The UFC returned with a back-and-forth light heavyweight scrap that saw Ryan Spann hold off a late rush from Sam Alvey to win a three-round split decision.
Scores were 29-28, 29-28 and 28-29 for Spann, now 18-5. Alvey falls to 33-14 with 1 NC.
Spann used some quick strikes to set up a takedown, and though Alvey got up immediately, “Superman” kept him locked up against the fence and nearly put him out with a standing arm triangle before the Californian got free. From there, Alvey was able to keep it at range, scoring with some solid right hands.
Alvey continued to settle in with his standup game in the second as Spann slowed down, but the Texan found his mark more and more as the round progressed. Early in the third, the cleaner shots were clearly coming from the arsenal of Spann, but Alvey surged late and rattled his foe, nearly sinking in a guillotine choke before he rocked the Texan again in the closing seconds.
Rising featherweight star Bryce Mitchell came up big in the most important fight of his career, as he shut out Charles Rosa over three rounds.
Scores were 30-25 twice and 30-24 for Mitchell, now 13-1. Rosa falls to 12-4.
Mitchell got a takedown immediately and tied Rosa up on the mat. Mitchell locked in an arm triangle and nearly finished the bout, but the gutsy Rosa found daylight and looked for his own submission in response. Mitchell eluded danger and nearly got his second twister in two fights in, but again, Rosa got free. The relentless Arkansas native kept chasing the finish, though, and while he didn’t get it, it was a dominant round for “Thug Nasty.”
Getting the fight back to the mat to start the second, Mitchell continued to press and dominate, seeking a submission at every turn until the horn sounded. There was more of the same in the final stanza, with Mitchell’s ground clinic and Rosa’s gutsy effort the clear takeaways from the fight.
The rematch between welterweight standouts Vicente Luque and Niko Price was expected to be something special, and it was, as the two went to war on the feet for nearly three rounds before a cut suffered by Price brought a halt to the fight in the final frame, with Luque emerging victorious via TKO.
Price and Luque took no time getting acquainted again, Luque getting the better of the action in the early going as he landed several flush punches that barely moved Price. Price had some good moments later in the round, but it was Luque getting the last word as he rocked his foe just before the horn.
Things heated up in the second, with both fighters scoring as several exchanges broke out. Luque briefly dropped Price as the two traded against the fence, but “The Hybrid” got right back up and resumed his offensive attack. Price emerged with a cut under his right eye, but he was undaunted by the fight in the front of him, and the same could be said for Luque, who responded well to the pressure Price was putting on.
Price mixed up his attacks in the third, going to the body before going upstairs, Luque talking a little longer to get warmed up for the final five minutes. Once he did, the back and forth continued until a left hook by Luque floored Price with less than two minutes to go. Luque went to the ground for the finish, but Price recovered and rose to his feet, where he was checked out by the Octagonside physician for a new cut over his right eye. Unable to see, there was no choice for the doctor than to recommend a halt to the fight. The official time of referee Jason Herzog’s stoppage was 3:37 of round three.
With the win, the No. 13-ranked Luque moves to 18-7-1. Price falls to 14-4 with 1 NC. In their first bout in 2017, Luque defeated Price via submission.
In a meeting of strawweight contenders, Carla Esparza extended her current winning streak to three with a split decision victory over Michelle Waterson.
Scores were 30-27, 29-28, and 27-30 for the No. 7-ranked Esparza, now 17-6. The No.8-ranked Waterson falls to 17-8.
The first round was largely tactical, Waterson keeping the bout at range behind her kicking game. Esparza did score with a nice right hand early and a takedown later, making it an interesting frame for the judges to score.
Waterson kept Esparza at bay in the second and she continued to control the pace and location of the fight effectively. Esparza was still able to get her shots in during the final round, and while she was unable to get the fight to the mat again, her efforts over the 15 minute distance were enough for two of the three judges to award her the bout.
Two years on the sidelines saw former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum get off to a slow start against Russia’s Aleksei Oleinik in his return, and it wound up costing him, as Oleinik held off “Vai Cavalo” late and was able to leave the Octagon with a split decision victory.
Scores were 29-28 twice and 28-29 for the No. 12-ranked Oleinik, now 59-13-1. Werdum falls to 23-9-1.
The grappling credentials of both men are well established, but it was Oleinik landing several hard punches in the first two minutes as he marched after Werdum. In the third minute, he rattled Werdum with more bombs, cutting him under the eye in the process. Werdum weathered the storm and got a few breathers in the clinch, but when Oleinik got some space, he was putting it on the former champ.
Werdum got on the board in the second with a guillotine choke attempt and some good work with his knees and kicks, and though Oleinik was still throwing haymakers, fatigue was setting in. With a little over two minutes left, the fight went to the mat and Werdum went to work for a spell before the two rose. Once standing, Oleinik was breathing heavy but still letting his punches fly, and he caught the Brazilian with more than a couple hard shots.
Werdum began his third round by getting the fight to the mat and he tried to lock up Oleinik’s arm. Remarkably, Oleinik got out of some dicey situations, but Werdum was doing whatever necessary to get that arm. Eventually, Oleinik got back to his feet with under two minutes remaining in the fight, and again he scored with this strikes before a late takedown by Werdum put the fight on the mat until the horn.
Old rivals met a second time seven years after their first fight, and while the same man won, it was a far different bout as Anthony Pettis eked out a close, but unanimous, decision over Donald Cerrone.
All three judges saw it 29-28 for Pettis, now 23-10, in the welterweight bout. Cerrone falls to 36-15 with 1 NC. Pettis scored a first-round knockout of Cerrone the first time around in January 2013.
Cerrone played the role of aggressor early in the fight, with Pettis content to counterstrike. With under two minutes left, Pettis scored with a flush kick to the head, but Cerrone used it to score a takedown of “Showtime.” After a brief stay on the mat, the two rose and Pettis decided to open up his arsenal a bit more, landing a hard right punch to the face in the closing seconds of the frame.
Pettis picked up his aggression in the second round, and it paid dividends as he scored with nearly everything he was throwing. After eating a pair of kicks to the body, Cerrone took Pettis to the canvas and pushed him to the fence, but Pettis used that fence to get back to his feet quickly.
The third started close, with neither veteran able to surge ahead, but with under two minutes left, Cerrone got hurt by an inadvertent eye poke and ate a few shots before stunning Pettis with a flush kick to the head that kicked off some wild exchanges until the final horn sounded.
In the main card opener, Greg Hardy continued to evolve as a heavyweight prospect, as he handed Yorgan De Castro his first pro loss via unanimous decision.
Scores were 30-27 across the board for Hardy, now 6-2 with 1 NC. De Castro falls to 6-1.
De Castro looked for the finish with each punch he threw as the fight began, getting Hardy’s attention immediately. Hardy took the shots well and settled in behind his jab, but whenever he got too close, De Castro made him pay, either with a kick to the legs or a punch upstairs. With under 90 seconds left, Hardy opened up and had a good stretch, and now it was De Castro’s turn to weather the storm, and he did.
Hardy’s left leg was visibly bruised as De Castro kept chopping at it, but the former NFL star adjusted well and was the busier fighter in the second as De Castro’s pace dropped.
Hardy opened the final round with a hard right hand that appeared to wake De Castro up after a slow second stanza, but a quick burst of action turned into a repeat of the previous frame, with Hardy staying busy while De Castro couldn’t get back on track.
After all the delays, Calvin Kattar and Jeremy Stephens finally got to throw hands and it was worth the wait, with the two featherweight contenders battling tooth and nail until Kattar scored a second round knockout of the “Lil’ Heathen.”
Stephens got off to a fast start, peppering Kattar with kicks as he stalked the New Englander. As the round wore on Kattar began to find his range with his punches to the body and head, but Stephens’ leg attacks were still getting through. Kattar did drill Stephens with a right hand late, reminding the Iowan that he wasn’t going anywhere.
Kattar began pounding away at Stephens’ leg in the second, and soon both fighters were switching stances in order to stay out of harm’s way. That left the two to trade punches, and Kattar’s shots were finding a regular home. With 2:20 left, a right elbow sent Stephens crashing to the deck. A left elbow on the mat cut Stephens, and referee Jason Herzog moved in to halt the fight at 2:42 of round two.
With the win, the No. 9-ranked Kattar moves to 21-4. The No. 7-ranked Stephens, who missed weight at 150.5 pounds, falls to 28-18 with 1 NC.
No one expected the heavyweight fight between Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik to go three rounds, and Ngannou made sure it didn’t get out of the first minute, as he knocked out the Suriname native in 20 seconds.
The fighters met in the center of the Octagon, Rozenstruik landing a couple leg kicks, but as soon as the fists started flying, it was all Ngannou, as he followed up a couple wild punches with a left that landed flush, sending Rozenstruik down against the fence. After a follow-up by “The Predator,” referee Dan Miragliotta stepped in and halted the fight.
With the win, the No. 2-ranked Ngannou moves to 15-3. The No. 6-ranked Rozenstruik falls to 10-1.
UFC bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo stunned fight fans with his second-round stoppage of comebacking Dominick Cruz in the UFC 249 co-main event, but the former Olympic gold medalist and UFC flyweight champ delivered an even bigger shocker when he announced his retirement in the Octagon following the bout.
“I’m 33, I’m happy with my career,” said Cejudo. “Triple C’s out.”
If the retirement sticks, it’s been quite the career for the Arizona product, and beating Cruz, who was making his first start since December 2016, was a perfect farewell for him.
Cejudo went after Cruz’ legs from the start, looking to slow down the footwork of the former champ. Cruz did land a knee midway through the frame, only to take a trip to the canvas for his trouble. Cruz rose from the mat quickly, but he was unable to get his timing down offensively against Cejudo in the first five minutes.
Cruz got more aggressive in the second round, and though he started throwing wild, soon he began to find his range. The exchanges got more heated, with one producing a clash of heads that cut Cejudo’s forehead with under 30 seconds left. After a check from the Octagonside physician, the fight resumed and Cejudo went on the attack, dropping Cruz with a flush right knee. Cejudo followed with a right and several unanswered left hands, bringing referee Keith Peterson in to stop the fight at 4:58 of round two.
With the win, Phoenix’ Cejudo retires with a 16-2 record. San Diego’s Cruz falls to 22-3.
Last month, Justin Gaethje said he likely only had 18 or 19 minutes of “pure hell” to give Tony Ferguson in their UFC 249 main event. He lied, as he gave “El Cucuy” 23:39 of it, stopping Ferguson in the fifth round to win the interim UFC lightweight title.
Gaethje, 31, replaced lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in a bout originally scheduled for April 18, and now after snapping Ferguson’s 12-fight winning streak, “The Highlight” will get his crack at “The Eagle.”
But first, Gaethje had to upset Ferguson, and he did just that.
Ferguson’s movement and kicks kept Gaethje from getting a read on him in the early going, but two minutes in Gaethje landed a couple hard lefts at close range. Ferguson took the punches well and kept throwing a variety of strikes from a variety of angles, while Gaethje stuck to a more conventional attack that was still working as he tagged his foe with accurate shots to the head. In the final 30 seconds, Gaethje landed a pair of lefts, getting Ferguson’s attention.
Both landed as round two opened, and Gaethje followed up with what was rapidly becoming his weapon of choice, a sweeping left hook. Gaethje made sure to toss in some leg kicks too to keep Ferguson guessing, and his confidence was growing by the second. To his credit, Ferguson’s chin was rock solid, but he was taking more and more shots from the Arizonan. It was Ferguson who got the last word for the round, though, as he dropped Gaethje with a right uppercut.
Gaethje kept the heat on in round three, and soon Ferguson was cut over the left eye and under the right eye. Add in a swelling under the right eye and Ferguson had to hope his skin wasn’t going to betray him. With a little under three minutes left, Ferguson got rocked by a right hand, and seconds later he ate another one, as Gaethje was clearly unaffected by the previous round’s knockdown. Ferguson stayed in the pocket with Gaethje, tripping him to the mat briefly in an attempt to turn the tide, but it didn’t happen in the third.
Gaethje remained in control in the fourth, and midway through, Ferguson staggered after getting caught with another hard right. A low kick by Ferguson brought a brief halt to the action with a minute left, but Gaethje jumped right back into the fray, and his kicks and punches kept coming.
With five minutes left, Gaethje could have sat on his lead, but that’s just not his style, and he kept the compact power shots coming, and few missed. To his credit, Ferguson’s heart and chin were still intact, but he just couldn’t get his offense going against an opponent fighting a perfect fight. And after Ferguson staggered from another flush power shot, referee Herb Dean had seen enough, stopping the bout at 3:39 of the final round.