California Fighters Shine in the Spotlight of UFC 227

TJ Dillashaw knocks out Cody Garbrandt at UFC 227

In front of a sold-out Staples Center, California’s top mixed martial artists brought their best as they took on fighters from all over the world for UFC 227. On a night headlined by former Cal State Fullerton wrestler TJ Dillashaw defending his bantamweight title, a host of other OC-based fighters were given the opportunity to show their skills as well.

Kicking things off, bantamweight Marlon “Chito” Vera and flyweight Alex Perez proved that Irvine’s Team Oyama is still very much a top-notch gym when they each knocked out their opponents with ease. Vera’s knockout came on a brutal punch to the body late in the second round after a close opening round against China’s Wuliji Buren, while Perez launched himself up the 125 lb. rankings by battering the previously undefeated Jose “Shorty” Torres with 104 strikes in just over 4 minutes. Needless to say, head coach Colin Oyama looked quite pleased with the results from two of his top prospects.

In between the two OC victories, strawweight Danielle Taylor (who works as a custody assistant for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department between fights) showed plenty of heart against UFC newcomer Weili Zhang, but ultimately struggled with Zhang’s size and dropped the decision. Later in the evening, Riverside native Kevin Holland would square off against Brazilian knockout artist Thiago Santos, but Holland’s stylish attacks, and non-stop trash talking won him over plenty of fans despite losing on the judges’ scorecards.

New UFC Flyweight Champion Henry Cejudo

For the first matchup of two current California residents, Brazilian native Sheymon Moraes picked up a win for LA when he battered San Diego’s Matt Sayles for a couple of rounds before cooling off in the third. Just a few fights later another local Brazilian transplant would put on one of the most dominating performances of the night when Pedro Munhoz beat on the legs and body of Brett Johns until he could barely stand anymore — but then inexplicably would try to choke the Welsh wrestler out instead of finishing him with strikes. It was a fight that likely could’ve ended in the first or second round, but Munhoz didn’t seem to realize that he should follow up with more attacks to the legs and/or torso, which were dropping Johns with regularity.

On the rest of the main card, JJ Aldrich employed a perfect gameplan to frustrate and prevent the dangerous Polyana Viana, using veteran kickboxer Pat Barry’s tutelage to cruise to a unanimous decision victory. Then hometown hero Cub Swanson met an unfortunate result when rising prospect Renato Moicano knocked him down with a jab and submitted him with a rear naked choke in the first round. The loss put the Indio-based fighter (who also trains with Dillashaw in OC) on the first three-fight losing streak of his career — which often spells the end of a run in the UFC — but the 25-10 warrior seems unlikely to be cut considering the level of competition he’s known to face. Moicano then called out featherweight contender and Torrance native Brian Ortega for a rematch after being submitted by Ortega in Anaheim almost exactly one year prior.

The co-main event of the evening provided one of the greatest title fights in UFC history, as Olympic champion and massive underdog Henry Cejudo dethroned the longest-reigning champion in UFC history by beating Demetrious Johnson in an extremely close split decision. Both the striking and grappling the two flyweights displayed were absolutely world-class, with the LA-born Cejudo’s ability to keep Johnson on the ground ultimately leading two judges to award him three of the five rounds. A rubber match certainly seems likely once Johnson heals the torn ligaments in his leg and foot, as the UFC will likely look to set up the biggest fights for their second Latino champion in history in order to break further into the Latin American market.

Team Oyama fighter Alex Perez after his knockout victory

For the main event, Dillashaw proved that his move back to Orange County is working out for him by knocking out former teammate Cody Garbrandt for the second consecutive time. After some brief exchanges early in the first round, the grudge match became a one-sided beating when Dillashaw knocked Garbrandt to the canvas with a perfectly timed counterpunch — the same one he said he worked endlessly with head coach Duane Ludwig. Despite Garbrandt managing to get back to his feet, Dillashaw then knocked the 27-year-old former boxer back into the cage before pummeling on him with about a dozen more punches before the referee stepped in to stop the fight.

Although his loss to former champion Dominick Cruz still hangs in the air, Dillashaw’s decisive performance at UFC 227 certainly puts him among the best bantamweights of all time. For Garbrandt, the Team Alpha Male competitor is in a bit of an undesirable position. As long as Dillashaw remains champion, Garbrandt will have a steep mountain to climb if he wants a third title fight, as the UFC typically never books trilogy bouts when one fighter wins each of the first two via stoppage.

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