Diego Sanchez brutalized Clay Guida for the entire first round during the main event of The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale card at the Palms on Saturday night.
Sanchez, however, could not finish his persistent opponent, and it almost cost him a victory.
Guida won on one scorecard, but Sanchez earned a split decision in a bout that undoubtedly will go down as one of the year’s best.
Sanchez sprinted to the center of the cage and engaged Guida from the opening bell.
The lightweight contender landed punches, knees and kicks, with Guida backed up against the cage for much of the first round.
"I hit him with some knees, some kicks and some uppercuts that were right on the button, and he just kept on coming," Sanchez said. "I wasn’t prepared for him to survive the onslaught that I put on him in the first round."
Guida refused to be finished. "One word, man: heart," he said. "I’ll never stop."
Said Sanchez: "I was surprised, man. That guy’s got a couple of hearts in there. The guy’s a little Tasmanian devil."
Guida slowed the barrage by securing a takedown early in the second round. He stayed on top for much of the round but still absorbed punishment as Sanchez landed several elbows from his back.
With blood, mostly from Guida, covering both fighters, the third round became pivotal.
Guida again was in top position, but Sanchez worked unsuccessfully for several submissions.
"When it got really, really bloody, it was really slippery," Sanchez said. "So I knew it was going to be a hard effort (to secure a submission) with all that blood."
When the scores were announced, Guida took one judge’s card, 29-28.
Sanchez won on the other two cards to earn the victory. He won the first and third rounds on both of the cards that went his way, with a 10-8 first round on one of the cards.
As it turned out, Sanchez won the third round in the opinion of the two judges who awarded him the fight.
He said he wasn’t nervous as the score was announced from the third and deciding card.
"I knew I won the fight, so it doesn’t really matter," he said.
Also on the Ultimate Fighting Championship card, Ross Pearson and James Wilks earned victories to win their respective weight classes on the ninth season of "The Ultimate Fighter."
James Wilks submitted Demarques Johnson with six seconds left in the first round to win the welterweight title.
Wilks got Johnson into several bad positions throughout the round. Johnson escaped the first few, but ultimately Wilks locked in a rear naked choke, and Johnson had to tap out as the closing seconds of the round ticked away.
In the lightweight final, Pearson was awarded a unanimous decision over Andre Winner in a fight that was fought largely in the clinch against the cage.
Pearson got the better of more exchanges and controlled enough of the action to win on all three cards.
Joe Stevenson earned a unanimous decision over Nate Diaz.
Stevenson had lost his last two fights and three of his last four but survived a technical ground battle to defeat Diaz.
Stevenson locked in a deep guillotine in the first round, but Diaz rolled out of it. Stevenson again had the better of the ground action in the second round.
Diaz rebounded to control the third round, but it was too late, and the 24-year-old dropped his second straight fight.
Chris Lytle also won a decision after turning Kevin Burns’ face into a bloody mess.
It was just the latest in a long line of exciting fights for Lytle, an Indianapolis fireman.
"The wife hates it; the fans love it," he said of his style. "I don’t know how good it is for longevity, but I love being in those types of fights."
On the undercard, three fighters won by first-round stoppage.
Jason Dent and Nick Osipczak each won by quick submission.
Tomasz Drwal knocked out Mike Ciesnolevicz with a knee in the first round, and Melvin Guillard and Brad Blackburn each earned decision wins.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@ reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509.View the slide show