Matt Frevola said during fight week that he wanted to take his opponent into the later rounds. Trainer Ray Longo preached a controlled pace against knockout artist Ottman Azaitar.
“Let’s see what he's got because he knocks everybody out the first round,” Longo told Newsday. “We don't know what the guy is like in the third round. So my thing was if he's going to beat you, he has to be in the third round.
Turns out Frevola didn’t need all that time in the octagon on Saturday night at UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden.
The Serra-Longo lightweight from Huntington did to Azaitar what Azaitar usually does to other fighters: He knocked him out in the first round.
“I was prepared for a three-round war,” Frevola told Newsday. “But I hit him, I hurt him, I finished him. I’m a shark. I’m a lion. When I smell blood, I finish, and that’s what I did.”
The finishing sequence for Frevola (10-3-1) began with a pair of short right hands while the two fighters were in close range. It ended with a left hook that floored Azaitar (13-1). No follow-up strikes were needed as referee Dan Miragliotta stepped in immediately to declare the walkoff knockout win at the 2:30 mark
It is the second straight first-round knockout win for the 32-year-old Frevola, and the first on his new UFC contract. In Frevola's last fight, he tied a UFC record with four knockdowns in the first round before the last one ended it.
“I remember hitting him, seeing him fall, and then them calling it off, it was the best feeling in the world,” Frevola said. “Especially after my last fight because I remember dropping that dude and the ref not stopping it. And like having to keep punching, keep punching, him getting up, me dropping him again, me having to keep going, keep going. But this time I dropped him and the ref stopped it and it was great.”
Frevola opened the bout with a few kicks that kept Azaitar at a distance. As the fight moved on, that distance closed as both fighters looked for opportunities to land with their punches. Frevola connected on 12 of his 28 strikes (43%), and Azaitar, a 32-year-old Moroccan, landed 11 of 23 (48%).
But it was those last three strikes midway through the round that were the most significant.
“He did nothing wrong, his movement was great,” Longo said. “He didn't run across the ring like a lunatic. He just paced himself, waited to see what that guy had, and when an opening presented itself in that flurry, he took advantage of it. His awareness was on.”