Paige VanZant’s hometown debut was a flop, while Urijah Faber’s hometown finale was a resounding success.
Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd at Golden 1 Center in the UFC on Fox 22 co-main event, VanZant was taken to the canvas by Michelle Waterson midway through the first round, and Waterson secured a rear-naked choke for a technical knockout with 1:38 remaining.
VanZant lost consciousness, and referee Jon McCarthy rushed in to stop the fight.
Two fights before, Faber scored a unanimous decision over Brad Pickett in a bantamweight fight and immediately retired as planned.
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For the popular VanZant, it was not the expected ending in front of her adopted hometown fans.
“Michelle Waterson is a really good fighter,” said VanZant, who dropped to 7-3. “I knew this was a big test for me and I have to work on my jiu-jitsu apparently, and I’m going to do that. I’ll be back, and I’ll have the belt at one time. I’m only 22 years old. I got caught tonight. It happens in this sport.”
VanZant said that after a vacation she’ll explore opportunities outside of the octagon, including acting. But she stressed that in no way is her MMA career on a long hiatus.
Waterson had not fought in almost 18 months after breaking her right hand three times but didn’t seem to suffer from ring rust, or octagon oxide.
Waterson had called out VanZant for being inexperienced. “Green” was the term she used. Perhaps that’s why Waterson’s pre-fight strategy worked so well against VanZant.
“I think switching to southpaw threw her off guard,” Waterson said. “Screw with her head. That’s was the game plan to stop her momentum.”
Faber scored big in the first round with a wicked left hand when Pickett allowed Faber back to his feet after the duo exchanged advantage on the ground. Pickett was bleeding profusely from multiple cuts around his right eye but was a game opponent throughout the three-round bantamweight fight. Faber had several choke holds throughout the bout but couldn’t quite finish the Brit.
Faber did catch a stiff left hand from Pickett late in the third round and was sent to the canvas, but he rolled back onto his feet like a stuntman and acknowledged Pickett for landing an effective blast.
Pickett, 38, is an amicable journeyman from London. He and Faber are the kind of guys with whom you’d want to drink a pint. Pickett (25-13) likely would order a pint of Guinness and Faber a pint of carrot juice.
Faber, who has long been a health nut, said he’ll hoist a beer at an after-party at a local nightclub. That’s one sign he’s ready to retire. Faber has always prided himself on keeping in fighting shape and never having to go on a yo-yo diet to make weight.
“Hey, I was college student for five years. I’ve had a couple of beers before,” Faber said.
Pickett said it was an honor to finally fight Faber.
“I was happy to give him a good send-off,” said Pickett, who came up in the old World Extreme Cagefighting promotion with Faber. “But I also gave him a good fight, although I found myself getting caught up in his game, the moment, a little bit.”
Faber rolls into retirement as one of the area’s most popular athletes in any sport. But as a sign that it may be time to hang up the gloves and never braid his hair again, Faber threw up after the bout.
“That was the first time ever,” said Faber, 37. “First time throwing up, first retirement fight. There were plenty of firsts tonight.”
Faber ends his career with a record of 34-10. He’ll get back in the gym to help groom Cody Garbrandt for his Dec. 30 showdown against Faber nemesis Dominick Cruz. The Cruz-Garbrandt tilt, for Cruz’ UFC bantamweight title, is the co-main event for UFC 207 in Las Vegas.
“Cody is a very skilled guy, and I’ve been his main training partner,” Faber said. “I’ll help him work on his mindset, his mental game. I won’t be in the corner, but I’ll have input and be a cheerleader. The hay’s in the barn for that guy.”
Cruz’ last title defense was in June against Faber when he gained a unanimous decision. In January, Cruz beat former Team Alpha Male fighter and Angels Camp native T.J. Dillashaw.
In the co-main event, welterweight Mickey Gall stopped Sage Northcutt with a rear-naked choke at 1:40 of the second round. Also on the main card, Alan Jouban (15-4) earned a unanimous decision over Mike Perry (9-1) in a welterweight match.
Josh Emmett scored a unanimous decision over Scott Holtzman in a lightweight match, but suspects he suffered a cracked or broken rib. Emmett moves to 11-0 with the impressive win.
He attacked Holtzman with knees to the leg from behind while in clinches and worked to soften Holtzman’s midsection and accumulated a huge majority in takedowns. Emmett, who graduated from El Camino High School and wrestled at Sacramento City College, is now 2-0 while fighting in the UFC.
Sacramento flyweight and Team Alpha Male fighter Hector Sandoval dominated Fredy Serrano and earned a unanimous decision for his first UFC victory.
Mark Billingsley covers the UFC and mixed martial arts for The Bee. Reach him at email@example.com or @editorwriter001.