That is until Franca got injured. Enter Jeremy Stephenson. Would the powerful youngster be able to pull off the upset with little time to prepare?
Let's get to it.
In the first televised fight of the night, Luigi Fioravanti took on Anthony "Rumble" Johnson. "I'm planning on knocking Luigi's head off with my fists instead of my feet," said Johnson beforehand. Of course, Fioravanti disagreed.
Who was right?
Early on, amidst very little action, Johnson began connecting with hard leg kicks in spots. Though Fioravanti connected with a nice punch somewhere around the halfway mark of the stanza, Johnson kept plugging away with low kicks. With less than two minutes to go, Fioravanti came in looking for a takedown but Johnson shirked it. Then after a break because Fioravanti connected with a knee to the groin, Johnson came back hard with a big time right hand that dropped his opponent momentarily. After a couple of knees came another hard right that dropped Fioravanti again. Then came a load of hammerfists and punches on the canvas.
That was that.
Anthony Johnson wins via TKO at 4:39 of round one. This guy may be the future of the division.
Next up was a match between former TUF Champion Mac Danzig and Josh Neer. Both fighters needed a win here big time in order to stay relevant in the lightweight division. Which one would come through?
Early on, Danzig tried to hit home with a high left kick. He slipped while attempting it, and because of this was momentarily smothered by a flurry of Neer punches.
From there, Danzig started putting on a striking clinic. Though Neer kept coming forward like a bull, every now and then connecting with a solid strike, Danzig began doing a masterful job of connecting with strikes on him at every level. In fact, at one point Neer came forward aggressively and was dropped by a hard Danzig right. Then Danzig followed him to the canvas.
Unfortunately for him, he almost got caught in a triangle choke there. When the two got to their feet, Neer hit home with some very hard strikes, including an elbow, before Danzig finally seemed to recover. The rest of the round was pretty even.
That was a close one. Neer is cut over his eye.
Early in the second, Neer got caught with a hard jab but then secured a takedown. From there, the ground and pound that Neer unleashed with brutal. We're talking about huge elbows. Soon after, Neer took Danzig's back, but the former TUF Champion got out of the move. Eventually, he turned things over and gained the top position.
Bad spot for him, as Neer then sunk in a triangle choke. It was tight. Danzig tapped. This was an excellent fight and nice display of skills by Josh Neer.
Josh Neer wins via submission at 3:36 of round two.
Next up was a match up between big fighters in Cain Velasquez and Denis Stojnic. "My dream has come true, because I am now in the UFC," said Stojnic coming into his UFC debut. We all know how those nerves play on debuting fighters usually. Would Stojnic, a man with excellent striking skills, feel those nerves while up against some very stiff competition?
Early on, both fighters threw big, mostly grazing punches. When the two clinched, however, Velasquez hit home with some nice knees to the leg and midsection. Though Velsquez tried on a couple of occasions to get Stojnic to the canvas, he was unable. But that didn't stop the huge knees inside, to the head this time. Stojnic somehow managed to deal with the pressure all round long, and there was a lot of it from punches in bunches, to knees inside, to leg kicks, and more. But at the bell, Velasquez had taken the round easily.
In the second round, things started off similarly to the first. But then Velasquez took his adversary down, pounded away at him in unanswered fashion, and took home a TKO victory.
Cain Velasquez wins via second round TKO.
Veach came out like a madman, connecting with punches, gaining a takedown, and staring in with some ground and pound. When the two came to their feet, however, it was Grice that connected with a big uppercut and left hook that dropped Veach. Then came a terrific amount of ground and pound.
Still, somehow Veach survived the onslaught. In fact, he actually got on top of his opponent. Soon after, the two came to their feet. There, Veach connected with an awesome right hand that dropped Grice. Several strikes later and the referee called the fight, though it appeared that Grice was still making an attempt.
Despite the controversial stoppage, that was some fight. Both of these guys did very well. It probably shouldn't have been stopped that quickly. Then again, when you have people's safety in mind, well, it's hard to second guess a referee.
Matt Veach wins by way of TKO at 4:34 of round one.
"Joe Lauzon's a great opponent. But I want to pound him out; I want to crush him," said Jeremy Stephens before taking Lauzon on in the main event of the evening.
What else is there to say?
Early on, Stephens ended up on to of Lauzon on the ground. However, the two came to their feet soon after. Lauzon tried to nab a leglock from there unsuccessfully. When the two came to their feet again, Lauzon gained a nice takedown. Eventually, he gained the mount and then moved to an armbar. But Stephens slipped out and started in with some vicious ground and pound at one point. Lauzon got to his feet and Stephens took him down hard while Lauzon looked, unsuccessfully, for a guillotine.
Then the bell. That was a very close round.
The second started off with a good exchange of punches. Then Lauzon threw Stephens to the ground nicely. From there he moved patiently to side control and then the mount. Stephens turned around under pressure from his strikes, allowing Lauzon to take his back.
But then Stephens turned things around on him, taking the top position.
Big time ground and pound from Stephens followed. Still, after Stephens stood up and came down on him again, Lauzon him over and moved to side control. Soon after, he achieved the mount and then secured the armbar.
This was a good fight and an excellent job of technical grappling by Joe Lauzon.
Joe Lauzon wins by way of armbar 4:43 of round two.
In the end, Fight Night 17 was a good night of fights. Cain Velasquez did nothing to make people think that he isn't the future of the UFC heavyweight class, Matt Veach put in an impressive debut performance, Anthony Johnson showed why people think he's the stuff, and Josh Neer came through big time. Of course, in the main event Joe Lauzon proved that his technical grappling is very, very strong.
Guess is that a lot of the guys on this card will be future UFC stars.