Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
Chris Gutierrez could hardly celebrate his latest highlight-reel knockout.
The fast-rising bantamweight contender scored the biggest win of his career this past Saturday at UFC 281, leaving a stunned Madison Square Garden crowd in silence after landing a devastating KO knee on former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar.
It took Gutierrez a little over two minutes to put Edgar away and when the fight was over all he could think about was his fallen opponent’s health.
“As soon as I saw him stiffen and fall, the first thing that went through my mind was, ‘S***, I hope he’s OK,’” Gutierrez said on The MMA Hour. “That’s instantly the first thing that went through my mind. That’s why I didn’t even really celebrate at first. The genuine person in me was, like, I just want him to be OK. I didn’t really care to celebrate. Even though my team, we had our own emotions going into the fight, especially the stuff that coach was dealing with, it was a big emotional rollercoaster ride.
“But yeah, I saw him fall, the first thing that went through my mind was, ‘I hope he’s OK.’ … It was almost scary because when I walked out, the boos echoed and the floor was just rumbling. You can feel the electricity, like, ‘Man, they don’t like me here.’ Respectfully so, they have all the right to feel that way, I’m fighting against the Jersey legend. So I knew I was going to have to earn my respect there.”
It was the second straight knockout win for Gutierrez, who finished Danaa Batgerel with a spinning backfist this past March. Gutierrez has now won four straight fights and is unbeaten in his past eight appearances. He entered Saturday as the betting favorite over Edgar, despite “The Answer” having the bigger name and the support of the New York crowd.
Gutierrez expected a finish, but even he couldn’t have predicted how their fight would end.
“I believe in my skill set and obviously I throw knees, but to think it was going to just play out like that?” Gutierrez said. “If I said, ‘Yes,’ I’d be lying.”
The bout was billed as Edgar’s retirement bout, the culmination of a 17-year pro fighting career that saw Edgar reign as the UFC’s lightweight champion from 2010-2012, twice fight for the featherweight belt, and finish as a contender in the 135-pound division. Edgar, 41, had previously made it known that 2022 would be his last year as an active competitor, but who he’d face in his final fight was a mystery.
Gutierrez was not only sent the contract, he was apparently a top choice of Edgar’s camp. Though he didn’t anticipate being Edgar’s last opponent, he eagerly jumped on the opportunity.
“I didn’t think it was going to be me,” Gutierrez said. “Maybe my coaches behind the scenes they did, but as far as me, I didn’t have no idea. I just got the phone call, ‘This is who you’re fighting.’ I was like, ‘OK, let’s do it.’
“I guess [the retirement] just made it a little bigger. It’s his final ride. You want to see the legend go out on top. So I didn’t look at it like that, I’m the guy that gets to kind of spoil it. It was very bittersweet, it definitely was.”
In the lead-up to UFC 281, Gutierrez had hinted at a past beef between he and Edgar, but declined to elaborate during fight week and his appearance on The MMA Hour. Whatever the issue was, it appears to be squashed as Gutierrez relayed the respectful post-fight words he shared with Edgar.
“‘You’re a legend and it’s an honor to share this cage with you,’” Gutierrez said he told Edgar. “I was like the kid growing up watching this guy competing. I always pictured him as like — and I mean no disrespect — he’s like The Little Engine That Could. He was the smallest guy in the division, always being the underdog, and would always prevail on top. I wasn’t the biggest guy growing up, so I was like he’s sort of like me, I’m not the biggest guy but neither is he and he’s just prevailing and just winning and he’s got heart. I was like, ‘I’ve got to stay on that track. I want to be like him.’
“So it just took me back. I was like a kid. Overall, I was just like, ‘It’s an honor’ and ‘Are you OK?’ I was just wondering if he was OK.”