It’s amazing what two stoppage wins will do for your reputation.
Following Rashad Evans’ (Pictures) stint on Spike TV’s The Ultimate Fighter and two plodding fights in 2006, many began to question whether the light heavyweight could put on an exciting contest. He quieted some detractors last Sept. after finishing Jason Lambert (Pictures).
Tonight, live on Spike TV from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla., Evans made sure no one would groan — except perhaps Thursday’s opponent Sean Salmon (Pictures) — at the sound of his name for a very long time.
Following a competitive opening period in which the former Big-10 conference wrestlers — Evans a graduate of Michigan State and Salmon an Ohio State Buckeye — traded shots both standing and on the floor, Evans delivered a classic high-kick that sent a stone-cold Salmon to the canvas.
Stalking along the Octagon fence, Evans slammed his right shin into the left side of Salmon’s jaw. Before his head would slam into the canvas it appeared as if Salmon offered an unconscious bow to Evans for the superb effort.
Salmon, 29, lay prone on the floor for nearly three minutes while ringside medical officials worked to revive him. Several attempts with smelling salts didn’t seem to make much of a difference, but Salmon eventually responded to the treatment. He was carried out of the sold-out arena on a stretcher.
At the post-fight press conference, UFC president Dana White indicated that Salmon (9-2-0) has been taken to a local hospital for observation, and was as fine as could be expected.
It was a scary scene, reminiscent of UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia's (Pictures) whacking of Tra Telligman (Pictures).
Evans did not come into mixed martial arts with an ability to deliver KO-rendering high kicks. That was cultivated after hundreds of hours in the gym, most notably since he began working with Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“I planned on going straight to the head,” Evans said afterwards. “Me and my Muay Thai coach, Mike Winkeljohn, worked on that all camp and said it would be there for me. I knew I’d catch him with it.”
Awkward but consistent, Salmon was game in the first five minutes, twice putting Evans on the floor. It was clear that Evans had a fairly large speed advantage, and he tried twice in the first round to land that high kick.
As a testament to his improved game — both physically and mentally — Evans (10-0-0) did not give up on the kick and waited for Salmon’s hands to drop later in the fight.
“I just catch him leaning,” said Evans, 27, as he watched a replay of the brutal end on an arena big screen. “I knew I had it. I threw the kick. I knew he was getting tired and I just had him.”
Evans followed with one more punch to Salmon’s face before referee Troy Waugh jumped in at 1:06 of the second.
“Irish” eyes smile on O’Brien
Following a dominating three-round performance, young American Jake O’Brien can now say he’s got something in common with revered heavyweights Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures), Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) and Mirko Filipovic: He owns a win over Heath Herring (Pictures).
Unlike previous efforts against powerhouse wrestlers Tom Erikson (Pictures) and Mark Kerr (Pictures), Herring had no response to the physical O’Brien (10-0-0), a wrestler who competed under the tutelage of Erikson at Purdue University.
Having recently returned to the U.S. after taking up residence in Holland, Herring, an original challenger for PRIDE’s heavyweight belt in 2001, showed neither an improved striking game nor any semblance of competent ground skills.
That’s bad news for the “Texas Crazy Horse” considering he spent so much time training with the kickboxing-centric Golden Glory squad during his days in the Netherlands. And apparently his efforts at Ricardo Pires’ ground-based Las Vegas Combat Club haven’t yielded much return in the grappling department.
Taking an awkward-looking stance to the center of the cage, Herring pawed with a lazy left hand. The heavyweights circled and traded less-than-meaningful strikes until Herring connected with a left hook that forced O’Brien’s legs to give way.
Yet the hard-nosed Hoosier was far from hurt, and, for the first of many moments during the 15-minute contest, put Herring (26-12-0, 1 NC) back-first on the canvas.
“That first shot he dropped me with kinda took it out of me a little bit,” O’Brien said in the cage after the fight. “But I just kept pushing.”
Easily maneuvering on the top thanks to Herring, who left plenty of room for the 22-year-old Indianapolis native to pass from half-guard to full mount and even back-control, O’Brien asserted his game as the fight wore on.
The middle period offered much of the same — except it appeared even easier for O’Brien to work the smothering style on the mat.
After two rounds, O’Brien appeared poised for what is surely the most important victory of his emerging career.
“I wanted to stand a little bit but, the way he was standing kinda awkward, kinda threw me off a little bit,” O’Brien said. “So then you know I started getting takedowns. I was getting good positions. I just didn’t let my hands go on top of it actually, but it felt great.”
Herring, 28, didn’t show much improvement in the final round. By most accounts he hasn’t been the same since Fedor and “Cro Cop” handed him back-to-back beatings in 2003. As his UFC debut was slipping away, Herring looked desperate, as if he was trying to manufacture the kind of magic that saw him rally against Erikson and Kerr.
“Man, I’m out here trying to give the fans what they want,” said an incredulous Herring. “That’s excitement. That’s action. That’s stand-up. That’s fighting. I don’t want to be laying here on the ground guys. That’s not what I’m out here trying to do for you. I try to get up. I try to give you a knockout. That’s what I’m trying try to do.”
O’Brien’s skills diffused any “Texas Crazy Horse” comeback, leading to judges at ringside scoring it 30-27 twice and 29-28 for the young wrestler.
Franca earns July title shot
Hermes Franca (Pictures) secured himself a lightweight title shot tonight, both by stopping Spencer Fisher (Pictures) and then pleading his case to UFC president Dana White.
After enduring a terrible 2005 in which he lost each of his three bouts, Franca rebounded to go 7-0 last year. The affable Brazilian began his 2007 march to Sean Sherk (Pictures)’s belt by catapulting looping punches towards the dangerous Fisher.
Though the vast majority missed in the early going, an “Around The World In 80 days” right hand later in the fight would hurt the North Carolinian and place Franca on the cusp of a bout with Sherk.
The lightweights exhibited a solid flurry of ground work during their first interaction on the canvas. A quick return to the feet netted Fisher, 30, a chance to work on Franca’s midsection with a couple digging right hands. But Franca shook the blows off and once more tripped Fisher to the floor, where the 32-year-old Brazilian fired punches from the top.
With Franca (18-5-0) on the canvas and Fisher (19-3-0) hovering above early in round two, the Brazilian traded an axe-kick to the midsection for a chance to tie up his foe’s legs and gain top position for the third time in the bout.
Franca controlled by passing guard and moving to side-control. Because Fisher did a nice job of placing the Jupiter, Fla.-trained Franca back in half- or full-guard, referee Jorge Alonso opted to stand the lightweights.
They worked on the feet — Franca looping punches; Fisher offering crisp shots — before a heavy right hand from the Brazilian plowed into the left side of the Pat Miletich (Pictures)-trained fighter’s head, forcing the 30-year-old “King” into potholes.
“I have a heavy right hand,” Franca said afterwards.
Twenty unanswered punches, including three clubbing right hands and a solid a left hook, followed before Alonso saved Fisher, still on his feet, from further punishment.
“I said I had to finish,” the 155-pound UFC title contender commented of the end, which came at 4:03 of round two. “I didn’t know if he was faking or not.”
At the post-fight press conference, UFC president said Franca would get his shot against Sherk, likely in July.
Nathan Marquardt (Pictures) solidified his status as UFC middleweight contender, dominating Dean Lister (Pictures) en route to a lopsided unanimous decision.
Josh Burkman (Pictures) out-pointed Chad Reiner to win on each judge’s card.
Ed Herman (Pictures) transitioned beautifully from behind Chris Price to snag an armbar at 2:58 of the first round.
In a clash of lightweights, Din Thomas (Pictures) outlasted Clay Guida (Pictures) to take a unanimous decision win.
Rich Clementi (Pictures) tangled with Ross Pointon for almost two full rounds before catching the Brit in a rear-naked choke with seven seconds remaining in the second frame.