Carla Esparza was simply not going to be denied.
Esparza hung on to win a majority decision (28-28, 29-28, 29-28) over Alexa Grasso in a wildly entertaining strawweight co-main event of Saturday's UFC Fight Night card in Mexico City. But it nearly slipped away in the final minutes.
Grasso caught Esparza in a tight armbar in the third round. It was so tight that Esparza's right arm was twisted in the wrong direction, and yet, somehow, Esparza refused to tap. She ended up getting to her feet and winging punches with that clearly damaged right arm.
"I gave it my all, and I stayed tough," Esparza said.
Esparza came in ranked No. 10 among MMA strawweights by ESPN, while Grasso was No. 9. Grasso, the crowd favorite, lumped up Esparza in the third round and nearly finished Esparza at that point as well.
But Esparza had done enough in the first two rounds to get the victory, much to the chagrin of the fans, who booed the decision afterward. But on a night where the live crowd had a lot more to be disappointed about after the main event was short-circuited, Esparza and Grasso laid it all on the line.
"Alexa is a warrior," Esparza said. "She dominated that last round. She rocked me for sure a couple of times. So much respect for Alexa. I felt that I won the first two rounds."
Esparza now has six UFC strawweight wins, tied for third all time with Rose Namajunas, Claudia Gadelha and Tecia Torres. She cashed as a +110 underdog.
Esparza, the former UFC women's strawweight champion, landed hard shots in the first round before using her Division I-caliber wrestling to take Grasso down. Grasso was able to make her way back to her feet and land some combinations that stopped Esparza in her tracks in a very close round.
In the second, Esparza went back to her wrestling, took Grasso down and landed nice ground-and-pound for a lengthy amount of time. Grasso again worked her way back to her feet and landed, but Esparza put her back on the mat.
Grasso landed a hard left hand in the third that rocked Esparza. She swarmed, Esparza went for a takedown and Grasso ended up getting that very, very close armbar from the bottom. Esparza got out somehow, ended up on top, but Grasso got up and landed hard combinations again in the instant classic.
Esparza (15-6) has won two straight following a two-fight losing streak. The 31-year-old California native has won four of her last six overall. Grasso (11-3) was coming off the best win of her career, a unanimous decision victory over former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 238 in June. The 26-year-old prospect has now lost three of her last five.
Moreno catches Askarov with head kick
Late in Round 2, Brandon Moreno excites the crowd in Mexico City by hitting Askar Askarov with a head kick. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
It was an excellent, back-and-forth fight, but it was tight -- so much so, in fact, that three judges couldn't come to a consensus as to who won.
Moreno and Askarov fought to a split draw (28-28, 30-27, 28-29) on the main card Saturday at UFC Mexico. Askarov was likely the winner of the first round, while Moreno knocked Askarov down with a left head kick in the second. The third, too, seemed to be for Moreno, who had Askarov's back for a significant amount of time. But at least one judge didn't think so and the other went 10-8 for Askarov in the first.
Moreno (15-5-1) was making his return to the UFC after getting released in 2018. The 26-year-old Mexican fighter won the LFA flyweight title in June 2019 and was brought back into the UFC fold. Askarov (10-0-1), a 26-year-old Russian, was making his UFC debut and remains undefeated.
Aldana finishes strong against Melo
Irene Aldana keeps her foot on the pedal in the final seconds by throwing punches and kicks until the buzzer. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Aldana did just about everything she wanted to do against an overmatched opponent.
With the Mexico City crowd loudly behind her, Aldana put on an absolute clinic in beating Melo by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26). Aldana worked beautiful boxing, landed left hooks to the body, hard leg kicks and just about everything else in between.
At the end of the third round, Aldana landed two right hands that wobbled Melo and then turned it on with hard combinations, a kick and a left to the body. Melo survived, but the fight was not close, as the scorecards clearly indicate.
Melo, who took the fight on 10 days' notice, was four pounds overweight Friday at weigh-ins and simply couldn't keep up. The bout, originally scheduled to be at bantamweight, was instead fought at a 140-pound catchweight.
Aldana (11-5) has won four of her last five fights. The 31-year-old Mexico native asked for a bantamweight contender fight next, and she should probably get it. Melo (10-6), a 31-year-old Brazilian, was on a five-fight winning streak. This was her UFC debut.
What's the best way to counter a spinning back fist? Another spinning back fist, of course.
Bravo initiated the action with a spinning attack, but as he started his spin, Peterson did the same -- and his spinning back fist landed true, with authority. Bravo was unconscious on impact. The finish came at 1:31 of the second round, and it was one of the most memorable knockouts in MMA this year. Peterson notched only the seventh spinning back fist knockouts in UFC history.
"I found the right opening," Peterson said. "When he spun, I spun."
Bravo was the aggressor in the first round of their featherweight bout. Peterson said he was feeling things out in that round and knew he'd likely need a finish. And he certainly got one.
Peterson (18-9) snapped a two-fight losing streak with the victory. The 29-year-old Texas resident is now 3-3 in the UFC. Bravo (11-3), a 26-year-old Mexico native, has lost three straight after winning his UFC debut in 2016.
Quinonez drops Huachin with right hand
Jose Quinonez sends Carlos Huachin to the mat early with a powerful right hand. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Quinonez was the hookup in getting headliner and teammate Stephens a place to train at altitude. Quinonez brought Stephens and the other Alliance MMA fighters on the card to his hometown of Zacatecas, Mexico for a six-week training camp.
That training camp was clearly effective enough for Quinonez, who now has a victory for efforts: a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) win over Huachin at bantamweight. Quinonez dropped Huachin with a right hand in the first round and was the better fighter throughout. He took Huachin down and controlled him in the second and landed the harder shots in the third.
Quinonez (8-3) has won five of his last six fights in the UFC. The 29-year-old has lost just once since 2014. Huachin (10-5-2), a 23-year-old from Peru, has lost two in a row to start his UFC career.
Elbows must be contagious at Arena Ciudad de Mexico City, with Nelson securing a second consecutive TKO via elbows on the card in his victory over Reyes in their featherweight clash.
Nelson landed a huge elbow to rock Reyes and then followed up with a bomb of an overhand right and a flurry to finish things by standing TKO at 1:36 of the first round. Reyes disputed referee Jason Herzog's stoppage, but he pretty clearly stopped intelligently defending himself.
Nelson (12-3) earned his first UFC win after dropping his first two fights. The 28-year-old Canadian is nicknamed "Monster," and he looked as such Saturday. Reyes (8-7), a 34-year-old Mexican fighter, has lost three straight and four of five.
Hill opens up with her standup
Angela Hill lands several strong blows in the first round against Ariane Carnelossi. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Hill had been working her elbows throughout this bout with a fair bit of success, and it was ultimately a right elbow that finished things, slicing open a cut above Carnelossi's left eye.
The diagonal, downward cut was big enough, with blood running down into Carnelossi's eye, that the women's strawweight bout was stopped at 1:56 of the third round via TKO via doctor's stoppage.
Hill cut Carnelossi over the right eye in the first round with an elbow as well, but it wasn't nearly as serious. But Carnelossi kept coming forward and landed some hard combinations in the second round. Ultimately, Hill stayed consistent throughout the fight with her slick counters, elbows and knees, and it paid off in the third.
Hill (10-7) has won two of her last three and is 2-2 in four fights this year. The 32-year-old San Diego resident has been extremely active. If she fights one more time in 2019, it'll tie the UFC record for most fights in a single calendar year (with Donald Cerrone). Carnelossi (12-2), a 26-year-old Brazilian, was making her UFC debut. She had not lost since 2014, her pro debut against current UFC fighter Amanda Ribas.
Pettis' return to flyweight was a very successful one.
The younger brother of Anthony, the former UFC lightweight champion, outpointed Nam by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) on Saturday. Pettis was on his game throughout, landing solid combinations and countering well when Nam came forward.
Pettis (18-5) snapped the two-fight losing streak he carried into Saturday's fight in Mexico City. The 26-year-old Milwaukee native went 5-3 on his previous run at flyweight before moving up to bantamweight last December for one bout, a loss to Rob Font. Nam (18-10-1), a 35-year-old Hawaii native, was making his UFC debut after 13 years as a pro. He had a two-fight winning streak snapped.
The one thing you can count on from Craig is something entertaining every time out. The Scotsman, who has the latest three-round finish in UFC history to his credit, worked a little bit faster in his light heavyweight victory Saturday night over Moreira.
Craig did most of his damage with his striking and then finished with his excellent grappling game. Craig used a knee and some punches to knock down Moreira before finishing with a rear-naked choke at 3:19 of the first round.
Craig (12-4) has won two of three and three of his last five, including that last-second submission over Magomed Ankalaev in May 2018. The 31-year-old said afterward that he was fighting for his contract at UFC Mexico. Moreira (9-4), a 30-year-old Brazilian, has lost three straight after coming into the UFC off Dana White's Contender Series Brazil in 2018.
Eubanks and Correia lay it out on the line
Sijara Eubanks and Bethe Correia give it everything they've got in the final 20 seconds of their bout at UFC Fight Night. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Let the trademark Correia hip-shaking celebrations begin.
After a tumultuous first round that saw Eubanks landing hard ground-and-pound strikes, Correia rallied to win the next two rounds for a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) victory in their bantamweight bout.
Eubanks seemed as though she might be close to finishing the fight in the first round. She had Correia on the ground, up against the cage and was landing hard downward right hands. But Correia, a fan favorite, survived and put it on Eubanks with some nice combinations in the second. Correia's body shots and, potentially, the altitude, seemed to get to Eubanks in the second and third rounds. A nice Correia jab did damage to Eubanks' right eye in the third, though Eubanks had her moments with her striking in that round as well.
Correia (11-4-1) had gone winless in her last three fights and had not won since 2016, entered the fight as a +260 underdog. The 36-year-old Brazilian, most known for getting knocked out by Ronda Rousey for the UFC title in 2015, might have been fighting for her job here. Eubanks (4-4), a 34-year-old from Massachusetts, has lost both of her fights since moving up to bantamweight after missing weight prior to a win over Roxanne Modafferi at UFC 230 last November.
Puelles slams Mariano in first round
Claudio Puelles lifts Marcos Mariano and slams him into the canvas in the first round of their bout at UFC Fight Night. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Takedown, advance position, submission attempt, repeat.
Lightweight Puelles completely dominated Mariano with his grappling on his way to a unanimous decision victory (30-25, 30-25, 30-25) in the opener Saturday night. Puelles earned two 10-8 scores in the blowout victory. Mariano had absolutely no answer for his takedowns, including a big slam in the first round. Twice, Puelles had close kimura submission attempts, stifled only because Mariano was able to grab hold of his own shorts.
Puelles (9-2), the 23-year-old Peru native, has won two straight after losing his UFC debut in 2016, and this was his most impressive performance to date. Mariano (6-6), a 32-year-old Brazilian, has lost two straight and three of his last four.