TORONTO – Five Canadians fought on the UFC 231 preliminary card. One thrived, one survived, while the others fell short.
Winnipeg’s Brad Katona improved to 8-0 as a professional with a dramatic victory over Matthew Lopez in a featured bantamweight bout.
The 26-year-old, who won season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter in the summer, used frequent feints effectively, picked his shots carefully and circled to his left to avoid the power in southpaw Lopez’s left hand. Katona was taken down several times by Lopez but he was aggressive off his back and was always able to get back to his feet thanks to excellent technique.
Katona was doing well on the feet and had built up a lead on the scorecards yet he wanted the finish and went for it with everything he had.
The end of the fight produced some drama when Lopez appeared to go unconscious right as the final horn sounded with Katona attempting a choke.
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At the final horn Katona received a massive pop from the enthusiastic fans at Scotiabank Arena, which was roughly 75 per cent full when the fight ended.
“There is only one word to describe how I’m feeling: amazing,” an elated Katona said after the fight. “To be back here in Canada fighting for the Canadian fans and giving them our first victory of the night is a very special thing. I was away for a while for The Ultimate Fighter and nothing is like fighting at home in Canada. We knew that Matthew is a very tough guy and he’s known for having power but I felt like I could handle whatever he came with as long as I stayed smart.”
Katona was so focused on the fight itself he said he completely forgot to prepare post-fight thoughts on a possible opponent to call out.
“The main thing for me is to just be ready for anyone the UFC wants me to fight,” he added.
Elias Theodorou showed off his incredible durability and was on the right side of a split decision against Eryk Anders in middleweight action. Theodorou, from nearby Mississauga, had the crowd on his side as he circled wide as he’s known to do — UFC commentator Joe Rogan described him as “one of the most unusual fighters” on the UFC roster in terms of the way he navigates the cage — but he ran into trouble in the second stanza.
Anders backed Theodorou down effectively and staggered “The Spartan” with a well-timed straight counter left hand off a Theodorou kick. Anders was relentless but Theodorou persevered and survived the round.
Theodorou (16-2) managed to land more strikes in the third, despite connecting at a lower percentage and it was the difference on the judges’ scorecards.
“I knew it was a close fight so you always wonder how the judges scored it when you hear a split decision but I felt like I had done enough to win,” Theodorou said. “I knew he won the second round but I felt like I’d done enough in the third to get the victory. Like Joe Rogan said, I am a very tough fighter to plan for. I attribute that to being an amateur skateboarder in my youth and the balance and ability to shift direction comes from that too.
The 30-year-old has now won three in a row.
“Overall, I still look at myself as a very young fighter so I always just want to push myself and find ways to develop,” Theodorou added. “What I want next is to continue that journey and learn more about myself as a fighter – and stay true to that. From there, I will just continue to push myself to the top.”
Light-heavyweights Aleksandar Rakić and Devin Clark started the show off with a bang. Clark, the biggest underdog on the card, rocked Rakić early but the Austrian recovered and swung the momentum when he landed a forearm to the side of Clark’s head that turned the tide. A series of powerful rights on the ground ended things with less than a minute to go in the opening frame.
“I feel like we started the show very well. I predicted this. I predicted that I would knock him out but I thought the fight would last a little longer,” the rising prospect said. “I had been predicting a second-round knockout after I wore him down a bit. I thought I would catch him with an uppercut. However, it’s never a bad thing to end the fight in the first so I am very happy.”
Rakić (11-1) now has a stoppage win on his UFC record after back-to-back decision victories. His finishing prowess, aggressiveness and willingness to take a shot to land his own could see him quickly rise up the rankings in the UFC.
“I think I am one of the best in the world and I proved that tonight,” the winner of 11 straight added. “I hope for a top-15 opponent when I return to the Octagon but I understand that this sport is all about climbing so I will be ready to face whoever the UFC thinks should be next for me.”
At welterweight, Dhiego Lima picked up a highlight-reel knockout win over Chatham, Ont.’s Chad Laprise. Lima turned out the lights with a perfect lead left hook.
Lima showed a nice touch of class by recognizing Laprise was out and that any extra shots would’ve been unnecessary. Afterwards, Lima got on his knees and begged Dana White for a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus.
“I thought the fight went exactly to plan,” Lima said. “My coaches told me to just believe in my hands and believe in the power they hold so it’s beautiful to get the first-round knockout tonight.”
The win snapped Lima’s three-fight losing skid.
“A lot of people doubt me,” he said. “They only remember the struggles I had so going out there and doing something like that is an amazing feeling. I want to prove that I’ve grown as a fighter and I’m not the same Diego Lima that people think they know.”
Huntsville, Ont., native Kyle Nelson took his fight against Carlos Diego Ferreira on three days’ notice and while he started strong, appearing to hurt Ferreira early with a prodding front kick to the midsection, he eventually fell to the Brazilian via second-round technical knockout.
“[Nelson] is a tough guy and came prepared so he caught me with a body shot and had a good first round but I knew that my preparation would come into play as the fight went on and that’s what I did,” Ferreira said.
In other preliminary action, Quebec’s Olivier Aubin-Mercier lost a unanimous decision to Gilbert Burns, Jessica Eye won a split decision over Katlyn Chookagian to potentially earn the next women’s flyweight title shot and Nina Ansaroff upset Claudia Gadelha by a surprising unanimous decision in women’s strawweight action.