Justin Gaethje walked through serious fire to retain his World Series of Fighting lightweight championship.
The undefeated Gaethje cut down Luis Palomino with third-round leg kicks and subsequent ground-and-pound in the WSOF 19 headliner on Saturday at the Comerica Theatre in Phoenix. Palomino (23-10, 2-1 WSOF) met his end 3:57 into round three.
Neither man backed down in an amazing first round that featured a little bit of everything. Gaethje (14-0, 7-0 WSOF) fired all his weapons at the challenger -- including a standing rear-naked choke takedown and a cartwheel kick -- but Palomino stood his ground; at one point, he sent the champion’s mouthpiece flying. His resolve seemed to pay off in round two, where he blasted Gaethje with repeated left hooks and opened a cut above his right eye. Fatigue, however, began to impact both lightweights.
At the start of the third round, the leg kicks in which Gaethje had so heavily invested started to pay dividends. Palomino twice went to the ground after shin-to-thigh contact. Following the second knockdown, Gaethje made sure he would not get up, uncorking punches and Donkey Kong hammerfists until the stoppage was called.
Related » WSOF 19 Play-by-Play
Holder Stuns Debuting Silva
Teddy Holder sprang the upset in the WSOF light heavyweight tournament semifinals, as he disposed of Ultimate Fighting Championship castaway Thiago Silva with first-round punches and hammerfists. Silva (16-4, 0-1 WSOF) wilted 2:00 into round one, his organizational debut spoiled in shocking fashion.
Holder (9-1, 1-0 WSOF) walked through the Brazilian’s kicks and fired short, crisp punches in combination. Silva staggered him with a right hand, but the Tennessean recovered quickly and responded in kind. Holder leveled the Blackzilians rep with a right hook, jumped into top position and closed the deal on the ground.
On an eight-fight winning streak, Holder will meet the winner of the April 10 semifinal between David Branch and Ronny Markes for the vacant World Series of Fighting light heavyweight title.
Surging Valiev Shreds West
Jackson-Wink MMA standout Timur Valiev buried Bellator MMA and International Fight League veteran Ed West under an avalanche of first-round strikes in a featured bantamweight affair. West (18-10, 0-1 WSOF) succumbed to unanswered blows 1:39 into round one.
Valiev (9-1, 3-0 WSOF) was dominant from the start. The Dagestani prospect floored West with an overhand right, sprawled out of a desperate takedown attempt and trapped the Apex MMA product on the feet. Valiev closed the distance and drove his counterpart back to the canvas with a volley of savage knee strikes and standing elbows.
Standing-to-ground punches and kneeling hammerfists followed, forcing referee Ryan Brueggeman to act.
The 25-year-old Valiev has rattled off nine straight wins.
Starks Choke Submits Heun
Arizona Combat Sports representative Clifford Starks submitted Jake Heun with a second-round arm-triangle choke in a light heavyweight showcase. Heun (7-4, 1-1 WSOF) waved the figurative white flag 4:11 into round two, halting his modest two-fight winning streak.
Starks (11-2, 1-0 WSOF) leaned on a sneaky left hand and repeated takedowns, as he gradually chipped away at the American Top Team export. Heun was the aggressor on the feet -- his kicks were particularly effective -- but lacked the wherewithal to remain upright.
In the second round, Starks struck for another takedown, softened the Alaskan with punches and moved into position for the choke. He then passed guard and slid to side control for the finish.
Prelims: Spicuzza Edges Reeling Madrid
In preliminary action, Jimmy Spicuzza (6-2, 3-1 WSOF) eked out a split decision -- 30-27, 30-27, 28-29 -- over Benny Madrid (7-3, 0-1 WSOF) in their three-round lightweight duel; Joseph Gigliotti (4-0, 1-0 WSOF) stopped Brendan Tierney (11-7, 0-1 WSOF) with punches 4:45 into round three of their 180-pound catchweight tilt; Andres Ponce (1-0, 1-0 WSOF) submitted Juan Archuleta (5-1, 0-1 WSOF) with a triangle choke 53 seconds into the second round of their battle at 135 pounds; Dan Huber (4-2, 1-0 WSOF) put away Israel Aquino (0-1, 0-1 WSOF) with punches 3:03 into round one of their middleweight encounter; Matthew Frincu (6-1, 1-0 WSOF) knocked out Eric Regan (15-25, 0-1 WSOF) with a head kick 14 seconds into the second round of their welterweight scrap; and Erik Villalobos (2-4, 1-0 WSOF) took a unanimous decision from Joe Madrid (4-3, 0-1 WSOF) in their clash at 135 pounds, sweeping the scorecards with identical 30-27 marks from the judges.