The ‘Burque boys delivered for their fans Saturday night — John Dodson with a crushing knee to the face, Diego Sanchez with a victory by baffling decision.
Dodson (16-6), the UFC’s second-ranked flyweight, caught Phoenix’s John Moraga (14-3) with that knee late in the second round, leading to a victory by TKO on UFC Fight Night Albuquerque at Tingley Coliseum.
Sanchez (25-7) won by split decision over England’s Ross Pearson (17-7) in a lightweight bout — a verdict that drew instant criticism on social media.
In the night’s main event, former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson (21-3) caught Dagestan’s Rustam Khabilov (17-2) with a rear naked choke and won by submission at 1:16 of the fourth round.
Khabilov trains with Dodson and Sanchez at Albuquerque’s Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA.
An announced crowd of 8,775 appeared close to capacity.
Dodson said afterward he hoped the victory would lead to another shot at the UFC flyweight title. He lost by decision to champion Demetrious Johnson in January 2013.
Johnson defends against Ali Bagautinov on Saturday in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“I believe I’ve done enough (for another title shot),” he told a wildly cheering crowd.
After Sanchez’s fight with Pearson, it wasn’t clear that the Albuquerque veteran had done enough to win the fight.
Judge Marcos Rosales scored the fight 30-27 for Pearson, but judges Chris Tellez and Jeff Collins scored it 29-28 and 30-27 for Sanchez.
“You never know when it’s in the judges’ hands,” Sanchez said. “I felt like I was going for it more. … He hit me with some good shots and that was fun. It was a good fight.”
Saturday’s fight was Sanchez’s 21st in UFC competition, tying him for 10th place all time with Georges St-Pierre.
The Albuquerquean will always hold a special place in UFC history. His 2005 victory over Kenny Florian in the final of The Ultimate Fighter I is credited with helping to launch the organization into the global power it has become.
Like Sanchez, his Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA teammate, Dodson burst upon the scene with a victory on the Ultimate Fighter. He won the 2011 TUF final with a victory by TKO over T.J. Dillashaw, who recently stunned the MMA world by upsetting Brazil’s Renan Barao for the UFC bantamweight title.
Moraga had lost to Dodson by unanimous decision in the Dominican Republic in 2010. Moraga said last week that the fight (for which neither fighter was paid) was judged by “three guys drinking beer” that the promoter pulled out of a small crowd. He was looking for better judging and a better result this time.
Turned out, the judges were irrelevant.
A feeling-out first round was notable only for a shot to the groin absorbed by Dodson, who then rushed past the referee in anger in hopes of retaliating. But seconds later, Dodson was smiling and order was restored.
The fighters’ relative inactivity in the second round drew scattered boos, until a Dodson knee to the face and a subsequent flurry in the last 30 seconds sent Moraga to the floor.
The Arizona fighter, showered with punches on the ground, made it to the horn but came back to his corner with blood streaming from his nose, which apparently was broken.
On a doctor’s advice, the fight was stopped, making Dodson the winner by second-round TKO.
“I was trying to sit down on my punches because I know Moraga is a gamer,” Dodson said in the octagon afterward. “He came here to fight me in my own backyard.”
Dodson, despite being his usual ebullient self, said he wasn’t totally satisfied with the outcome.
“.. I wanted to put him to sleep for you guys (the fans),” he said.
On a video played earlier in the evening, Pearson called Sanchez “a silly fighter” who often took punishment unnecessarily. But Sanchez was calm and relatively cautious in the first round. Pearson appeared to win it on the strength of a few solid left jabs and straight rights.
Sanchez was off the mark on most of his attempted blows. At one point, he caught Pearson’s leg on a kick but was unable to effect a takedown.
Neither fighter connected with much in the second round, but Pearson managed to drop Sanchez with a punch. Sanchez was up quickly, and no further damage was done.
In the final round, as Sanchez exerted little pressure and missed on most of his strikes, his hometown exhorted him to do more. But a flurry at the horn resulted in a solid shot from Pearson, who appeared to land more blows throughout the round — and the fight.
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