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WSOF 19 results: Justin Gaethje defends lightweight title in FOTY candidate, Thiago Silva suffers stunning first-round KO

Lucas Noonan, WSOF

PHOENIX -- In a wild fight that may go down as the greatest in World Series of Fighting (WSOF) history, Justin Gaethje scored a third-round TKO finish to successfully defend his WSOF lightweight title against Luis Palomino in front of his raucous hometown crowd in the main event of WSOF 19 on Saturday night.

Gaethje (14-0) and Palomino promised a war of attrition in the lead-up to fight night, and they delivered exactly that, standing inside the pocket and relentlessly exchanging with reckless abandon. The fireworks started from the opening bell as Gaethje and Palomino (23-10) engaged in an early contender for Round of the Year, trading blows in a stunning display of heart and aggression. Both men had their moments, but it was Gaethje's creativity that allowed the champion to gain control early, with Gaethje even ending the round with a rolling thunder attempt.

Gaethje continued to seize momentum throughout the second and third stanzas, digging hard uppercuts to the body and head, finding a home for his looping right, and going to work with low kicks whenever the two lightweights separated. Palomino's chin held up throughout, but in the end it was the low kicks that sealed the deal. Gaethje chopped down Palomino twice in succession with a volley of low kicks in a thrilling final sequence, then swarmed and put him away at 3:57 of the third round.

"This is the toughest man I've ever faced," a bloodied Gaethje said. "I came for some stitches and I got some. I'm happy as can be."

Chaos reigned over the night's co-main event as well, as a last-second dropout from Matt Hamill allowed unheralded light heavyweight Teddy Holder (9-1) to step up on just hours notice and pick up the biggest win of his career, finishing ex-UFC contender Thiago Silva (16-3, 2 NC) with strikes in just two minutes. Holder, an ex-football player whose last fight came back in Aug. 2013, dropped Silva with a short right hand after getting staggered by the Brazilian just seconds earlier. Holder followed Silva to the canvas and rained down an endless volley of punches until referee Ryan Brueggeman was forced to intervene.

It was Silva's first fight since the controversial incident with Broward County police in Feb. 2014 that led to Silva's release from the UFC not just once, but twice. Silva has refused to speak publicly regarding the incident, but on Saturday night it was Holder who took center stage, scoring the massive upset to preserve his flawless record of first-round wins.

Holder will now fight the winner of WSOF 20's bout between Ronny Markes vs. David Branch to determine the inaugural WSOF light heavyweight champion.

Elsewhere on the card, Dagestani bantamweight Timur Valiev (9-1) needed just 99 seconds to destroy local veteran Ed West (18-10).

With countryman Khabib Nurmagomedov watching cageside, Valiev dropped West with a blistering right hand early in the contest, then followed with a picture-perfect spinning backfist and a knee to the dome. West staggered back to the fence and promptly ate a slew of standing elbows before collapsing to the canvas. A few final shots cemented the victory for Valiev, who picked up his ninth straight win and third inside the WSOF cage.

In the night's televised opener, ex-UFC light heavyweight Clifford Starks (11-2) made good on the card reshuffling, putting away late-replacement opponent Jake Heun (7-4) with a second-round arm triangle to win his WSOF debut.

Starks twice took Heun down to claim the opening round, then found his rhythm midway through the second, stumbling Heun with a hard flurry. Heun lost a point in the ensuing scramble, striking a downed Starks with an illegal knee to the head, but it didn't matter. Starks roared out from the break and dumped Heun onto his back, ultimately advancing position and securing the fight-ending choke at 4:11 of the second frame.

With the win, Starks pushed his record to 3-0 since being cut from the UFC. Full WSOF 19 results are available here.

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