LOS ANGELES – A spectacular card ended with a pair of major knockouts by Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Lyoto Machida and left UFC president Dana White in a quandary: Which of those would he choose as the one deserving of a shot at the light heavyweight title?
White took the guesswork out of it shortly after the main event Saturday, saying Machida would be the next in line to face the winner of the Jon Jones-Dan Henderson fight at UFC 151.
Machida knocked out Bader with a right hand as Bader was rushing toward him, knocking the former Arizona State wrestling star cold at 1:32 of the second round.
But in the main event, Rua and Brandon Vera engaged in a fun back-and-forth battle that ended when Rua knocked Vera out at 4:09 of the fourth.
Rua landed a big right over the top that badly hurt Vera. He quickly put him away when the fight hit the ground, forcing referee Herb Dean to halt it.
Each man took major amounts of punishment and their faces showed it after, but Rua's power was the difference.
But that left a tough decision for White, because both men came through with efforts worthy of the title shot.
Joe Lauzon and Jamie Varner put on one of the best fights of the year, a rollicking back and forth affair that brought the house down. Varner was hurting Lauzon with punches, but Lauzon kept coming and he was working hard for submissions.
That paid off in the third after a spectacular second round. Lauzon caught Varner in a triangle choke and got the tap, submitting the former World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight champion at 2:44 of the third.
"Jamie had great boxing and wrestling and came out tough early on," Lauzon said. "There's a lot of mutual respect between us and I think that showed out there. I got caught a couple of times, but I was never in any real danger in those transitions. He did an awesome job defending from his back and utilizing proper hand control to keep out of the rear naked choke. The triangle wasn't very deep at first, but I knew he’d try and struggle out of it and I’d be able to capitalize and put him in a worse position."
Mike Swick returned to fight in the UFC for the first time in more than 900 days, after battling injuries and illness. He made his UFC return remarkable, knocking out DaMarques Johnson in brutal fashion.
After a close first round, Johnson went for a kick to the body early in the second. Swick caught the kick and dumped Johnson on his back. Almost in the same motion, Swick followed with a huge right hand from the top that knocked Johnson out.
Swick threw two more punches that were undefended. Johnson lay motionless on his back for several minutes. Paramedics brought in a stretcher, but then Johnson got up and left under his own power.
In a similar situation in a fight with Alessio Sakara in April, Brian Stann chose not to throw the extra punches. Swick did, though he was not in top control for an extended period the way Stann had been.
"I was throwing everything I had," Swick said. "I wanted to get a knockout tonight."
Swick's adrenaline was on overdrive and he was so pleased he could barely contain himself.
It was his first win since June 13, 2009, at UFC 99 against Ben Saunders.
"It's been such a long time and this just feels incredible," Swick said. "He came out much harder than I thought he would, but I love being in that kind of fight. He caught me with a shot early on and my left eye went blank out there. I jumped ahead a couple times out there and thought I had the finish early on. so when he kept coming I was worried. I really had to test my gut and by the time I got the finish, I was throwing everything I had behind every shot just trying to end it."
Nam Phan and Cole Miller put on a spirited slugfest, with Nam's aggressiveness and body punching helping him to a split-decision win.
Phan started many of his combinations by throwing a shot to the body and then following it with one to the head. He was clearly bothering Miller with those and they were crucial points in a fight that was very tight.
Miller circled and tried to use his edge in reach in the first round, but Phan's aggressiveness gave him the edge. But Miller picked up the pace in the final two rounds and let his hands go more, creating a much more back-and-forth fight that left the crowd frequently roaring.
"I had to win, so I feel great," Phan said. "The fight was everything I thought it would be, but I'm surprised he took me down that often. He is really tough on the ground, so my goal was to sprawl and brawl throughout the fight. I saw a lot of Asian faces out there in the crowd, so I wanted to put on a show for my people."
Miller was disappointed because he felt he let the fight slip from his grasp.
"My boxing was solid, but I should have worked a little harder. I heard the crowd react to some of his shots that didn't really do any damage," Miller said. "I don't want to call him one dimensional, but he was everything I expected him to be out there. I just made a few mistakes."
The light heavyweight bout between Phil Davis and Wagner Prado ended at 1:46 of the first round when Davis inadvertently poked Prado in the right eye.
Prado at first told referee Luis Cobian he could not see and then later said he was seeing double. Given that, the bout was stopped and declared a no contest.
Fans angrily protested and briefly chanted, "Let him fight! Let him fight!" "In MMA, you're supposed to have a clenched fist and Phil definitely didn't, which is why I got poked," Prado said. "The doctor didn't ask me if I wanted to continue fighting. He asked how I was feeling and I said that I was seeing double. I've never felt more comfortable coming into a fight. It's been my dream to come to the UFC and show the fans what I can do, win or lose. I just didn't want it to end like this."
Davis wasn't thrilled with the ending, either. He hadn't fought since losing to Rashad Evans in January and the match ended before he could really begin.
He clearly poked Prado with an open hand, but Davis wasn't willing to accept the blame.
"I'm surprised that it turned out like this, but I haven't really seen the replay so I don't know what happened," Davis said. "I don't even know if I actually poked him in the eye for sure. It's just very disappointing to wait so long to get in the Octagon and then have this happen and start the whole waiting period over again."
Rani Yahya is far from the most complete mixed martial arts fighter, but he is one of the top grapplers in the sport. He showed that Saturday, forcing Josh Grispi to tap to a North-South choke at 3:15 of the first.
Yahya took Grispi down, passed and then slowly maneuvered into position before he got enough leverage to capture the rarely hit submission.
"I wasn't in the best position for the choke, but I was able to put all my weight on his ribs and finish it," said Yahya, who was fighting for the first time in a year, after having had surgery.
Grispi, who was fighting for the first time in 14 months, dropped his third bout in a row.
"He's a legend on the ground and I know he loves that choke, but in the spot he was in, I didn't think he was going to be able to tighten it enough to finish," Grispi said. "I had my hand on his face and an underhook, but somehow he got it really tight and things started to fade out around me. I didn't want to be that guy asleep on the mat, so I tapped."
Phil De Fries was unable to get off the cage in the first round of his heavyweight fight with Oli Thompson, as the two battled the majority of the round in the clinch.
But the old one-two, a jab followed by a strong straight right early in the second, turned things around and led to De Fries winning by rear naked choke.
He softened Thompson up with strikes before cinching in the choke, getting the tap at 4:16 of the second round.
"I used to be scared to go in and get beaten up or hurt, but in the UFC, you're just scared to lose," De Fries said. "It took me a bit of time to get warmed up out there, but I'm glad I got out of the fight with no injuries and I was able to use my jiu-jitsu and show that us Brits have a ground game, too."
Manny Gamburyan may have saved his job, and Michihiro Omigawa may have lost his, in a featherweight bout in which both were looking to end losing streaks.
Gamburyan landed far more strikes and had a 7-0 edge in takedowns as he pulled out the unanimous decision victory. Judges had it 29-28, 30-27 and 29-28 for Gamburyan, who ended a three-fight losing skid.
The bout likely saved him from the axe, but Omigawa lost for the second time in a row and the fourth time in his last five. His job security is tenuous, at best, at this point.
"It feels so good to snap a three-fight losing streak because losing hurts more than anything," Gamburyan said. "I clipped him twice with head kicks and hurt him really badly. I think anyone else would've gone down, but he just looked back at me like he was telling me to hit him again. … Omigawa is a really legit judo guy and I knew he would be tough so I trained super hard for this one."
In the opening bout on the card, John Moraga made his UFC debut an extremely impressive one, showing skill in all areas of the game before he finished Ulysses Gomez at 3:46 of the first.
Moraga pinned Gomez against the cage and cracked him with a standing elbow that badly hurt the Las Vegan. Moraga then finished Gomez with a five-punch combination. Gomez slumped to the floor as referee Herb Dean jumped in to stop it.
"I'm here to make the UFC happy," said Moraga, who made plenty in the crowd happy. "I just wanted to do my best and hopefully set the tone for the rest of the night."
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