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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Friday returned to the City of Champions. UFC on ESPN 6 was headlined by a light heavyweight clash between Dominick Reyes and former 185-pound champion Chris Weidman at TD Garden in Boston, with the winner likely positioning himself near the front of the line for a title shot against Jon Jones.
The undefeated Reyes during the leadup to the fight said he planned to make a statement by spoiling Weidman’s light heavyweight debut in spectacular debut. “The Devastator” made good on his word, as it took him less than two minutes to dispatch the New York native by first-round knockout.
“The harder I train, the easier it seems the fights go for me,” Reyes said during the post-fight press conference. “I didn’t see it playing out that way, but I always knew it could play out that way. I worked hard, and it ended up going in my favor.”
The victory moved Reyes to 12-0 overall and 6-0 in the UFC. He has finished four of his six opponents inside the Octagon, leading many to anoint him as the next suitor for Jones.
“I do feel like I’m the clear-cut guy,” Reyes said. “The only thing in my mind might be Jon moving up to heavyweight, and if he wants to go up to heavyweight, let’s have an interim title. I don’t know what Anthony Smith is doing, but I feel like it would be a great fight for the interim belt. Honestly, I want to fight Jon. My whole career, I’m doing this to be the best in the world. I want to be the champion.”
The only other worthy option for Jones could be the winner of the UFC 244 showdown between Johnny Walker and Corey Anderson on Nov. 2. UFC President Dana White did not do much to clear up the title picture when asked where Reyes stood.
“Yeah, he looked good tonight,” White said. “He is one of the Top 5 guys in the world. We’ll see.”
LIGHTNING ROD FOR CONTROVERSY
Former NFL bad boy turned UFC talent Greg Hardy appeared to pick up the most poised and calculated win of his career, only to see the victory taken away from him moments after he left the cage. His unanimous decision over Ben Sosoli was overturned to a no-contest after Hardy was caught using an inhaler in between the second and third rounds of the fight, this despite his asking an athletic commission inspector for permission to use it.
“The worst part for me is here I am letting people down again,” Hardy said. “It is a sucky feeling. I’m doing everything I’m supposed to be doing. I asked permission, and he told me I could. Now I’m in trouble again.”
White admitted he was encouraged with Hardy’s progress but appeared to be frustrated by the situation and directed much of his angst toward the American Top Team members who cornered Hardy. “I don’t even know what to say,” White said. “First of all, Din Thomas. Come on, Din. You have been in this game forever. His corner, they got to know you can’t use an inhaler in the corner. They should know that. It shouldn’t have even been a question. You can drink water. It is pretty simple.”
The win would have been Hardy’s third straight, as his only defeat came in a disqualification against Allen Crowder in January. While the 31-year-old could not put away Sosoli, he was satisfied with his efforts.
“I feel good,” Hardy said. “It’s a great night for me. Ben is a monster. He is going to be a problem for a lot of people. He hits like a Mack truck. That is probably the most and hardest I have ever been hit. What I take out of it tonight is that this was a great process for me. I got to move around. I got to go through 15 minutes of experience and show a lot of people that we had a plan and we struck to the plan. I’m an educated fighter and I am learning faster than anybody else in the business, and it is going to continue, just like I said. I think we accomplished everything I said. I’m super proud of that. I’m super proud of my team. I’m just happy all around with my performance.”
A NATIVE SON SHINES
The high point of UFC on ESPN 6 might have been the successful return of hometown hero Joe Lauzon. In his 27th UFC appearance, the veteran ended an 18-month absence from the promotion and electrified the crowd with his first-round destruction of Jonathan Pearce. Prior to the fight, Lauzon admitted he had considered retirement but would not commit to a decision either way. Afterward, the Massachusetts native remained non-committal.
“It’s a great way to end it if that is the end, for sure,” Lauzon said. “We are kind of going to see how things go. I’m always going to be training, cornering or just helping out guys. We got a lot of guys training at my gym: Rob Font, Calvin Kattar, Mike Rodriguez and Peter Barrett. We got a lot of guys that are always going to have fights. I’m in the gym with them all the time anyways. We are going to see what happens.
“I’m not going to say this is the last fight, but I’m not also not going to say I am definitely going to do it again,” he added. “It was a great night tonight, but I think too many guys fall into the trap and say, ‘Yeah, I’m back. Here we go.’ I’m not there. We are going to take it [and] see what happens. Maybe I fight in six months, maybe in a year, maybe I don’t. Who knows?”
The TKO against Pearce ended a three-fight skid for the 35-year-old Lauzon -- the longest such streak of his illustrious career. White informed the media that he and Lauzon came to an agreement about “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 semifinalist’s future before the bout.
“Me and Joe Lauzon had a deal that he would retire after this fight, win lose or draw,” White said, “and he didn’t do it.”
Will White force Lauzon’s hand if he feels the need to do so?
“Yeah,” he said. “What better way to go out, and he beat a real guy tonight. He beat a real tough guy that a lot of people didn’t think he was going to beat, and he made it look easy. This is one of those things where you talk to a guy who loves to fight like Joe Lauzon loves to fight. The Chuck Liddells and many more guys from the past that I have dealt with, it is so hard to walk away. They say, ‘I looked great tonight’ and then if they lose, ‘Well, I can’t go out like this, getting beat in my hometown in front of all my people.’”
While he was not even in the building for UFC on ESPN 6, former interim UFC welterweight champion Colby Covington was one of the topics in its wake. The onetime NCAA All-American wrestler made headlines when he threatened to assault White if he attempted to wrap the welterweight championship on his waist if Covington defeats Kamaru Usman at UFC 245.
“I can tell you who’s not wrapping it [belt] around my waist, and that will not be Dana White,” Covington told Submission Radio. “If he tries to wrap it around my waist, I’m going to take the belt from him and slap him in the face with it.”
White did not mince words when it came to Covington.
“Good luck with that,” he said. “Good luck with that. He is a big-mouthed [expletive] idiot.”