While the long-term plan may well include a return to mixed martial arts, the bare-knuckle realm seems to suit John Dodson just fine.
The two-time UFC flyweight title challenger authored an electric performance in his Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship debut, knocking out Ryan Benoit just 40 seconds into the opening round of their 130-pound, co-main event clash at the Rio Rancho Events Center on Saturday night.
BKFC 28 marked the promotion’s first visit to the Land of Enchantment.
“It was amazing to be in the squared circle,” said Dodson, an Albuquerque native and former Moriarty High School wrestler. “It was the most blessed night I could ever have.”
Benoit didn’t have quite the same experience. Dodson swarmed his fellow UFC veteran early and often, repeatedly landing his trademark left hand and flooring Benoit on multiple occasions. Each time Benoit returned to his feet, Dodson wasted little time getting back to work, and after the third knockdown, referee Andrew Glenn mercifully called off the fight.
In the evening’s official headliner, Christine Ferea (6-1) defended her BKFC flyweight crown with relative ease in a quick-stoppage victory against Taylor Starling. The fight was halted 47 seconds into Round 1 when Starling (3-1) elected not to continue.
“We train hard, we do our best. Sometimes people can’t go all the way,” Ferea said. “I was gonna make her uncomfortable and be more aggressive.”
Starling appeared to land a solid shot during an initial exhange, but things went downhill from there for the Rock Hill, South Carolina, native. Ferea responded by sending Starling to the canvas with a flurry of punches. In the ensuing moments following the knockdown, a visibly distraught Starling could be seen speaking to her corner before she returned to her feet. When the action resumed, Ferea only needed to land a few more punches before Starling called it quits.
“It was too much. It was a lot,” Starling said. “She was strong, she was tough, she hits hard.”
Earlier, Mississippi native Brad Kelly (3-1) battered UFC veteran and Albuquerque resident Isaac Vallie-Flagg (3-2) for the better part of five rounds to capture a unanimous decision at 165 pounds. All three judges submitted 50-44 scorecards in favor of Kelly.
Kelly was quicker to the punch than Vallie-Flagg in exchanges, as he landed solid combinations to the head and body on multiple occasions. The combatants clinched repeatedly, and Kelly got the better of the action there as well with short punches in close quarters and heavier shots when they separated. Kelly punctuated his victory when he dropped his adversary to a knee in Round 5, but the durable Vallie-Flagg recovered well enough to make it to the final bell.
South Africa’s Jeremy Smith disappointed the boisterous contingent of fans in attendance to support Donald Sanchez, as he captured a clear-cut unanimous decision against the Albuquerque native at 185 pounds. Smith (2-1) received scorecards of 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46 from the judges to spoil Sanchez’s first bare-knuckle appearance.
Forward pressure and superior volume were the key’s to Smith’s success. Sanchez, a veteran of 51 MMA bouts, adopted a measured approach, as he circled and waited for countering opportunities. Sanchez upped his aggression in Round 5, and caused some swelling near his opponent’s left eye with some well-timed counters. However, it was too little, too late, as Smith was the busier fighter for the majority of the contest.
Elsewhere, Eric Dodson’s bare-knuckle debut couldn’t have gone much better, as the younger brother of UFC veteran John defeated Nick Villar via knockout just 23 seconds into the opening round of their featherweight (145-pound) encounter. Dodson (1-0) clipped Villar (0-3-1) with a crisp 1-2 combination near the ropes early to put the Dominican Republic native in retreat mode. Moments later, a follow-up right hand sent Villar to the canvas to bring an end to the fight in short order.
An 180-pound matchup pitting Jackson-Wink MMA’s Will Santiago (1-0) against Wyoming’s Jake Young (0-1) was waved off after after one round when the ringside doctor determined that Young could not continue. Santiago, who has 16 MMA fights on his réssumé, dropped his opponent three times in the opening round, but Young was also hobbled by an apparent right leg injury suffered when he fell awkwardly on his own early in the bout.
Brooklyn, New York-based fighter Tony Soto (3-0) stopped Jackson-Wink MMA’s Joshua Morales (0-1) via TKO 1:49 into Round 3 of their lightweight (155-pound) clash when Morales dropped his hands and asked out of the fight after absorbing a punch near his eye. Morales was examined by a ringside physician prior to the start of the third round, but said he wanted to continue before Soto put him away shortly thereafter.
Albuquerque’s Josh Moreno (1-0) used forward pressure and consistent combinations to wear down Roanoke, Virginia, native Zion Tomlinson for a second-round knockout victory at 175 pounds. Moreno walked his opponent down and landed damaging shots to the body and head before dropping him with a left hand 60 seconds into the second round. Tomlinson was unable to make it to his feet before the 10-count concluded.
On the preliminary card, FIT-NHB representative and Albuquerque native Jayme Hinshaw (1-0) delighted the crowd with a quick finish of Denver’s Cassie Robb (0-3) in an atomweight (105-pound) clash. Hinshaw swarmed with heavy hooks from the opening bell to put Robb on the defensive immediately. While a bloodied Robb managed to keep her feet, she could do little more than cover up as Hinshaw continued her onslaught, which prompted referee David Rios to step in and wave off the bout 1:18 into the opening round.
In other action: Las Vegas, Nevada, native Josh Watson (1-1) rocked, bloodied and dislodged the mouthpiece of Jackson-Wink MMA product Kyle McElroy (0-3) en route to a technical knockout triumph 1:24 into Round 1 of their heavyweight encounter and Odessa, Texas, native Jeremy Sauceda (1-0) defeated Roderick Stewart (0-1) via knockout at the 1:38 mark of Round 2 in a 175-pound bout.