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Kelvin Gastelum makes impressive debut

Josh Gross | ESPN.com
August 28, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
Kelvin Gastelum celebrates after his submission victory over Brian Melancon © Getty Images
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Kelvin Gastelum made the most of his welterweight debut, finishing late replacement Brian Melancon via a rear-naked choke at 2:26 of the opening round of their fight in Indianapolis.

The first 30 seconds saw little action, then Gastelum dropped for a successful double-leg takedown. Despite dwarfing Melancon (7-3) in the cage - Gastelum weighed 194 pounds one day after stepping on the scale at 170 - he could not keep the heavy puncher on the canvas. This scenario repeated itself, and Gastelum decided that instead of takedowns, he'd attempt to punch the former Strikeforce fighter.

Gastelum, 21, stepped forward and unloaded consecutive left-right combinations. The second gave way to an uppercut that put Melancon, 31, on the floor. "I knew he had heavy hands coming in," Gastelum said of his vanquished opponent. "I just wanted to get the finish, take advantage of him getting rocked. I took his back and secured the lock." With both hooks in, Gastelum (7-0) sealed the finish as he tightened a strangulation around Melancon's neck. The tap quickly followed.

Moving to 170 pounds seemed to suit Gastelum, who looked to be in tremendous shape and maintained his speed despite the big weight cut. Gastelum returned for the first time since defeating Uriah Hall by split decision in April to win the TUF 17 middleweight tournament.

Sometimes pressure can be enough to win a fight, and in that respect, Court McGee swamped Robert Whittaker . McGee implemented ample offence as well, swaying two judges (30-27, 29-28) into cancelling out a 30-27 tally in favour of his young opponent after three well-contested rounds. ESPN.com agreed with the decision, seeing it 29-28 for the 28-year-old American. "I feel good but I definitely feel like I was just in a fight," McGee said after the fight. "My beard looks phenomenal so I can't complain."

Fast and strong, Whittaker's left hand was his best weapon. Jabs and hooks hit their mark, but McGee kept up a heavy pace and repeatedly walked down Whittaker. The 22-year-old New Zealander, who lives and trains in Australia, attempted to keep distance between himself and McGee, although he consistently fell short in this department. He did, however, open a cut along the left side of McGee's head that prompted a steady stream of blood. McGee looked to mix in moments of grappling in the first five minutes. However, Whittaker did well to avoid any prolonged exchanges. This remained true in Round 2 as McGee put together a variety of strikes from multiple angles. Again, Whittaker's lead left paid off, and he seemed to seize some momentum as action headed to the final frame.

McGee (16-3) was unrelenting. His forward pressure wore on Whittaker, and the recent TUF winner took his share of strikes to the head. Movement, both side to side and in and out, allowed McGee to strike while avoiding the most dangerous aspects of Whittaker's game. Forcing Whittaker (11-3) to move backward most of the fight made all the difference for McGee, especially since the loser's counters weren't accurate or damaging enough to change the outcome of the fight.

McGee was quick to credit Whittaker for his toughness. "I went after it in there but I just couldn't put him away in the end," he said. "It was an honour and a privilege competing against Whittaker, and I'm ready to go back to training and work a little harder, get sharper and improve in my next performance."

Takeya Mizugaki earned his third straight win in the UFC by taking a deserved split decision over Mexico's Erik Perez . Judges scored it 29-28 twice for the 29-year-old Japanese bantamweight, with one dissent of the same score for "El Goyito," who had not lost in three previous Octagon appearances. ESPN.com saw it 29-28 for Mizugaki. Both fighters had their moments. Mizugaki started strong, bloodying Perez's nose in the early going.

The Mexican fighter attempted to walk down Mizugaki and exert pressure on the formerly ranked 135-pound fighter. Perez connected; however, Mizugaki took advantage of the Mexican's forward movement with a minute remaining in Round 1 by punching and transitioning directly into a double leg takedown. There was a scramble for back-control, although Mizugaki was unable to secure the position. "After I survived some of his big shots in the first round, I knew I had the advantage," Mizugaki said.

The middle period saw Mizugaki (18-7-2) even up the fight, as he craftily picked his spots. Perez attempted to wrestle throughout portions of the fight, and Mizugaki did well to counter, especially with knees up the middle. Meanwhile, the Japanese fighter also outstruck Perez.

With the fight up for grabs heading to the third, Mizugaki asserted himself by out-grappling Perez, who was unbeaten in the UFC heading into this contest. Again, counters paid off for the Japanese veteran, which helped him seal a body-lock takedown that had Perez, 23, fighting from his back midway through the round.

Perez (13-5) was in deep trouble after Mizugaki repositioned into back-control and was forced to gut out a rear-naked choke attempt that looked perilously close to finishing him. The pair finished the fight on the feet, punching to the bell.

Brad Tavares continued his pedestrian march up the UFC middle division with a unanimous decision over Bubba McDaniel. The 25-year-old Hawaiian battered the outside of McDaniel's lead right leg with kicks and scored to the body as well, especially in the opening 10 minutes, en route to his sixth win inside the Octagon. Tavares moved to 11-1 overall. McDaniel, meanwhile, dropped to 1-1 in UFC competition and 21-7 over the course of his career.

Tavares wished to keep the contest standing, which played against what McDaniel wished to do. The Texas southpaw felt the brunt of Tavares' kicks from the start and appeared to be affected in his stance as the three-round contest unfolded. By the end of the first, McDaniel's thigh was red and marked up as blood was pushed up to the skin.

In Round 2, Tavares opened up early and forced McDaniel to step back. They engaged briefly thereafter, and an accidental clash of heads prompted Tavares to his back, giving McDaniel an opportunity to work from the top. That was short-lived thanks to Tavares' grappling; he stood and was clearly ahead 20-18.

McDaniel regrouped in the third, clipping Tavares with a shot that buckled the Hawaiian's legs early in the frame. McDaniel, who made his way into the UFC like Tavares, off "The Ultimate Fighter," took top control and maintained it for much of the final round. He did not, however, produce effective offense, and each judge at cage-side scored it 29-28.

Afterwards, Tavares expressed his frustration in having to go the distance. "I couldn't find his chin," Tavares said. "I didn't get to show off my ground game like I wanted to in this fight. I'll go back and watch the tape with my coaches to see what changes need to be made for the next time I step in there."

This article first appeared on ESPN.com

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