Leading into their UFC Fight Night 49 main event at Tulsa’s BOK Center, Rafael dos Anjos seemed all but an afterthought. Most thought he was simply there to provide Benson Henderson the forum to make his way back to a lightweight title shot.
But dos Anjos delivered a division-shaking knockout Saturday night. The Brazilian drilled the former lightweight champion with a running knee, pushed through an instinctive Henderson takedown attempt, and clocked him with a huge left hand which dropped Henderson to the mat.
“I knew my striking was better than his,” said dos Anjos. “I know I had to be patient but I knew I could finish it in the first round. I put my faith in God, I’m ready to fight.”
Henderson (21-4) had a two-fight win streak snapped. While he appeared upset by the stoppage when the bout was waved off, by the time of his post-fight interview, he had put things in perspective.
“I thought I was clear-headed,” Henderson said. “You have the ups and downs. You have to take the good with the bad. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Alberta welterweight Jordan Mein went through a tough period as his father and cornerman, Lee Mein, was arrested in the hours leading up to the fight for an alleged sexual assault. But the 24-year old Mein stayed focused and made short work of veteran Mike Pyle. A big left hook to the jaw spelled the beginning of the end as Mein won via knockout in just 1:12.
Mein (29-9) won for the second straight time and fifth in his past six bouts in recording his 16th career KO. Pyle (26-10-1) has lost two of his past three.
“I’m very happy to get the win over a tough veteran guy like Mike,” said Mein, who was not asked about his father’s situation in his postfight interview. “The game plan was to go out there and not over commit to any strikes. I wanted to throw hard shots but not open myself up for any easy takedowns. It didn’t go very long but everything went to plan.”
Thales Leites‘ redemption story continued on Saturday night. The former middleweight title challenger improved to 4-0 in his second UFC stint, as he finished TriStar’s Francis Carmont at 20 seconds of the second round.
Leites cracked Carmont with a right to the jaw and a left uppercut to the ear, then landed punches to the downed Carmont until referee John McCarthy waved off the fight. Leites (24-4) won his seventh straight fight overall, while Carmont (22-10) has lost three in a row.
“I’m a jiu-jitsu guy first and foremost,” Leites said. “But I’m getting very confident in my hands. He was blocking my takedowns very well so I went to my striking and lately when I use my stand up good things have happened. I didn’t allow him any space and kept the pressure on. When I saw his eyes roll back I kept the shots going and got the finish.”
Fighting on a week’s notice at a catchweight 149 pounds, Utah’sClay Collard went right at Max Holloway. Holloway responded, and the bout turned into a a memorable scrap. After getting the best of the first round, Collard tired in the second, and Holloway took over. The Hawaii native finally got the TKO win at 3:47 of round three.
It was the third straight win for Holloway (10-3), who has fought nine times in the UFC despite the fact he’s still 22 years old. Collard (13-5) lost for just the second time in his past 10 fights.
“The opponent change didn’t mean much because I’m a fighter and I’ll fight anybody in any weight class,” Holloway said. “It doesn’t matter who it is. I really just had to calm down after that first round so I told myself in the corner to stop acting like a punk and get after him.”
For his part, Collard was glad for the opportunity.
“When I got the call from my manager offering the fight I took it because I’m a gamer and I’ll fight anytime, anyplace.” Collard said. “It was great competing against a guy like Max. I’m looking forward to a chance at a rematch on a full camp.”
In a back-and-forth but sloppy brawl of a lightweight fight, former TUF: Live cast member James Vick remained unbeaten with a unanimous decision over Valmir Lazaro. The judges scores were a pair of 29-28s and a 30-27.
Lazaro, a Nova Uniao product out of Rio, has his strongest round in the first, where he landed several solid leg kicks and also opened a cut over his opponent’s right eye. But Vick (6-0) had an answer for everything. He took control of the second round when he wobbled Lazaro with a big right hand, and took control of the third by dropping him with a head kick, leading to the unanimous decision.
“It was a war of attrition out there tonight,” Vick said. “To be honest after weigh ins I ate too quickly and my stomach hasn’t been right all day today. I felt full and sluggish from the opening bell. I was gassed by the second but he was tired as well so it sort of evened out. … I’m just glad I was able to fight through and get the win.”
Skelly, a 29-year-old Team Takedown fighter from Bedford, Texas, won his first 11 career fights before dropping a majority decision to Mirsad Bektic in April in his UFC debut. It was his seventh career submission win. Niinimaki (21-7-1) has dropped two in a row.
“We work on grip strength and squeeze strength on a daily basis in the gym,” said Skelly. Once I had my forearm over his chin even though it wasn’t underneath I knew I had him.
In an undercard bout of note, Ben Saunders not only made his return to the UFC a successful one, but he also recorded the first omoplata submission in UFC history. Saunders used the lock to submit Chris Heatherly at 2:18 of the opening round in their welterweight bout.
“I was trying to work for another modified shoulder lock but I was able to sort of chuck him to the side and gain wrist control so I sunk in the omoplata and finished it,” said Saunders (17-6-2), who won for the fourth time in his past five fights.
In the evening’s opening bout, former Elite XC bantamweight champ Wilson Reis (18-5) was successful in his flyweight debut. Reis shook off a pair of second-round knockdowns by debuting Jackson’s fighter Joby Sanchez (6-1) and took a unanimous decision on scores of 29-28 across the board.