Kyle Watson and wildcard winner Aaron Wilkinson were the first of the two match-ups to take place.
George St-Pierre’s game plan for Watson is to fight Wilkinson where he’s weakest, on the ground. Watson agreed, but didn’t feel Wilkinson possessed the type of striking that would get him in trouble.
“While Aaron’s strong point is striking, he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy like you’ve really got to worry about, like giant power punches,” assessed Watson.
“He probably thinks I’m going to shoot on him, but I plan on tying him up and taking him down from the clinch and finish it on the ground,” added the H.I.T. Squad head jiu-jitsu instructor.
Team Koscheck focused on Wilkinson’s boxing and footwork hoping it would fend off Watson’s takedowns. Coach Koscheck advised the Brit to not use knees in the fight because they’ll open the door for Watson to get the fight to the ground.
“English needs to keep the fight standing,” said Koscheck. “His weakest point is the ground game as we’ve seen in his previous fights.”
“I think I’ve got better stand-up,” said Wilkinson. “I think I can stop the takedowns. His jiu-jitsu is better than mine. On the ground he’s got a lot more skills, so I’ll have to watch out there. But I think I’ll be able to defend and keep it standing on the feet. I don’t think it will go to the floor.”
Watson predicted a finish.
KYLE WATSON VS. AARON WILKINSON
Watson landed leg kicks before clinching and taking Wilkinson to the canvas in the first 20 seconds of the fight. From there Watson landed short punches while trying to pass from half guard to side control.
Wilkinson scrambled to his feet, but Watson pivoted and took his back then threw him to the ground and mounted him. Wilkinson gave up his back and the jiu-jitsu instructor went to work setting up a rear naked choke. After a minute, Watson had the submission sunk in and Wilkinson was forced to tap out.
Kyle Watson advanced to the semifinals and Wilkinson apologized for the loss, saying he was embarrassed with his performance.
St-Pierre continued his practice of bringing in world class people to help his team by having legendary boxing trainer Freddie Roach come in and work with his team members on their boxing.
Roach worked individually with Jonathan Brookins, Michael Johnson, and Alex Caceres, improving their boxing techniques.
“If I can make some of them a better fighter, or help them become a better fighter, that’s what I was born to do and that’s what I want to do,” said Roach.
The grudge match between Team GSP’s top pick Michael Johnson and Alex “Bruce LeRoy” Caceres was up next and both fighters had plenty to say leading up to it.
St-Pierre opted to not corner either fighter.
“Alex and Michael hate each other and the best way to take care of that problem is to make them fight together,” said the UFC welterweight titleholder. “I’m not going to corner either of the guys. They’re going to have to pick their own corners.”
Sizing up his opponent, Caceres said, “Michael Johnson’s a wrestler, but I’ve wrestled him before and I can stuff Michael Johnson’s takedowns. I’ve done it on plenty of occasions before.”
Caceres’ game plan heading into the last quarterfinal bout was to stick and move and use his quickness to make Johnson chase him and miss with his strikes.
“I feel like if I just stick and move, I’m just going to make him chase air,” said Caceres. “If anything, the pressure is definitely on Michael Johnson because losing to me would mean that he lost to a person that he felt in his heart (doesn’t belong here), and most people feel that I don’t belong here. He should be careful what he wishes for. He wants Bruce LeRoy and he’s going to get him at his full potential.”
Johnson’s game plan was to strike some, get some takedowns, and damage Caceres where ever the opportunity presented itself.
“I plan on keeping it standing for a little bit, pushing the pace, and seeing how it goes. If I see the opportunity for a takedown, I’m going to take him down and beat him up a little bit and I’ll probably step back and let him up,” said Johnson.
“I’ve found me stepping back and letting guys up and putting them back down on the mat usually breaks them and frustrates them real early in the fight,” added Johnson. “Once I get them to that breaking point it’s lights out after that.”
As the teams entered the weigh-ins, Koscheck began taunting Johnson and said he’d be cheering for “Bruce LeRoy.” The opposing coach even offered to corner Caceres for the fight.
Koscheck felt Caceres was the weakest fighter in the quaterfinal round and that St-Pierre pushed for the match-up to advance Johnson.
“I believe that Georges thinks that Alex is the weakest link on his team, so he was like, what the hell, we’ll sacrifice little Alex to move on a couple of our better guys,” theorized Koscheck.
St-Pierre felt the match-up could go either way and predicted a war.
Both fighters made weight and the grudge match was officially on.
Caceres asked Jeff Lentz and Jonathan Brookins to be his corner men while Johnson asked Kyle Watson and Spencer Paige.
MICHAEL JOHNSON VS. ALEX CACERES
Caceres came out throwing his kicks. Johnson let his hands go before taking Caceres down, but was unable to keep him there, or maybe he let him up.
On the feet, Johnson moved forward throwing combinations, knocking the mouthpiece out of Caceres’ mouth.
Johnson then took Caceres down with a single leg slam, but again Caceres worked his way back to his feet without taking damage on the ground.
After some striking exchanges and a clinch battle along the fence, Caceres slipped and Johnson pounced on him, only to let him up a few seconds later.
The round ended with Caceres pressing Johnson against the fence trying to land knees. MMAWeekly.com scored the round 10-9 for Johnson.
Between rounds Caceres’ corner advised him to throw kicks. Johnson’s corner wanted him to get takedowns and pass his guard.
As round two was about to begin, Koscheck blurted out, “Come on Alex.”
Caceres was more aggressive with his strikes to start the second stanza, but it worked against him as Johnson ducked under and slammed him to the canvas landing in side control. Johnson landed short elbows and punches. Caceres worked his way back to full guard.
Johnson moved Caceres to the fence and began landing right hands. After a few of them, Caceres got back to his feet where they exchanged in the pocket. Johnson was able to take Caceres’ back, but “Bruce LeRoy” shook him off and gained top position. For the first time in the fight, Johnson was on his back.
Caceres landed punches to the body and elbows to the head, but Johnson scrambled back to the standing position. Johnson again slammed Caceres to the canvas and landed right hands before backing out and letting him up.
Johnson looked fatigued and Caceres landed a nice right hand, but couldn’t stop Johnson’s takedowns. Johnson took him down in the closing seconds and the round ended with Johnson in side control. MMAWeekly.com score the round 10-9 for Johnson.
The outcome went to the judges scorecards who all agreed that Michael Johnson won the fight with a score of 20-18, and the semifinalists were determined. It was just a matter of what the semifinal match-ups would be.
The two coaches met with UFC president Dana White to decide the match-ups. White expected a difficult debate, but for the firsts time all season the coaches agreed with each other.
The fighters were called to the gym and the fight announcements were made.
Jonathan Brookins will face Kyle Watson on next week’s episode and Nam Phan will take on Michael Johnson in the last semifinal bout with the winners advancing to the finale on Dec. 4 at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.