Headliners Yair Rodriguez and Chan Sung Jung, second to none in crowd-pleasing action, were looking to break into the Top 10 of the featherweight division when the UFC returned to Denver, Colorado for its 25-year anniversary.
Both were bloodied nearing the end of their five-round affair Saturday night before nearly 12,000 fans at the Pepsi Center. A fateful exchange and a reverse upward elbow from Rodriguez left a second on the clock and Jung into a lifeless heap on the canvas. Dana White called it “the craziest finish ever.”
“The finish is exactly what we wanted,” Rodriguez’s coach Israel Martinez said backstage.“Yair is a warrior. It’s in his blood, it’s in his heart and it’s in his mind—he wants to be a champion.”
Following contractual disputes with White and Co., Rodriguez ended his 18-month hiatus when he replaced Frankie Edgar opposite Jung. The 26-year-old taekwondo virtuoso is 7-1 in the UFC (10-2 overall) and proved he rightfully belongs on the roster.
The tussle added to the legacy of anarchic fighting Rodriguez and Jung have earned, each awarded their third Fight of the Night bonus. Afterwards, the official scorecards revealed Jung was up three rounds to one—a single second away from his fifth victory inside the octagon.
Jung, 31, took to Facebook, addressing his latest loss, and expressed a great deal of shame for letting this one slip away:
“I do not have an excuse. I am so sorry to all of you who helped me… Thank you… I have to be in hospital for a few days. I’m ashamed…”
In what was a blistering affair, the duo remained patient in the opening round. Each man stepped into mid-range, raising their fists, baiting one another to strike first. Jung slipped a number of punches before Rodriguez targeted his man’s knees with sidekicks. The freestylist out of Mexico didn’t demonstrate his trademark aerial attack until the second period. In contrast, the South Korean warfighter routinely found success moving forward with chopping right hands.
In Round 3, an elbow from Rodriguez split open Jung’s lip—foreshadowing the historic KO.
Rodriguez was bleeding from the mouth in the fourth stanza. Jung made matters worse for his opponent when he stepped in with an uppercut that wobbled Rodriguez backwards to the fence. The “Korean Zombie” chased him down but the younger man leaped into the air, putting a knee into his charging opponent.
Late in the round, Jung swung momentum back in his favor with an arcing punch over Rodriguez’s extended left arm. Not to be outdone, Rodriguez tangled up Jung’s legs at the end of an Imanari roll.
Early in Round 5, a sneaky right hand from the Mexican switch-hitter nearly buckled Jung. Aware that they were a part of something special, the fighters paused for a high- and low-five. Back to fighting, they traded lead left hooks which Jung got the better of. Under a minute left, Rodriguez threw a pair of low kicks that left him open to a searing right-left combination from Jung.
Still 15 seconds to go, the two raised their hands in the air as color commentator Paul Felder could be heard on the broadcast imploring them to stop shaking hands.
The action continued and Rodriguez plugged a light kick into his opponent’s ribs before retreating. Jung bit down on his mouthpiece and waded in, interchanging rights and lefts. Rodriguez crouched to his left, avoiding the shots, and fate took its course: an elbow from an inconceivable angle exploded onto Jung’s chin.
Rodriguez watched his victim hit the floor and turned to celebrate with his cornermen.
According to FightMetric, Jung landed 130 of 312 total strikes (42 percent) and 126 of 308 significant strikes (41 percent) while Rodriguez connected on 129 of 281 total strikes (46 percent) and 119 of 271 significant strikes (44 percent). There were no takedowns.
In chief support of the main event, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone submitted former training partner Mike Perry by first-round armbar. The dramatic outcome gave Cerrone 21 wins in the UFC, including 15 finishes, making him the winningest combatant in UFC history.
The two met in the clinch early on and traded knees to the midsection. Perry circled his man in a predatory stance: hands low, looking to uncork his winging punches. Cerrone, 35, flashed some long jabs before shooting a takedown which Perry stuffed. The 27-year-old slugger brushed off a second attempt from Cerrone before hitting a body-lock takedown himself.
Colorado’s own Cerrone reversed position on the mat. He took back control and slapped on a triangle choke when Perry rose to his feet, all before transitioning to an armbar. Perry tried taking his man for a ride, slamming Cerrone to get out of danger. But it was no use—tapping soon after.
The partisan crowd applauded the hometown man.
To help him celebrate, Cerrone invited his grandmother and newborn son into the cage, emulating the UFC’s return to the city of its inauguration—an interplay of past and present, of yore and anew.