The highly unofficial half-year awards season continues with the biggest upsets of the first half of 2022 and how we saw them on fight night…
5 - Tai Tuivasa vs Derrick Lewis
Tai Tuivasa and Derrick Lewis lived up to the hype in their co-main event, with Tuivasa stopping Houston’s Lewis in the second round in a clash of heavyweight knockout artists.
The early part of the fight was spent in the clinch against the fence until referee Dan Miragliotta separated the two when the action stalled. A brief exchange led to another clinch punctuated by a takedown from Lewis. While there, Lewis landed several hard shots, but Tuivasa took them and fired back as the two rose and went back to the clinch. A Lewis takedown followed with a minute left, but the two rose quickly, staying in the clinch until the horn.
An uppercut by Lewis rattled Tuivasa in the opening minute of round two, and after a brief clinch, the two went swangin’ and bangin’, with a Tuivasa elbow upstairs putting Lewis down and out, with the official time of Dan Miragliotta’s stoppage being 1:40 of the second stanza.
With the win, the No.11-ranked Tuivasa moves to 15-3. The No.3-ranked Lewis falls to 26-9, 1 NC
4 - Kai-Kara France vs Askar Askarov
Kai Kara-France made his case for a shot at the flyweight title as he handed Askar Askarov his first pro loss via unanimous decision.
Scores were 29-28 across the board for the No.6-ranked Kara-France, now 24-9, 1 NC. The No.2-ranked Askarov falls to 14-1-1.
Askarov put Kara-France on his back in the second minute, and he quickly too his foe’s back. Kara-France rose to his feet with two minutes left, but Askarov remained on his back and worked for the rear naked choke. The Kiwi made it out of the round, though, and in the second it was a different story, as Kara-France successfully defended Askarov’s takedowns and began tagging and stunning him with big shots upstairs in the final 90 seconds of the frame.
Askarov went all-in for the takedown in the final round, but again, Kara-France defended well and was able to separate and go back to looking for the strikes that would end the fight. And though Askarov took those shots well, there were enough of them to secure the win for the birthday boy from New Zealand.
3 - Aljamain Sterling vs Petr Yan 2
Aljamain Sterling didn’t win the UFC bantamweight title he way he wanted to the first time. But in his rematch with Petr Yan, he unified it with no controversy, as he won a close split decision over the interim champion in the UFC 273 co-main event.
Scores were 48-47, 48-47, 47-48 for Sterling, now 21-3. Yan, who lost the belt to Sterling in March of 2021 via disqualification, falls to 16-3.
Yan turned away Sterling’s first takedown attempt, but the New Yorker stayed busy, landing several hard kicks to the body. All the while, Yan kept marching forward, missing wildly at times when he threw, but he did score with a left hand late.
In the second minute of round two, Sterling got the fight to the mat and quickly took Yan’s back. And while he wasn’t able to get the finish, it was a dominant frame for the “Funk Master.”
It was a repeat in round three, as Yan was taken down again in the second minute, with Sterling quickly getting his back and controlling the action as Yan was unable to escape.
Behind on the scorecards, Yan went on the attack to start round four while also defending Sterling’s takedown attempts. Two minutes in, Sterling briefly locked up a triangle choke that Yan easily got out of, ultimately settling into his foe’s guard. Sterling tried to scramble out of trouble, but Yan kept the fight grounded, allowing him to take an important round.
Yan defended Sterling’s takedown attempts with regularity in the first half of the fifth round, and in the second half, the Russian added to his offensive point total and was clearly the fresher fighter as he controlled the action until the horn.
2 - Victor Henry vs Raoni Barcelos
Bantamweights Raoni Barcelos and Victor Henry went to war for three rounds, trading blows for much of their 15-minute match before Octagon newcomer Henry impressively won his debut via unanimous decision.
Scores were 30-27 across the board for Henry, 22-5, who replaced Trevin Jones. Barcelos falls to 16-3.
The first round was fought at a frantic pace, with Barcelos holding an early edge on the feet and even getting a takedown in the final minute. But once Henry got a read on his opponent’s speed and timing, he started landing and hurting the Brazilian. And as the crowd roared while the local favorite surged late, Barcelos walked back to his corner bloodied and in need of that between rounds break.
The second round was just as intense as the first, with Barcelos getting a second wind and Henry still working on his first one, making it a tough frame to call as the two continued to exchange in the pocket at a high level of technical expertise.
In the third, Henry’s pressure began to chip away at Barcelos’ defenses, but there would be another rally from the Brazilian in the final minute before the judges got called into action.
1 - Carla Esparza vs Rose Namajunas 2
It was far from a barn burner in the UFC 274 co-main event, but after 25 minutes, Carla Esparza repeated her 2014 victory over Rose Namajunas, regaining the UFC strawweight title in the process via split decision.
Scores were 49-46, 48-47, 47-48 for Esparza, now 20-6. Namajunas falls to 12-5.
It was a war of nerves in the opening frame, with both fighters cautious as they looked for an opening to exploit, but neither pressed the action.
Esparza made her first move early in round two, but her takedown attempt was thwarted by Namajunas, marking the only significant action in another round that didn’t make the crowd too happy.
Namajunas began firing off more strikes to begin round three, Esparza responding with a brief takedown that the champion rose from immediately. What followed was a repeat of the first two rounds, as there were no sustained offensive attacks from either fighter.
In the second minute of round four, Esparza again got a takedown, but Namajunas scrambled back to her feet. There was little follow-up aggression from the champion, though, and she was grounded again with under 90 seconds to go. This time, Namajunas landed a right hand on the way up, but Esparza took it well.
There were a few exchanges in the fifth, each fighter getting a shot or two in, but there was still no sustained action, and the crowd let them know about it. Namajunas did end the bout with a takedown in the final seconds, but it was not enough to save her title.
VOTERS – James Cooney, Thomas Gerbasi, Christoph Goessing, E. Spencer Kyte, Steve Latrell, Zac Pacleb, Gavin Porter