|ESPN.com: Mixed Martial Arts||[Print without images]|
Wanderlei Silva will go down as one of mixed martial arts' most violent finishers. The aptly named 36-year-old "Axe Murderer" left yet another reminder of that, American Brian Stann, smoldering in ruins at 4:08 of Round 2 to cap the main event of UFC's sixth trip to Japan on Saturday.
"I'm so proud," Silva said after putting a bow on "UFC on Fuel 8" at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, with a jarring combination.
Over the course of his almost 17-year career, much of which was spent wrecking opponents in the same building he ended Stann's night, Silva retained a 70 percent knockout rate. He struggled to live up to that reputation since joining the UFC in 2007 off consecutive knockout losses, winning just three of eight fights (only two by KO) ahead of the contest against Stann, who agreed to move up to light heavyweight from 185 to fight Silva in the division the Brazilian used to own.
Action from the opening bell was furious.
Stann and Silva threw nothing but power shots, especially punches, that led to a few wild sequences. When Stann connected with a strong right, Silva smiled and walked forward. Stann stood up to the bullying tactics and unloaded punches and low kicks that thudded off Silva's lead thigh. Stann also forced Silva to take a knee twice, but as the celebrated brawler has done many times he quickly regrouped and pushed forward.
The first period finished in such a way that the typically restrained Japanese fight fans rose and cheered and celebrated. They were getting what they wanted out of Silva, but mostly because Stann had accepted the challenge. For that, the American bled profusely from the bridge of his nose as he walked back to his corner, and a minute's worth of work did little to staunch the flow.
Stann (12-6) moved like a predator toward Silva (35-12-1) as the second commenced. But it was Silva, cheered on by master trainer Rafiel Cordiero, who landed the round's first significant shot, a right hand as he and Stann separated. Stann kept the low kicks coming, and Silva began to pick up the Marine's timing. Silva also picked up offense with his lead left, scoring with several jabs that were stopped when Stann connected on his second kick to the groin in less than 10 minutes.
When action restarted, Stann scored with a hard right. But that did nothing to prevent Silva from leaping in with his power hand, scoring to Stann's chin, and leaving the American dangling on a vine.
"My corner told me what I need to do, to straight punch," Silva said. "I'm so happy it worked. I'm glad to get back to work here in my home, in Japan."
"The Axe Murderer" closed the show with a clubbing left hook that put Stann down. He concluded with four evil rights, the last two landed clean and put Stann out completely before referee Marc Goddard jumped in.
"I knew what I had to risk signing on the dotted line to fight in Japan against that man," said 32-year-old Stann, who is expected to return to middleweight. "Wanderlei has always been one of my favorite fighters ever. He's one of the fighters that inspired me to start this sport. I'm very proud to have been a part of his career, as much as this hurts right now. My heart's broken. But I'm still proud that I put my name on the line and fought him."
Mark Hunt scored his fourth straight win in the UFC's heavyweight division, essentially erasing a six-fight losing streak prior to entering the Octagon, with a third-round stoppage over Stefan Struve.
The odd-matched pair -- Hunt, squat and 12 inches shorter than the nearly 7-foot Dutchman -- delivered a fast paced, loose style of mixed martial arts. Standing and on the ground, the action was constant and meaningful until referee Herb Dean interceded at 1:44 of Round 3.
|Diego Sanchez, left, found his footing in his return to lightweight.|
Struve opened strong, keeping distance against Hunt, whose quickness allowed him to get inside where he looked to work the tall man's body prior to targeting the head. Hunt's advantage on the feet prompted Struve to pull guard. He worked from the bottom and found a perfect sweep that landed him directly in mount, however Hunt refused to allow Struve to advance, reversed and regained his footing.
Still, Struve appeared to open an early lead. Hunt evened the fight up at a round apiece after an exciting second period. Hunt's best bet all night was his lead left, and when he could he let loose and usually connected.
Struve scored too, but never with the pop that Hunt brought. They exchanged strikes and takedowns, including a couple from Hunt, 38, that made Struve, 25, look weak by comparison. Struve also became predictable with his jab, doubling, sometimes tripling up as Hunt took measure of his distance and timing.
This led to Hunt (9-7) parrying and countering, particularly in advance of the fight ender in the third. Struve struggled in the second, but received a gift when Hunt failed on a lazy attempt at grappling in the clinch and fell to his back. Mounted, Hunt took his share of strikes, yet he managed to see a sloppy armbar attempt coming and escaped to the top to finish the second.
Struve (25-6) showed serious signs of fatigue as action moved to the final five minutes, and Hunt, tired too, still had the wherewithal to launch himself forward with punches. Near the end, Struve lowered his hands to his sides and took a stiff left hook that bloodied his face and put him down near the fence. It marked Struve's fourth stoppage loss in the Octagon to go with nine wins.
Making his first appearance at 155 pounds since losing a title challenge against BJ Penn in 2009, Diego Sanchez returned to lightweight with luck on his side as judges split in his direction instead of former Pride champion Takanori Gomi.
|Diego Sanchez, left, found his footing in his return to lightweight.|
Sanchez, 31, focused on putting Gomi on the mat in the opening five minutes, and he had some success against the calm, heavy-handed Japanese fighter. Yet the UFC mainstay got away from his grappling roots in the last two rounds, and, to most observers, didn't do enough to hang on for a victory.
ESPN.com scored the contest 29-28 for Gomi, who wasn't particularly sparkling either.
The 34-year-old "Fireball Kid" mixed up his strikes, throwing hands to Sanchez's body and head. Twice the fight had to be put on pause after Sanchez connected below the belt with kicks, but Gomi was largely undeterred. He put his punches together in the second, forcing Sanchez into less advantageous and effective takedown attempts.
Sanchez was quick to show that he wanted to fight, but rarely followed through. That's how the third period got underway, a round marked by plenty of movement but not much offense.
The loss could imperil Gomi (34-9), who would have earned his third straight victory inside the Octagon and pushed his overall UFC record to 4-3. Instead, the Japanese stalwart finds himself vulnerable to being released.
Sanchez (24-5), facing yet another one of his rebuilding modes, is set for another fight at 155, even after failing to make the limit on Friday when he stepped on the scale at 158.
Serving as a reminder that it's silly to handicap fights based on nicknames, Yushin "Thunder" Okami and Hector "Lightning" Lombard lyrically brought the pain but literally did not. Okami, 31, did not let an early lead spoil, as he held on for a split decision after Lombard rallied in the final period. ESPN.com scored the contest 29-28 for the Japanese fighter.
|Yushin Okami survived a late surge by Hector Lombard to earn a split decision.|
"I think I did a good fight and I'm grateful," Okami said afterward.
The middleweight contest held plenty of intrigue. Okami, a perennial contender at 185, needed to beat Lombard to keep himself in that discussion. Lombard, meanwhile, coveted his second straight win in the UFC, and safe passage up the division ladder.
Lombard, a 35-year-old former Bellator champion that the UFC signed to a lucrative contract in 2012, moved forward off the opening bell and attacked when he could. Okami mustered the first takedown of the fight off of Lombard's offense by catching a kick to the inside of his lead leg and redirecting the Cuban judoka onto the canvas. Lombard (32-4-1) exploded to his feet, but Okami's pressure was too much to overcome.
Jabs were Okami's best weapons while standing, and he used them often to keep his 5-foot-9 fire hydrant of a opponent at a distance.
In the third round, Lombard let loose with a volley of wide arm punches that hurt Okami, who went stumbling and seemed for a moment destined for a repeat of his last-round turnaround loss to Tim Boetsch at UFC 149. Lombard also shut down Okami's grappling, yet chose for long stretches of the final five minutes to fight on top of the Japanese middleweight instead of allowing him to stand.
That appeared to be a tactical mistake from Lombard, and the fight ended with the power puncher meekly being stalemated by a defensive Okami.
Since returning to featherweight at the start of 2011, Brazil's Rani Yahya has apparently decided that unless he's going to be beat in a game of takedowns and grappling, opponents won't have a chance to do much else.
|Rani Yahya's aggression and grappling in the first two rounds helped secure a unanimous decision over Mizuto Hirota.|
Winning for the third time in four fights at 145 pounds, the 28-year-old stud Brazilian jiu-jijtsu black belt dominated the first 10 minutes of the fight with Japan's Mizuto Hirota before hanging on in the third to claim a unanimous decision, 29-28 from each of the three judges sitting at cage-side.
Despite the fact that Hirota moved down in weight for the first time, the former lightweight (best known for having his arm snapped by Shinya Aoki on the last day of 2009) wasn't any stronger or bigger than Yahya, who departed 135 following a decision loss to Takeya Mizugaki in the spring of 2010.
Yahya's ground game took hold midway through the first, as he established top position following a sweetly timed sweep. In Round 2, Yahya nearly finished Hirota, 31, with an arm-triangle choke. However Yahya could not finish after he baited Hirota into exposing the choke on the right side. Only patience from the Japanese fighter and lack of mobility near the fence thwarted him.
The Brazilian was clearly up headed into the third. Hirota did not back off, though, and put together moments that won him the round while Yahya (18-7) appeared to fade. Yet Hirota could not put much together that threatened Yahya, and the fight went to the judges.
|Dong Hyun Kim's smothering top game never allowed Siyar Bahadurzada to find his flow.|
Korean welterweight Dong Hyun Kim easily neutralized Siyar Bahadurzada, who stepped into Saturday's clash with five straight stoppage wins, including a 42-second knockout over Paulo Thiago in his UFC debut last summer, to earn a shutout unanimous decision on the first televised fight of the card.
Kim, 31, came out kicking at Bahadurzada's head in the first round, but it didn't take long before his typical grappling-based game plan went into action. Despite referee Herb Dean's early impatience with Kim's control from dominant positions, the majority of the fight was allowed to play out as the fighters pleased. It was Kim's show, and he chose a variety of takedowns, especially the single, to entangle and declaw his aggressive 28-year-old Afghan challenger.
Kim (17-2-1) maintained mount for much of the second half of the opening round, took side-control for large portions of the second, and made good use of mount again in the third, as he amped up his aggression and all fight long appeared a step ahead of "The Great" Bahadurzada (21-5-1) on the canvas.