Liam Gittins captured the vacant Cage Warriors bantamweight title after battling the full 25-minute duration with Scotland's Reece McEwan in the main event of Cage Warriors 164 in Newcastle.
Gittins, who trains out of Liverpool's Next Generation gym under coach Paul Rimmer and alongside the likes of Paddy Pimblett, Molly McCann, Shem Rock and Adam Cullen, earned scores of 49-46 from all three judges to capture the vacant strap previously held by Ireland's Caolan Loughran, who departed the promotion earlier this year to join the UFC.
Despite fighting on English soil, England's Gittins received a somewhat mixed reception from a very pro-McEwan crowd, with the Scot bringing a raucous army of fans down from Scotland for the event. But that didn't shake Gittins' psyche, as he dominated the majority of the matchup to claim a clear unanimous decision victory and claim the 135-pound title.
In the co-main event, Italy's Dario Bellandi made it five wins in a row as he outpointed champion Mick Stanton over five rounds to capture the middleweight title.
In a bout that saw the action go back and forth, both on the feet and on the mat, Bellandi just about did enough to claim the victory on all three scorecards as he earned scores of 48-47, 48-47, 49-46 to improve his record to 7-1 and claim the Cage Warriors 185-pound title.
Stanton started the better of the pair as he appeared to take the opening round, but Bellandi came back into the fight in a very close Round 2. By Round 3, Bellandi looked to be edging the majority of the exchanges, and left the champion heading back to his corner busted up and bleeding at the end of the third round.
It meant the pair headed into the championship rounds – familiar territory for Stanton, but a first for Bellandi – with the fight very much still up for grabs, and Stanton saw time run out on him as he was on the verge of locking up an armbar submission as the horn sounded at the end of another very competitive round.
The final round saw Bellandi push the pace as he stalked Stanton around the cage, and a well-timed counter from the Italian seemed to wobble the champion mid-way through the fight. Bellandi opted to take Stanton to the mat, only for the Huyton man to fight his way back to a vertical base once again. Stanton then took things to the ground again and tried to attack with a Kimura, but Bellandi was wise to it and survived without too much fuss as the bout went all the way to the final horn.
When the scores were read, Bellandi was confirmed as the new middleweight champion, and Stanton sportingly raised the new champion's hand aloft as the Italian fans inside the Vertu Arena celebrated their latest Cage Warriors champion.
Also in action was Scottish lightweight veteran Chris Bungard, who finished the retiring Perry Goodwin via first-round submission.
Goodwin looked fast and loose early as he established his striking in the early portion of the round as he mixed up his punches with some chopping leg kicks that kept Bungard at bay.
But Bungard struck with 90 seconds of the round remaining as he dropped Goodwin with a short left hook, then pounced on his man on the mat. After his initial attempt to take Goodwin's back resulted in him falling off the side, Bungard immediately transitioned to a triangle armbar off his back and forced the tap at the 3:44 mark before charging off to celebrate with his fans in the crowd.
Bungard was presented with a black belt by his coach, while Goodwin removed his gloves and left them on the cage floor before exiting the cage for the final time.
Earlier on the main card, Darren Stewart picked up a first-round TKO finish of Slovakian Antonio Zovak. Stewart scored an early takedown, but Zovak wrapped up the Englishman and nullified him enough to prompt referee Marc Goddard to warn Stewart that he'd need to show some activity to retain the position.
Stewart responded by escaping Zovak's guard and battering his man with heavy ground and pound to score a swift finish and claim the 16th win of his career.
On the prelims, there was an impressive professional debut for English featherweight prospect Leon Armes, who claimed a crowd-pleasing win with a standing guillotine choke finish of Kevin Cesari, while Sweden's Amir Malekpour turned heads with a first-round submission finish of Italy's former flyweight title challenger Dylan Hazan in their 125-pound matchup.
The event also saw the Cage Warriors debut of Kennedy Freeman, the 26-year-old daughter of UK MMA legend Ian "The Machine" Freeman, who made her return to pro action after a five-year hiatus and scored a first-round knockout of Annabruna Rados in their bantamweight bout.