One knee changed everything, just not in the way it usually does.
A knee that big, that sends that much blood pouring onto the face of the recipient, often signals a lesser number on the judges' scorecards, if it even reaches such a point.
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But after UFC light heavyweight Gian Villante connected with that knee to the forehead of Fabio Maldonado midway through the second round, it was Maldonado who gained the momentum.
Maldonado used his left jab and superior overall boxing skills to win the final two rounds and the fight as a whole, beating Villante by unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night 38 in Natal, Brazil, on Sunday night. The judges scored it 29-27, 29-28, 29-28. It was the third straight victory for Maldonado (21-6, 4-3 UFC).
“There were a couple of times when I knew I hit him and he took a weird step, like he wobbled a little bit, but then he kept coming," Villante said. "I think I surprised him the same way, he hit me with some good ones and I kept going. I think it was a good fight.”
Villante (11-5, 1-2) dominated the first round with his superior wrestling and grappling. Less than 20 seconds into the first round, Villante took down Maldonado. He kept him there throughout the majority of the first round, controlled positioning and landed a few shots but didn't inflict much serious damage.
Maldonado found his range in the second round, working good combinations of left jab-right hook and left jab-left body shot. Those punches began to wear on Villante, of Levittown, as the round continued.
Maldonado connected on 64 percent of his total strikes (150-for-237) and 61 percent of his significant strikes (132-for-217), according to Fight Metric. Villante hit three of 12 takedowns and had ground control for 5:51.
In the final seven minutes or so of the bout, Villante tried to change levels several times but was shooting in from too far out to get a successful takedown. Maldonado saw them coming and the former professional boxer was able to avoid being taken down. As Maldonado continued to land his combinations, and receive some shots, Villante never fell to the ground.
“It was a war standing up, but that was after he gave me a hard time on the ground," Maldonado said. "His wrestling is very good, so I knew I had to impose my striking game and avoid the fence. I knew that, striking, he’d get tired first.”