Moraga tried to get a time-out for an apparent low blow from referee Jason Herzog. Herzog demurred, and Gates dropped Moraga with at what at first glance was a cheap shot.
It turned out not to be a cheap shot - replays showed Herzog clearly telling the two to fight. And it also turned out not to be the end of Moraga. The hometown favorite shook off Gates' near-finish and rallied for a third-round submission win at UFC on FOX 13. The time of the finish was 4:06.
"I guess I didn't hear the referee say fight, and I thought it was pretty blatant," said Moraga (16-3). "It is what it is, man, whatever."
Moraga survived the first round and won the second. He turned up the heat on Gates, a training partner of Bobby Green who took the fight as a late replacement, using ground-and-pound to soften him up for the winning rear-naked choke.
Whatever ill will came out of the first-round exchange was ironed out between the two after the fight.
"Thanks to Willie, he stepped up on three weeks notice to fight me, and not a lot of people would have," said Moraga. who has won two in a row.