Canada’s Mitch Gagnon needed to make a statement in his second appearance in a UFC octagon.
He did just that Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.
Gagnon connected with a devastating left hand and later submitted Walel (The Gazelle) Watson with a rear naked choke just 69 seconds into their bantamweight bout at UFC 152. It was an impressive performance by the 27-year-old from Sudbury, Ont., who was coming off a loss to Bryan Caraway at UFC 149.
“I didn’t want to be that 0-2 guy that got kicked out of the UFC,” Gagnon said. “Guys don’t go 0-3 in the UFC. It’s 0-2 and go back to the little shows and come back when you’re ready.
“So I had my back against the fence a little bit I thought and I just wanted to get that W.”
The other Canadians on the early card came through with unanimous decision victories. Welterweight Sean (The Punisher) Pierson of Pickering, Ont., beat Lance Benoist while lightweight T.J. Grant of Cole Harbour, N.S., defeated Evan Dunham.
The lone Canadian on the main card, Halifax light-heavyweight Roger (The Hulk) Hollett, dropped a decision to Matt (The Hammer) Hamill.
Gagnon, who entered the cage to Linkin Park’s “Bleed It Out,” looked composed and confident in the second bout on the card. He connected with a left after Watson missed a Superman punch.
Watson fell to the mat and Gagnon landed some punishing blows before earning the submission.
“He decided to throw a sloppy punch and he got caught for it,” Gagnon said.
The five-foot-six 135-pounder improved to 9-2 while Watson, who fights out of San Diego, fell to 9-5.
“I got caught. There’s nothing else to say,” Watson said. “Congrats to Mitch and I’ll be back better next time.”
Gagnon’s eyes moistened shortly before his hand was raised.
“I couldn’t hold the tears down,” he said. “I just felt like there was a lot to prove to myself and maybe to some critics. But more to myself. I just had a lot of emotions and I couldn’t control them.”
Watson, 28, is five inches taller than Gagnon and had a seven-inch reach advantage. He tried to outbox Gagnon at the start but couldn’t land a significant shot against the quick Canadian.
“Walel was a guy that nobody was able to finish in the UFC ... and I was able to put him away in the first,” Gagnon said. “It’s a big statement I think, that I can dance with these guys.”
Gagnon, who works as a trainer at an MMA training facility he co-owns in his hometown, spent his early years in wrestling and judo before focusing on mixed martial arts. All of his victories have come via submission and all but one came in the first round.
“I specifically practised that left hook counter and I was able to execute it perfectly,” Gagnon said. “I wanted to bait him in with kicks to change it up so that I would have an opportunity to throw it and he opened up for it.
“I’m very glad to be healthy and I want to keep this streak rolling.”
Gagnon lost by submission in the third round to Caraway in his UFC debut last July in Calgary. It was deemed Fight of the Night and both fighters earned $65,000 for their efforts.
Gagnon is hoping he’ll be added to the UFC 154 card set for Montreal on Nov. 17. Coach Richard Nancoo said the win over Watson was an “absolutely enormous” victory for the fighter.
“I think next time he shows up, he’s going to show up even harder, stronger, faster, just smoother,” Nancoo said. “That’s just how Mitch is. He just learns extremely quickly.”
Pierson, meanwhile, turned in a gutsy performance against an opponent 12 years his junior. The Canadian took a hard left midway through the third round but hung on for the win.
“Lance is a really tough kid and he gave me a lot of trouble out there,” Pierson said. “I thought I edged the first two rounds but he hurt me pretty bad in the third and I just went into survival mode.
“I was fighting purely on instincts at the end there and he did really well trying to get the finish. Just glad I was able to hold out and get the win.”
Grant kept the Canadian winning streak going by bloodying Dunham early and keeping up the pressure throughout their lightweight bout.
“I feel awesome after that,” Grant said. “It was a taxing fight on both of us and we each did a lot of damage to one another. I think I had an edge in the exchanges and I definitely landed more body shots than Evan did.”
Later in the evening, Hollett struggled against Hamill in a boring, plodding contest.
Notes: Canadian welterweight Rory (Ares) MacDonald was in attendance. The crowd gave him a nice ovation when he was shown on the big screens around the arena.