LAS VEGAS -- The showdown had been billed as a potential fight of the year candidate. Most MMA insiders figured the stylistic matchup between lightweights Roger Huerta and Clay Guida was a recipe for fireworks, a guarantee that fans would receive an early Christmas gift.
Both Huerta and Guida did not disappoint those experts.
In a fight that was as exhilarating as it was dramatic, Huerta, the contender who has one loss to his name, was forced to muster the strength of 10 tigers to score an unbelievable come-from-behind victory early in the third round.
For much of the contest -- war, actually -- Huerta was bested by the grittier Guida, but the Mexican-American survived the scare, cleared his head and stormed out with his guns ablaze in the final round.
Guida had promised to bring the action, to make Huerta defend a relentless attack and keep the fan favorite on his back. Guida stated that he'd do whatever it took to pummel Huerta, whether it would be strikes, submissions or simple ground-and-pound.
The Windy City fighter delivered on his promise. But for reasons nobody will ever fully understand, Guida couldn't close the show despite dishing out a tremendous amount of punishment on the Sports Illustrated cover boy.
The two men locked horns immediately and never relented; each landed huge punches between slams and submission attempts. Guida's punches found their mark more frequently than Huerta's, and though the Minnesotan continuously attempted subs, Guida escaped them all and was able to hammer down furious barrages.
Late in the second, Guida tried once again to shoot in for a takedown but he bluffed, forcing Huerta to unnecessarily sprawl. When Huerta dropped to his knees, Guida quickly closed the gap and unfurled a sinister right hand that hurt his opponent.
Guida, smelling blood and sensing a stunning stoppage, pounced all over the badly-wounded Huerta and unloaded a hellish fury, almost sealing the deal.
Yet Huerta was somehow able to shake off the cobwebs, and he rode his guard until the bell sounded to end the second.
"I thought I had the first couple of rounds," Guida said. "And he came back. He's got a lot of heart -- that's what it takes."
With Huerta possibly losing the opening stanza and clearly dropping the second, it was obvious that he needed to let everything loose and gun for some sort of stoppage or at least a 10-8 round.
Once the third round began, Huerta shot out of his corner and bombarded Guida, stunning him with several punches and a knee. Guida was clearly rocked and in serious peril, but unlike his adversary, he would not survive the onslaught.
His bearings scrambled, Guida went down with Huerta on his back. Sinking his hooks, Huerta secured a rear-naked choke just 31 seconds into the final round of an absolute battle.
"I kept coming back, and kept fighting," Huerta said. "And that's what everything is about man."
Guida and Huerta delivered more than what most expected and the victor is clearly in the hunt for a shot at the UFC lightweight title, which will be on the line in a Jan. 19 fight between B.J. Penn and Joe Stevenson.
In the co-main event, seasoned veteran Mac Danzig firmly cemented his status as the best of the "The Ultimate Fighter 6" welterweight cast; he quickly dispatched relative newcomer Tom Speer in the first round.
Danzig scored an early takedown and utilized his immense experience en route to a rear-naked choke submission.
Speer was overmatched almost from the start and once Danzig secured the early takedown, Speer looked somewhat lost.
"He's so big and so strong and he's got such good wrestling, I knew I had to take him down," Danzig said of the dairy farmer. "That was kinda the game plan, to switch rolls on him and put him on his back. That's where I knew he'd be weakest."
Danzig swarmed with a dizzying array of strikes and eventually seized the larger Speer's back. In a matter of moments, Danzig had sunk in the choke, forcing Speer to tap out.
"Mac, he deserves every bit of this," Speer said. "His experience showed."
Danzig was the prohibitive favorite to be crowned the "champion" of the sixth season of Zuffa's reality show and the Cleveland-born fighter proved why. Danzig said after his victory that he planned on dropping back down to lightweight.
"That's the toughest division in the sport," he said.
In what was clearly the second best fight of the night (and also a fight of the year candidate) "War Machine" Jon Koppenhaver withstood many furious barrages and massive exhaustion en route to a dramatic third round TKO over Jared Rollins.
The two fighters stood toe-to-toe when they were on their feet and unleashed every possible form of attack when they were on the canvas, yet it was Koppenhaver's miraculous out-of-nowhere sweep that led to the shocking stoppage.
Rollins badly wobbled and dropped Koppenhaver with a knee-punch combo and it seemed like the battered War Machine was toast, but when Rollins jumped into his opponent's guard, it gave Koppenhaver a glimpse of survival.
Running on vapors, Koppenhaver perfectly swept Rollins and immediately uncorked a series of crushing elbows and punches, knocking Rollins cold in the process. The official time of the stoppage came at 2:01 of the third round, paving the way toward a potential rematch.
Ben Saunders thwarted Dan Barrera once again, this time officially. In what was the only fight Saturday at The Palms to go the distance, Saunders was awarded a unanimous decision victory via tallies of 30-27 (twice) and 29-28. The fight was competitive but not exactly a thrilling affair, though Saunders' stand-up and submission attempts clearly won him the contest.
Troy Mandaloniz and Richie Hightower stood toe-to-toe for almost the entire first round, but "Rude Boy's" punching power was too much for the colorful Hightower to handle. Mandaloniz delivered a perfect straight left jab while Hightower launched a left hook and when Mandaloniz' punch landed, Hightower crumbled to the canvas. Mandaloniz pounced on the woozy Hightower and unloaded three bruising right hammer fists, ending the fight. The official time of the knockout was 4:20 of the first round.
It took him two guillotine and three armbar attempts, but Matt Arroyo finally forced opponent John Kolosci to tap out. Kolosci showed a terrific ground defense game, but in the end, he couldn't escape them all. Arroyo was able to latch on perfect armbar at 4:42 of the opening round.
Roman Mitichyan, who was unable to actually fight on "The Ultimate Fighter 6" due to an injury, made quick work of Thai boxer Dorian Price, scoring a takedown and then an ankle lock in just 23 seconds of Round 1.
Jonathan Goulet systematically broke down Paul Georgieff and wound up tapping him out with a rear-naked choke. The official time of the submission came at 4:42 of the first round and it signaled a terrific start to an excellent night of fights.
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