Marlon Moraes may have coated the WSOF decagon crimson with his own blood, but at least he left with his bantamweight title intact. Moraes survived an early-round scare to claim the final four frames and secure a unanimous decision victory over previously undefeated Josh Hill in Thursday's main event of WSOF 18, which took place in Edmonton, Canada and aired live on NBC Sports Network.
Moraes (14-4-1) appeared to break his nose during a rough first round as the heavy underdog Hill (10-1) came out on fire, catching the Brazilian with overhand rights and explosive flurries. A hard Hill uppercut put Moraes in the gravest danger he's experienced throughout his three-fight reign as WSOF bantamweight champion, opening up the floodgates for a leaky nose that ultimately painted Moraes' face red throughout the rest of the fight.
Hill, however, failed to capitalize, and his pace slowed as Moraes led the dance for the bout's remaining 20 minutes. Moraes found his mark repeatedly with stiff kicks and looping hooks, both to the head and to the body, while Hill resorted to pot-shotting single strikes from the outside. If there was any doubt, Moraes sealed the deal late, securing the only takedown of the fight with a minute to go in the fifth round.
All three judges scored the contest 49-46, awarding the win to Moraes, who extended his WSOF record to a perfect 7-0.
"Man, I wasn't expecting this much from Josh, but he's a tough motherf**ker," Moraes said afterward (unbleeped) on live television. "He hits hard, but man, I'm the champion and I'm here to be tested. I think I won today. My nose messed up in the first round and (it messed) with me a little bit, but man, I showed a lot of heart and I think this fight is going to bring me to the top."
The night's co-main event featured one of the most memorable finishes of 2015 thus far, as a relatively unremarkable fight between lightweights Shane Campbell (11-2) and Derek Boyle (13-8) turned on a dime when Campbell blasted Boyle with a crushing liver kick early in the third round, then struck a ‘Street Fighter' Hadouken pose as Boyle crumpled to the canvas.
Boyle eventually staggered back to his feet, only to get shut down once more as Campbell swarmed with another salvo of punches and kicks to secure the stoppage just 31 seconds into the final frame.
Elsewhere on the card, Cody McKenzie's WSOF debut wound up being par for the course in the bizarre but always compelling career of the former TUF 12 contestant.
Fighting for the first time since briefly retiring last December, McKenzie (15-7) nearly secured his trademark guillotine choke early in the first round on Canadian welterweight Andrew McInnes (6-1). The choke failed though, allowing McInnes to take control from top position and work through a succession short punches and passes before briefly settling into mount.
Rather than swarm from the top, McInnes attempted to take McKenzie's back. The move proved overzealous though, as McKenzie popped into top position and unloaded with a flurry of reckless strikes. Then things got weird.
With time winding down in the opening frame, McKenzie reared up and deliberately headbutted McInnes. When questioned by referee Kyle Cardinal, McKenzie replied that he threw the illegal blow because McInnes was "pulling his hair" earlier in the fight.
McKenzie celebrated as if he won the fight, but it wasn't to be. McInnes ultimately was awarded a disqualification win due to an intentional headbutt at 4:58 of the first round, marking the first three-fight losing streak of McKenzie's professional career.
In the night's opening main card bout, featherweight prospect Hakeem Dawodu (4-0) put on a striking clinic en route to a brutal third-round TKO win over Tristan Johnson (9-6). An undefeated 23-year-old fighting out of Calgary, Dawodu looked impressive throughout the contest, battering Johnson with hard one-twos and a slew of looping overhand rights, while braving through a cut he suffered under his eye early in round one from a Johnson counter.
Dawodu's decorated kickboxing acumen shined in a fantastic finish midway through the final frame, as he rushed inside and crushed Johnson with a salvo of hard elbows, then maintained his pressure throughout a scramble before ending his night a minute later with a huge overhand right hand that sent Johnson toppling into the fence. Referee Vern Gorman mercifully stepped in to stop the contest with 1:59 off the clock, giving Dawodu his fourth straight KO/TKO finish under the World Series of Fighting banner.