued to score big with straight left hands that repeatedly sent Jorgensen’s head jerking back. A big flying knee also smacked the head of the wrestler, but Pickett was unable to send his adversary back to the mat.
The tide began to turn in the second frame.
When it became clear that a three round striking match may not be good for his health, Jorgensen immediately took Pickett to the canvas. Despite more hard lefts from the man fighting out of Coconut Creek, Florida, Jorgensen’s takedowns sealed the round.
Pickett went back to the heavy handed approach, stunning Jorgensen with lefts in the final round. Jorgensen recovered, firing back with big punches in the pocket. The firepower from Jorgensen was used to set up the takedowns, which Pickett proved consistently unable to defend.
A late reversal by Pickett provided some last minute excitement, but Jorgensen was able to hold on without taking major damage as time expired.
Riding a five fight win streak, Jorgensen hopes for a shot at the 135-pound strap before year’s end.
All three judges scored the bout 30-27. – Anthony Springer Jr.
Palaszewski blasts Micklewright
Bart Palaszewski (34-13) continued his climb up the ranks of the lightweight division, stopping Zack Micklewright (9-2) with strikes at :31 in the second round.
Micklewright, who made his promotional debut, came out fast and furious, peppering the Polish vet with straight rights and lefts.
Midway through the opener, Palaszewski found his range and began opening up with punches and kicks. A Palaszewski right head kick landed with a thud and drew “oohs” from the capacity crowd at The Pearl.
Micklewright charged at his foe to begin the second stanza and paid dearly, eating an early right hook that signaled the beginning of the end. After dazing the Iowa kick boxer with a straight right hand, Palaszewski pounced and finishing off his foe with another right hook that caused Steve Mazagatti to dive in and halt the bout. – Anthony Springer Jr.