RIO RANCHO, N.M. – Carlos Condit found himself in a precarious situation, but he wasn’t about to let his hometown fans down.
The WEC welterweight champion was slammed early in his fight against Carlo Prater, a man who had already defeated him, and Condit was on his back.
But the Albuquerque native stayed patient and waited for an opportunity he knew would come. Condit (22-4) sunk in a guillotine choke and scored a submission at 3:48 of the first round, earning a standing ovation from a frenzied crowd of 4,648 at Santa Ana Star Center.
“No way I was losing this fight,” said Condit. “Not here in Albuquerque. I’ve always been comfortable working from my back, Prater is a tough, tough guy, but I knew if I just stayed patient I’d get what I wanted.”
Prater (21-6-1) handed Condit his first career defeat back in 2004, and at the outset looked like he could make it two in a row in his WEC debut. Prater got the better of the limited standup exchanges before closing the distance and taking Condit for a ride.
“I knew that was something he liked to do,” said Condit. “And I trained for it. But he got it anyway. It’s a quick ride down to the mat and it’s nice and cushiony so it didn’t hurt that bad.”
Prater never came close to putting Condit away on the ground, as the fighter known as “The Natural Born Killer” was simply too strong in the guard. Condit first got in a choke attempt midway through the round, but Prater slipped out. The second time, Condit sunk the hold in tight and wasn’t letting go.
“I just got tunnel vision, man,” said Condit. “I just stayed focused. He’s big and he’s strong and I hope they keep him in the WEC, but once I got him that second time I knew I had him locked in good.”
Condit was the only champion to hold on to his crown on a night with three title matches. In the others, Miguel Torres took the bantamweight title from Chase Beebe at 3:59 of the first round, and Jamie Varner claimed lightweight gold against “Razor” Rob McCullough with a third-round TKO.
Varner (14-2) was mentally ready to throw in the towel after the first round of his matchup. The contest figured to be a tussle between McCullough’s vaunted boxing and Varner’s wrestling. Varner came out on the worse end of the first five minutes.
“I was sitting in my corner and I was about to chalk it up as a loss,” said Varner. “He was stuffing my takedowns and I wasn’t getting anywhere. I didn’t think I could hang with him.”
But the Arizona native stayed in the standup in the second round and found out he wasn’t afraid to hang and bang with the champ.
“I decided to try out my boxing and see what happens,” said Varner. “And he hit me and I started thinking ‘he doesn’t’ hit that hard’ and I felt my confidence start to grow.”
A flashback to a previous loss – to Hermes Franca at UFC 62 -- entered Varner’s mind between the second and third round. “I kept thinking about my loss to Hermes,” said Varner. “I won the first two rounds and then I got away from my game plan and Hermes won the fight. I was determined not to let up again.”
McCullough (15-4) came into the night on a nine-fight win streak and displayed why by belting Varner with a right that knocked his opponent’s mouthpiece out early in the third round. Varner was able to recover while they fetched a new mouthpiece. Then he came out swinging.
Varner dropped McCullough with a straight right. McCullough managed to fend off the Varner’s attack and get back to his feet. Varner then dropped McCullough with a left. The champion got up yet again, but took a right straight on the button and was dropped again. Referee Steve Mazzagatti called a halt to the fight.
“McCullough’s a tough dude,” said Varner. “I knew I had the fight when he was done on the mat and he was bleeding and sputtering and couldn’t get up, but until then, there was no letup.”
While Varner had to improvise, Torres stuck to his gameplan to perfection in his title win. While the matchup between Beebe’s wrestling skills and Torres’ jiu-jitsu was played up, it was the standup that set the tone.
“I knew I was a better boxer and a better kickboxer,” said Torres (21-1). “And I knew once I established myself in the standup, he would would come in and shoot on me like all wrestlers do. I was ready for it and I was ready to take it to the ground.”
The finishing sequence was jiu-jitsu at its finest. Torres went for a Kimura, but Beebe (11-2) rolled out of the attempt. Beebe left himself open for an anaconda choke, which Torres later adjusted to a guillotine for the title victory.
“When he rolled out of the Kimura I knew he’d try to get to his knees, that’s what wrestlers do,” said Torres. “Then I got in the anaconda, but it’s hard to keep it on, wrestlers have such thick necks. When I got the guillotine and heard him start to gurgle I knew it was over.”
For Torres, the win was the end of a long wait for recognition. “For a long time, there wasn’t anywhere for guys like me to make good money,” said Torres. “Shooto in Japan features lighter weight fighters and they’re successful, so I knew with evolution of MMA I’d have my chance here eventually. So I decided to wait and stay patient.”