While Nick Newell has made a career out of defying expectations, ultimately this time Justin Gaethje just proved to be too much. Gaethje thoroughly battered the one-handed Newell in WSOF 11's main event, before finishing the job with a second-round TKO to defend his World Series of Fighting lightweight title in the promotion's much anticipated debut on NBC.
Gaethje (12-0) blasted the previously unbeaten Newell (11-1) with hard salvos of overhand rights from the opening bell and easily shucked off Newell's takedown attempts, which grew more desperate and labored as the opening frame went on. Gaethje continued to work, unloading a steady procession of grounded knees and elbows to burst open a wide cut across Newell's forehead above his right eye, then nearly sent Newell home with a massive flurry of strikes at the horn.
The second round brought more of the same, as Gaethje bludgeoned an exhausted and blood-drenched Newell with right hands and hard shots to the body. Ringside officials briefly stopped the fight to inspect Newell's cut, but regardless the end was imminent, as Gaethje stormed out from the break and toppled Newell with another salvo of right hands to bring a stop to the contest at 3:09 of the second round.
"I've been asking for one thing, and that's a war. And that's what Nick just gave me," a tired Gaethje said afterward. "So I appreciate him and I thank him.
"Every time I talked about this fight, I said he's got heart and more confidence than anybody I've ever fought and it was going to be a task to make him quit. And that's exactly what it was."
In the night's co-main event, Jon Fitch (26-6-1, 1 NC) put on a classic Jon Fitch performance, utterly dominating Dennis Hallman (53-15-2, 1 NC) with a relentless top control attack to capture an easy and lopsided unanimous decision in the pair's middleweight bout.
Fitch scored early takedowns in all three rounds, then went right to work, outlanding Hallman by a ridiculous mark of 157 ground strikes to three. True to form, Fitch maintained a suffocating work rate as he battered Hallman with short punches and elbows from full guard, half guard and side control throughout a majority of the 15-minute contest.
All three judges scored it 30-27 for the former UFC welterweight title contender, who wins his second in a row after stumbling in his WSOF debut.
Elsewhere on the night, TUF 18 pariah Cody Bollinger (16-2, 1 NC) tore through bantamweight veteran Pablo Alfonso (9-6), finishing the bout with a first-round rear-naked choke despite badly missing weight on Friday. Bollinger wasted little time taking the fight to the ground, and after evading a pair of submission attempts from Alfonso, scrambled into back control, slapped on a body triangle and coaxed the tapout at 2:37 of the opening frame.
"I felt like I had to come out and put on a show," Bollinger said. "After my last fight, I think Ray (Sefo) and Ali (Abdelaziz) were looking for a little more action. I came in here with a lot of hype and tonight I knew I had to put on a show.
"I'd love to fight Marlon (Moraes) but I'm done fighting at 135. My body just can't take it. I'm going to go up to 145 and fight there."
In the night's televised opener, Melvin Guillard (32-13-2, 2 NC) also shook off a botched weight cut to battle his way to a second-round TKO finish over a game Gesias Cavalcante (18-8-1, 2 NC), making an imposing statement in his World Series of Fighting lightweight debut.
Fighting for the first time since his unexpected UFC release, Guillard elected to hang back and look to counter throughout much of the first frame, chopping at Cavalcante with low kicks and catching his foe inside with looping hooks and uppercuts to the jaw. Guillard picked up his aggression for round two, recovering quickly from a Cavalcante takedown then unloading heavy shots from the clinch, forcing referee Telis Assimenios to intervene 2:36 into the round after cracking Cavalcante with a pair of standing elbows followed by a huge knee to the head.
"I went out there and had a hell of a debut," Guillard said. "He even got me on the ground and I got back up and handled business. I've got a black belt in knocking people out. I'm excited to be here with WSOF and this is only the beginning.
"I'm gonna take that strap, and become the face of this organization, watch. I'm here to make noise."
For more on WSOF 11, check out full event results here.