Brian Foster got two second chances on Friday night, and he made the most of both of them.
Foster emerged victorious in an attrition-filled eight-man lightweight tournament at World Series of Fighting 25, stopping Joao Zeferino via second-round knockout in the evening’s headliner at Comerica Theatre in Phoenix.
It appeared that Foster (25-8) knocked out Zeferino (20-7) with a brutal standing-to-ground right hand in round two, but with no sign of a stoppage, Foster continued to pummel his reeling foe with more punches before raising his arms in what turned out to be a premature celebration. Foster had to connect with one more blow before referee Chris Tognoni mercifully rescued Zeferino at the 4:51 mark.
It was a redemptive victory for Foster, who succumbed to a Zeferino heel-hook in a quarterfinal tournament bout before being granted re-entry after injuries altered the bracket. The Brazilian went back to the well on several occasions in the rematch, but Foster was able to emerge unscathed each time.
“I got really confident in my ground game and I came out here with a samurai, and he got me,” Foster said. “There’s no excuse for that. We know some people would fall off and we got a chance.”
With the win, Foster earns a title shot against reigning WSOF lightweight king Justin Gaethje at an as-yet-undetermined date in spring 2016. The two men briefly exchanged words earlier in the evening before facing off in the cage at the end of the night.
In the co-main event, Jason High made a triumphant return after more than a year layoff, as he dispatched Estevan Payan via knockout in a lightweight duel. High sent Payan to his seat with a head kick, and then finished the job with three left hands on the ground 47 seconds into the opening frame.
High (19-5) had not fought since a UFC Fight Night card in June 2014, when he shoved referee Kevin Mulhall after a technical knockout loss to Rafael dos Anjos. As a result of his actions, “The Kansas City Bandit” was suspended for one year and cut by the Las Vegas-based promotion.
High was never in danger against Payan and nearly had a chance to finish the bout in round one. After landing a takedown, High trapped his opponent’s left arm with his leg and cranked for a potential armbar. When that didn’t work, High pounded away with a series of left hands to the face. Payan (16-9, 1 NC) was eventually returned to his feet but was unable to mount much of a threat before High put him away.
Earlier, injuries took their toll on the tournament participants, as Mike Ricci (hip) and Islam Mamedov (knee) were unable to continue to the semifinals despite first-round triumphs. As a result, Foster and Jorge Patino received second opportunities. Foster, for one, made the most of his mulligan.
The 31-year-old Oklahoman earned a surprisingly dominant victory over two-time WSOF title challenger Luis Palomino in their semifinal encounter. Foster brought an end to the contest with a barrage of punches on a defenseless Palomino 4:19 into round two.
“I knew I could beat him in wrestling. I knew I was going to fight him at some point tonight,” Foster said.
Palomino (24-12) more than held his own on the feet, but those moments were few and far between. Foster had his way against the Peruvian lightweight on the mat for most of the fight, nearly ending the bout with a flurry of hammerfists from the mounted crucifix position in round one before bloodying his adversary -- and ultimately ending the contest -- with a final salvo of right hands in the second stanza.
Meanwhile, Zeferino showcased his submission prowess, tapping out Patino with a heel hook just 1:24 into the opening round of their semifinal clash. It was the Brazilian’s second consecutive victory via heel hook in the bracket.
“The strategy is to finish the fight as soon as I can. No time for celebration because I have to go on to the next one,” Zeferino said.
Zeferino began the contest by attacking the already battered Patino’s right eye. “Macaco” responded by rushing his adversary and throwing wild punches, but that allowed Zeferino to grab his leg and take the fight to the canvas. From there, “The Brazilian Samurai” was quickly able to secure the heel hook, forcing Patino (38-17-2) to give up moments later.
In earlier tournament action, Palomino bounced back from a slow start and finished with a flourish against Richard Patishnock, winning via technical knockout 4:55 into round one of their quarterfinal. Patishnock (6-3) controlled the majority of the period by clinching with Patino and pressing him into the cage, but “Baboon” seized victory with a late flurry of offense, dropping his man twice in a matter of seconds to earn the stoppage.
Zeferino made Foster pay for playing his game in their lightweight quarterfinal showdown, as he submitted his American foe with a first-round heel hook. Foster elected to work inside Zeferino’s guard early, and he appeared to be relatively composed as he defended against a variety of heel hooks and armbars before Zeferino suddenly secured the tapout at the 1:46 mark.
Ricci (11-4) made short work of replacement opponent Joe Condon (12-9) in another 155-pound quarterfinal, winning via head-kick knockout at the 2:41 mark of round one. The Tristar Gym representative briefly knocked his foe out cold with the blow, forcing referee Chris Tognoni to intervene before Ricci could land follow-up punches.
In the first lightweight quarterfinal bout of the evening, Mamedov (13-1) floored Patino in the first round and held off his opponent down the stretch to earn a two-round unanimous verdict. Mamedov battered Patino with ground-and-pound in pursuit of the finish after the knockdown, but Patino was able to survive and make things competitive in round two.
In other action: Ramil Mustapaev defeated LaRue Burley via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) in a lightweight tournament alternate bout; Roberto Yong (3-3) stopped Jimmy Scully (3-4) with punches on the mat 1:11 into the opening round of their catch-weight contest; and Joseph Barajas (12-1) defeated Erik Villalobos (4-5) via technical knockout at the 4:06 mark of round three.