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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

Kelvin Gastelum pounds Michael Bisping in first round KO at UFC Shanghai

American opens the door to a possible title shot against St Pierre after scoring a devastating quick-fire victory against the Englishman while The Leech raises the roof with a tremendous display himself

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 November, 2017, 9:41pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 November, 2017, 12:41pm

American Kelvin Gastelum grabbed the title lifeline thrown at him on Saturday night, knocking one-time middleweight champion Michael Bisping to the canvas – and out of action – at 2.57 of the first round of their headline clash as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) made its debut in mainland China.

The 26-year-old (14-3) had arrived in Shanghai saying the fact that Bisping (30-9) had signed on for the fight on three weeks’ notice – after original headliner Anderson Silva’s failed drug test – had made the bout all that bigger.

It meant, he said, if he won the door would open to a possible title shot against the legend that is Georges St Pierre (26-2), the man who took The Count’s crown.

On Saturday night at the sold-out Mercedes-Benz Arena, Gastelum duly threw that door wide open. He overpowered the British 38-year-old with a huge left-right combination and follow-up barrage that had the referee waving it all away.

“This is the biggest win of my career,” said Gastelum. “I’m going to try not to get emotional. I’ve a huge amount of respect for Bisping. He throws a mean left hook but I just worked on that right. There’s a main event at the event in Australia [Perth] in February and I’m up for that. [Interim middleweight champion] Robert Whittaker (19-4) is there and he doesn’t have an opponent so I want that spot.”

On Saturday night at the sold-out Mercedes-Benz Arena, Gastelum duly threw that door wide open. He overpowered the British 38-year-old with a big right and a follow-up barrage that had the referee waving it all away.

Bisping had been asked before the bout about whether he could handle such a short turnaround, with Saturday night’s bout against Gastelum coming just on three weeks after he had lost his middleweight crown to Georges St. Pierre in New York. No problem, the Englishman had laughed – when he was a wild young street fighter, he’d only needed five seconds to decide whether or not he’d go into battle.

Post-fight he took another stance entirely. “I’m getting old,” said Bisping.

“He got me with a good shot. God bless Kelvin. He’s young and I’ve done this for a long time.”

Bisping will now look to a final appearance in the cage before the quiet life – and the Hall of Fame – beckons. He says it’ll be in London early next year with a yet-to-be-named opponent.

The first man to put up his hand has been American Jorge Masvadal (32-13), in Shanghai this week as part of the UFC’s huge PR push. The 33-year-old welterweight can barely contain his contempt for the Englishman, and while what exactly ignited it might remain a mystery, Masvadal seethed at his public appearances, and said that it could only be extinguished one way.

“I’ll have to fight him,” he said. “Any time, anywhere.”

So we’ll leave that now to the UFC match makers.

The locals were brought to their feet earlier by a series of huge wins for Chinese fighters.

Forget about any weight of expectation, too. If there was any at all bearing down on the star of the show – welterweight Li “The Leech” Jingliang (14-4) – in the co-main event against American Zak Ottow (15-5), the 29-year-old wasn’t showing it. He stormed into the fray and had battered the American by 2.57 of the first. It was called a TKO as a fierce right sent the visitor to the mat, and Li then rained down the pain

Li then climbed the cage and rushed to embrace his family, who were watching him fight in China for the first time. Talk about playing to your crowd.

There was more to follow as Leech dedicated his victory to “everyone in here and everyone who has ever supported me.”

“If you were here with me tonight and you witnessed this victory, it belongs to you,” said the 29-year-old.

Li then engaged the faithful with a call and response that went “China” and then “power.” It was something to see. Now, he said, he has his eyes on the title currently held by American Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley (18-3-1).

“I think this is my destiny,” said Li.

Michael Bisping answers UFC Shanghai SOS as Anderson Silva replacement on short notice

Also on the main card, Guan “The Dongbei Tiger” Wang (20-1) arrived, heavy on the hype and known for his hitting and intent in the first round on showing what all the fuss had been about. He laid Alec “Bruce Leeroy” Caceres (13-11) to the floor at the end of the first with a furious assault that seemed to have finished the job. But the bell came and it took two more round before the Chinese fighters was handed the split decision.

He’d worn three bell-ringers from the unconventional Caceres, but recovered from the low blows to stand his ground admirably. There’s a future here for sure.

Chinese fans had waited a long time to welcome the UFC – and the organisation came to the party by stacking the 12-bout card with local fighters. There were eight across the night, ranging from a few with whom the UFC was testing the waters to others – like Li and Guan – who look near-enough ready to mix in with the best in their divisions.

‘Together we can make China proud’: Li ‘The Leech’ Jianling ready to lead the Chinese charge at UFC’s first mainland card

Things didn’t start too brightly for the local side, however, and it was 3-0 to the visitors early during the preliminaries. The discontent was brewing and palpable.

Then along came 19-year-old featherweight Song “The Terminator” Yadong (10-3) and a textbook, old- school roundhouse right that sent India’s Bharat “Daring” Khandare (5-3) to the canvas with about three minutes gone in the first. A follow-up guillotine choke brought a tap-out – and fans to their feet.

The 28-year-old Yan “Fury” Xiaonan (8-1) then ploughed her way through Kailin Curran (4-6) early with her heavy hands, withstood a take down by the American late that threatened to prove fatal and was given a unanimous nod by the judges in their strawweight clash,

Warming to the cause now, Shanghai went seriously bonkers when welterweight Song Kenan (12-3) took all of 15 seconds – and one huge straight right from the 27-year-old – to send American Bobby Nash (8-4) down and out.

“I hope my road with the UFC is a long one,” she said.

The final score then was 5-3 to the locals and so let’s leave it to Yan to reflect a mood in the China camp – and around the arena.

It must have sounded like music to the UFC’s collective ears.