Aljamain Sterling, bantamweights steal the show with strong finishes at UFC 250

Sterling has a message for his doubters after submission victory (0:49)

Aljamain Sterling contends that if people continue to doubt him, the more money they will lose after his submission win over Cory Sandhagen. (0:49)

LAS VEGAS -- UFC bantamweight contender Aljamain Sterling needed fewer than 100 seconds to submit Cory Sandhagen at UFC Fight Night on Saturday -- and immediately after, he had only one thing on his mind: The location of UFC president Dana White.

"Dana, where you at? Where you at?" Sterling yelled inside the UFC's empty Apex facility.

White wasn't cageside, but he had already mentioned earlier in the week the winner of Saturday's 135-pound fight between Sterling (19-3) and Sandhagen (12-2) would receive a title shot. The title is currently vacant following the surprising retirement of former champion Henry Cejudo. Petr Yan and Jose Aldo are expected to fight for the belt this summer.

It would be hard to deny Sterling, ranked No. 2 by the UFC, of a shot at this point. He forced No. 4 Sandhagen to tap with a rear-naked choke at the 1:28 mark of the opening round on Saturday, which extended his win streak to five. He has won seven of his past eight, with two finishes.

Sterling immediately moved into Sandhagen's hips in the opening round and jumped to the Colorado native's back before Sandhagen knew what hit him. From there, Sterling secured a body triangle and calmly applied the finishing submission -- his eighth career finish by submission.

The New York-based bantamweight became the first person to finish Sandhagen in his professional career.

"I'm a viper, the human backpack," said Sterling, who earned one of the performance-of-the-night bonuses. "I put these hooks in and you aren't going anywhere, you're going to be there for a very, very long night.

"I heard his coach say, 'He's just looking to wrestle,' and I said, 'Yup,' haha. That's my game plan, pressure forward; elite wrestlers can really dictate the pace of a fight, especially if you are competent on the feet, that's what makes us more dangerous. Striking is fun, but it hurts a lot more, I'll tell you that. Wrestling is just an easier, clear-cut path to victory, especially when you are as dangerous on the ground as myself. There are black belts and then there are black belts, and I'm a Serra BJJ black belt."

-- Brett Okamoto

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Women's featherweight: Amanda Nunes (c) (20-4, 14-1 UFC) defeats Felicia Spencer (8-2, 2-2 UFC) by unanimous decision

Amanda Nunes continues to have no real peer in women's mixed martial arts.

Nunes dominated Felicia Spencer for a unanimous decision victory (50-44, 50-44, 50-45) Saturday night in the main event of UFC 250 in Las Vegas. Spencer was challenging for Nunes' UFC women's featherweight title.

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Men's bantamweight: Cody Garbrandt (12-3, 7-3 UFC) defeats Raphael Assuncao (27-8, 11-5 UFC) by second-round KO

Garbrandt wags finger after dropping Assuncao in first

Cody Garbrandt shakes up Raphael Assuncao with a jab to the face in the first round.

Immediately after the horn sounded to end Round 2, there was a thud, and it ended the fight. Both Garbrandt and Assuncao had thrown right hands just before the horn, and Garbrandt's connected hard, sending Assuncao face-first to the canvas.

Referee Keith Peterson jumped right in to wave off the fight, which went into the record books as a knockout at 4:59 of the round.

For Garbrandt, who earned one of the peformance-of-the-night bonuses, it ended a three-fight skid in which he had been the KO victim each time. The former bantamweight champ had not competed in over a year. Garbrandt looked more patient than ever before. He didn't load up on every shot -- until that final right hand, which he threw from the hip. Before then, his poise had paid off against Assuncao, a former lightweight champ who always fights in a measured way.

This was the third loss in a row for Assuncao, who is No. 7 in ESPN's rankings. Garbrandt is ranked ninth.

"It's always great to be in the winner's circle, especially with a knockout over a tough adversary like Raphael Assuncao," Garbrandt said. "To beat the timer like that, it's a little icing on the cake.

"I haven't won since 2016, I've been through every emotion, in life in career, ups and downs, what I held onto was fighting. I was blessed with a beautiful wife, a beautiful son and the dream in my heart to pursue this and pick myself up time and time again after getting knocked out and embarrassed to keep that dream alive in my heart. I'm just forever thankful that I was able to keep that passion and that drive through it all. I might have bent, but I never broke. I'll never break in this life. It's a great learning experience for me, these last three years, and I think it's going to be the best later part of my career to have those life challenging moments and just forever grateful to be here and excited for the next one."

-- Jeff Wagenheim

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Welterweight: Neil Magny (23-8, 16-6 UFC) defeats Anthony Rocco Martin (17-6, 9-6 UFC) by unanimous decision

One of the most consistent fighters in the welterweight division is back on another winning streak. Magny outlasted Martin via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) in a back-and-forth fight that was much closer than the scorecards would have indicated.

The win was sealed in the third round, when Magny pressured Martin constantly against the cage and landed hard combinations.

"That was too close for comfort," Magny said. "I didn't like that at all."

Magny kept the pace throughout, but Martin had his moments, too. Especially in the second round, when Martin landed a big right hand that momentarily wobbled Magny. But Magny, ever the workhorse, was able to keep his composure and continue to pressure Martin, which resulted in openings in the third.

Magny, 32, has won two straight since coming back from being cleared by USADA in his doping case. The New York native, who lives and trains in Colorado, has won four of his past five.

Martin, a 30-year-old Illinois native, has lost three of his past four.

"The biggest thing was having a sense of urgency. He did a good job of tying me up against the fence and not allowing me to create space and work anything offensive, so it was really about me creating that sense of urgency to break that clinch against the fence and bring the fight back to him," Magny said. "I'm only getting better; that fight shows it."

-- Marc Raimondi

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Men's bantamweight: Sean O'Malley (12-0, 4-0 UFC) defeats Eddie Wineland (24-14, 6-8 UFC) by first-round KO

Well, at least one undefeated record will make it through the night. After two prelim fighters had suffered their first career defeats, O'Malley opened the main card by keeping his record perfect. He did so in style, dropping Wineland with a one-punch knockout just 1 minute, 56 seconds into their fight.

Right from the start, O'Malley showed off a more diverse attack than the boxing-heavy Wineland, utilizing spinning herald kicks and hard calf kicks to keep his opponent at distance. But it was a meat-and-potatoes technique that got the job done for O'Malley. His straight right hand found its way over the guard of Wineland and put out the lights.

O'Malley, who earned one of the performance-of-the-night bonuses, knew it was over, turning and casually walking away before referee Herb Dean jumped in to protect a stiffened Wineland.

It was O'Malley's fourth UFC win and second straight finish. He returned in March from a two-year USADA suspension.

Wineland, a 35-year-old former WEC champion, has lost three of four. He had not competed in a year. This was the first time he had been KO'd in the first round since 2014. He landed only four significant strikes, the fewest of his UFC career.

"It was a matter of minutes from the beginning of the fight before I cracked him with something," O'Malley said. "I was longer than him, and when you're as fast and accurate as I am, I'm gonna land first and I'm going to land early and I landed on the button. I was really, really healthy for this fight, I had no injuries. Last fight, I felt I was 95 percent, I had a couple small injuries, but I felt 100 percent in there tonight."

-- Jeff Wagenheim

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Men's featherweight: Alex Caceres (16-12, 11-10 UFC) defeats Chase Hooper (9-1-1, 1-1 UFC) by unanimous decision

Alex Caceres drops Chase Hooper early

Alex Caceres lands a strong punch on Chase Hooper, who falls to the mat early in the first round.

The fight was less than a minute old when Caceres decked Hooper with a lead uppercut. Hooper was dazed. Caceres backed away.

Caceres knew that his standup skills were far more advanced than those of Hooper. By round's end, Caceres has landed 33 significant strikes, connecting with nearly 60% of what he threw. Hooper could not get out of the way, and when he threw punches of his own, he landed at just a 22% clip in those first five minutes.

That's the way the rest of the fight played out as well, as Caceres cruised to a unanimous decision win (30-27 on all three scorecards) to hand Hooper his first career loss.

Hooper, 20, was the first UFC fighter to compete on a pay-per-view card before age 21 since Sage Northcutt in 2015. His youth did not serve him well. He had no answers while on his feet and struggled to get the bout to the canvas. This was a step-up fight for Hooper and it simply looked as if he was in over his head.

Caceres, meanwhile, showed the poise of a veteran. He has had 28 pro fights and made his UFC debut in 2011, when Hooker was 11. For Careres, the victory put him on his first two-fight win streak since 2016.

"I would like to have more exciting fights, I would like to have a striker next time because I like to put on a show for the fans and everything," Caceras said. " This fight, I feel like we did put on a show, but I was a little bit more cautious with my kicks and all the flying techniques because I knew that's what he wanted, he wanted to go to the ground and dominate there.

"He felt strong there and I knew he wasn't getting tired there, but I knew every time he had to stand up and face me again with the hands, he was gassing out. Every time I touched him to the body, he felt it. I dropped him in the first round, so I knew that he had to respect my power after that. I just want to let everyone know that I'm here to stay, I've been here for a very long time and I got a long ways to go."

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Middleweight: Ian Heinisch (14-3, 2-2 UFC) defeats Gerald Meerschaert (30-13, 6-5 UFC) via first-round TKO

Potentially facing his UFC exit, Heinisch put forth his best result yet in the promotion. Heinisch landed a monster overhand right to drop Meerschaert, then followed up on the ground with hard punches to finish via TKO at 1:14 of the first round of a middleweight bout.

"The Hurricane," who had been on a two-fight losing streak, celebrated with a back flip.

To start, Heinisch came out throwing hard calf kicks. Meerschaert countered with a nice left kick to the body. Seconds later, Heinisch faked a takedown attempt and came over the top with a huge right hand. Meerschaert fell to the canvas, and Heinisch poured it on until referee Chris Tognoni stepped in to call it off.

Heinisch, 31, has now won three of his past five fights in the UFC. The Colorado native said his corner person had a "false positive" for COVID-19 earlier this week and there was uncertainty if he'd be able to fight, but the bout went on as scheduled.

Meerschaert, a 32-year-old Wisconsin native, has dropped four of six.

-- Raimondi

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Men's bantamweight: Cody Stamann (19-2-1, 5-1-1 UFC) defeats Brian Kelleher (21-10, 5-3 UFC) by unanimous decision

Emotions pour from Stamann after bout with Kelleher

At the conclusion of his bout with Brian Kelleher, Cody Stamann lets the emotions flow in response to the death of his younger brother on May 27.

Stamann, fighting just over a week after the death of his 18-year-old brother, maintained his focus for the full 15 minutes, which paid off on both offense and defense. He threw and landed more shots, and even after Kelleher got on track, Stamann made him miss more than he connected.

It was a poised performance, but the moment the final horn sounded, that poise was gone. Stamann and Kelleher embraced on the canvas, and then Kelleher moved aside and was replaced by one of Stamann's coaches. When Stamann rose to his feet, he was in tears. He remained in that state until the judges' tallies were announced -- 30-27 on all scorecards.

Stamann came in having won only one of his previous three bouts, but prior to that he was 17-1. He's in the process of rejuvenating his career in a new weight class, moving to featherweight after spending most of his time in the UFC at bantamweight.

It was a good career choice, as he looked good the whole way.

Kelleher had fought just last month on one of the UFC cards in Jacksonville, Florida. He came in having won two in a row. He had his moments in this one, but Stamann kept his focus -- somehow -- and walked out of the cage a tearful winner.

-- Wagenheim

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Middleweight: Maki Pitolo (13-5, 1-1 UFC) defeats Charles Byrd (10-7, 1-3 UFC) via second-round TKO

Pitolo, who competed at welterweight in his UFC debut but was forced to pull out of a 170-pound bout in February, finished Byrd with strikes on the ground at 1:10 of the second round in his return to the 185-pound division.

The finish came after a somewhat slow first round in which Byrd had some success on the floor. He wasn't able to keep Pitolo on the floor for the entirety of the round but appeared to be more in control as far as where the fight took place.

Pitolo seized momentum in a big way in the second frame, however, as he hurt Byrd with a left hand to the body and then a short right moments later. Byrd retreated to the fence and covered up, and Pitolo poured on combinations to the body. Byrd eventually fell over from the shots, and Pitolo finished the fight with hammerfists on the ground. Pitolo has now on won four of his past five.

Byrd announced his retirement after the fight.

"I appreciate the love and support from everyone friends and family through this journey I call my fight career," he posted on Facebook. "But time waits for no man. So with that said [I'm] officially done with fighting."

-- Okamoto

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Men's flyweight: Alex Perez (24-5, 5-1 UFC) defeats Jussier Formiga (23-8, 8-5 UFC) via first-round TKO

Alex Perez forces Jussier Formiga to the ground with calf kick

Alex Perez lands a strong calk kick on Jussier Formiga in the first round that causes Formiga to stumble to the ground.

Perez is someone to keep an eye on in the flyweight division. In the best performance of his career, Perez stopped Formiga via TKO (leg kicks) at 4:06 of the first round.

Perez looked excellent standing up throughout the first round, and his volume of hard calf kicks put Formiga down twice before referee Keith Peterson stepped in to call it off.

Perez, who earned one of the performance-of-the-night bonuses, landed 15 leg kicks in total, per UFC Stats. Perez becomes only the 11th fighter to win a UFC fight via TKO due to leg kicks.

Coming in, Formiga was ESPN's No. 6 flyweight, and Perez was No. 10.

Afterward, Perez said he's gunning for the title shot next. The flyweight title is currently vacant, but Deiveson Figueiredo and Joseph Benavidez are supposed to rematch for the belt this summer.

"I want that title shot -- 2020 is my year," Perez said.

Perez, 28, has won three in a row and 11 of his past 12. The California native has just one loss in seven UFC fights -- to Benavidez in 2018.

Formiga, a 35-year-old Brazil native, has lost three straight.

"It means a lot, I've fought a lot of guys. I feel like he's been the toughest guy I've fought so far," Perez said. "It's kind of a bittersweet feeling, I've known this guy for a long time. I met him about 2010, my second amateur fight, when he was the No. 1 guy in the world at the time. It's kind of like full circle, I came back and I fought him. He's one of the guys I didn't want to fight just because we are friends, but business is business, I've got to make money and it is what it is.

"The number next to my name doesn't matter, I've got to fight everyone. The only number that matters is number one, that's the champion, other than that I couldn't care less about the number I got. I'm ready to fight, I'll be here for the next two weeks just in case someone gets hurt."

-- Raimondi

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Light heavyweight: Devin Clark (11-4, 5-4 UFC) defeats Alonzo Menifield (9-0, 2-0 UFC) by unanimous decision

Menifield catches Clark's eye with upper cut in 1st

Alonzo Menifield lands a series of punches on Devin Clark, slicing him open under his left eye.

Menifield came in as essentially a one-round fighter -- undefeated with a finish in every win and all but two in Round 1. Clark had gone a full three rounds in five of his previous UFC bouts. That turned out to be the difference.

Clark absorbed an early punch to the left eye that left him wincing for much of the first round and provided a target for the aggressive Menifield. But Clark never faded and took over the fight as Menifield's energy sagged.

Clark was rewarded by the judges, who handed Menifield his first career loss (30-27, 29-28 and 29-28).

Clark was busier the whole way and kept Menifield in a clinch against the cage for extended periods. Menifield had no room to wing his big punches -- when he still had the energy to do so.

Clark attempted takedown after takedown, and while his first eight failed to materialize, defending them sapped Menifield further. Finally, in Round 3, Clark got the fight to the ground. Thus, he became the seventh 205-pounder with 20 takedowns in his first six UFC fights.

-- Wagenheim

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Catchweight (150 pounds) Herbert Burns (11-2, 2-0 UFC) defeats Evan Dunham (18-9-1, 11-9-1 UFC) via first-round rear-naked choke

The Burns family has enjoyed a heck of a two-week span in Las Vegas. Lightweight Herbert Burns, the younger brother of welterweight contender Gilbert Burns, recorded a rear-naked choke just 1:20 into the opening round.

Herbert's victory came exactly one week after Gilbert solidified himself as a top contender at 170 pounds in a dominant decision win over former champion Tyron Woodley.

Burns, 32, took Dunham to the floor early and controlled him from the back with a body triangle. Dunham is known for his strong grappling, but Burns is a former world champion in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and proved to be far too much for the American.

It is Burns' fifth finish in a row, and fourth inside the first round. Burns improves to 2-0 in the UFC. The Brazilian also picked up a victory on Dana White Contender Series in a fight that also took place at the Apex.

"The Burns brothers came to make a lot of noise in 2020 and we've come to make history," Burns said. "Gilbert proved that last week when he took out the No. 1 contender Tyron Woodley with a special performance, and today I took out a seasoned veteran in Evan Dunham, so we came here to make history and we are on the way to do that.

"I felt very good, it was a good fight against a tough veteran, a former top lightweight. I knew I had to go in there and put pressure. My style, I try to finish fights, that's why I'm 'Blaze', got to be done in blazing style, so that's what I did. Having that name on my resume is great because he is super tough, I saw him in a lot of wars and to finish a guy like that in the first round is a statement win."

-- Okamoto

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