By Jon Johnson
RIO DE JANERIO – Safford native Matthew Lopez (10-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC) went into the lion’s den Saturday to take on No. 10-ranked bantamweight Johnny Eduardo (28-11 MMA, 3-3 UFC) and came out practically unscathed.
The fight was part of UFC 212 on the FS1 prelims prior to the pay-per-view main card which all took place at Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Lopez defeated Eduardo via TKO (punches) at the 2:57 mark in Round 1. The official finally stopped the fight after Lopez landed punch after punch to Eduardo’s head during a ground-and-pound flurry.
Lopez barely gave any chance to the Brazilian Eduardo and local fan favorite. After exchanging blows for the initial part of the first round, Lopez scored a takedown on his initial attempt and gradually beat Eduardo into submission as Eduardo hung on to Lopez’s leg. After not being able to fend off the shots, referee Mario Yamasaki called the fight for Lopez.
The Safford native is getting used to beating fighters on their home turf, having also traveled to Toronto last December to defeat Canadian Mitch Gagnon
After the fight, Lopez said he was ready to anyone who wanted to step up against him.
“Listen, I came into this division at 8-0 and I’ve got three top-15 opponents right out the gate,” Lopez said. “I don’t know anybody else here who’s got that. Anybody in the top 10, holler, I’m ready.”
Lopez grew up in Safford and then moved to Tucson for high school, where he was a four-time state championship wrestler with the Sunnyside Blue Devils. Lopez was also the national high school champion in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling.
After high school, Lopez continued wrestling for Cal State Fullerton in college. His formerly fought out of Lake Forest, Calif., but relocated to Denver and now trains with Safford’s other big-time MMA fighter, Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje (17-0 MMA), who left the World Series Of Fighting (WSOF) as its only Lightweight Campion and is now in the UFC as well. Lopez told Gila Valley Central that he decided to try MMA after he noticed former wrestling opponents having success.
“I watched it in high school, but I don’t think I always wanted to become a fighter,” Lopez said. “I think when I started seeing people (who) I wrestled against and I knew from wrestling have success in the MMA world, that’s when I kind of wanted to try my hand at it.”
Gaethje will have his first shot at success in the UFC as part of the headliner at The Ultimate Fighter 25 Finale on July 7 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas when he faces Michael Johnson (17-11 MMA, 9-7 UFC).
During a news conference announcing the fight, Johnson threatened he was going to attempt to “literally” kill Gaethje.
“I’m not a gatekeeper of the UFC, trust me,” Johnson said. “I’m here to win this title, and I’m not here to welcome guys from the C-league in here. But at the same time, yeah, of course I’m going to welcome him into the UFC, and it’s not going to be a good night for him. I’ve got two months to get prepared to take somebody’s life in this cage. I’m not trying to beat him up, I’m not trying to win by decision or a point – I’m literally going to try to take this man’s life. And if you’re not ready to die, don’t show up.”
The tough talk didn’t seem to bother Gaethje, who has welcomed all comers to face him.
“I’m a violent mother (expletive deleted),” Gaethje said. “I’m the most violent lightweight on this planet, and I will prove that. You will find out. It’s going to be a march, a march to deep water, baby, and you’re not going to last. You can’t swim in this water.”