LAS VEGAS -- Ben Askren's much-anticipated UFC debut on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena ended in controversy, as referee Herb Dean waved off the bout against Robbie Lawler in what appeared to be a premature stoppage.
Askren, a former two-time NCAA champion and Olympian wrestler, had Lawler up against the cage midway through the first round and was able to take Lawler to the mat. Askren got Lawler in a bulldog choke, and Dean ended up calling it moments later as Lawler's arm appeared to go limp.
Lawler immediately popped up and protested the submission stoppage -- and many in the crowd booed the decision to halt the action.
Askren, who came over to the UFC in an unprecedented trade with ONE Championship in October for former flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, did not seem upset about the call.
"Hey, Dana, is that the best you got? Bring it on," he said during an interview in the cage after the win. "Now I'm going to beat up [Darren] Till or [Jorge] Masdival -- whoever wins that [March 16 fight]."
The win did not come easily for Askren. Lawler took control of the fight in the opening moments and was able to get Askren in the air and toss him on his head. When Askren got up, Lawler landed a couple of hard jabs that bloodied Askren's face.
After getting his legs back underneath him, however, Askren went back to what made him an undefeated professional MMA fighter heading into the bout: elite grappling. He worked hard to get Lawler against the cage, and Askren eventually took the former UFC welterweight champion down before finally submitting Lawler at 3:20 in the first round.
UFC president Dana White told reporters after the fight he wants to book a rematch of this fight.
If MMA fans didn't know Zhang before UFC 235, they certainly do now. Zhang controlled Torres, primarily on the ground, throughout all three rounds and won by unanimous decision. Zhang has not lost since her professional debut in 2013, winning 19 consecutive bouts.
Zhang wasn't the striker of Torres' ability, but her elite grappling ability enabled her to take down her opponent multiple times, leading to ground-and-pound. She closed the third round on top of Torres in side control, landing short but effective punches.
"I feel really happy and excited. It's an honor to fight one of the top fighters in the UFC's strawweight division," Zhang said in the Octagon. "I'm one step closer to my goal. My goal is to be the strawweight champion of the UFC."
Torres (10-4) has now lost three in a row.
Munhoz knocked out Garbrandt in arguably the wildest round of 2019. Munhoz landed a straight left midway through the first, dropping Garbrandt to the mat. Munhoz pounced, landing ground-and-pound, but Garbrandt was able to get up and landed a flying knee. The two continued to trade hard shots, most of which landed, before Munhoz connected on a right to Garbrandt's face to end the bout at 4:51 in the first.
"I have been watching a lot of Cody's fights, studying him, so I knew this would be the perfect matchup for me," Munhoz said. "I've never been dropped in a fight or in practice, I believe in my chin more than anything. I knew I was capable of taking his shots and then giving my shots back. I was 100 percent sure that if I could connect with his chin that I could knock him out."
Munhoz (18-3) has won three straight. Garbrandt, the former UFC bantamweight champion, has dropped three in a row, two of them to current titleholder TJ Dillashaw.
Magomedsharipov continued to live up to the hype, using a variety of effective spinning strikes and ground-and-pound to edge veteran Stephens by unanimous decision (all three judges scored the fight 29-28). Stephens, likely down two rounds to zero going into the third, nearly pulled off the comeback with a few hard punches that landed, but it was not enough in the end.
Magomedsharipov (17-1) landed more shots in the first round than Stephens and truly took control in the second. He threw Stephens (28-16) to the mat midway through and took his back. Magomedsharipov then added hard elbows and punches as the round ended. After both fighters got up, Stephens shoved Magomedsharipov, and Magomedsharipov did the same back.
The Dagestan native has won 13 fights in a row, including five straight in the UFC. His 26 takedowns in his first five UFC fights are tied for fifth-most in UFC history through a fighter's first five fights. Stephens has lost two in a row.
Walker's epic start to his UFC career continued, as he defeated Cirkunov by first-round TKO just 36 seconds into the fight. Walker landed a huge flying knee that dropped Cirkunov to the mat. The Brazilian then followed up with strikes before the referee jumped in.
Walker's night wasn't all happy, though. Celebrating in the cage after the win by flopping to the mat, he might have separated his shoulder or hurt his arm in the process.
Walker (17-3), who just a month ago won in 15 seconds, became the sixth fighter in UFC history to start a career with three first-round knockouts. Cirkunov (14-5), once himself a top contender, has dropped three of four.
Stamann edged Perez in a close fight between rising bantamweights, winning by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28). Both fighters traded shots throughout, but Stamann landed more significant strikes, particularly to Perez's head and body.
Stamann rebounded from a second-round submission loss to Aljamain Sterling in September. He has now won 11 of his last 12. Perez's loss snaps his four-fight win streak.
UFC veteran Sanchez, 37, turned back the clock with one of the best performances of his career. Sanchez finished Gall, a rising prospect 10 years younger than him, with hard elbows and punches from full mount 4:13 into the second round.
"At age 20, I had a passion outside of mixed martial arts, and that's anti-aging," Sanchez (29-11) said in the Octagon after his win. "After this career is over, that's what I'm going to do. The anti-aging game."
The finish was Sanchez's first since June 2008. He is the only UFC fighter who has fought in the Octagon every year since 2005.
Gall (5-2) has lost two of his last three after winning his first four professional fights.
Shahbazyan continued to make a case as one of the sport's top young prospects, defeating Charles Byrd by TKO only 38 seconds into their bout. The 21-year-old, pressed up against the fence by Byrd, rained down sharp elbows to his opponent's head. He then finished Byrd with a hard right that ended the fight early. Shahbazyan (9-0) has eight first-round TKO finishes and remains unbeaten. Byrd has dropped two in a row.
Chiasson knocked out Mazany just 1:49 into the first round, remaining unbeaten through five professional fights. She landed a hard left hook to the face that sent Mazany stumbling back against the cage. Chiasson followed with multiple right and left hooks that forced Mazany to the mat, causing the referee to step in and end the bout early. It was Chiasson's second career first-round finish. Mazany has now lost three of her past four fights.
Cifers (9-3) and Viana (10-3) opened the card with a back-and-forth striking battle that ended in a split decision win for Cifers (29-28, 29-28, 28-29). Cifers and Viana traded shots throughout and were close overall on significant strikes (77 to 67 in favor of Viana), though Cifers landed a hard shot in the second round that sent her opponent to the mat. She opted not to pounce on the ground due to Viana's elite grappling skills, and the bout continued. It was Cifers' fourth pro win by decision and her sixth victory in her past seven.