The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt beat the striker at his own game.
Juliano Coutinho (8-3, 4 KOs), fighting out of West Yarmouth, Mass., captured the CES MMA World Heavyweight Championship Friday at Twin River Casino, defeating reigning title-holder Ashley Gooch (10-7) of Arizona by knockout 4 minutes, 18 seconds into the second round of their scheduled five-round main event bout at “CES MMA 45” on AXS TV.
The submission specialist found Gooch’s weakness, the single-leg takedown, midway through the round and used it to his advantage, bringing the 264-pound champion to the ground several times before finishing the bout with unanswered strikes while in the mount position as Gooch tried to cover up with his chest to the canvas.
Gooch, expecting a rear-naked choke once he gave up his back, appeared stunned as Coutinho rained down with lefts and rights and had no answer before the referee stepped in and stopped the fight. It was an ironic ending for Gooch, whose heavy hands led him to seven knockout victories entering Friday’s title defense.
Red-hot featherweight Pedro Gonzalez (13-5) of Stoughton, Mass., won his sixth consecutive bout in Friday’s five-round co-feature and captured the CES MMA Interim World Featherweight Title in a masterful performance against Saul Almeida (19-9) of Framingham, Mass., winning by unanimous decision, 48-47, 50-45, 49-46.
The stage is now set for Gonzalez to face reigning CES MMA World Featherweight Champion Matt Bessette, who is recovering from a broken hand sustained while fighting on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. The two were supposed to face another a year ago CES MMA 37, but Gonzalez was forced to withdraw due to injury.
“It looks like it’s me and you, buddy,” Gonzalez said to Bessette, who predicted Almeida would win the fight earlier in night on AXS TV. “Heal up.”
Though Almeida had the height and reach, he failed to use it to his advantage, eschewing the jab and instead trying to stalk down Gonzalez, who calmly circled the cage, unleashed effective leg kicks, and landed clean strikes while dodging in and out of trouble, a near flawless performance in what was undoubtedly the biggest win of his career.
Almeida got desperate in the later rounds and tried to shoot for takedowns, but Gonzalez stuffed Almeida’s best attempts and opened the fifth round with a vicious liver kick that ultimately forced both fighters to the canvas. Almeida gained brief control on the ground, but Gonzalez prevented him from locking in any submissions and sat comfortably over the final minute and a half to seal the win.
The ever-improving Gary Balletto Jr. (4-1), following in the footsteps of his father, Gary “Tiger” Balletto, a R.I. boxing icon who starred on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights and The Contender reality series, made his network television debut Friday, stopping New Hampshire’s Nick Alley (3-2) just 58 seconds into the second round.
Much like his father, Balletto Jr. can throw hands, and he showed off both his boxing and martial arts ability against Alley. Early in the opening round, Balletto Jr. clipped Alley to send him to the canvas, and while Alley tried to push his legs out to stave off his opponent, Balletto Jr. calmly sink a leg lock that nearly forced a quick submission.
Alley survived Balletto Jr.’s impressive ground game and made it to the second round, but didn’t last much longer. Alley left himself open trying to throw an overhand right and ran directly into a short right cross by the former amateur boxing standout, again sending Alley to the canvas. This time, Balletto Jr. rained down on Alley with a series of lefts and rights before the referee stopped the bout.
Balletto Jr., who suffered his only loss in his pro debut, has now won four consecutive bouts.
Lightweight Nate Andrews (11-1) of East Providence, R.I., kept his win streak alive Friday on the main card, securing his fifth consecutive victory by submitting Maine’s Bruce Boyington (14-11) via triangle choke at the 2:14 mark of the second round.
Boyington kept going to the well with spinning head kicks, trying to catch Andrews upstairs on the way in, but Andrews saw them coming – even though a couple grazed him from time to time – took advantage of Boyington’s wildness to lock in the second-round submission, the sixth of his career.
Veteran bantamweight Brandon Seyler (7-5), making his second appearance with CES MMA, pulled off one of the bigger upsets of the night, submitting the previously unbeaten Kris Moutinho (4-1) of Milford, Mass., via rear-naked choke at 3:08 of the opening round.
Seyler, who lost his to Kody Nordby in his first appearance with CES MMA, nearly committed a critical mistake when he scored an early takedown and gave up his next, but Moutinho couldn’t lock in the guillotine and eventually succumbed to Seyler’s superior wrestling ability.
Unbeaten Milford bantamweight Richie Santiago (5-0, 1 KO) and Queens, N.Y., vet Miguel Restrepo (4-4-1) went toe-to-toe in the opening bouts on AXS TV, and while it only lasted a little more than a round, it was one of the most entertaining CES MMA main card bouts of the year.
Santiago dominated the opening round, simply stalking down Restrepo and landing clean, effective strikes, but gained a bit of an edge not only by being able to take the best Santiago had to offer, but by clipping his opponent in the closing seconds of the round, sending a message as the two headed to their respective corners.
Whatever happened between rounds seemed to spark the veteran Restrepo, who endured eight years of military service in the U.S. Navy before launching his MMA career. The 35-year-old New Yorker came out firing in the second round, landing hard, overhand rights to stun Santiago, who spent most of the round staggering about the cage trying to regain his footing.
Desperate to stem the tide, Santiago attempted two takedowns, but Restrepo stuffed them both. Again reeling in the closing minutes, Santiago finally landed a single-leg takedown, took Restrepo’s back and sunk in the rear-naked choke to force the submission at the 3:41 mark, a tremendous come-from-behind win for Santiago, who looked dead in the water midway through the round.
The preliminary card featured two exciting first-round finishes. Springfield, Mass., lightweight Leon Davis (11-3, 2 KOs) won his fifth consecutive bout and earned his first knockout in six years, stopping game veteran Andrew Osborne (7-11-1) of North Providence, R.I., at 1:31 due to strikes, and Providence featherweight John Douma (1-0) earned the win in his professional debut, submitting Ohio’s Jason Rine (0-3) via the rear-naked choke at 4:48, just 12 seconds before the bell.
Visit www.cesmma.com, www.twitter.com/cesmma or www.facebook.com/cesmma for more information, or follow CES MMA on Instagram at @CESMMA.