The co-main event featured WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber (Pictures) taking on PRIDE veteran Joe Pearson (Pictures) in his first title defense. Faber was too much for the challenger, overwhelming him with slams and punches from the guard early in the first round.
Inside the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino’s The Joint, a packed house gave the WEC a warm welcome in its first foray into Las Vegas. The debut of the brand under the expanding Zuffa umbrella was a measured success. The nine-fight slate provided a number of solid bouts.
McCullough ended the night with an exclamation point when Cope succumbed to a brutal series of strikes, the most prominent being a vicious elbow from side-control that was quickly followed by a tapout at 2:53 of the opening round.
Cope lay on the canvas holding his ribs and writhing in pain after “Razor” was pulled off of him. He later informed the crowd he had sustained a rib injury, although he could not recall exactly when it happened in the fight.
In what was billed as a battle between top-level strikers only one brief exchange occurred while the fighters were upright. McCullough landed flush with a right hand that sent Cope retreating and as Cope attempted to counter, McCullough planted him squarely on the mat.
Cope, a relative newcomer to the sport of mixed martial arts, went on the offensive, looking to secure a submission from his back. First he tried to position himself for a gogoplata, making it as far as placing his shin across McCullough’s throat. But “Razor” did not panic and eventually wriggled free before punishing Cope with a number of heavy punches and elbows.
Shifted under McCullough again, Cope then rolled for an ill-advised kneebar. However, the Huntington Beach, Calif.-based “Razor” rapidly scampered out of danger before pounding on his prone foe.
McCullough eventually secured side-control before unloading the fight-ending outburst.
“I trained my ass of for this, this is my full-time job,” the victorious McCullough told Sherdog.com. “So, I wanted to show people that I’m not one-dimensional. I’m an MMA fighter, I’m not just a Thai boxer.”
The main event was deemed fight of the night and McCullough took home an extra $5,000 check from WEC promoter Reed Harris. As for future plans, speculation immediately turned to a McCullough-Rich Crunkilton showdown. McCullough made it clear he is willing to take on any and all challengers for his WEC lightweight belt.
Featherweight champion Urijah Faber (Pictures) won his title with a decisive and brutal stoppage over Cole Escovedo (Pictures) last March. In his first defense, “The California Kid” was equally impressive, dominating Joe Pearson (Pictures) before finishing him with strikes at 2:31 of the first frame.
Pearson’s troubles began when he attempted to counter a Faber low kick by rushing the wrestler. Faber, a native of Sacramento, Calif., had a response of his own, ducking under Pearson’s strikes and lifting him into the air before forcefully slamming him to the canvas.
Without delay the WEC champ attempted to repeat his feat of strength but was thwarted when the Miletich-trained challenger untangled his guard as Faber lifted him into the air. Pearson had no answer for the powerful Faber, and was soon hurtling towards the mat again, recipient of another Faber slam.
The end came soon after when the champion pummeled away from inside Pearson’s guard, landing a slew of heavy strikes. The final salvo included a right hand that grazed Pearson’s forehead, followed by another that crashed right into his jaw. Faber only relented when referee Steve Mazzagatti recognized Pearson’s tapout and pulled the champion from his opponent at 2:31 of the first round.
The impressive showing from Faber garnered him a bonus check for knockout of the night and kept him atop the WEC featherweight division.
During his post-fight interview, Faber called out a man many feel is the top 145-pound fighter in the world, Norifumi Yamamoto (Pictures). Whether or not that challenge is answered remains to be seen.
John Alessio (Pictures) was a serious contender for the vacant WEC welterweight title before his match with fellow veteran Brian Gassaway (Pictures), but he may have upped his stock even more after his skillful victory.
The fighters clinched after trading a few cursory shots but it was Alessio who took control early with a beautiful outside trip takedown from the clinch.
Alessio improved his position from half-guard to mount soon after hitting the mat and began to riddle Gassaway with downward strikes. Feeling the pressure, the Chicagoan gave up his back to Alessio, who sank his hooks in short order before going to work on the choke. Although he was defending well, Gassaway eventually fell victim to Alessio.
“The Natural” baited his prey into defending one side and then slipped his free arm under Gassaway’s neck to cinch the fight-ending rear-naked choke. Gassaway held out as long as he could but was forced to tapout with just 10 seconds remaining in the first round.