Curtis stuns Santiago to retain title; Felix wins in impressive fashion in long-awaited return to action

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (March 31st, 2017) – Just when it appeared the CES MMA World Welterweight Title might change hands Friday night on AXS TV, the cool, calm Chris Curtis stemmed the tide to bring the belt back home to Cincinnati.

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The reigning champ Curtis (15-5, 6 KOs) stopped hard-charging challenger Wilfredo Santiago (7-4) of Lawrence, Mass., at 1 minute, 8 seconds into the second round of their scheduled five-round title bout in the main event of “CES MMA 42” from Twin River Casino live on AXS TV Fights to retain the title in his first defense.

Santiago appeared to have Curtis on wobbly legs when he began unloading with lefts, rights and knees to the midsection early in the second round – “He hit me harder than I’ve ever been hit!” Curtis said – but the champ remained calm and caught Santiago on the way in with a vicious uppercut to the chin, sending the challenger tumbling across the ring.

Santiago fell to the canvas and referee John Englishimmediately stopped the fight before Curtis could inflict more damage. The surprising turnaround stopped Santiago in his tracks following his signature win over Chuck O’Neil in November while his second consecutive fight to retain the CES MMA World Welterweight Title.

Making his long-awaited return to the cage following a 14-month layoff due to injury, Cranston, R.I., lightweight Luis Felix (15-9) stole the show in the co-featured bout with a first-round submission win over Arkansas vet Dawond Pickney (10-7).

Felix, the reigning CES MMA World Lightweight Champion, turned the tide with a straight left hand to the jaw that sent Pickney to the canvas midway through the opening round. Felix immediately pounced, nearly finishing Pickney with a guillotine before scoring another big takedown and sinking in the rear naked choke with 29 seconds to go.

Friday’s fight was Felix’s first since January of 2016 when he lost to Ryan Sanders in a non-title defense after injuring his knee in the second round of a scheduled three-round bout.

The upset of the night occurred in the featherweight division as Cortland, N.Y., native Kenny Foster (12-11) won the final two rounds to earn a 29-28 unanimous decision win on all three scorecards over Johnston, R.I., fan-favorite Joe Pingitore (7-4).

Like most of Pingitore’s fights, this was all action from the opening bell and he and Foster exchanged fists and feet in the center of the cage for the majority of the bout. Pingitore easily won the first round and nearly had Foster locked in a guillotine, but Foster survived and began to switch up his attack in the final two rounds, mixing in head kicks with overhand rights to slow Pingitore’s aggressiveness.

Foster had lost his last three entering Friday and had not won since 2014. Pingitore was coming off an impressive win over Spencer Higa at “CES MMA 40.” 

Longtime CES MMA vet Saul Almeida (19-8) of Framingham, Mass., also snapped a lengthy losing streak Friday, winning for the first time in four fights by submitting Fall River, Mass., lightweight Josh LaBerge (11-6) via rear naked choke with 10 seconds to go in the final round. 

After a close first round, Almeida began to do what he does best, controlling the fight on the ground and wearing down LaBerge with effective ground and pound before locking in the choke in the final seconds. Friday was Almeida’s 11th appearance with CES MMA and his first win since defeating Chris Foster in 2015.

Fighting at flyweight for the first time since facing Billy Giovanella in 2014, a leaner, meaner Kody Nordby (9-4) earned his eighth win by submission, finishing Bellingham, Mass., native David Baxter (4-2) via rear naked choke at 4:24 of the opening round.

Nordby, who has now won three in a row since challenging Andre Soukhamthath for the CES MMA World Bantamweight Title, scored an early takedown and simply wore out Baxter with unanswered left hands and elbows to the temple before ultimately taking Baxter’s back and finishing the fight with the rear naked choke.

In the opening bout of the main card, Brazilian cruiserweight Dirlei Broenstrup (15-4) won a tough split decision over Stoughton, Mass., vet Pat Walsh (10-3), 29-28, 30-27, 29-28.

Though Walsh tried to coax Broenstrup into a stand-up slugfest, the bulky Brazilian dominated on the ground and simply wore down Walsh over the course of three rounds. Walsh rallied to win the third round on two of the three scorecards, but it wasn’t enough; Nick Mahmood and Jason Randolph scored it 29-28 in favor of Broenstrup while Wayne Lima favored Walsh, 30-27.

Bantamweight Kris Moutinho (4-0) of Milford, Mass., remained unbeaten with a 30-27, 30-27, 29-28 unanimous decision win over tough Canadian Lloyd Reyes (4-4). Moutinho kept Reyes pressed against the cage for most of the final two rounds, but periodically gained enough separation to unload with lefts and rights and keep his opponent on his heels. Reyes couldn’t gain much momentum down the stretch, and Moutinho cruised to his fourth win under the CES MMA promotional banner since September.

Cranston, R.I., welterweight Gary Balletto Jr. stole the show on the preliminary card with a dominant win over pro debut Chris Torres of Syracuse. Balletto (3-1) overwhelmed Torres (0-1) from the opening bell, set the pace with a pair of thunderous slams to the canvas and then locked in a picture-perfect knee bar to submit his opponent at 1:12 of the opening round.

Since losing his pro debut in August of 2015, Balletto has won three consecutive bouts, with each more impressive than the last. The 22-year-old welterweight has finished each of his last three opponents in the opening round, including a knockout win – the first of his career – over Montoyia Swilling at “CES MMA 40” in November.

Providence, R.I., bantamweight Marquise Brewster(3-0), fighting in the featured bout of the preliminary card, remained perfect with his third win in as many bouts, defeating the game Cody Hier (0-1) of Philadelphia, Pa., by unanimous decision, 30-27, 30-27, 30-26. Making his professional debut, Hier kept his distance at times, but Brewster stalked him down effectively and gained separation with his performance on the ground.

Making her second appearance with CES MMA, Framingham, Mass., flyweight Marie Rivera (2-0) kept her perfect record intact, earning a hard-fought, 30-27, unanimous decision win on all three scorecards over Arkansas pro debut Jessica Sotack (0-1).

The two traded blows in the second and third rounds, but Rivera’s dominant ground game was the difference as she slowed the pace and kept the hard-charging Sotack at bay. Rivera debuted at “CES MMA 41” with a knockout win over Sarah Clickand now has two professional wins in a two-month span.

Also remaining unbeaten, Milford, Mass., bantamweight Richie Santiago (4-0) finished veteran Chad Kelly (3-4) of Winchendon, Mass., via rear naked choke at 1:34 of the second round. Santiago landed cleanly in the opening round and even walked through a few counterpunches from his opponent before scoring an early takedown in the second round and earning his fourth submission win in as many fights. Friday was Santiago’s fourth appearance for CES MMA since September.

Photo Credit: CES MMA

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