LAS VEGAS – Brazilian submission master Rousimar Palhares (17-6) needed just 69 seconds to take the World Series of Fighting welterweight title away from former champ Steve Carl (21-4).
And it was his signature move – the heel hook – that led “Toquinho” to victory.
The championship fight headlined Saturday’s “World Series of Fighting 9: Carl vs. Palhares” event at Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and aired on NBCSN.
Making his World Series of Fighting debut, Palhares wasted little time in shooting the fight to the floor. From there, Palhares rolled for Carl’s leg, and the end was near. Looking first for a kneebar, Palhares then turned to his patented finishing hold, wrenching the inverted heel hook until Carl was forced to tap and hand over the belt.
In the night’s co-feature, Marlon Moraes claimed (13-4-1) claimed World Series of Fighting’s inaugural bantamweight title with a dominating decision win over a gutsy Josh Rettinghouse (10-3).
Rettinghouse looked to push the pace early, but Moraes’ excellent defensive wrestling skills kept him on the feet, and his crisp muay Thai provided all the offense he would need. A sharp counter punch floored Rettinghouse in the first, but he crawled back to his feet and soldiered on. Moraes came forward with thunderous leg kicks that wobbled Rettinghouse early and often and left him nearly immobile for the final few rounds.
A game Rettinghouse pushed forward until the final bell, but in the end, Moraes was simply too much and cruised to a decision win, earning a championship belt in the process.
Fighting for the first time under the World Series of Fighting banner, Japanese middleweight Yushin Okami (30-8) proved he’s still one of the world’s best fighters, as he dominated Bulgarian opponent Svetlozar Savov (12-5).
Savov simply had no match for Okami’s powerful wrestling attack and found himself on his back early and often. Pushing easily to mount in both the first and second rounds, Okami dominated the fight on the floor and eventually set up an arm-triangle choke and cranking the hold until he earned the tap with 14 seconds left in the frame.
Afterward, Okami admitted he had hoped to show off his striking skills but realized the importance of a win.
“My gameplan was to use my striking game, but once we got going, I saw that he had good distance, so I was forced to change my gameplan,” Okami said.
In a key welterweight fight, Josh Burkman (27-10) picked up another highlight-reel win with a stunning knockout of Tyler Stinson (27-10).
While Stinson was the vaunted knockout artist, it was Burkman who landed a crushing lead right from a southpaw stance, sending his opponent crashing to the floor. Burkman made sure he had no time to recover, landing a huge follow-up right hand that ended the fight at the 2:15 mark of the first.
“The one thing I didn’t want to do was stand in front of him,” Burkman said after the win. “I knew he had enough respect for my hands, and if he hurt me, I was going to take it to wrestling.”
In the night’s first main-card matchup, lightweight Johnny Nunez (5-0) kept his career mark perfect with a hard-fought split-decision win over Ozzy Dugulubgov (5-2).
The aggressive Nunez set the tone early in each round, pushing forward with reckless abandon. Dugulubgov proved a tough foe, defending takedown attempts and answering back with submission attempts of his own.
Ultimately, while Dugulubgov had frequent moments in dominant positions, his inability to capitalize on the advantages cost him, and Nunez was awarded a split-decision win. Afterward, Nunez said he wasn’t concerned with anyone claiming controversy in the call.
“I don’t care what anybody says,” Nunez said. “I’m not worrying about anyone but myself and my team.”
In the night’s featured preliminary contest, Mike Corey (13-3-1) looked downright dominant in a second-round submission win over Shane Kruchten (11-3).
The shorter Corey dealt well with Kruchten’s reach, leaping in with powerful punches and dropping him in the opening round. In the second, Corey took Kruchten to the floor, peppered him with punches and moved quickly to his back. While Kruchten tried to defend, Corey muscled in a rear-naked choke attempt and squeezed until he earned the tap at the 2:59 mark of the round.
Bryson Hansen (7-1) made an immediate impact in World Series of Fighting’s bantamweight division, needing just 46 seconds in his promotional debut to score a TKO win over Sean Cantor (1-1).
Hansen looked for a takedown early in the fight, and while Cantor defended well, he also exposed his chin in the process. Hansen seized the opportunity, unleashing a barrage of left hands that stunned Cantor and forced a quick TKO stoppage.
Featherweight prospect Chris Gruetzemacher (12-1) made his long-awaited World Series of Fighting debut in impressive fashion, thoroughly dominating longtime veteran John Gunderson (34-16-2). Using a grinding wrestling attack, Gruetzemacher had Gunderson on the defense from start to finish, and “Gritz” was awarded a clear-cut decision win.
While his brother, Bryson, would later duplicate the feat, Brenson Hansen (6-2) picked up a victory, downing Boostayre Nefarios (2-2) via decision. Nefarios appeared to hold in the edge in speed and quickness, but Hansen moved constantly forward, firing heavy punches and outworking his opponent en route to the victory.
In an early welterweight matchup, Danny Davis (9-8-1) turned in one of the more impressive efforts of his career, outworking Phil Dace (9-5) over the course of three rounds and scoring a unanimous-decision win.
The night’s first fight saw lightweight JimmySpicuzza (3-0) keep his perfect career mark intact with an impressive, first-round submission win over Gil Guardado (2-1).