UFC Fight Night: Ben Rothwell wins close one; Drew Dober dazzles

Ben Rothwell and Ovince Saint Preux turn up the heat in closing seconds (0:32)

Ben Rothwell and Ovince Saint Preux exchange a flurry of strong punches as the third round ends. (0:32)

Bigger is not necessarily better, at least not if you're Ovince Saint Preux. If you're Ben Rothwell, well, "Big Ben" is your nickname and you've got to live up to it.

Saint Preux, who has fought at light heavyweight for his entire 12-year professional career, moved up to heavyweight Wednesday night and put on a strong performance, but it was not quite enough to handle 265 pounds of Rothwell, who won a split decision in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night in Jacksonville, Florida.

Rothwell (38-13) stalked OSP (24-14) for the entirety of the three rounds. He did so ploddingly, zombie-like, walking Saint Preux down until he had him trapped against the cage.

"I'm the one that had a lot to lose in here," Rothwell said. "You can't be losing to little guys."

Although OSP was held against the cage for long stretches, he was able to keep the fight standing and had an occasional flurry of strikes. Twice he knocked Rothwell down, though one knockdown came with 20 seconds left in the second round and the other just as the horn sounded to end the fight, so he was unable to capitalize.

Rothwell characterized the knockdowns as "more like slips," but Saint Preux clearly clipped him with quick counter left hands.

However, it was Rothwell who landed the bulk of the strikes.

"I landed some really good knees in the clinch, bloodied him up, hit him with some hard shots," he said.

Two judges scored the bout 29-28 for Rothwell, while the other had the same score for OSP.

Afterward, Rothwell called out Aleksei Oleinik, who on Saturday defeated Fabricio Werdum.

"I know you asked for a big fight," Rothwell said. "They call me 'Big Ben,' so there you go, brother. Big fight."

-- Wagenheim

Light heavyweight: Glover Teixeira (31-7) defeats Anthony Smith (32-15) by fifth-round TKO

One day, Teixeira will cease to be one of the world's best light heavyweight MMA fighters. That day was not Wednesday.

Eighteen years after his pro debut, Teixeira proved his caliber yet again in the main event of UFC Jacksonville, beating Smith via TKO at 1 minute, 4 seconds of the fifth round. Teixeira, at 40 years old and six years removed from his most recent title shot, has now won four straight.

Read the entire story.

Lightweight: Drew Dober (23-9) defeats Alexander Hernandez (11-3) by second-round TKO


Drew Dober drops Alexander Hernandez in Round 2

Drew Dober knocks down Alexander Hernandez with a powerful left hand in Round 2.

Don't look now, but lightweight Dober has quietly won eight of his past 10 bouts following Wednesday's second-round TKO over Hernandez.

Dober, 31, recorded his third consecutive finish as he battered Hernandez along the fence and forced referee Herb Dean to step in at the 4:25 mark. It marked the 10th knockout win of Dober's career and 16th finish overall.

It's been a long road to lightweight relevancy for Dober, who first appeared in the UFC as a contestant on "The Ultimate Fighter" series in 2012. He officially signed with the promotion in 2013 and started his UFC career 1-3 before going on this 8-2 run.

He looked fantastic throughout the fight against Hernandez, calmly walking his opponent down and touching him up with the lead right hook and straight left.

Hernandez managed to take Dober down three times in the contest, including near the end when he was badly hurt, but Dober quickly popped up each time.

"I wasn't trying to hit him hard, I was just trying to hit him often," Dober said. "The more times you touch a guy on the chin, the more chances he'll fall over."

It's been a good week for Dober and the state of Colorado in MMA. One of Dober's primary training partners during this camp was Justin Gaethje, who won the interim lightweight title at UFC 249 last weekend by stopping Tony Ferguson in the fifth round.

"I want bigger and better fights," Dober said. "I want to compete with the best in the world and to do so I have to keep winning. I want to fight the Khabibs, the Conors, the Dustin Poiriers of the world and I just have to keep winning so I can actually put myself in the main event and compete with those guys.

"This is a huge dream of mine, I'm a huge fan and lover of the sport. Just being able to compete with the best in the world excites me. I need to improve because there's lots of mistakes I made in the cage tonight that I have to fix. Team Elevation is something special."

-- Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN+.

Bantamweight: Ricky Simon (15-3) defeats Ray Borg (13-4) by split decision


Borg catches Simon with a powerful body shot

Ray Borg catches Ricky Simon with an uppercut and follows up with a strong punch to the body in the second round.

Simon turned around and glared at Octagon announcer Bruce Buffer. He couldn't believe what he heard when Buffer read that one judge gave Borg two of the three rounds. "Hell yeah, I was scared," Simon told Daniel Cormier afterward. "I need that win. I need that paycheck."

It all worked out for Simon in the end. The other two judges gave him the nod for a split decision win (28-29, 29-28, 29-28) in a crisp bantamweight fight with strong striking exchanges and good grappling and wrestling from both.

The difference seemed to be Simon's size. While both had moments in the stand-up, Simon (5-foot-6) was able to get Borg (5-foot-4) down almost at will, in every round. Borg has fought most of his UFC career at flyweight, and Simon is not a small bantamweight by any means.

Borg was able to land nice striking combinations in each round and lit up Simon's body in some sequences. But Simon's ability to change levels and put Borg on the mat was a big advantage.

Simon also landed some hard strikes, including a jumping knee in the third.

Simon, 27, snapped a two-fight losing streak with the victory. The Washington native landed seven takedowns against Borg. Simon now has 26 UFC takedowns, tying him with Urijah Faber for the second-most takedowns landed in UFC bantamweight history, per ESPN Stats & Information research.

Simon is also the first UFC bantamweight to land seven takedowns in a fight multiple times.

Borg, a 26-year-old New Mexico native, saw his two-fight winning streak snapped.

-- Raimondi

Watch this fight on ESPN+.

Heavyweight: Andrei Arlovski (29-19) defeats Philipe Lins (14-4) by unanimous decision


Andrei Arlovski catches Philipe Lins with spinning back forearm

Andrei Arlovski connects with a spinning back forearm to the face of Philipe Lins in the first round.

Fifty fights into a professional career that extends back to the last century, Arlovski showed he still is evolving.

"I'm sick of losing, either knockout or by decision," said the 41-year-old, who came into the night having won only one of his past six fights. "Right now I feel like I'm [on] a new page. I work with some great people. ... When a fighter stops growing, you start falling down. I don't want to fall down. I want to keep growing."

Arlovski, who normally fights from an orthodox stance, went southpaw Wednesday for long stretches, which at times seemed to freeze the offense of Lins. Early on when Arlovski came forward to attack, however, Lins would use his faster hand speed to land counterpunches. Arlovski adjusted, though, and kept the fight at a distance and slower pace that better suited him.

The win, by scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28, was Arlovski's 18th in the UFC, the most in heavyweight history.

Lins' most damaging blow was a foul. Midway through the second round, he landed a kick to the groin, and Arlovski's yells of pain filled the otherwise-empty arena with agonizing sound. But Arlovski recovered, went back to his steady plan and carried the fight from there.

Lins, 34, was making his UFC debut. He had not fought since winning the Professional Fighters League heavyweight championship on New Year's Eve in 2018. Prior to that 4-0 season, he went 3-3 as a light heavyweight in Bellator.

Arlovski is a former UFC heavyweight champion. He won an interim belt in 2005, was promoted to true champ later that year and held the belt until Tim Sylvia took it away in '06.

-- Wagenheim

Watch this fight on ESPN+.

Lightweight: Thiago Moises (13-4) defeats Michael Johnson (20-16) by second-round heel hook

Moisés bounced back from a difficult first round to submit Johnson with a heel hook just 25 seconds into the second frame.

According to UFC Stats data, Moisés, a Dana White Contender Series alum, was outstruck in the opening round 27-1 as Johnson efficiently cut off the cage and defended every takedown attempt.

Moisés responded in the second round by literally sprinting at Johnson early and hanging onto his leg after Johnson defended the initial shot. Moisés rolled into the heel hook and produced two taps from Johnson. Referee Keith Peterson's view of the first tap might have been obstructed, but Johnson tapped a second time moments later.

Immediately after the bout, Moisés called for a future matchup against former champion Anthony Pettis, who picked up a decision win just Saturday against Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone.

"Hat's off to [Johnson], he is a former top-six lightweight in this division," Moisés said. "This just proves I belong in the UFC and belong in the top of this division. This is just the beginning for me. I hear Anthony Pettis wants to come back to the lightweight division. I would like to welcome him back."

Moises is 2-2 in the UFC.

Johnson suffered his third consecutive defeat.

-- Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN+.

Bantamweight: Sijara Eubanks (6-4) defeats Sarah Moras (6-7) by unanimous decision


Sijara Eubanks talks to her coach midfight

Sijara Eubanks responds to her coach right before she lands a powerful straight right on Sarah Moras.

In an empty arena, fighters can hear their corners pretty clearly while in the cage. And vice versa. Eubanks took advantage of that new wrinkle Wednesday. While Moras was working on an armbar in the third round, Eubanks responded to her coach, Mark Henry: "Yes, sir. I'm OK, I'm OK. All right."

Soon after, Eubanks was out of that predicament and on top raining down punches. In the end, Eubanks was able to secure a unanimous decision win (30-27, 30-27, 30-26) over Moras.

"I love it," Eubanks said of the empty venue. "Most of the time I can't hear nothing. ... I thought it was great. I was able to hear everything."

Eubanks was in control from the first round on, initially using her striking, including a hard right hand and left head kick. In the second, Moras went for a takedown and it ended up being a huge mistake. Eubanks, a high-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, got on top, landed ground and pound and ended up on Moras' back as the round ended. In the third, Eubanks took Moras down after landing a big Superman punch that bloodied Moras earlier in the frame.

Eubanks, 35, snapped a two-fight losing streak with the victory. The Massachusetts native continues to improve under the tutelage of Henry in New Jersey. This was her first bantamweight win in the UFC.

Moras, the 32-year-old Canada native, has lost four of five.

-- Raimondi

Watch this fight on ESPN+.

Lightweight: Omar Morales (10-0) defeats Gabriel Benitez (21-9) by unanimous decision


Morales tags Benitez in the third round

Omar Morales unleashes a couple of strong punches onto Gabriel Benitez in the third round.

Morales walked away from this night as the event's only unbeaten fighter. Minutes after Hunter Azure suffered his first career loss, Morales kept his record perfect with a unanimous -- but slim -- victory over Benitez.

It was basically a kickboxing match inside an MMA cage. Both men did their most damage with hard kicks to the midsection and legs, although perhaps Morales' most harmful maneuver was checking Benitez's kicks. By doing so, he opened up a grotesquely deep cut on Benitez's shin -- which did not deter the 31-year-old from fighting on.

"That's exactly what I was expecting," Morales (10-0) said through an interpreter. "He's a Mexican fighter, a tough fighter."

Benitez, a 31-year-old from Tijuana, was fighting at lightweight for the first time since 2013. He's typically competed at featherweight. He started off as the more aggressive man, landing vicious kicks early. But Morales always had a counter, and as the fought wore on he turned the strike totals his way. He outlanded Benitez 63-50, including 31-22 in the decisive final round.

Two judges scored it his way 29-28, and the other gave Morales all three rounds.

Morales, 34, is a native of Venezuela who trains in South Florida. He won his UFC debut in December, earning a unanimous decision over Dong Hyun Ma.

-- Wagenheim

Watch this fight on ESPN+.

Featherweight: Brian Kelleher (21-10) defeats Hunter Azure (8-1) by second-round KO


Brian Kelleher rocks Hunter Azure in Round 2

Brian Kelleher gets his momentum back after rocking Hunter Azure with a right hand in Round 2.

He doesn't call himself "Boom" for nothing. Kelleher earned a spectacular knockout over Azure in a featherweight bout, dropping Azure with a nasty left hook to the chin at 3 minutes, 40 seconds of the second round.

The victory is good for the eighth knockout of Kelleher's professional career. Immediately after, Kelleher, who actually fights at bantamweight but agreed to move up for this matchup, called out popular 135-pounder Sean O'Malley.

"I told Dana White, get 'Suga' Sean, stop protecting this guy," Kelleher said. "That's the guy I want."

Kelleher, of New York, didn't fare as well with Azure in the opening round as he did in the second. Azure got off to a great start, with the low leg kick and boxing combinations to the body. Kelleher was clearly getting the worse of the exchanges, and tried to take Azure down multiple times but was unsuccessful.

Things changed in a hurry in the next frame, however, as Kelleher adjusted his range and started to find a home for the overhand right -- and then, of course, the knockout left hook.

"I'm always a little bit of a slow starter," Kelleher said. "I gotta work on that. But as soon as I find my range and confidence, it's a whole different fight."

-- Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN+.

Heavyweight: Chase Sherman (14-6) defeats Isaac Villanueva (16-9) by second-round TKO


Sherman caps off big combo with a knee

Chase Sherman unleashes a fury of punches on Ike Villanueva and caps it off with a huge knee late in the first round.

Two years ago, Sherman was cut from the UFC after three consecutive losses. He has been busy since then. Sherman won three straight on the regional scene -- all by TKO -- and took home a heavyweight bare-knuckle boxing title.

On Wednesday night, Sherman returned to the UFC and put on an excellent performance, stopping Villanueva at 49 seconds of the second round in the UFC Jacksonville opener.

After a dominant first round, Sherman poured it on in the opening seconds of the second. He landed a big combination, including a body shot. He landed hard leg kicks. And then he finished up against the cage with another punching combination and a thrusting elbow to Villanueva's face.

Sherman, 30, has won four in a row overall after three straight losses in the UFC in 2017 and 2018. The Mississippi native has won 14 of his 15 career pro MMA fights by KO/TKO.

Villanueva, 36, was making his UFC debut. The Texas native had won four straight coming in.

"I've grown as a fighter and grown as a man and now it's time to properly take the steps that I need," Sherman said. "Last time, I was rushing into fights, seven fights -- six of them were short notice ... I took fights that I shouldn't have took. I was trying to be a company man and take fights on short notice. But now I need to go out there and instead of chasing money, I need to chase the ultimate goal, which is be at the top of the division and hopefully one day be a champion."

-- Raimondi

Watch this fight on ESPN+.