Justin Gaethje defends WSOF title

Justin Gaethje survived an all-out brawl with Luis Palomino to defend his lightweight title in Phoenix. Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

World Series of Fighting lightweight champion Justin Gaethje is known for his tendency to brawl -- but this was just ridiculous.

Gaethje (14-0) recorded his second title defense on Saturday, defeating Luis Palomino via third-round TKO in a wild brawl inside Comerica Theatre in Phoenix.

The 155-pound championship tilt played out like a button-mashing video game. Gaethje, 26, relentlessly pressured Palomino (23-10) from the opening bell and the veteran was up to the challenge, returning fire and hurting Gaethje on several occasions.

After more than 13 minutes of haymakers, Gaethje's leg kicks proved to be the difference. A hobbled Palomino went down twice in the third frame due to kicks, eventually succumbing to strikes on the ground at the 3:57 mark.

"That is the toughest man I have ever faced," Gaethje said. "I knew that coming in and I trained harder than I ever have before. I'm just happy I got someone who wanted to fight me.

"[I was hurt] a couple times. I came for stitches and I got some. I'm as happy as I can be."

The sheer magnitude of Gaethje's pressure threw Palomino off-balance at times. Gaethje continually put Palomino's back on the fence and opened up with uppercuts and straight rights. The 34-year-old Palomino's chin held up, though, and he made Gaethje pay for his aggression with hard counterpunches.

Several times in the opening round, Gaethje was visibly hurt by Palomino's hands. He was forced to clinch at times and his mouthpiece went flying at one point from the force of a right.

In the closing seconds of the opening round, Gaethje jumped into a wild cartwheel kick that missed badly.

Palomino established his counter punching more in the second round, slipping Gaethje's offense and ripping back with two- and three-punch combinations. Quietly, Gaethje continued to score outside leg kicks at the end of exchanges, which would prove to be crucial later in the fight.

By the start of the third, Gaethje wore a cut over his right eye, while Palomino dealt with heavy swelling under his left.

It was clear early in the round the challenger's lead left leg was done. He fell to the ground following an outside kick and struggled to get back to his feet. His mobility was shot and his punches didn't carry the same weight as they did in the first.

The Phoenix crowd went nuts as Gaethje, who is from Safford, Arizona, put the finishing touches on his performance, sealing the TKO victory with elbows from top position.

"I'm disappointed in myself," Palomino said. "Don't take anything away from him. You guys have a great champion out here, man. You have to love the guy. He fights with all his heart and puts it all out there. He's the man.

"In the second round, I started turning it on and my hand was gone. My right ankle is gone. Not putting up excuses. He's a champion for a reason and it was his night."

Fighting out of Grudge Training Center in Denver, Gaethje is now 7-0 in WSOF. He won the title in January 2014 and recorded his first defense against Nick Newell at WSOF 11 in July.

He was scheduled to defend it again opposite Melvin Guillard in November, but the fight was downgraded to a non-title bout after Guillard missed weight. Gaethje won via split decision.

Holder stuns Silva in Round 3

Fighting for the first time since October 2013, Thiago Silva failed to make it out of the first round of a light heavyweight fight against Teddy Holder.

Holder (9-1) earned a TKO finish over Silva at the 2:00 mark of the opening round. He dropped Silva with a right cross, before finishing him with strikes on the ground. The win sets Holder up to fight the winner of a future bout between David Branch and Ronny Markes for the vacant WSOF title.

It was a stunning result, considering Holder was not even scheduled to compete in the four-man 205-pound tournament. Silva, who missed all of 2014 due to legal issues and a knee injury, was supposed to fight Matt Hamill on the event. Hamill withdrew early Saturday morning with a stomach virus.

Silva, 32, appeared to be on the verge of an early knockout himself prior to taking the defeat. He hit Holder with an array of hard inside leg kicks at the start of the fight and then staggered him with a clean, counter right hand in the center of the cage. The punch opened a cut directly between Holder's eyes.

Holder wobbled from the punch and retreated. As Silva came forward, however, Holder fired back and then went on the offensive moments later. Referee Ryan Brueggeman gave Silva plenty of opportunity to recover, but he was unable to defend himself from shots on the ground.

"To be honest, [the opponent change] affected me a lot but I'm a pro fighter and I need to be ready for any situation," Silva said. "He caught me with a good punch on the top of the head and I fell down. It happens. I tried to do my best, as always."

Holder has now won eight fights in a row. Each of his professional fights have ended in the first round. Silva, who trains out of the Blackzilians camp in Boca Raton, Florida, suffered the second knockout loss of his career.