Michel Pereira is one of the most electric, unpredictable fighters on the UFC roster. His risky style has gotten him into trouble in the past. But if Pereira can dial his antics down to a manageable level, he could be a problem in the welterweight division.
That's what happened Saturday. Pereira finished Zelim Imadaev with a rear-naked choke submission at 4:39 of the third round on the undercard of UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Sakai in Las Vegas. Preceding the stoppage, Pereira fought a more measured, patient bout -- at least for him -- and dominated throughout.
"I came to give the show I told I was going to give," Pereira said in his postfight interview.
Afterward, Pereira called out Jorge Masvidal.
"I want the BMF belt," Pereira said. "Jorge Masvidal, be ready. You are next."
The explosive, athletic Pereira was in control the whole way, landing hard shots with his hands, knees and legs in every round. Pereira was still flashy. He landed a Superman punch off the cage in the third round, put his hands behind his back to egg Imadaev on in the first and landed Pancrase-style palm strikes in the third.
But where Pereira was probably most effective was with his kicks. Pereira landed hard front kicks to the body repeatedly and also attacked Imadaev's lead leg. Those techniques might not make the highlight reel, but combining those with unorthodox strikes helped lead Pereira to victory.
"I dance the way the music plays," Pereira said.
The finish was a bit disputed. Pereira launched Imadaev with a back suplex and then cinched in a choke. Referee Chris Tognoni believed he saw Imadaev tap out and called the bout, but it wasn't clear if it was a tap or if Imadaev was simply fighting off Pereira's hands. Either way, Pereira was en route to a decision win.
On Friday following weigh-ins, Pereira and Imadaev had a heated staredown that culminated in Imadaev shoving Pereira's face away. UFC president Dana White had to get between the two men.
"I remember all the three months of hard work I put into the fight, so to put on a performance like that is really gratifying," Pereira said. "I was really pissed at my opponent, because you don't slap men in the face.
Wowww!!!! Pereira the consummate entertainer 😲 #UFCVegas9— Megan Anderson (@MeganA_mma) September 6, 2020
"I proved that I can fight amongst the best, that I deserve to be among the best and that Dana White and [matchmaker] Sean Shelby can call me tomorrow and I'll be ready. I walk with the best; I train with the best. I train with world champions, and if you train with world champions, you'll be a world champion. I train kind of isolated, so I'm going to move to Vegas so that when the UFC calls me, I will be ready."
Pereira (24-11, 2 NC) snapped a two-fight losing streak with the victory. This was his first win since his UFC debut, a first-round knockout of Danny Roberts in May 2019. Pereira, 27, has said he plans on moving to Las Vegas to further his training at the UFC Performance Institute. There's no doubt the Brazilian is someone to watch.
Imadaev (8-3) has lost three straight and is still searching for his first UFC victory. The 25-year-old Russia native has finished all eight of his pro wins.
-- Marc Raimondi
Overeem showed a wrinkle in his game that most UFC fans haven't seen, using his wrestling and vicious ground-and-pound to finish Sakai by TKO in the fifth round Saturday in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas.
Impressive work by @Alistairovereem ! Conserved his energy early and Put it on when it counted. Experience !— Chris Weidman (@chrisweidman) September 6, 2020
The finish came at 26 seconds of the final round.
Overeem, a former K-1 kickboxing grand prix champion, has been best known for his striking -- with devastating knockout power in his hands -- all-around technical acumen and brutal knees.
Light heavyweight: Ovince Saint Preux (25-14, 13-9 UFC) defeats Alonzo Menifield (9-2, 2-2) by second-round KO
Saint Preux did most of his work with his left foot. He finished the job with his left hand.
Back in the light heavyweight division after a one-fight detour at heavyweight, OSP fought at a deliberate pace and from a distance that enabled him to pepper Menifield with body kick after body kick while mostly avoiding the big punches his opponent threw back his way. And when Menifield tried to close the distance in Round 2, Saint Preux dropped him with a counter left hand for a one-punch knockout at 4:07 of the round.
Prior to that fight OSP said the last time they hyped up someone's power it was against Shogun... That was the same counter he put Shogun out with. Its kinda like he called it b4 the fight. Congrats big fella!— Corey 'Overtime' Anderson (@CoreyA_MMA) September 6, 2020
For Saint Preux, who came in having lost three of his past four fights, it was his 11th finish at 205 pounds, tying him with Glover Teixeira for the most in division history. Overall, it was OSP's 13th career knockout -- but his first KO since 2017. The 37-year-old out of Knoxville, Tennessee, has become known for his submissions in recent years, but this fight remained standing the whole way.
For Menifield, it was a second straight loss after starting his career 9-0.
Menifield came out throwing big shots, mostly left hooks that originated in a different zip code. He landed a few, but not cleanly for the most part, as OSP maintained his distance. Saint Preux did throw the occasional punch, but much of his offense consisted of left kicks to the body. He landed them again and again, which kept Menifield away from him and gradually seemed to wear on the 32-year-old, who fights out of Dallas.
Menifield kept looking for one big punch -- eight of his nine victories have come via KO -- but when he lunged forward with a flurry, he found himself on the wrong end of a knockout punch. OSP's counter left dropped Menifield to the canvas face-first, and there was no need for a follow-up punch.
The bout was originally scheduled for Aug. 22, but it was canceled on the day of the fight after Saint Preux tested positive for COVID-19.
Muniz fools Fabinski, forces him to tap via armbar
Andre Muniz makes Bartosz Fabinski think he's going into the triangle defense but instead gets him in an armbar and forces the submission in Round 1.
Muniz was put on the defensive within the fight's first 15 seconds, trapped against the cage trying to fend off a takedown try. But midway through Round 1, he switched from grappling defense to grappling offense, and in his third submission attempt, he locked in an armbar to get the tap at 2:42 for his sixth straight victory, second in the UFC.
Fabinski wasted no time in closing the distance as the fight began, and after trying and trying to land the takedown against the fence, he appeared on the verge of success. But as the fighters went to the canvas, Muniz, a 30-year-old from Brazil, clamped on a guillotine choke. Fabinski calmly defended and got his neck free, but Muniz then went for a triangle. And when Fabinski started defending that, Muniz switched to the armbar and got the quick tap.
Beautiful submission by Muniz! High level Bjj! #UFCVegas10— GILBERT BURNS DURINHO (@GilbertDurinho) September 6, 2020
Fabinski, 34, is from Poland. He came in having won eight of his past nine. But three of his four career losses have come by submission.
For Muniz, it was his 13th career submission and 13th first-round finish. He has finishes in 17 of his 20 victories.
-- Jeff Wagenheim
Kelleher submits Rodriguez in Round 1
Brian Kelleher gets Ray Rodriguez in a guillotine choke and forces him to tap out in Round 1.
Two opponent changes in just over a week? No problem.
Kelleher finished late-notice replacement Rodriguez via submission (guillotine choke) at :39 of the first round. It was the second-fastest submission finish in UFC featherweight history and Kelleger's 10th career win by submission.
Crazy how fast that sub was. He was like sure you can have the takedown because I'm snatching that neck. 👏🏽#UFCVegas9— Tatiana Suarez (@tatianaufc) September 6, 2020
"I felt a lot of pressure on my back with two of my opponents falling out," Kelleher said in his postfight interview. "... It feels good to get the finish."
Rodriguez was slotted as Kelleher's official opponent Friday night when Kevin Natividad was removed from the card for coronavirus-related precautions, per UFC officials. Rodriguez weighed in Friday as a backup and ended up being the fill-in.
Kelleher's original opponent for this card was Ricky Simon, who withdrew last week because one of his cornermen tested positive for COVID-19.
Kelleher, 34, has won three of his past four. The 34-year-old Long Island, New York, native has been competing at featherweight during the pandemic, though he is naturally a bantamweight. Kelleher said he'd be willing to fight in either division next. Rodriguez, a 32-year-old Texan, has dropped two of his past three.
Araujo made a relentless march back into the win column.
The 33-year-old from Brazil bounced back from a December loss to Jessica Eye -- that defeat ended a five-fight winning streak -- by stalking and damaging De La Rosa for three rounds, earning 30-27 scorecards from two judges and a 29-28 score from the third.
What a fight by both ladies!! #UFCVegas9— Cortney Casey (@CastIron_Casey) September 6, 2020
Araujo bloodied up her opponent midway through Round 1, thanks to a sharp left jab and the occasional left hook. Less visible was the damage to De La Rosa's left leg, which was compromised by low kicks. Araujo also unleashed overhand rights that could have ended the fight in an instant.
De La Rosa, a 25-year-old fighting out of Fort Worth, Texas, came in having had submissions in eight of her nine career wins. But she did not immediately press for a takedown, and that decision showed on her battered face. She threw more strikes than Araujo but landed at a less efficient clip. De La Rosa has lost two of her past three fights.
Araujo has bounced around weight classes of late. She was a champion in the Pancrase promotion at strawweight but entered the UFC in May 2019 as a bantamweight. She then competed at flyweight in July of last year and was scheduled to do so again in December, but her opponent, Eye, badly missed weight and the bout was shifted to a 131-pound catchweight contest. On Saturday, she was back at 125 pounds.
Azure drops Smith early in Round 1
Hunter Azure drops Cole Smith early in Round 1 with a left jab and a big right hook but doesn't quite get the finish.
Azure is back on a winning track.
After being hit with his first pro loss in his previous fight, Azure bested Smith via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) in the UFC Fight Night opener Saturday.
The most significant offense by either man came in the first round when Azure dropped Smith with a combination. Smith was able to recover and rally in the first. He knocked Azure's mouthpiece out with an elbow against the cage in a clinch and later had an armbar that Azure escaped.
In the second, Azure outgrappled Smith after escaping Smith's back control. Smith went to the back again in the third round, Smith's best of the fight. But Azure was never in any kind of trouble and he held on for the decision win.
Azure, 28, lost by second-round TKO to Brian Kelleher in May, his most recent bout. The Arizona resident is now 2-1 in the UFC after hooking on last year from Dana White's Contender Series. Smith, a 31-year-old Canadian who trains in Thailand, has dropped two straight after earning his first UFC win last year.
"This was very important for me," Azure said. "My only focus coming into this fight camp was to get back into the win column. I didn't care how I got it. All I was focused on was getting my hand raised.
"I feel more comfortable the more I'm out there. Tonight, I felt way more relaxed. I felt like I was supposed to be there. Once I got in the Octagon, everything was calm and relaxed. I was just feeling great in the moment."