MINNEAPOLIS — Unbeaten Brazilian middleweight Demian Maia choked out a game Jason (The Athlete) MacDonald in the third round on the undercard of UFC 87 before 15,082 at the Target Center on Saturday night.
The 33-year-old from Red Deer was in tough against Maia, a two-time world champion and three-time World Cup champion in jiu-jitsu, who is 3-0 in the UFC. MacDonald showed off his ground skills, fending off the Brazilian and trying submissions of his own. But Maia’s class showed and MacDonald eventually succumbed to a rear naked choke two minutes 44 seconds into the final round.
The mixed martial arts contest was the first on the main card headlined by the welterweight title bout between champion Georges St. Pierre of Montreal and Jon Fitch.
It was the UFC’s first foray into Minnesota and more than a few Canadians made the trip, decking the arena with Canadian flags. Fans cheered every mention of local favourites Roger Huerta and Brock Lesnar, but the loudest applause went to the Canadian champion.
Maia (9-0) pulled guard 25 seconds in and seemed to have a triangle choke, but MacDonald (21-10) escaped and almost slapped a rear naked choke of his own on the Brazilian. MacDonald did damage with blows from above, then tried for a guillotine choke. Maia got out and went for his own rear naked choke, that MacDonald eventually managed to shed, to cap an exciting round.
Maia tripped the Canadian early in the second and mounted him, hurting him with some vicious ground and pound that opened a cut. There was more of the same, although a battered MacDonald escaped.
In the third, there was a flurry of submission attempts before Maia got to mount again before taking his back and hammering MacDonald with punches en route to the choke.
Earlier, heavyweight Cheick Kongo stopped Dan (The Viking) Evensen in the first round. The six-foot-four, 240-pound Frenchman toppled the Las Vegas-based Norwegian, who stands 6-3 and weighs 250 slightly pudgy pounds compared to the chiselled Paris native, with a right to the chin and then punched away until Montreal referee Yves Lavigne stepped in four minutes 55 seconds into the fight.
Kongo (22-5-1) was coming off a split decision loss to Heath Herring at UFC 82 that took some of the shine off a UFC 75 victory over Mirko (Cro Cop) Filipovic. Evensen, a 34-year-old former marine engineer who took up MMA to lose weight, dropped to 10-3 and saw his four fight-win streak snapped in his UFC debut.
Kongo’s last four fights — two wins and two losses — went the distance. He demanded a title shot after the win, which seemed a reach at best.
There were five first-time UFC fighters on the five-bout preliminary card and it showed in the quality.
Light-heavyweight Jon (Bones) Jones, at 21 the youngest fighter in the UFC, put on one of the better showings in winning a unanimous decision over former IFL Pit Bull Andre Gusmao in a battle of unbeaten UFC newcomers.
Jones, a former junior college wrestling champion, tried everything from spinning back fists to flying elbows as he improved to 7-0, while a disappointing Gusmao, 10 years older than his opponent, fell to 5-1.
Welterweight Tamden (The Barn Cat) McCrory won a decision over Luke (The Silent Assassin) Cummo. McCrory (11-1) tried one submission after another, but could not dispatch Cummo (9-6).
Welterweight Chris (The Professor) Wilson rebounded from a UFC 82 loss to Fitch by dispatching an overmatched (Hollywood) Steve Bruno via unanimous decision in his UFC debut. Bruno (12-4) walked to the cage wearing sunglasses and probably needed them when he left the building after taking damage through knees and punches. But Wilson (13-5-1) could not put him away.
Welterweight Ben (Killa B) Saunders submitted Ryan (The Tank Engine) Thomas via armbar at 2:28 of the second round after softening up the UFC debutant, a late replacement for Jared Rollins, with kicks to the body — including one that had him grabbing his side and grimacing. Thomas (13-2) then went to the ground after absorbing two rights to the head and Saunders (6-0-2) twisted his arm to secure the tapout.