Visions of a storybook ending for Brad Pickett melted on the end of a surgical Marlon Vera strike.
A short-notice fill-in for the injured Enrique Briones, “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America” semifinalist put away the retiring Pickett with a third-round head kick and follow-up punches in their UFC Fight Night 107 bantamweight showcase on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London. Vera, who was listed as a modest +127 underdog by BetDSI.com, closed the book on the American Top Team standout 3:50 into Round 3.
Pickett (-147) was ahead on two of the three scorecards at the time of the stoppage. The 38-year-old former Cage Rage champion walks away from the sport having lost six of his last seven bouts.
“I just want to say a huge thank you to my wife, my family, my friends, coaches, to my teammates and to the fans,” said Pickett, his resume highlighted by an April 2010 win over current pound-for-pound ace Demetrious Johnson in World Extreme Cagefighting. “I’m so grateful for all the support over the years. It means so much to me. I do feel some sense of relief, though, and I’m glad I announced that I was retiring before I went in there tonight. It’s over, and I’m ready for the next step. It’s the right time in my life to step away from this sport.”
Stage and spotlight had no effect on Vera. Even as he fell behind Pickett, the Team Oyama prospect probed for openings with stepping knees and crisp punching volleys. Shin met skull in the third round, and a dazed Pickett hit the canvas, where he was met with standing-to-ground hammerfists from the 24-year-old. It marked the second knockout victory of Vera’s 13-fight career.
“I knew how important this fight was for Brad but also how big it was for me,” he said. “All week I have thought to myself, ‘If I win, I won’t celebrate.’ I just have so much respect for him as an opponent and as a fighter. I took this fight on nine days’ notice, and I went out there and gave it everything.”
Vera was not the only underdog to visit the winner’s circle as the Ultimate Fighting Championship touched down in England for the first time in 2017. Former British Association of Mixed Martial Arts titleholder Leon Edwards (+100) took a unanimous decision from Vicente Luque (-122) in a three-round undercard battle at 170 pounds. The 25-year-old Edwards utilized head and body kicks, sharp punching combinations and well-timed takedowns against the Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt. He has rattled off three consecutive victories since his December 2015 defeat to Kamaru Usman.
“It was a good fight,” he said. “I knew Luque was going to be tough. I had to match him for power and toughness. I was in the stands here a few years ago saying ‘I want to fight in the UFC in this arena,’ so tonight is a dream come true for me.”
Meanwhile, Darren Stewart (-195) was upended in a unanimous decision loss to onetime Shooto Americas champion Francimar Barroso (+165) at 205 pounds, and Scott Askham (-160) fell short in a split decision defeat to Bradley Scott (+135) at 185 pounds. A finalist on “The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes,” Scott had reason to be reflective afterward.
“I was so close to giving up fighting,” he said. “It’s been an emotional year, but I’m back. I can’t give it up. I finally won in London, in one of the biggest indoor arenas in the world. It’s one of the greatest feelings of my life, especially since I was so close to giving it all up.”