Don’t know about y’all, but I’m still reeling from the collective awesomeness of last night’s WEC event. All six televised fights ended by stoppage within the first two rounds, all three defending champions retained their titles, and Jens Pulver choked out poor Cub Swanson in 35 seconds. If you decided instead to watch the three-hour UFC Unleashed special that was running on Spike opposite WEC 31, you are a dumb jackass.
Aside from a few opening stutters by co-commentator Frank Mir, the night was rocket-powered from the jump. Up first was light-heavyweight champion Doug Marshall facing off against Ariel Gandulla. Marshall tried to strike first with a flying knee, but Gandulla caught him in mid-air and slammed him to the mat. Gandulla then tried to work some ground-and-pound from Marshall’s guard, but was caught in an armbar by the more-experienced champ and was forced to tap at the 55 second mark. Ecstatic, Marshall jumped out of the cage, let out a battle roar on the judges’ table, and made his way into the crowd, visibly freaking out a portly audience member. Like I said: Awesome.
Next up were bantamweights Charlie Valencia and Ian McCall. There are few joys in life a pure as watching two 135-pound men beat the crap out of each other. Valencia exploited McCall’s weak defense from the beginning, landing a couple of strong right hands before a third power-punch sent McCall to the floor. Valencia took his back and suplexed him, but McCall was able to get back on his feet. He wouldn’t stay upright for long — Valencia battered him with more punches until McCall dropped again, after which Valencia set up a guillotine choke on the mat that made McCall tap at 3:19 into the first round.
The middleweight title match between Paulo Filho and Chael Sonnen could have easily been the biggest upset since St. Pierre/Serra if it hadn’t ended in a very controversial stoppage. Everyone assumed that Filho — thought by many to be the best middleweight in the world — would crush Sonnen, a full-time real estate agent who trains in his free time. But it was Sonnen who fought like a champion, dominating Filho for nearly two full rounds, out-boxing the undefeated Brazilian and dominating him on the ground. After one huge punch and takedown, Sonnen shouted “He’s out!” to the referee, but the fight was allowed to continue. Filho had no answer for Sonnen’s attacks, and his submission attempts were all stuffed. Then, while on his back late in the second round, Filho locked onto Sonnen’s left arm and pulled down into an armbar. It certainly looked painful, and the referee must have thought so too because he stopped the fight with only five seconds left in the round, and before Sonnen tapped out. Sonnen was furious, and shouted “No, no, no!” at the ref, but the decision had been made, and Filho picked up a very undeserved win. To add even more insult to Sonnen, his loss was recorded as a “verbal submission.” Oh man, that’s exactly the opposite of what happened!
Batting cleanup was the much-anticipated WEC debut of Jens Pulver, facing off against Cub Swanson in a match that was hilariously anti-climactic. The fight was hyped to within an inch of its life, with Pulver’s undefeated featherweight record and the personal grudge between Pulver and Swanson played up repeatedly by the announcers. Swanson shot in immediately as round one began; Pulver responded by sprawling, then sinking in an anaconda choke that was so tight it looked as if Swanson’s head was going to pop off, forcing a tap at the 35 second mark. After a gleeful “Fuck you!” to his downed opponent, Pulver stormed around the cage, shouting “Who wants me? 1! 4! 5!” while his adoring fans went apeshit. Now a top featherweight contender in the WEC, his next opponent would be decided by the outcome of the main event…
But first, a time-filling fight from the undercard, as bantamweights Brian Bowles and Marcos Galvao entered the cage. Similar to the Valencia/McCall match, Bowles and Galvao stayed on their feet for the most part, with Bowles exposing Galvao’s weak defense with a string of power punches. In the second round, Bowles found his finishing shot, sending his opponent face-first into the mat with an explosive right hand that put an end to the fight at 2:09 into the second round. Pretty damn satisfying for the only knockout of the televised card.
In the final match of the evening, featherweight champ Urijah Faber proved why nobody’s been able to steal his belt. Technically rock-solid and displaying non-stop creativity, it would require a superhuman effort to beat him, and Jeff “Big Frog” Curran just didn’t have it. Faber was in trouble for much of the first round, as Curran took his back after a takedown. This is the part where most fighters would succumb to a rear naked choke — Faber didn’t even let Curran get his hand around his neck, despite three full minutes of attempts. As he said later: “I let people take my back for fun. [I was ready for] five rounds, 25 minutes. There’s no way you’re choking me out.” As the round drew to a close, Faber manage to reverse the position and wound up in Curran’s guard.
Faber entered the second round in a frenzy, nailing Curran with elbows from the clinch. When the fight went to the ground again, Faber hit Curran with an upkick/punch combo that opened a huge gash over Curran’s eye. The cut threw Curran off his game completely, and he started focusing much of his attention toward clearing the blood from his face; at one point, he paused to wipe his face off with Faber’s shorts — not the most sanitary move, but whatever works. After spending some time on his back, Curran made it to his feet and pushed Faber up against the fence. Brimming with confidence, Faber pulled off the dumbest/most brilliant attack of the night:
The picture doesn’t really do it justice, but as Curran held his right leg, Faber jumped up and kneed him flush in the jaw with the left. Before Curran could process what was happening, Faber yanked him to the mat and forced him to tap with a guillotine choke at 4:35 into round 2. In the post-fight interview, Faber already had his eyes on his next title defense: “Looks like Jens Pulver is next. It’s going to be an honor to fight that guy. Let’s do it, man. It’s history.”