LAS VEGAS -- World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight champion Urijah Faber had his hands full for almost two rounds before he won via choke, and former UFC lightweight kingpin Jens Pulver quickly dispatched his opponent also via choke. Now they can focus their energy and efforts on one another.
Faber had to figure out opponent Jeff Curran's attacks before he could close the show with a textbook guillotine choke, and even though his submission came in the second round, it was anything but easy.
Curran, 30, was able to take Faber off his feet rather easily and from there the crafty veteran had his way at times with "The California Kid." The Chicago-based featherweight, ranked fourth in the world as he stepped into the cage against the WEC champion, was on the offense as soon as the fight hit the canvas.
For several moments, Curran had Faber in a precarious situation. Seizing Faber's back, Curran actually had the defending champion stretched out flat, but the challenger was unable to sink in the rear-naked choke.
Faber, remaining as calm as a frozen pond, eventually escaped the near-catastrophe. By the time the opening round had ended, the 145-pound champ had reversed positions and was firing away from within Curran's guard.
"I get my back taken on purpose all day long," Faber, 28, said immediately following the contest. "I don't care, man there's no way I'm getting choked out."
Faber was correct in that assumption as it seemed as though some of Curran's wind was snatched from his sails from that point forward. He remained competitive in the fight, but Faber (20-1) was just a little too polished, and too determined, to lose his title.
After an initial takedown attempt was stuffed, Faber delivered two thudding standing elbows that opened a gash on the bridge of Curran's nose. Later in the round, Faber crashed his right knee onto Curran's jaw, a crushing blow that wobbled the challenger. Shortly thereafter, Faber was sinking in a deep guillotine, forcing Curran (28-9-1) to tap out.
The official time of the submission came at 4:34 of the second round, but Faber didn't have a walk in the park; the No. 2-ranked featherweight, according to Sherdog.com, had to earn it against a world-class fighter.
"He's an amazing fighter," Faber said of Curran. "He's been all around the world. I hope this brings some recognition to him as well. He definitely deserves it."
But Faber quickly shifted focus to the fighter he wants to meet in the cage next.
"Looks like Jens Pulver, man," Faber stated with glee. "It's going to be an honor to fight that guy. Another person I have a lot of respect for. Let's do it, man. It's history."
Pulver scored an important win less than an hour before Faber's conquest of Curran. He made quick work of promising contender Cub Swanson as he latched on a perfect anaconda choke that forced Swanson to tap in just 35 seconds.
Known mainly for his powerful punching prowess and strong wrestling background, most didn't expect Pulver (22-8-1) to pull nifty submissions out of his bag of tricks. But Pulver isn't a former UFC champion for nothing and maybe the days leading up to the contest fueled some fire for "Little Evil."
"He brought it out of me," Pulver said of the pre-fight trash talking. "We had some heated conversations. I was like you know what? Enough of the left hand. Everybody expects the left hand. Let's go out there and let's start grappling. I've been grappling a lot."
Pulver had dropped two consecutive battles and four of his previous seven; he absolutely needed to defeat the 24-year-old Swanson (11-2) to remain a viable contender for the WEC.
There is no official word as to when the proposed showdown between Pulver, 33, and Faber will occur.
In one of four featured attractions, former PRIDE standout and undefeated middleweight Paulo Filho struggled early against Chael Sonnen, but the Brazilian grappler was able to pull off an armbar late in the second round.
Sonnen controlled the pace and action for the vast majority of the fight while Filho (16-0) seemed content to sit back and wait for an opening. Sonnen, a grappler out of Oregon's Team Quest, scored a few takedowns and attempted several submissions, but Filho defended and deflected whatever Sonnen threw at him.
At the 4:55 mark of the second, the referee broke up the fighters after Sonnen yelled because of the lock, allowing Filho to retain his WEC middleweight title.
Sonnen (19-9-1) immediately protested the stoppage and claimed that he never submitted -- verbally or otherwise. Nevertheless, it goes down in the record books as a win for Filho, 29, regardless of how Sonnen feels.
"He did a good job of securing it, but I didn't tap," Sonnen argued. "The referee looked at me as though to ask me if I wanted to stop, but I proclaimed 'No!' And I proclaimed it over and over. 'No! No, No,' and they stopped the fight. I'm very disappointed."
Marshall (7-2) landed a few stinging punches on Gandulla's face that forced the Cuban refugee to take matters to the canvas. However, once on the mat, Marshall quickly latched on a triangle choke that would lead into the armbar. Gandulla (4-1, 1 NC) had no choice but to tap out.
John Alessio won a hard-fought and well-deserved unanimous decision over Todd Moore, winning via tallies of 30-27 on all three ringside judges' scorecards. The welterweight fight was entertaining enough, but Alessio (21-10) was just too savvy and experienced for Moore, whose record dropped to 9-1.
Bryan Barker squeaked past the tough Eric Schambari, taking a split decision by the margins of 30-27, 28-29 and 29-28. The middleweight tussle was competitive from start to finish, but Barker (6-0) was a bit busier and landed the cleaner strikes. Schambari fell short for the first time in his career, dropping to 7-1.
Ed Ratcliff put a beating on UFC veteran Alex Karalexis and stopped "The Ultimate Fighter" alum in the second round of their welterweight fight. Ratcliff (6-0) badly wobbled Karalexis (9-3) in the first with an overhand right and sealed the deal in the following round.
A similar punch found its mark on Karalexis' chin early, and once he felt the fight was about to be over, Ratcliff swarmed. A series of strikes ensued, and referee Steve Mazzagatti had no choice but to stop it. The official time of the TKO came at 1:26 of the second stanza.
Mike Sloan covers MMA for Sherdog.com.