It wasn't pretty but Vinny Magalhaes (9-5) maintained his belt, earning a slew of new fans in the process. The 27-year-old former TUF contestant recovered from a slow first two rounds to mount a thrilling comeback and retain the M-1 light heavyweight championship against Mikhail Zayats (14-5) in the main event of M-1 Challenge XXVII in Phoenix, Arizona on Friday night.
Though Zayats was the one in control from the opening bell, dodging takedowns while keeping a distance with chopping kicks to his opponent's lead leg. He continued his work in round two, picking apart Magalhaes with crisp combinations that staggered the champion. Even as Magalhes finally managed to get the Russian down midway through the period, Zayats endured, reversing out of mount on two separate occasions before standing and ending the round with a blistering shot to the body.
With ten grueling minutes in the books Magalhaes was bruised and dazed as the bell signaled the beginning of the third round. After being stuffed on a desperation takedown the Brazilian launched a massive head kick that found its mark, knocking a stunned Zayats to his knees. Magalhaes immediately swarmed, throwing a series of looping shots that brought the contest to a close.
"I've been practicing (the head kick) all the time, I just haven't had the confidence to do it," Magalhaes excitedly explained after the fight. "Today I felt like I had to do it because the first two rounds weren't going my way. I felt I had to try something that wasn't going to be expected."
The spectacular victory was the fifth in a row for Magalhaes and seventh of his last eight bouts since being released from the UFC. Afterwards the M-1 champion let that statistic be known, directing a tweet towards UFC President Dana White before calling for a second chance in the Octagon.
"I want to get back in the cage. I want to go back to the UFC," he firmly stated. "Whenever they call me, if they call me. That's my goal."
In the night's co-main event, Kenny Garner outlasted Maxim Grishin for 24 minutes before finishing the Russian with a last-second flurry. As fans have come to expect from Garner, the bout was a knock-down, drag-out brawl, despite being mired in controversy.
The American came out swinging heavy leather in the opening segment, mixing wild punches with stifling clinch work before securing a late takedown to end the round. Despite appearing gassed, Garner remained aggressive for most of round two until Grishin secured a late takedown with a minute left. Once the action hit the mat Grishin stayed active, transferring from submission to submission before sinking in a deep armbar that briefly looked like it might end the fight, but Garner was able to survive to the bell.
The third round opened with more of the same as Garner charged forward winging powerful body shots before getting slammed to the mat by Grishin. Trapped on his back, "Deuce" slowly scooted outside of the ropes, inexplicably causing the referee to restart the fight standing. After another exchange the fight quickly fell back to the ground with both men visibly fatigued. From the bottom Grishin threw an illegal upkick that forced the referee to pause the action, yet the Arizona State Athletic Commission timekeeper insisted on running the clock, eventually ending the round after a bizarre series of events as the referee worked to cut loose tape from Garner's glove.
"It doesn't matter what they do," Garner coolly stated afterwards. "(The referees) are getting paid by the organization, and the organization wants certain people to win, so it doesn't matter. They can cheat, do whatever they want.
"If you're trying to fight, don't think about fighting the refs, just the person you're fighting."
With both men on the verge of exhaustion, Grishin flopped onto his back to open the fourth frame, immediately allowing Garner to pounce into side control. Sensing danger, the Russian ambled outside the ropes, prompting yet another referee mediation, though this time the fighters were restarted in the same position at the center of the ring. With a frantic push Garner threw everything he had at Grishin, hurling one wild haymaker after another as the crowd rallied behind the American raucously chanting "knock him out" to no avail.
Entering the final five minutes Grishin needed a miracle and almost finagled one. Midway through the round the Russian came inches away from ending the fight as he snatched the arm of Garner and cranked with all his might. "Deuce" escaped but immediately rolled into a deep triangle choke that nearly put him away before he squirmed into side control. From that point Grishin's gas tank was on empty, as he quickly succumbed to a combination of strikes and exhaustion with just 53 seconds left in the fight. The win was Garner's third of the year, garnering him the M-1 Interim Heavyweight belt and a likely shot against top prospect Guram Gugenishvili.
"I'm a banger so it doesn't matter who they go get. This belt is going to be mine for a long time," he proudly declared. "The only way this belt leaves my waist is if I retire, and if I retire I'm taking it with me."
By comparison, the rest of the night's main card ended in a blink. Arthur Guseinov (9-2) turned in yet another impressive performance, brutally submitting Eddie Arizmendi (15-5) 57 seconds into the first round with a sickening heel hook. Arizmendi remained on the mat for several minutes after the stoppage before walking off under his own power. His ankle appeared to pop out of it's socket from the replays.
Yasubey Enomoto (8-3) landed a flurry of stiff combinations before hitting the mat and catching Josh Thorpe (10-6) with a deep triangle choke just 67 seconds into opening round. The impressive performance marked the second consecutive win for the 27-year-old native of Switzerland, and just the third submission victory of his career.
Daniel Madrid (7-2) ran roughshod through Tom Gallicchio (16-7), recovering from a quick takedown to crank an armbar from bottom position less than a minute into the first round for the third win of his last four fights.
M-1 Challenge XXVII: Magalhaes vs. Zayats results:
Main Card (Showtime):
Vinny Magalhaes def. Mikhail Zayats via TKO (strikes) at 1:13 of round
Kenny Garner def. Maxim Grishin via submission (strikes) at 4:07 of round 5
Arthur Guseinov def. Eddie Arizmendi via submission (heel hook) at :50 of round 1
Yasubey Enomoto def. Josh Thorpe via submission (triangle choke) at 1:07 of round 1
Daniel Madrid def. Tom Gallicchio via submission (armbar) at :48 of round 1
Ryan Crouch def. Fredrik Lumpkin via TKO (punches) in round 2
Mike Chavez def. Joe Martinez via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)