'Spaniard' from Pennsylvania steals Pittsburgh UFC show
"The Spaniard" from Hollidaysburg stole the show at Pittsburgh debut of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Charlie Brenneman, given the European-flavored nickname by his old wrestling coach at Lock Haven not for his ancestry but for his college major, scored a major welterweight upset that appeared unlikely just days ago with a unanimous decision Sunday over rising contender Rick Story at UFC Live on Versus 4 at Consol Energy Center.
Originally scheduled to fight an undercard bout against T.J. Grant, Brenneman saw his dreams of competing in front of a home crowd dashed when Grant pulled out Thursday with an illness. But in a stunning development Saturday, the main event featuring Story and Nate Marquardt was scrapped, after Marquardt failed his medical clearances and was dismissed from the UFC by president Dana White.
In stepped Brenneman to face Story for the newly dubbed co-main event. Controlling the bout with his wrestling prowess, the home state favorite ended Story's six-match winning streak.
"It's surreal, man," said Brenneman, who is now 14-1. "(My wrestling) is what got me here. Ever since I was eight years old, it's what I've gone to."
Following Brenneman's bout, popular heavyweight Cheick Kongo landed an impressive knockout victory over up-and-comer Pat Barry in the night's main event – just when it seemed he would be the one knocked cold.
In the first round, Barry landed a major blow on the Paris native, sending Kongo rolling to his back. Another large blow followed, but with Kongo seemingly reeling on the wall of the octagon, the Frenchman unleashed a mighty uppercut to knock out Barry.
The wild bout culminated a night that began with a Pittsburgh tradition: the Terrible Towel.
In the opening undercard bout lightweight Michael "The Menace" Johnson walked to the octagon Sunday wearing the familiar yellow flag of Steelers Nation over his head and waved it to the crowd – which included Steelers coach Mike Tomlin – during his introduction.
Suddenly a fan favorite, he gave plenty more reason to cheer when the fierce-striking St. Louis native defeated Edward Faaloloto by TKO (strikes) with 18 seconds remaining in the first round.
As his trainer hoisted him in the center of the octagon at Consol Energy Center, Johnson gave the towel one final twirl.
"I was sitting at the weigh-ins (Saturday) and met a really nice guy, a nice fan, and he helped me get a towel," Johnson said. "It was history — first UFC fight in Pittsburgh. It felt good. I think I did all right playing to the crowd. Got to show love for the Steel City."
In the first of the four main card bouts, excitable heavyweight and former NFL player Matt Mitrione dominated Christian Morecraft with heavy strikes and earned a second-round knockout to remain unbeaten, at 5-0. Welterweight Matt Brown followed that up with a unanimous decision in a tight bout against John Howard.
All in all, fans weren't disappointed with the UFC's first trip to Western Pennsylvania.
"I paid 500 bucks for two tickets," said Konchak, a 27-year-old from North Huntington who was seated on the floor. "This definitely isn't like watching it on TV. It's a whole different ball game."
Filling the arena's lower bowl while the upper tier was closed to allow for set design, the crowd wasn't always easily swayed by winners like Brenneman and Johnson.
Fans booed heavily at Brazilian lightweight Charles Oliveira's preliminary victory over Nik Lentz. Before clinching the bout with a rear choke that led to a tap out, Oliveira kneed Lentz in the face — an illegal move in the UFC that wasn't called by referee Chip Snider.
Backstage, Oliveira apologized for the knee.
"I never wanted to hurt him. I just look for a submission or knock out," Oliveira said. "Many times, I change my technique with standup (position). I put in a knee forward, an illegal knee, and I want to say I'm sorry."
Also claiming preliminary-bout victories were featherweights Ricardo Lamas, Javier Vasquez, and Tyson Griffin, welterweight Rich Attonito and lightweight Joe Lauzon.
The allure of seeing MMA's biggest show in person brought in fans from near and far. Arnold Conant, 32, of Ripley, W.Va., made the 200-mile trip and wasn't disappointed.
"I've been watching (the UFC) on TV for a while, and it was close enough, so I just ran up to check it out," Conant said. "Obviously, it's a lot more intense and more exciting than just watching it on television."