Full-game win: Urbana High grad Semelsberger earns unanimous decision over Fletcher at UFC Fight Night | Professional: all sports

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Within the first five minutes of his fight on Saturday, Matthew Semelsberger had spent time on his back, with an aggressive opponent in full mount – the most advantageous position in the sport of mixed martial arts.

He had repelled the attempts at suffocation. He had eaten strikes on the ground and on the pound. He had squirmed strategically around the mat.

The Urbana High graduate had entered the encounter, his fifth in the UFC since 2020, saying he was hungry to add all-around brawling to his growing resume. And AJ Fletcher more than obliged in the first round, so much so that when Semelsberger stood up after surviving the onslaught – his bun of long brown hair having come undone in the melee – he was already losing a lot.

Then, Semelsberger finished the deal he had come to complete against his previously undefeated counterpart. He turned the tide in round two, unleashing an onslaught that included his own takedowns, breakouts and a dangerously wild exchange that wrapped up the three-round proceedings.

By the end of that UFC Fight Night preliminary headliner, Semelsberger had essentially earned a comprehensive victory, and the welterweight hand was up as the judges awarded him a unanimous decision by a trio of 29- 28 scores at UFC APEX in Las Vegas.

“Me and him gave each other smiles and a wink before [the fight started]“, Semelsberger said of Fletcher in a post-fight interview with UFC color analyst Paul Felder. “I just knew this fight had ‘game’ written all over it. So thank you, AJ It’s good when you have an opponent like him because it makes you want to train hard because you know it’s a big challenge ahead of you.”

As “Semi the Jedi” spoke, his chest heaved, his mop of hair was drenched in sweat. But he wore a satisfied expression on his bearded face.

It was a different look to those produced by some of his recent fights, two of which ended without Semelsberger shedding a flicker of sweat as he used his right hand to become one of three fighters in the story. company to win twice in less than 16 years. seconds.

Those facts – and the threat posed by the powerfully built and well-balanced Fletcher (9-1) – led Semelsberger (10-3) to seek to showcase more aspects of his development this time around, well aware that critics would have could still be questioning his full fledged credentials and wondering how he would handle a rookie looking to make an immediate imprint.

Then came that first round.

Fletcher earned a double-leg takedown just 30 seconds into the first five minutes. From there he sought numerous submissions which Semi frantically defended.

Fletcher won the full mount with about a minute left in the first. But Semelsberger did well to avoid damage from that precarious spot — likely through training with top jiu-jitsu players in the five months since his previous fight — and the round expired.

“I knew I just had to stay calm in the first round,” Semelsberger, 29, said. “I’m no stranger to being put on the back. I used to fight at light heavyweight and middleweight earlier in my career, so I was used to being put on the back, forced to be comfortable slinging myself… just staying calm, knowing that even though I didn’t get up, after the first one I still had two full rounds after that to get back into the fight.”

And that’s exactly what happened.

The pair traded kicks to their feet to open the second, and Fletcher landed a takedown that Semi quickly escaped. It happened again, with Fletcher grabbing Semi’s back, but this time Semelsberger used his grappling skills to maneuver into top position, under Fletcher’s full guard.

Semi spent the rest of the round picking his spots for the floor and the pound, including some big nudges that helped him win the stanza.

Going into the third, where Fletcher hadn’t ventured since a fight in 2019 (he had finished eight of his nine wins), the Louisiana native looked tired. Still, he recorded another takedown about a minute later. The 6-foot-1 Semi got up and out quickly.

Then, moments later, he rushed over and lifted the 5-foot-10 Fletcher, slamming him for a takedown with 3:08 left.

From there, it was a matter of Semelsberger staying wisely active in attack while making sure to keep Fletcher on the canvas.

With 35 seconds remaining, Semi landed a huge elbow that bloodied Fletcher. But a flurry of success got Fletcher back on his feet. The two then embarked on a furious, random back-and-forth between two exhausted contestants.

At its conclusion, Semelsberger collapsed against the cage, then sprawled on the mat. Exhausted and probably glad it’s over.

“Tough fight. Matt again that would be,” said Mike Semelsberger, Matthew’s father. “Fletcher is good. Matt knew he was going to try and take him down. Matt did a good job of getting out of submission attempts. Matt did a good job on the bottom and had a hell of a takedown in the third. “

Fletcher edged Semelsberger in total strikes (87-54), takedowns (4-1) and total ground control time (5:42 to 4:55). But Semi had landed bigger shots (40-34), head shots (32-21), and he was in control of perhaps the most important segments of the fight as he went.

While the victory lacked the liveliness and finality of some of his other performances, Semelsberger proved himself in another, perhaps more important way. And that was one of his goals as he tried to cement his position as a veteran who can go anywhere a fight takes him and provide excitement along the way.

“You can’t always win by knockout,” said her father, who watched ESPN+ with his family and friends. “But I think Matt has shown even on the pitch that he’s capable of wrestling properly.

“It was a nail biter, though.”

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