LAS VEGAS -- If Jose Aldo is showing any signs of slowing down at age 34, it was not apparent this weekend in Las Vegas.
Aldo (29-7) snapped the longest skid of his career on Saturday, as he picked up his first win in four appearances by defeating Marlon Vera (18-7-1) via unanimous decision. All three judges scored the bantamweight fight 29-28. It co-headlined UFC Fight Night inside the Apex.
Despite challenging Petr Yan for the UFC title earlier this year -- and losing by fifth-round stoppage -- Aldo came into this fight facing more questions about his future than arguably ever before. The former featherweight king dropped one weight class a year ago, and he quickly fell to 0-2 in his first two appearances. The Brazilian fighter went into Saturday's contest against the No. 15-ranked Vera as a slight favorite.
Aldo looked extremely sharp and confident in the 15-minute bout, however. After absorbing a few early leg kicks, Aldo responded in the first round with hard punches to the body and leg kicks of his own. He maintained the body work in the second round then sealed the win by taking Vera's back for the majority of the third.
"I'm getting used to [bantamweight]," Aldo said. "I got Marlon Moraes in the first fight and then the title shot. Now that it's my third fight, I feel better. I'm getting more confident at this weight. I know I have a long path. So I'm looking at it one a step at a time."
After the victory, Aldo called for his next fight to be against former bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw, who surrendered the belt in 2019 after testing positive for banned substances. The United States Anti-Doping Agency suspended Dillashaw for two years, and he is eligible to return in January 2021.
"Two former champs, I think people would like to see that," Aldo said. "[Dillashaw] was the former champ at bantamweight, and I was the champ at featherweight. I think people would like to see it."
Even a one legged Wonder Boy is still dangerous ! #UFCVegas17— Jeremy Piven (@jeremypiven) December 20, 2020
Vera, of Ecuador, actually out-landed Aldo in total strikes 92 to 60, according to UFC Stats, but Aldo's shots were visibly heavier. The majority of Vera's offense came in the form of leg kicks.
-- Brett Okamoto
Geoff Neal chased Stephen Thompson down near the cage. When he got close, Thompson ripped off a lightning-quick punching combination and then angled off before Neal could even start throwing punches.
That sequence -- Thompson playing matador and Neal the hapless bull -- occurred over and over again Saturday in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas. Thompson, the former two-time title challenger, once again proved he's one of the UFC's elite technicians in a unanimous-decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45) victory, cementing himself as a top-tier welterweight a decade into his pro career.
"'Wonderboy' is still here, baby," Thompson said in his postfight interview. "That title, in 2021, it's gonna be mine. You'll see."
Thompson earned a $50,000 performance-of-the-night bonus.
-- Marc Raimondi
Michel Pereira did a hip-shaking dance to the cage, as he always does. Khaos Williams stood inside it just staring at his opponent every step of the way, his brow furrowed. When Pereira finally entered the Octagon door, he spun around on the canvas with a little break dancing.
And then they fought. It wasn't anywhere near as entertaining as the lead-up.
Pereira got the nod from all three judges (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) mostly by controlling distance, staying out of the range of Williams' power -- power that had given the 26-year-old from Detroit knockout wins in his two previous UFC appearances, each in 30 seconds or less. Pereira also managed takedowns near the end of round 2 and 3; in the former, he had a guillotine choke locked in as the horn saved Williams.
Williams, who came in riding an eight-fight winning streak, landed more strikes than Pereira in all three rounds, but Williams landed at a clip of just 43%. And when he missed, he missed by a lot.
Meanwhile, Pereira, who is 27 and from Brazil, was far more accurate (55%) -- when he bothered to throw. Whereas Williams unleashed 127 strike attempts, Pereira threw just 79. Mostly, he danced in front of Williams, confusing him with feints.
What was expected to be an all-action fight ended up being a lesson for Williams in the importance of establishing range. For Pereira, who won his second in a row, it was a testament to the benefit of a disciplined approach, after he had seen overly flashy techniques get him in trouble in past fights.
-- Jeff Wagenheim
Rob Font was thrown into the deep end. He had not fought in more than a year due to surgery to repair a torn right ACL. His first fight back? Against Marlon Moraes, ESPN's No. 4-ranked bantamweight in the world.
In a superb performance, Font stopped Moraes via TKO at 3:47 of the first round in a 135-pound contender bout. Font rocked Moraes with a jab, dropped him with an uppercut and then finished him on the ground with punches.
"I put the division on notice," Font said in his postfight interview. "I hit hard. ... I'm no joke, man. I'm here."
Moraes went to his wrestling early and got Font down to open the fight. From there, he held solid top position, moving into half guard. But Font worked his way to his feet, which allowed him to show off his beautiful boxing. Moraes is a high-level striker. But Font flowed with nice combinations and packed some serious pop in almost all of his punches. Moraes felt all of them until referee Marc Goddard jumped in to stop it, which looked a bit late. Font landed over and over on the ground without Moraes intelligently defending.
"I thought it went a little longer than it should have, but I can't complain -- I got the 'W,'" Font said.
Font, 33, has won three straight and four of his last five. He earned a $50,000 performance-of-the-night bonus. The New England Cartel product cashed as a +130 underdog. Afterward, he mentioned former bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw as a potential next opponent.
"Whatever gets me closest to the title," said Font, who fights out of Massachusetts.
Moraes, a 32-year-old Brazil native, has lost two in a row via knockout and three of his past four in total. He is the former World Series of Fighting bantamweight champion and former UFC bantamweight title challenger.
Marcin Tybura finishes Greg Hardy in Round 2 with some vicious ground-and-pound for the win at UFC Fight Night.
Tybura weathered some early offense from Hardy en route to a TKO victory at 4:31 of the second round. He slammed Hardy to the mat late in the round and used ground and pound from Hardy's half-guard to put him away. With the four-fight streak, Tybura moves into a tie for the longest in the heavyweight division with Francis Ngannou, Curtis Blaydes and Ciryl Gane.
An ex-NFL defensive lineman who transitioned to MMA in 2017, Hardy looked good in the opening round. He mixed his shot selection well on the feet, attacking Tybura to the body with left hooks and the head with lead right hands. Hardy maintained his signature aggressive style but looked composed and measured against his veteran opponent.
Just stoppage. Marc Goddard gave him every chance to stay in the fight. I give him a lot of respect for this one. Sometimes I give him flack but this was perfect IMO. No questions or room for debate https://t.co/LlwXfmlrLA— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) December 20, 2020
Tybura, of Poland, began to find his rhythm in the second round, however, and Hardy's energy level started to wane. A takedown along the fence was the beginning of the end, as Hardy looked uncomfortable off his back and quickly covered up. The loss snaps a two-fight win streak for Hardy and drops him to 4-3 in the UFC overall.
Tybura earned a $50,000 performance-of-the-night bonus.
Hardy, who trains under former American Top Team coach Din Thomas in Florida, was a slight favorite going into the bout.
Anthony "Showtime" Pettis brushes the top of Alex Morono's head with a spinning kick late in Round 3 that surprises Morono at UFC Fight Night.
Don't look now, but Anthony Pettis has won two in a row for the first time since 2014.
The former UFC and WEC lightweight champion, who lost his UFC belt in 2015 and had been 5-7 since then in an up-and-down run, overcame an early submission threat and a bloodied face to take over the fight in the second and third rounds and get the 29-28 nod from all three judges.
That's a HUGE win for Tybura! Hardy didn't seem to know what to do in that position. He didn't look hurt but more confused/lost. #UFCVegas17— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) December 20, 2020
For Pettis, who is 33 and from Milwaukee, the victory came a decade nearly to the day after his famous "Showtime kick" shuttered the doors on the WEC with a bang and set up a run at the UFC belt. Even in his difficult past few years, Pettis' losses have come against many of the best at both lightweight and welterweight, including two champions and a couple of others who have worn interim belts.
On this night, Pettis was put into trouble immediately by Morono, who knew him well. Pettis' last loss came in January against Diego Ferreira, who is a teammate of Morono's. When Ferreira was training for that fight, Morono was called upon in the gym to mimic the moves of Pettis. He did his research and attacked from the get-go.
"I made a mistake in the first round," Pettis said. "I went for that jump kick and he capitalized. His pressure was coming forward, but I should have been more patient with that.
"I was just anxious to get the fight going, and I paid for that. I've got a pretty busted up face right now. The first two he hit me with, I felt it immediately. I calmed down and reset. I found my rhythm and range out there. Once I find those, it's my fight."
Once Pettis regained his bearings, though, he controlled distance with footwork, kicks and counterpunches. Early in Round 3, he took the fight to the canvas and appeared to be on his way to riding out a victory. But Morono was able to get the fight back to standing, and Pettis then nearly ended it in the final minute with a flashy spinning kick. He wobbled Morono, a 30-year-old from Houston, but was unable to get the finish.
"Showtime" showed, however, that his time has not passed.
"I thought I knocked him out, honestly," Pettis said. "I saw his eyes roll back, and he didn't know where he was at. Even after the fight, he was like, 'What did you hit me with?' It was a spinning hook kick, man. He's tough. My heel still hurts from his head. There was a lot of momentum on that kick and he ate it.
"Big ups to Alex. He's a tough dude. I knew he was going to be a tough fight. Whoever fights me brings their A game. They know fighting 'Showtime' is an opportunity of a lifetime. I get the best versions of them. I feel very proud of myself. I showed a lot of grit."
"Guys at 170 are big dudes," Pettis added. "It's a different beast than 155. The reason I wasn't at 155 is pure laziness. It was me outside the Octagon getting fat and just not caring like I should care about my career. I was doing some of the extracurricular things like clubs, the partying scene and all the food that comes with that. I've cleared that part of my life. I'm keeping life outside the Octagon very straight. I know I can get down to 155 and be comfortable."
The UFC women's bantamweight division might have a much-needed new contender.
Pannie Kianzad rallied to beat Sijara Eubanks via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) in a battle of women's 135-pound fighters looking to carve out a spot in the upper echelon of the division.
Eubanks had a ton of success in the first round, taking Kianzad down multiple times, gaining dominant position and landing some ground-and-pound. Kianzad reversed her fortunes in the second. Eubanks was able to take her down, but Kianzad worked for an armbar twice and kept Eubanks from doing any damage from the top. On the feet, Kianzad got the better of the exchanges, including some hard elbows when Eubanks was working for a takedown against the cage.
The bout mostly took place on the feet in the third. Eubanks landed some hard shots, including a strong left hook. But Kianzad, blood coming from a cut on her nose, landed combinations with some power behind the punches more often, sealing the victory.
Kianzad, 29, has won three straight. The Iranian-born Sweden resident is an Ultimate Fighter veteran and the former Cage Warriors women's bantamweight champion. Eubanks, a 35-year-old Massachusetts native, has dropped two straight following two straight wins.
Deron Winn snapped a two-fight skid against Antonio Arroyo, in what turned into the most obvious grappler vs. striker matchup of the year.
Winn prevailed via decision, earning scores of 29-28. A former collegiate wrestler, Winn was credited with 12 takedowns in the 195-pound catchweight fight. Arroyo had a clear advantage on the feet and had Winn hurt with a knee and punches in the opening round but simply could not stay off his back. Winn racked up nearly 10 minutes of control time, per UFC Stats.
Wow pettis finishes with a crazy technical and creative spinning headkick right after throwing a leg kick. Great fight for him! I can't wait to try that technique tomorrow. 😁— Chris Weidman (@chrisweidman) December 20, 2020
It was an important victory for Winn, who improved to 2-2 in the UFC. A California native and teammate of former two-weight champion Daniel Cormier, Winn might have been fighting for his spot on the UFC roster.
Winn's path back into the win column wasn't always pretty, but it had a visible effect on Arroyo. The Brazilian fighter looked exhausted in the later rounds and all but stopped defending Winn's takedown attempts. Arroyo did manage to work back to his feet on a regular basis, but that only led to yet another takedown by Winn, who fights out of California.
Arroyo actually out-landed Winn in total strikes but did very little over the last two rounds.
Spending an entire fight on the canvas with the only woman with more UFC submissions than Ronda Rousey might not seem like a smart strategy. It works, however, when you're the stronger and smarter grappler.
Taila Santos had to fend off dangerous submission attempts in both the first and third rounds, but she did so with patience rather than panic -- and every single time she ended up in top position, from where she controlled Gillian Robertson and bloodied her with an elbow. Santos even had some tapout tries of her own, and when she didn't get the finish, she didn't lose position.
It all added up to two 30-26 scores and, mysteriously, a 29-28.
Santos, 27 and from Brazil, has won two in a row after suffering her only career loss in her UFC debut last year. She is one split decision from being unbeaten.
Robertson, a 25-year-old Canadian who fights out of Coconut Creek, Florida, saw a two-fight winning streak end.
Tafon Nchukwi isn't the fastest fighter in the middleweight division. In fact, the thickly muscled slugger is almost plodding. But standing in the cage with him for any length of time seems to be a dangerous proposition.
In his UFC debut, Nchukwi beat Jamie Pickett via unanimous decision (30-25, 30-26, 30-26) in a 185-pound bout. Nchukwi's size, strength and power was just too much. Nchukwi dropped Pickett with a head kick followed by a knee in the third round. Even though Pickett was able to make it to the end of the fight, it was a dominant performance for Nchukwi.
Nchukwi landed hard in every round with punches, knees and kicks. In the second round, he landed a series of hard knees to Pickett's body in the clinch. Pickett, the faster man, was able to land a nice combo and hurt Nchukwi briefly. But as soon as Nchukwi got close again, he was able to push around and maul Pickett against the fence. That is where Nchukwi caught Pickett in the third round, landing that head kick and knee with Pickett's back to the cage.
Nchukwi, 26, had finished all four of his previous pro fights. The Cameroon native, who appears to be a real prospect to watch at middleweight, had fought at light heavyweight and heavyweight previously, weighing in as heavy as 235.3 pounds. Pickett, a 32-year-old North Carolina resident, had a two-fight winning streak snapped. Like Nchukwi, this was Pickett's UFC debut following a TKO victory on Dana White's Contender Series earlier this year.
Cody Durden drops Jimmy Flick towards the end of Round 1, but Flick pulls a triangle choke out of nowhere and finishes Durden at UFC Fight Night.
Flick (16-5), of Tulsa, Oklahoma, submitted Durden (11-3-1) just 3:18 into the opening round, despite taking some early damage in the flyweight contest. Flick leapt into a flying triangle immediately after throwing a head kick, and finished the fight off his back. It was his 14th career win by submission.
Ninja ish! #UFCVegas17— Frankie Edgar (@FrankieEdgar) December 19, 2020
It was a quick flip in momentum by Flick, who spent the first minutes of the fight defending bad positions and trying to get out of the way of Durden's jab. Durden took Flick's back in the opening minute of the fight, and landed several shots from back mount. After Flick was able to get back to his feet, Durden dictated much of the standup with a crisp jab.
Durden's one mistake could barely even be called that. He caught a head kick attempt from Flick, which opened the door for Flick to jump into the flying triangle attempt. Durden fought the triangle for several moments, standing over Flick, before eventually submitting.
A former Contender Series alum, Flick has now won his past four fights via submission. It is his eighth career finish in the first round. He earned a $50,000 performance-of-the-night bonus.
Giagos was scheduled for this show-opening fight only on Wednesday, brought in as a replacement after not having competed since the summer of 2019. But he came in prepared.
Giagos took down Minus less than a minute into the fight and dominated him on the ground in a big way throughout the first two rounds. He tired in Round 3, but by then he had such a big lead in the bank that he just had to steer clear of a Minus desperation shot.
The domination was enough to give Giagos, a 30-year-old from Hawthorne, California, who was the biggest favorite of Saturday's card at -360, a decision victory with scores of 30-26, 30-27 and 30-28.
The best that could be said of Minus is that he survived. He was taken down four times, and it might have been more if he'd had the ability to get the fight back to standing. Instead, he repeatedly surrendered dominant positions to Giagos, who threatened finishes throughout -- the submission setups and ground-and-pound beatdowns came one after another.
Minus, 27 and from Anchorage, Alaska, has lost both of his UFC bouts. He was originally slated to face Rick Glenn, who had to pull out of the matchup at midweek.