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WSOF 23 took place at the Comerica Theatre in Phoenix on Friday night, featuring a rematch of what many already considered a Fight of the Year candidate between lightweight champion Justin Gaethje and Luis Palomino, as well as middleweight champion David Branch’s quest to capture the vacant light heavyweight belt.
Gaethje and Palomino fought a brutal battle their first time around, at WSOF 19 in March, but the repeat performance was just that… a repeat… another Fight of the Year candidate.
Much like their first fight, Gaethje and Palomino both came out firing and both landed their fair share of shots.
Early on, it looked as if Palomino was going to exact his revenge. A little over a minute into the first frame, the Peruvian fighter rocked Gaethje with a series of punches, kicks and knees that had the champion staggering around the cage.
Gaethje, however, pulled Palomino into a Thai clinch, and dazed as he appeared, fought his way back into the fight, until he could scoop Palomino up and slam him to the canvas.
Palomino returned to his feet and landed some knees to the body, but Gaethje answered with an uppercut that sent him back down, where he punished Palomino with knees to the body.
RELATED VIDEO > WSOF 23: Gaethje vs. Palomino II Preliminary Bouts Replay
Palomino again regained his feet, only to get tossed down a second time. He wasn’t done yet, however, and got back to his feet and traded blows with Gaethje for the remainder of the round.
Round two started off much the same as the first, each man looking to take the other’s head off, neither backing down. But this time, it was Gaethje that drew first blood, dropping Palomino with an uppercut inside the first minute.
Gaethje attempted a guillotine choke, but Palomino quickly escaped. They then went toe-to-toe for the next few minutes, trading blows, but as the round wore on, Gaethje was landing the harder shots. Palomino was landing more frequently, but looked as if his gas tank might be emptying.
Late in the round, Palomino stepped in, looking to land a big shot, but Gaethje caught him with a straight right that floored Palomino.
Gaethje followed him to the mat, landed a few more shots, including one hard right hand that bounced Palomino’s head off the canvas, before the referee stepped in to stop the fight.
With the win, Gaethje remains undefeated and made the third defense of his lightweight belt.
Was it better than their first fight? Who knows, but any fight fan watching surely would like to see Gaethje and Palomino fight again, and again, and again. And they might. After the fight was over, Palomino said, “I hear there’s going to be a tournament to fight Gaethje next. I will come in this tournament and I’ll knock everyone out, just to fight this guy again.”
With that, Gaethje rushed over to Palomino and hugged him.
World Series of Fighting is planning an eight-man, one-night tournament, and vice president Ali Abdel-Aziz said that, “with the way he fights,” if Palomino wants in, he’ll get in.
Call David Branch greedy if you like, but there’s no denying his skill in mowing through the WSOF competition. Not only did he come into Friday night’s light heavyweight championship already the owner of the promotion’s middleweight strap, he walked out of the bout with a second gold belt.
Intending to defend both titles, if Branch keeps going the way he did against Teddy Holder, he shouldn’t have a problem fighting in both weight classes.
Holder earned a shot at the vacant belt by his surprising upset of UFC veteran Thiago Silva, but Branch made quick work of him, immediately taking Holder to the canvas. Although Holder landed a few solid elbows from his back, Branch returned the favor and forced Holder to react.
Holder turned, and as he did, Branch took his back and quickly sunk in a rear-naked choke for which Holder had no defense. The tapout came 2:21 into the first round, making Branch a two-division champion.
“It feels real good,” said Branch after the fight.
He now intends to take a little time off to heal up, but he has no plans to give up either belt. Branch intends to keep both and defend both.
“I know there’s people watching me. You want my belt? Come and take it from me. I ain’t going nowhere,” he continued.
“All I see is gold. Nobody is taking what I got. I came from the gutter, from nothing. Clifford (Starks) wants to take something from me, come and get some. I’m knocking you out!”
WSOF 23: Gaethje vs. Palomino II Results
Justin Gaethje def. Luis Palomino by TKO (punches) at 4:30, R2
David Branch def. Teddy Holder via Submission (rear-naked choke) at 2:21, R1
Timur Valiev def. Tito Jones via Unanimous Decision
Phoenix Jones def. Roberto Yong via Submission (scissor choke) at 3:09, R1
Brian Foster def. LaRue Burley via KO (punch) at 0:32, R1
Vagab Vagabov def. Brian Grinnell via TKO (knees and punches) at 2:29, R2
Clifford Starks def. Krasimir Mladenov via Unanimous Decision
Matthew Frincu def. Danny Davis Jr. via Split Decision
David Nuzzo def. Andres Ponce via Unanimous Decision
Joey Miolla def. Randy Steinke via KO (head kick and punches) at 3:55, R2
Benny Madrid def. Jeff Fletcher via Submission (rear-naked choke) at 1:26, R1