Nova Scotia

Newfoundland's Gavin Tucker wins UFC debut in Halifax, as Mom leaves the Rock for the 1st time

The fighting pride of Ship Cove, N.L., Gavin Tucker, scores a big win in his UFC debut at a packed Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.

Featherweight Tucker looked at home in Octagon against UFC veteran Sam Sicilia

Gavin Tucker from Ship Cove, N.L., fighting out of Halifax, reacts after winning a unanimous decision over Sam Sicilia in a featherweight bout at UFC Fight Night in Halifax. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The fighting pride of Ship Cove, N.L., Gavin Tucker, scored a big win in his UFC debut Sunday night at a packed Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.

Tucker, who won the featherweight title in the Halifax-based Extreme Cage Combat promotion, took on UFC veteran Sam Sicilia. Tucker looked at home in the first round, working his angles to land kicks and punches and evading most of Sicilia's attacks.

Sam Sicilia, left, battles Gavin Tucker. Tucker seemed to fade midway through the third round, but took Sicilia down and took over the match. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Tucker's speed and footwork likely won him the second round. He kept Sicilia guessing as he landed combinations and stayed away from Sicilia's dangerous right hand. Tucker seemed to fade midway through the third, but took Sicilia down and took over the match.

By the end, Tucker was waving a matador's flag after Sicilia tumbled past him whiffing big punches. Trying to lure his opponent in like a true Newfoundlander, Tucker mimicked reeling in a fish mid-fight.

Easy decision

Tucker had fewer pro fights than Sicilia had UFC bouts, but Tucker looked like he'd been in the octagon for years. It was an easy decision for the judges: all three scored a unanimous decision win for Tucker. Draped in the Newfoundland flag, the 10-0 Tucker said it was just his first step in the UFC.  

His mother made her first trip out of Newfoundland to see the mixed martial arts event. He said their hometown has a population of about 60.

"She hasn't seen a rock concert, do you know what I mean? Her first big public show is watching her oldest boy fistfight a dude in a cage. It's pretty exotic for northern Newfoundland," he said after the fight. "I'm pretty friggin' happy that it came out the way it did."

He said the bigger paycheque meant the end of his peanut butter sandwich diet — and he's buying his guitars back.

Main event

The main event brought out the heavyweights, with rising star Derrick Lewis locking horns with a struggling Travis Browne. Browne looked great in the first round, hurting Lewis with body shots and long kicks. But Lewis came out mean in the second and soon had Browne reeling. Lewis landed huge shots and knocked Browne out cold.

In the co-main event, former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks made his middleweight debut against Hector Lombard. Lombard had the better first round, clipping Hendricks several times and winning most of the battles against the cage. Hendricks caught Lombard flush with multiple knees to the chin as Lombard went for a take down. Lombard did his best work standing, nailing Hendricks with right and left hooks. After a close third round, the judges scored it for Hendricks.

Oh...Canada

Mississauga, Ont., middleweight Elias Theodorou, took on Cezar Ferreira. Theodorou walked into Classified's Oh... Canada, winning cheers from the Halifax crowd. It was a tense, closely matched contest on the feet and ground. The judges gave it to Theodorou by unanimous decision.  

Former women's bantamweight title challenger Sara McMann took on underdog Gina Mazany. McMann walked straight over to the newcomer and landed punches before dragging her to the ground. McMann got to mount and choked Mazany out in the opening minutes for the win.

Lightweights Alessandro Ricci and Paul Felder opened the main card. Ricci, fighting out of Woodbridge, Ont., exchanged with Felder before pressing the attack. Felder caught Ricci with a hard elbow, stunning him. Felder showed his killer instinct by following up with punches and a knee to crumple Ricci and force the referee to stop the fight.  

Prelims

Montreal's Nordine Taleb squared off with Santiago Ponzinibbio in a welterweight bout to close the prelims. A slow first round saw both fighters seeking their range. In the second, Ponzinibbio landed his jab over and over, bloodying Taleb, before sending him to the canvas with a straight right. Taleb recovered quickly and kept Ponzinibbio in guard to the end of the round. Ponzinibbio had Taleb's timing down by the third and hammered him with the jab and the straight right. Ponzinibbio won by decision.

In the strawweight division, former champion Carla Esparza took on Windsor, Ont., fighter Randa Markos. Markos stayed patient in the first, hoping to counter Esparza as she came in. Esparza took her down midway through the first and mostly controlled the position, with both fighters landing punches. Esparza took her down again in the second and locked her in a deep choke, but Markos kept calm and held on until the round ended – to a huge pop from the crowd. Markos brought the fight in the third round, but had a hard time dealing with the takedown. Markos felt she'd won and celebrated with the crowd – and the judges agreed, giving her a split-decision win over the woman who was once the very best in the world.

At men's bantamweight, Canadian Aiemann Zahabi took on Reginaldo Vieira. Zahabi, younger brother of legendary Montreal MMA trainer Firas Zahabi, was making his UFC debut. After a tentative first round, both men started landing hard in the second. Zahabi finished on top landing heavy punches. Zahabi controlled most of the third round, stuffing takedowns and landing one-twos. He did enough to prove to the judges that he was the better fighter on the night and won a unanimous decision.

Ferocious head kick

Jack Marshman took on Thiago Santos at middleweight.  Marshman landed the harder shots in the first round and had Santos backpedalling early in the second before Santos unleashed a ferocious head kick that ended the fight by TKO.

In the first fight of the night, American Gerald Meerschaert took on Ryan Janes at middleweight. Janes, a Newfoundlander fighting out of B.C., landed a few shots and took Meerschaert down early in the first round. It proved to be a mistake, as when Janes was looking to land ground shots, Meerschaert caught him with an arm bar for a quick tap. It was his 19th submission.

"Don't take me to the ground. You'll get tapped," Meerschaert said in the post-fight interview. 

About the Author

Jon Tattrie

Reporter

Jon Tattrie is a journalist and the author of two novels and five non-fiction books. He won the RTDNA's 2015 Adrienne Clarkson Award. Find him at www.jontattrie.ca