One of the greatest MMA heavyweights of all time might have departed from the UFC with quite the bang.
Fabricio Werdum, the legendary heavyweight ground artist and former UFC champ, finished Alexander Gustafsson by armbar submission at 2:30 of the first round Saturday on the main card of UFC Fight Night: Robert Whittaker vs. Darren Till on Abu Dhabi's Fight Island. It was Werdum's first win in three years -- and it came on the final fight of his UFC contract.
Gustafsson was returning from retirement and moving up to heavyweight for another run. That was the story coming into the bout. Werdum, the old lion, would have none of it. He wrote his own chapter.
Werdum shot for a takedown early, which Gustafsson stuffed. But perhaps Gustafsson got a bit greedy, going for hammerfists on Werdum when Werdum still had a hold of his leg. A scramble was initiated, and Werdum ended up on Gustafsson's back. Werdum, the best grappler in MMA heavyweight history, quickly transitioned to Gustafsson's arm. Gustafsson fought for a bit, clasping onto his left hand with his right, but Werdum gave the left arm a yank, and Gustafsson had no choice but to tap.
"This was very important," Werdum said. "I've been waiting for this."
Werdum said leading up to the bout that this potentially could be his final UFC fight. His manager, Ali Abdelaziz, confirmed with ESPN on Saturday that this was the final fight on Werdum's UFC contract. But he might have just earned himself another solid contract with this victory.
Afterward, the usually jovial Werdum was very emotional. There was a certain finality to the moment.
"I'm very happy," he said. "I'm almost crying."
Werdum (24-9-1) had not won a UFC fight since he beat Marcin Tybura on Nov. 19, 2017. The Brazil native, who lives and trains in Los Angeles, was out from March 2018 until May of this year due to a USADA doping suspension. Werdum, 42, returned in a losing effort against Aleksei Oleinik by split decision on May 9.
Werdum held the UFC heavyweight title in 2015 and 2016 after submitting Cain Velasquez. He also ended Fedor Emelianenko's 10-year undefeated streak in 2010 via submission under the Strikeforce banner.
Put some respect ✊🏾 on @FabricioWerdum name! Bjj World Champ! ADCC world champ! UFC Champ! Beat Fedor, Velazquez! Had one bad last fight but come on! That's a legend! Congrats dos nossos #UFCFightIsland3— GILBERT BURNS DURINHO (@GilbertDurinho) July 26, 2020
Gustafsson (18-7) has lost three in a row. The Sweden native fought his whole UFC career at light heavyweight prior to this, fighting for the title there three times in losing efforts. Gustafsson, 33, has not won a fight since May 2017.
"I want to thank everyone that supported me and helped me during my career and here at UFC, I leave the company happy, I'm a bit emotional," Werdum said. "Everything that we trained happened in the fight -- it was awesome, exactly what we trained happened, we did everything right. We trained jiu-jitsu, muay thai, boxing, conditioning, but specially the mental strength that you need to be equally balanced.
"No matter how good your body is trained, if your mind is not in the right place it won't work, your body won't answer. That's why I'm so happy. I was looking for the victory for this my last UFC fight. I'm not sure what I'm gonna do, where I'll go, I don't know, I just want to enjoy this moment and thank everyone that always supported me."
-- Marc Raimondi
Robert Whittaker edged Darren Till in a close unanimous decision Saturday night in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Abu Dhabi.
All three judges scored it 48-47 for Whittaker, who entered Saturday's fight as ESPN's No. 2-ranked middleweight. Till was ranked No. 6.
Nogueira, Rua trade massive blows in Round 1
Mauricio Rua and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira pick up where they left off in their previous two fights as they trade punches in Round 1 of their bout at UFC Fight Night.
Rua defeated Nogueira in 2005 in a Pride Middleweight Grand Prix. He defeated his fellow Brazilian again 10 years later once both had made it to the UFC. And on Saturday, "Shogun" completed a clean sweep of the trilogy.
This one was a split decision that could have gone either way. For Nogueira, 44, it was a final disappointment, as he said beforehand that this would be the last fight of a professional career he began in 2001. He owns victories over Dan Henderson, Rashad Evans, Tito Ortiz and Kazushi Sakuraba, and two wins over Alistair Overeem.
But not "Shogun" Rua.
Esparza lands crucial takedown of Rodriguez in Round 3
Carla Esparza takes down Marina Rodriguez just over halfway into Round 3 as both contenders look to be in the running for a title shot.
Esparza was relentless in taking the fight to where she needed it to be, and even though she absorbed damage along the way, the former strawweight champion's persistence paid off as she dealt Rodriguez her first career defeat.
Esparza, who defeated Rose Namajunas in the Season 20 finale of "The Ultimate Fighter" to become the UFC's inaugural 115-pound champ, has always relied upon her wrestling, even at the risk of getting hit along the way. And that was the case in this fight. She took down the 33-year-old Brazilian within the first minute, and she remained on top for nearly the entirety of Round 1. But Rodriguez was dangerous from the bottom, landing an elbow that cut up her opponent above the left eye and left the area swollen.
Esparza, a 32-year-old Californian who came in on a three-fight winning streak, maintained positional control until late in the round, when she dropped back for a leg lock attempt. It was a bad idea, as Rodriguez defended the submission and ended up on top, from where she targeted Esparza's eye.
Rounds 2 and 3 were much the same, except in the second round, Esparza did not give up top position for a leg-lock try until the waning seconds. Still, when she went back to her corner, her coach yelled at her for surrendering position.
Esparza did not make the same mistake in Round 3, and in those final five minutes she not only remained on top, she was the one dishing out the elbows. It was a close fight, but Esparza finished strongly.
Each fighter was awarded a 29-28 scorecard, and the deciding judge saw it as a 30-27 flight for Esparza.
Craig submits Antigulov with triangle choke in Round 1
Paul Craig doesn't waste any time, submitting Gadzhimurad Antigulov via triangle choke just over two minutes into the bout.
Every opponent knows Craig will try to snatch a submission. It is essentially the only way the light heavyweight fighter wins.
Yet, somehow, Craig always seems to find a choke. He did it again Saturday, defeating Antigulov by submission (triangle choke) at 2:06 of the first round. Craig, of Scotland, is now tied with five others for the most submission wins in UFC light heavyweight history (5).
Beautiful work off the back by the Scotsman!!! #UFCFightIsland— Gerald Meerschaert (@The_Real_GM3) July 26, 2020
Antigulov, of Russia, took Craig down to start the first round. Craig welcomed it, because it set up his bottom game -- he's one of the best from that position among the heavier fighters in the UFC. Craig threw his legs up for the triangle, but Antigulov started to light him up with elbows from top position. Craig ate them, in favor of working more on the choke. He locked it in tight, and Antigulov tapped out. Craig popped up from the ground bloodied, but his risky strategy worked.
"As he was elbowing me, it was sinking in deeper," Craig said of the choke. "It was worth it."
Craig, 32, is unbeaten in his past three fights. All of five of his UFC wins are by submission, and three of them have come via triangle choke. Craig has never gone to decision in a victory over his career. He has 12 career submission wins and one TKO. Antigulov, 33, has dropped three straight.
Oliveira hurts Sobotta early in Round 1
Alex Oliveira hurts Peter Sobotta early in Round 1 with a straight kick to the solar plexus.
Oliveira has been known to fight like a wild man at times, but not this time. He put on a poised performance from long range, using body kicks to keep Sobotta out of boxing distance and even hurt him a few times.
The 32-year-old from Rio de Janeiro is back on track, winning his second straight fight after dropping three in a row. He was in command the whole way, with the biggest threat to his three 30-27 scorecards being his own fouls. The bout was paused twice -- after Oliveira landed a low blow, then poked the Polish-born German in the eye -- but no point was deducted.
Sobotta, 33, lost for the second straight time -- but the other loss came back in 2018. He had a fight canceled last year because of injury.
Oliveira kept the fight at long range for the most part, absorbing some body kicks but landing far more than he took. When Sobotta attempted takedowns, Oliveira defended well and landed elbows to the side of the head. That enabled him to break away and keep the fight standing, and his footwork remained effective and at times was even playful.
Chimaev dominates to earn second win in 11 days
Khamzat Chimaev's TKO victory over Rhys McKee marks his second win in two different weight classes in the span of 11 days.
Fight Island? How about Chimaev Island?
The hottest new prospect in the UFC absolutely ran through McKee with a TKO at 3:09 of the first round. Chimaev had the quickest turnaround victory in UFC history (10 days) after beating John Phillips on the July 15 card. The Swedish supernova has been one of the stars of the UFC's 14-day stretch in Abu Dhabi.
Wow, who in the world is khamzat Chimaev? This dude right here just smashing dudes. Two of em in a week. Wow— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) July 26, 2020
On Saturday, Chimaev ran across the cage, picked McKee up and took him down easily. He then got into top control and rained down strikes until referee Rich Mitchell pulled him off. It was total domination -- like it was against Phillips.
Trinaldo pops Herbert with massive left, completes finish
Francisco Trinaldo drops Jai Herbert with an overhand left hook, then completes the finish.
As the fight wore on, Trinaldo was getting lit up. Then, the veteran from Brazil turned out the lights.
The finish was sudden -- and yet not sudden enough. Trinaldo, who had been pieced up in the standup for much of the first two rounds, threw a strong left hand early in Round 3 that connected to the temple and sent Herbert crashing backward onto the mat, stiffened. As Trinaldo moved in, Herbert did not move. So Trinaldo held back, but referee Herb Dean stood there motionless, as well, not stopping the fight. A couple of seconds ticked off the clock, with no one moving, so Trinaldo threw a punch at his fallen opponent, who did not defend. Then, Trinaldo threw another punch. He paused again. Finally, Dean jumped in to end it at 1:30 of Round 3.
Oh my!!!respect to trianaldo he didn't want to continue to hit him and he didn't need to— Belal Muhammad (@bullyb170) July 25, 2020
Trinaldo, a 41-year-old Brazilian, had missed the lightweight limit by four pounds at Friday's weigh-in, and his energy appeared to wane before the first round was done. He came out aggressively and quickly closed the distance on the slick English striker, scoring a takedown, moving into half guard and threatening a couple of submissions.
But Herbert, a former Cage Warriors champion who was making his UFC debut while riding a six-fight winning streak, defended well on the ground, and when he got the fight back to standing, he took advantage of his fast hands and constant movement. The 32-year-old Englishman even mixed in some grappling work, nearly securing a rear-naked choke in the second round.
But Herbert's best work was in the standup, and Trinaldo was wearing the effects of that more and more as the fight continued. And yet Trinaldo, who owns victories over the likes of Paul Felder and Jim Miller, kept coming forward, and his resilience paid off when he landed the big punch that ended it. Or should have ended it.
Ronson submits Dalby in first round with rear-naked choke
Jesse Ronson submits Nicolas Dalby with a vicious strike to Dalby's face and a follow up rear-naked choke in Round 1.
Welcome back, "Body Snatcher."
After a six-year absence from the UFC, Ronson stopped Dalby via submission (rear-naked choke) at 2:48 of the first round of a welterweight bout. Ronson dropped a pressuring Dalby with a beautiful left hand, got into mount, took the back and choked Dalby until he tapped. An all-but-flawless performance from the veteran.
"I climbed tooth and nail to get back in there," Ronson told Dan Hardy afterward. "... To hell and back. That's all it is. And here I am -- I'm back."
Props to Jesse for taking the fight on short notice. I never underestimated him one second and congratulations to him!— Nicolas "Lokomotivo" Dalby (@DalbyMMA) July 25, 2020
As for me? I have a Phoenix covering my whole back for a reason. Big or small setbacks, I will always keep going. #BackwardsNeverForwardsEver
He added that he'll drop down to lightweight after this bout. Ronson called out Luis Pena and Jalin Turner for later in the year -- because of their heights. Both are above 6-foot, which is tall for the division, and while Ronson will fight the taller opponents, he said if you're that height, you should move up in weight.
"If you're 6-foot-3, you need to eat something other than lettuce and ice cubes," Ronson said. "... I love fighting tall guys, and I love crushing their guts."
Ronson, 34, had not fought in the UFC since a split decision loss to Kevin Lee on July 6, 2014. The Canada native has bounced around, winning a title in the TKO promotion and having lost twice in PFL last year. Dalby, a 35-year-old from Denmark, had been unbeaten in his past five fights coming in.
Aspinall's UFC debut successful with first-round KO
Tom Aspinall wastes no time knocking out Jake Collier with a big knee and two follow-up jabs in Round 1 of their bout.
Aspinall did not waste any time in making an impact in his UFC debut, knocking out Collier with a straight right hand just 45 seconds into their heavyweight bout.
This was a familiar result for the 27-year-old from England. All eight of his professional victories have come by knockout, most in the first minute.
Keep your eyes on this kid!! #UFCFightIsland3— Alex Volkanovski (@alexvolkanovski) July 25, 2020
Collier, who had not fought since 2017 because of injury, a PED suspension and bout cancellations, was making his heavyweight debut after competing at middleweight and light heavyweight. Despite having come from those lighter divisions, though, he was a step slow right from the start. He absorbed a straight right in the opening seconds, and Aspinall immediately measured him for another, setting it up with a left hook.
The right hand that followed sent Collier face-first to the canvas, where Aspinall pounced, adding a few more shots on his immobilized opponent before the referee jumped in.
For Aspinall, it was his fourth straight victory. Collier has alternated victories and defeats going back to 2014.
Evloev doesn't have a nickname. Maybe it should be "Houdini."
Time and time again, Evloev was able to escape Grundy's takedowns and submission attempts, including an incredibly tight D'arce choke in the first round. When back on the feet, Evloev dominated with his striking en route to a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) win.
Crazy escape!! https://t.co/3SQRGE9VBj— Belal Muhammad (@bullyb170) July 25, 2020
Grundy took early control with his superior wrestling. He got Evloev down in a precarious position up against the cage and looked for a choke. He nearly cinched it in, but Evloev pulled off an incredible escape.
From there, Evloev had all the momentum. He split open Grundy's left cheek with a hard right hand in the first and landed smooth combinations throughout the fight. Evloev's jab in particular was very impressive.
Evloev, 26, has won three straight in the UFC and remains undefeated. The Russia native, a former M-1 champion, appears to be a legitimate prospect in the featherweight division. Grundy, a 33-year-old England native, had his nine-fight winning streak snapped. This was the British wrestler's first loss since 2015.
Boser knocks out Pessoa after left hook
Tanner Boser finishes Raphael Pessoa after landing a vicious left hook to Pessoa's face in Round 2.
Twenty-eight days earlier, Boser scored a first-round knockout in Las Vegas. Then he traveled to Fight Island and had to work a bit longer, but the result was another big knockout victory.
After spending all of the first round and much of the second using footwork to stay out of range of the heavy-fisted Pessoa, and also landing leg kicks that reddened the big Brazilian, Boser began engaging in punching exchanges midway through Round 2 and clipped Pessoa with a counter left hand that immediately sent Pessoa into retreat, squinting out of a compromised right eye. Boser went on the attack as his opponent slumped on the canvas and punched away until the referee stepped in at 2:36 of the round.
I took this punch inside the eyebefore as well, it hurts a lot but Come on you cannot give up cause this 🤦🏾♂️🤷🏾♂️ #UFCFightIsland3— GILBERT BURNS DURINHO (@GilbertDurinho) July 25, 2020
The 28-year-old out of Edmonton, Alberta, who needed barely 2½ minutes to take out Philipe Lins on June 27, put in his work right from the start but this time that work was mostly in the form of movement. He moves well for a heavyweight, and his array of kicks and punches were difficult to counter. Pessoa kept his right hand cocked, ready to unleash, but it simply could not find its target.
This was the fourth win in Boser's past five fights. Pessoa, a 31-year-old out of Rio de Janeiro, lost for the second time in his past three bouts.
-- Jeff Wagenheim
Correia loses track of time, almost gets KO'd
Bethe Correia thinks Round 1 is over, not realizing there are still 10 seconds left, and Pannie Kianzad takes advantage.
Kianzad has started putting together somewhat of a run in the UFC's women's bantamweight division with two straight wins and three of four.
After years of bouncing around promotions and struggling with her weight cut, Kianzad now has her first UFC winning streak, courtesy of a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) victory over Correia, the former UFC title challenger.
Kianzad looked solid the whole fight with her boxing and knees in the Thai clinch. She did solid damage at the end of the first when Correia thought the clacking sound that signifies there are 10 seconds left in the round meant that the round was over. Kianzad landed a hard combination when Correia let her guard down.
Kianzad was the more accurate, powerful striker throughout. Correia had moments, including solid ground-and-pound striking in the second round. But Kianzad showed off the better stand-up.
Kianzad, the Iran-born Sweden native, had a crack at the Invicta FC bantamweight title in 2015, but missed weight. She moved up to featherweight and went to the finals of the UFC's Ultimate Fighter women's 145-pound tournament in 2018, falling to Macy Chiasson. Kianzad, 28, has looked solid back at 135 pounds now.
Correia (11-5-1) has dropped three of four and has only one victory since 2016. The 37-year-old Brazilian famously fought Ronda Rousey in the main event of UFC 190 in 2015. That remains Rousey's last win.
Stolze hits Emeev with massive knee at the end of Round 1
Niklas Stolze lands a huge knee to the chin of Ramazan Emeev at the end of Round 1 of their bout at UFC Fight Night.
Emeev used four takedowns and several spells of forward pressure to control the fight for all but a few moments and take the decision.
The 33-year-old Dagestani, who lost in November to Anthony Rocco Martin to end a seven-fight winning streak, started strong and secured a submission attempt within the first half of Round 1, but Stolze, making his UFC debut on a four-fight winning streak, defended well and hurt his opponent seconds before the horn, dropping Emeev with a knee to the face.
But Emeev seized back control of what turned into a slow fight at the start of Round 2, and other than absorbing the occasional low kick, jab or knee, kept the German on the defensive.
Two judges scored the bout 30-27, and the other had it 29-28.
"I felt very confident that I could finish him couple of times," Emeev said. "But because of the two failed submission attempts, my hands were very heavy. I wasn't rocked from his knee in the first round, and I felt that I dominated the fight. Next time, I will get a finish for sure. I feel completely healthy and want to get back to the Octagon as soon as possible."
Wood, Castaneda trade strikes in Round 2
Nathaniel Wood and John Castaneda trade massive blows in the middle of Round 2 of their bout at UFC Fight Night.
Coming off a momentum-killing defeat earlier this year, Wood got himself right back into the flow with a poised and relentless attack.
Solid performance here from @TheProspectMMA Nice showcase of his striking against a tough opponent.— michael (@bisping) July 25, 2020
The 26-year-old, who saw an eight-fight winning streak ended by a John Dodson left hook in February, did not have it easy against Castaneda, but his fluid movement and array of punches and kicks from all angles got him back on the winning track. All three judges scored the fight 30-27.
Castaneda, 28 and from Minnesota, put on a strong performance in his UFC debut. He got hit a lot, bloodied in the second round, but never stopped coming forward and clipped Wood on many occasions. He just could not string together the kind of combinations that kept Wood, of London, a step ahead.
"The fight was fun," Wood said. "It was nice to actually have a decision for a change. It was nice to actually go through the three, five minutes and actually do what I'm doing in the gym. There's nothing better than going in and getting a quick knockout, picking up a bonus, those sort of fights, but it's nice to actually go in and have a fight, as such.
"Everything my coaches wanted me to do was not brawl: Let's not give him that chance of let's trade shots. I know it's fun for the fans to watch, don't get me wrong, I'm still going to be doing it, and I still try to have a little bit of a go in there, but I knew I was up in the rounds, I knew I was the better fighter, and I knew I would outscore him. So for me to have a 50-50 exchange with him, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt and coming off a loss -- I couldn't afford to do that. My coaches said, 'Be the sniper, pick the shots, don't get here,' and that's what I've done."