LAS VEGAS -- Sherman Oaks' Vincent Pichel looks bigger than a 155-pound fighter, and his punches have the same over-sized feel.
Friday night at the Ultimate Fighting Championship's office-building home of FX's "The Ultimate Fighter" in Las Vegas, Pichel imposed that power on Long Beach's Chris Saunders and won the first two rounds to advance to the semifinals next week in the reality-show competition.
The winner of the 16-fighter tournament for unsigned mixed martial arts pros will be crowned after a June 1 finale at The Palms Hotel in Las Vegas, earning a six-figure, multi-fight contract with the UFC.
Pichel will fight Al Iaquinta in next Friday's semifinals on FX, with James Vick and Michael Chiesa in the other semi.
Against Saunders, Pichel remained mildly cautious of leg kicks, and even was briefly taken down in the first round.
"I wanted to surprise him," Saunders said.
Pichel instead delivered some blows of his own with Saunders atop him, then got back up and landed a defining right-left combination followed by a clean jab and right, with a hard right elbow to the jaw for good measure.
"I just went after him in the second," Pichel said. "That's the way I fight. As the rounds progress, I get comfortable and go harder."
Pichel hammered Saunders with two hard rights, then took him down, capping the round with a straight left and two more rights standing up.
UFC President Dana White stepped in to announce the fight was over, since two of the three judges had given Pichel the first two rounds.
Pichel, a longtime Southland resident who was booted from several Simi Valley schools for raucous behavior, was humble in the victory.
"I know how close it is with these guys, I just don't want it to cloud my head," Pichel said. "Everyone's dangerous. I have to respect them, but do what I have to do."
The rage that shaped his childhood now shines in the octagon. Against next foe Iaquinta, he'll face a fighter who delivered a vicious right elbow to score a first-round technical knockout of England's Andy Ogle at the 4:44 mark of the first round.
"I know he hits hard, but I can take it," Pichel said. "I've been kicked in the head before. ... Who I was growing up is a big part of me. I grew up with one parent, my mom [Mona] telling me, 'If it doesn't kill you, suck it up, go out and get it.' I know how to fight."
After Friday's bouts, White announced Saunders' TUF coach Urijah Faber will now fight Brazil's Renan Barao July 7 on the undercard of the Anderson Silva-Chael Sonnen middleweight title fight. Barao replaces Pichel's TUF coach and UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, who previously tore knee ligaments.
Sherman Oaks fighter advances in UFC tournament