Belfort submits Johnson in co-main event
Aldo, the UFC featherweight champion, defended his title for the fifth time â€“ and in his most thrilling fashion yet â€“ with a knockout of unbeaten challenger Chad Mendes with just one second left in the first round. And after referee Mario Yamasaki waved the fight off, with Mendes on the canvas, Aldo looked for the Octagon door and ran through it into the HSBC Arena crowd to celebrate with his Brazilian home fans.
The ensuing near-melee took a couple minutes for security officials to sort out, eventually getting the champion escorted back to the Octagon â€“ though he tried to stop and hug several people along the way during his celebration. Once back inside, Aldo thanked his home fans and said his game plan was to keep Mendes, a wrestler, from taking him down.
"This is the spirit I wanted to come out with tonight," Aldo said. "The fans here gave me so much energy. We knew Chad was going to try to take me off my feet. We prepared for that and I had a chance to land the knee. It connected and I finished the fight. I was so overcome with emotion that I wanted to celebrate with my people."
Mendes shot for several takedowns in the first round, which were unsuccessful early. Aldo's offense was to employ kicks to Mendes' lead leg, ideally to weaken it and make it more difficult to shoot with for takedowns. That plan appeared to be keeping him ahead on points, but late in the first, Mendes found an opportunity to tie Aldo up, looking for a slam. Though he couldn't get Aldo to the ground with much force, he did get the fight there briefly â€“ and as Aldo got back to his feet, with just seconds left, he threw a left knee that connected with Mendes, dropping him. Aldo quickly pounced and landed two shots on the ground before Yamasaki stopped it at 4:59.
"Jose is a great champion, and he was the better man tonight," Mendes said. "He showed why heâ€™s one of the best fighters in the world. I knew it would be hard to take him down, but I kept trying. I tried to keep the pressure, but he is just so tough and his takedown defense is great. I wanted the title so bad."
Aldo improves to 21-1 and 3-0 in the UFC. Prior to the merger, he was 8-0 in the WEC. His unbeaten streak now stands at 14. Mendes saw his record get its first blemish, falling to 11-1 and 2-1 in the UFC.
In the co-main event, it was perhaps a bit of poetic justice given the story line surrounding Friday's weigh-ins. In what had to become a catch weight bout when Anthony Johnson was unable to make the middleweight limit, Vitor Belfort riveted his home Brazilian crowd with a submission victory late in the first round.
Johnson looked strong and fast early, arguably more aggressive than he has ever looked in the UFC. The former welterweight was able to get Belfort to the ground twice, forcing the Brazilian into guard. But referee Dan Miragliotta was intent on not seeing the fight stalled out for long periods, and quickly stood the fighters back up on three occasions, twice from the ground and once from a clinch along the fence.
But late in the first round, Belfort appeared to hurt Johnson, and though it didn't look bad, Johnson remained on his hands and knees and didn't get up the rest of the fight. Belfort took Johnson's back and eventually flattened his opponent out and sank in a rear naked choke, forcing Johnson to tap with just 11 seconds left in the round.
Johnson came in at 197 pounds for the fight â€“ he was reportedly within 1.5 pounds of making the 186-pound limit on Friday, but was not allowed to cut further on the advice of the UFC doctor, who suggested he rehydrate when he was weak and ill. Because he could not make weight, he forfeited 20 percent of his fight purse to Belfort.
"I didnâ€™t stop the entire fight," Belfort said. "He kept trying to take me down and I kept fighting it. 'Make him quit.' That was my goal, and I did just that. I had the whole country behind me, and I could feel it in there tonight."
Johnson said he was never hurt in the fight, but had no more energy. He was fighting at middleweight for the first time after years at welterweight, which is what made his difficulty making weight all the more surprising since he had to cut 15 fewer pounds than his previous fights.
"A loss is a loss," Johnson said. "My legs just got really tired. I didnâ€™t get beat up in there and he really didnâ€™t hurt me with what he hit me with. I just got tired. Iâ€™ve got to figure this thing out."
In other action on the main card, Edson Barboza knocked out Terry Etim with a spinning wheel kick in the third round for not only one of the best knockouts in UFC history, but a natural Knockout of the Night bonus, as well. Barboza was a double winner, as he and Etim also received Fight of the Night. Rousimar Palhares continued to go for his bread and butter, the heel hook, and he sank one in for a quick first-round submission of Mike Massenzio, winning the Submission of the Night. And just when Erick Silva looked to have another ultra-fast TKO victory, some controversy ensued when Yamasaki ruled Silva had been disqualified from the fight for shots to the back of opponent Carlo Prater's head.
Of the 10 fights on the card, only one was won by a non-Brazilian â€“ Mike Pyle beat Ricardo Funch in the night's second fight on the prelims. Each of the 10 fights on the card featured a Brazilian fighter.