By Kyle Galdeira (Photos courtesy of Greg Honda)
HONOLULU – “Ruthless” Robby Lawler lived up to his nickname Saturday night. The ICON Sport Middleweight Champion used a flurry of blows, capped with a devastating uppercut, to stun and eventually finish off Murilo “Ninja” Rua in the main event of the EliteXC: Uprising event in front of roughly 5,000 fans at the Neal Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu.
With the victory by TKO coming at 2:04 of the bout’s third round, Lawler claimed the EliteXC Middleweight Championship, earned “Fighter of the Night” honors, and bolstered his standing amongst the world’s greatest middleweight fighters.
Interestingly, Rua was winning the fight on two of the three judges’ scorecards until Lawler turned the tables and secured the knockout.
“I knew I was gonna go out there and knock him out,” said a confident yet relieved Lawler. “I love fighting. The fans are great here and they’re smart about the sport.”
Lawler (15-4) got things rolling with a takedown, but the two remained on their feet for the majority of the fight. Rua (14-8-1) employed a series of kicks to inflict punishment to Lawler’s thighs and shins, while keeping Lawler away from striking position. But Lawler did not stay dormant for long, exploding with a flurry of punches, which Rua smiled at after taking. Rua controlled the remainder of the round and continued to kick Lawler in the legs, causing Lawler to wince in pain.
To start the second round, Lawler landed a strong uppercut punch to Rua’s chin, then continued to throw hard rights and left hooks that stunned his Brazilian opponent. But Rua turned the tides, landing a slew of shots that caused Lawler to take the defensive, and went back to his powerful kicks that forced Lawler into retreat mode as the second round came to a close.
After being advised during the break by his corner that he needed a knockout to win, Lawler came out firing with a wicked kick to Rua’s chest followed by a punch to the jaw, and later connected with a left foot to Rua’s temple. Lawler seized the momentum. After another series of effective punches capped by the deciding uppercut, Rua fell to the canvas where Lawler proceeded to rain blows down upon the defenseless fighter. Referee Mario Yamasaki jumped in to end the fight as Lawler’s jubilant corner – which included former UFC champion Matt Hughes – piled into the ring.
“Everybody needs to be pushed, whether you’re a World Champion or an amateur, you need someone to push you; it’s just human nature,” said Hughes, who helped train Lawler and with whom Lawler is partnering to open a new gym. “I was his ground-training partner, and a body for him to beat on, and I tried to share as much of my experience as I could with him. It’s harder being outside the ring (than fighting) when your buddy is inside the ring. I watched him throw and take punches, and it’s hard because anything can happen.”
According to fight promoter Patrick Freitas, Rua was taken to the hospital with an eye injury following the bout.
EliteXC: Uprising was the organization’s first since it acquired Hawaii-based promotion company Icon Sport. The event also stands as EliteXC’s Hawaiian debut, as well as the state’s first live televised MMA event.
In the night’s other bouts:
Nick Diaz def. “Iron” Mike Aina by Split Decision (30-27, 28-29, 29-28)
Aina erupted with a showcase of speed and power, throwing a series of punches, many of which failed to connect, but awed the hometown crowd. Diaz, who later said that his back was sore, appeared wary of Aina’s attack and took a defensive approach as he tried to figure his opponent out.
Aina delivered a handful of strong, right crosses and hooks. Diaz (15-6, 1 NC) appeared dazed and unable to counter effectively, as his counterpunches were too slow for the shifty Aina (9-6-1). But Diaz regained some momentum, and got in some blows of his own as he held Aina against the fence, until the obviously quicker Aina again attacked Diaz’ unprotected face with pot shots as the round came to a close.
Round two opened as Diaz attempted to kick Aina. The Hawaiian fighter jumped in and delivered a staggering blow to Diaz’s head, which forced the former UFC fighter to the ground. But the two continued the stand-up battle, as Diaz took control with some well-placed punch combinations. The slugfest continued as both fighters clinched against the fence, trying to conserve as much energy as possible. Aina’s punches opened a cut over the right eye of Diaz, but the Stockton, Calif. native was relentless and nearly got Aina to submit, barely missing a choke late in the round.
Diaz controlled the action out of the gates in round three, attacking Aina against the fence with punches and knees to the legs. But Aina again derived a series of punches, which stunned Diaz. But Diaz eventually took Aina to the ground and controlled his back with a choke in mind. Aina did his best to escape, but Diaz kept reeling him back in. The judges’ decision was not appreciated by the crowd, which felt Aina did enough to pull off the upset.
“I know I could have fought better,” said Diaz. “I feel good, but I am really disappointed in the way I performed. I should have started a lot faster, but Aina fought with everything he had. I am looking forward to getting back to the action again.”
Gina Carano def. Tonya Evinger, TKO (submission, rear naked choke), 2:53 of Round 1
Evinger came out firing right off the bat, taking Carano (5-0) to the mat, and gaining side control as Carano tried to wriggle free. However, Carano found a way to release. After securing control of Evinger’s back, Carano waited patiently until the opening round wound down. The Las Vegas native snuck her arm under Evinger’s neck and secured the rear naked choke submission.
“This is such a relief for me because there was a lot of pressure coming into this fight,” said Carano. “When (Evinger) got me down, I knew I couldn’t freak and had to keep my composure. After reversing her, I considered standing up. But I’ve been practicing working on top, so I just went through with it.”
Joey Villasenor def. Riki Fukuda by Split Decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Fukuda started the match with a takedown and let loose with a strong right-handed punch to the head, which drove his opponent to the canvas. But Villasenor (24-6) rolled out of the hold and escaped to his feet. The two exchanged blows, with Fukuda (8-3) landing the majority of damaging blows throughout the exchange and then executing a double-leg takedown. The duo climbed to their feet and Villasenor aimed to deliver shots to Fukuda’s increasingly swollen right eye and ended the first round with a solid kick to Fukuda’s head.
Villasenor led off the second round with another vicious kick to the head and Fukuda seemed stunned, but did not falter. He landed yet another sweat-spraying kick to the head, but Fukuda again kept advancing, showing no signs of quit as the two clinched to catch their breath. Fukuda ended the round with a solid kick to the midsection and then took Villasenor to the mat and started wailing away with punches. Villasenor rolled out of danger just prior to the bell sounding.
The New Mexico native took control early in the final round with a solid kick to Fukuda’s head. The two fighters traded blows as the action see-sawed in the center of the ring. Fukuda controlled Villasenor on the ground after a double-leg takedown, but Villasenor reversed position and controlled the pace until Fukuda wriggled out of his grasp and the two returned to their feet. The pair traded hooks and danced around until time expired, putting the onus on the judges to determine the fight’s outcome, one that the crowd disagreed with mightily.
“I am happy and very relieved,” said Villasenor. “This was a tough guy I was against. I think I showed what Joey Villasenor is all about, tough and gritty. This is very important for me to win and prove to myself that I am one of the best middleweights in the world.”
Jake Shields def Renato “Charuto” Verissimo by TKO (strikes), 4:00 of Round 1
Local fan-favorite Charuto took Shields to the canvas early in the evening’s first televised bout, but Shields took advantage as the two welterweights clinched. Shields then dropped Charuto to the ground and delivered a series of blows to his head from the guard. Eventually Shields (19-4-1) worked into the mount position and unleashed a flurry of punches, which Charuto (8-5) did his best to fend off. But the assault was too much for Charuto to handle and referee Mario Yamasaki stepped in to stop the fight at four minutes of the first round.
UFC grappler B.J. Penn lent a hand in Charuto’s corner, much to the delight of the local fans.
“I was hoping to win in the first round, but in a way, I wanted it to go a little longer,” said Shields. “If Frank Trigg wants to fight me at a catch weight, I will be happy to fight him next. If not, I feel I deserve a shot at the title.”
Justin Buchholz def. Ikaika Choy-Fu, TKO (punches to the head), 1:35 of Round 1
Choy-Fu unleashed a fury of punches to stun Buchholtz and took control early. But Buchholtz (7-1) regained his composure and used a combination of punches to the head capped with a solid right-hand to drop Choy-Fu (1-2) and notch the TKO. Gary Shaw, Live Events President of EliteXC, announced after the fight that Buchholz would fight on Oct. 26 in Santa Ynez, Calif. on their next fight card.
Elias Delos Reyes def Chico Cantiberos, TKO (arm bar submission), 0:52 of Round 1
Delos Reyes (2-0) didn’t waste any time dispatching fellow lightweight Chico Cantiberos (2-4), successfully applying the arm bar submission 52 seconds into the first round of the night’s opening bout.
Tyson Nam def. Albert “Always Bad” Manners by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Kala Kolohe Hose def. Jeff “Pee Wee” Cox by TKO (strikes) early in Round 1
Mark Kurano def. Jose “Bomber” Diaz by TKO (rear naked choke), 1:19 in Round 1
Brandon Wolff def. Chad Klingensmith by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)