TORONTO - Canada's Mitch Gagnon needed to make a statement in his second appearance in a UFC octagon.
He did just that Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.
Gagnon connected with a devastating left hand and later submitted Walel (The Gazelle) Watson with a rear naked choke just 69 seconds into their bantamweight bout at UFC 152. It was an impressive performance by the 27-year-old from Sudbury, Ont., who was coming off a loss to Bryan Caraway at UFC 149.
"I didn't want to be that 0-2 guy that got kicked out of the UFC," Gagnon said. "Guys don't go 0-3 in the UFC. It's 0-2 and go back to the little shows and come back when you're ready.
"So I had my back against the fence a little bit I thought and I just wanted to get that W."
The other Canadians on the early card came through with unanimous decision victories. Welterweight Sean (The Punisher) Pierson of Pickering, Ont., beat Lance Benoist while lightweight T.J. Grant of Cole Harbour, N.S., defeated Evan Dunham.
Later, Halifax light-heavyweight Roger (The Hulk) Hollett was to meet Matt (The Hammer) Hamill.
Gagnon, who entered the cage to Linkin Park's "Bleed it Out," looked composed and confident in the second bout on the card. He connected with a left after Watson missed a Superman punch.
Watson fell to the mat and Gagnon landed some punishing blows before earning the submission.
"He decided to throw a sloppy punch and he got caught for it," Gagnon said.
The five-foot-six 135-pounder improved to 9-2 while Watson, who fights out of San Diego, fell to 9-5.
"I got caught. There's nothing else to say," Watson said. "Congrats to Mitch and I'll be back better next time."
Gagnon's eyes moistened shortly before his hand was raised.
"I couldn't hold the tears down," he said. "I just felt like there was a lot to prove to myself and maybe to some critics. But more to myself. I just had a lot of emotions and I couldn't control them."
Watson, 28, is five inches taller than Gagnon and had a seven-inch reach advantage. He tried to outbox Gagnon at the start but couldn't land a significant shot against the quick Canadian.
"Walel was a guy that nobody was able to finish in the UFC ... and I was able to put him away in the first," Gagnon said. "It's a big statement I think, that I can dance with these guys."
Gagnon, who works as a trainer at an MMA training facility he co-owns in his hometown, spent his early years in wrestling and judo before focusing on mixed martial arts. All of his victories have come via submission and all but one came in the first round.
"I specifically practised that left hook counter and I was able to execute it perfectly," Gagnon said. "I wanted to bait him in with kicks to change it up so that I would have an opportunity to throw it and he opened up for it.
"I'm very glad to be healthy and I want to keep this streak rolling."
Gagnon is hoping he'll be added to the UFC 154 card set for Montreal on Nov. 17. Coach Richard Nancoo said it was an "absolutely enormous" victory for the fighter.
"I think next time he shows up, he's going to show up even harder, stronger, faster, just smoother," Nancoo said. "That's just how Mitch is. He just learns extremely quickly."
Pierson, meanwhile, turned in a gutsy performance against an opponent 12 years his junior. The Canadian took a hard left midway through the third round but hung on for the win.
Grant kept the Canadian winning streak going by bloodying Dunham early and keeping up the pressure throughout their lightweight bout.