LAS VEGAS -- Before Saturday, Dominick Cruz had fought just once since 2016. He has just six fights in the past decade. But at UFC 259, one of the best bantamweight fighters ever proved once again that he can hang with the top athletes in the division.
With the kind of technical and tactical performance that fans have come to expect, Cruz outpointed Casey Kenney via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 30-27) on the prelims at the UFC Apex. It was Cruz's first victory since he beat Urijah Faber at UFC 299 on June 4, 2016.
"A little closer than I wanted," Cruz said in his postfight interview. "But I got the job done."
Kenney had success throughout the fight kicking Cruz's legs. But Cruz, known for his innovative footwork, never slowed down. He stuck with his unorthodox style and hit Kenney with big shots in every round, including a shovel left hook in the first and a big blitzing combination in the second.
In the third round, Cruz took Kenney down twice and landed more solid shots from the left and right. Kenney landed hard several times, too, but not with the consistency of Cruz -- and usually they did not come in combinations.
"In the third round, especially, I knew the fight was close; it was probably 1-1, so that was the championship round," Cruz said. "I had to say that in my head and say that in my heart, lay my body on the line and be willing to do that, and I did."
Cruz (23-3) had not fought since a loss to Henry Cejudo in a bantamweight title fight at UFC 249 last May. The San Diego resident's last bout before that was a loss to Cody Garbrandt in a bantamweight title fight way back at UFC 207 on Dec. 30, 2016. Cruz, 35, first won the WEC bantamweight title in 2010 and entered the UFC as champ. He relinquished the belt due to several knee surgeries and foot injuries, which have accounted for his inactivity. Cruz also is a prolific UFC on-air analyst.
@DominickCruz big congrats man! Looked great!— Paul Felder (@felderpaul) March 7, 2021
Kenney (16-3-1) was on a three-fight winning streak coming in. The Arizona resident has a 5-2 UFC record and remains one to watch in the bantamweight division. Kenney, 29, is a former national champion judoka who has developed well-rounded striking at the MMA Lab.
-- Marc Raimondi
Dare to be great, good job kid 👍🏾— BONY (@JonnyBones) March 7, 2021
Israel Adesanya's meteoric rise to UFC superstardom hit a rather large obstacle Saturday night.
Jan Blachowicz beat the previously undefeated Adesanya by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-45, 49-45) to retain his light heavyweight title in the main event of UFC 259.
Sooooo who else is left for Amanda? Like for real? #UFC259— Niko Price (@Nikohybridprice) March 7, 2021
The most dominant female fighter in mixed martial arts history did her thing again on Saturday, in an absolute thrashing of No. 1 featherweight contender Megan Anderson.
Nunes (21-4) forced Anderson (10-5) to tap to an armbar at 2:03 of the opening round of their featherweight title fight at UFC 259 inside the Apex. In all likelihood, Nunes could have finished the fight any way she wanted. She rocked Anderson with a right hand in the opening minute, a shot that had the challenger on skates. Anderson was so hurt, she actually shot a takedown on Nunes, which led to a finish on the ground.
-- Brett Okamoto
That was very illegal, it doesn't get much worse than that. Yan was already flirting with danger by throwing those axe kicks when Aljo was down. The doctors made the right call, you can't let the fighter make the decision to continue after taking a shot like that. #UFC259— Michael Chiesa (@MikeMav22) March 7, 2021
Aljamain Sterling unhooked the UFC belt from around his waist and let it fall to the Octagon mat with a thud. Sterling then got on his knees and put his head to the canvas.
It was not the behavior of someone who had just achieved a longtime dream of becoming UFC champion. But those were the extremely bizarre circumstances of the UFC bantamweight title fight on Saturday at UFC 259.
If Khabib Nurmagomedov is indeed retired from MMA, as he has said he is, the lightweight division might have its heir apparent -- as Nurmagomedov has said Makhachev is.
Makhachev, who grew up with the UFC champion in Dagestan and trains with him there and at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California, showed off much of the grappling style of Nurmagomedov in smothering and then finishing Dober, who simply could not keep the fight standing long enough in any of the three rounds to put his crisp striking to work.
Khabib doesn't lie— Belal Muhammad (@bullyb170) March 7, 2021
Makhachev, 29, earned his seventh win in a row with efficiency, getting takedowns less than a minute into the first round, 40 seconds into the second and around 20 seconds into Round 3, and never allowing Dober to get back to his feet. The fight ended at 1:37 of Round 3 when Makhachev took side control and clamped on an arm-triangle choke to elicit the tapout.
Makhachev is no carbon copy of Nurmagomedov -- his first takedown came at the center of the Octagon, not along the cage, where the champ likes to operate. And Makhachev did not test out his standup, recognizing that would be Dober's best chance to win. He stuck to basics, and his basics were unstoppable.
Dober, who is 32 and from Denver, saw a three-fight winning streak come to an end. He had won all three of those bouts by knockout, but on this night he never got a chance to let his hands go.
-- Jeff Wagenheim
Two light heavyweight contenders continued to head in opposite directions, as Rakic prevailed over Santos in a three-round unanimous decision.
Rakic, of Austria, picked up his sixth win in seven appearances, while Santos fell to 0-3 since July 2019. Tagged as a potential barnburner going in, the 205-pound contest played out more like a chess match, as neither contender truly let his hands go. All three judges scored it for Rakic via scores of 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28.
Fighting to not lose— Dominick Reyes (@DomReyes) March 7, 2021
According to UFC Stats, Santos actually outlanded Rakic in total strikes 57 to 49, but Rakic's offense was more consistently spread out through the bout, and he appeared to land the more decisive shots. Both fighters leaned heavily on the leg kick, and each took turns looking for the occasional takedown. In the end, Rakic's control of distance and leg kicks probably won him the fight.
Santos, of Rio de Janeiro, has struggled in back-to-back appearances since returning from a knee reconstruction in 2019. He suffered several injuries during a five-round title fight against former champion Jon Jones, in a fight some observers felt he won. He returned against Glover Teixeira in November, and lost via third-round submission.
Rakic continues to build his case for a potential title shot. His only loss in the UFC, a split decision to Volkan Oezdemir in December 2019, came under controversy as many observers felt Rakic did enough to win the bout.
-- Brett Okamoto
One streak goes on, and the other has ended.
Phillips paired fluid movement with measured aggression to get the better of Song in the first two rounds, then held on in Round 3 to capture his fourth straight victory and end Song's unbeaten run at nine in a row.
With a minute and a half left in the fight, Phillips scored a takedown. It did not lead to a finish, but it secured the victory, as Song had been peppering him with punches in the final round and was in his face, throwing big shots aimed at pulling out the fight with a knockout. But once on the canvas, even though Phillips lost position and ended up on bottom, and would go on to lose the round, he was safe to make it to the final horn.
All three judges scored the bout 29-28.
Phillips, a 25-year-old from Phoenix, had built a lead through the first two rounds, landing the bigger shots and mostly keeping out of range of Song's power. He had to fend off a Song surge in Round 3, but did so to move to 3-0 in the UFC.
Song, who is 23 and from China, trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. He had not lost a fight since 2016.
-- Jeff Wagenheim
Askarov, a flyweight title contender out of Russia, added a big name to his resume by defeating Benavidez over the course of three one-sided rounds.
According to UFC Stats, Askarov converted five of six takedown attempts and controlled Benavidez on the ground for large chunks of the first and second rounds. Benavidez tried to respond with blitzing combinations on the feet, but Askarov's distance management and grappling control essentially neutralized the four-time title challenger. Judges scored it for Askarov 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26.
Only blemish on Askarov's weekend in which he otherwise makes a case for a title shot: He missed weight (127) and looked pretty bad getting to the scale.— Phil Murphy (@Phil_Sports) March 7, 2021
His ability to make 125.0 may face some questions. #UFC259
Sporting a bad cut and swelling under his left eye, Benavidez went into the third round looking for a finish but never came close. He landed a hard Superman punch midway through the final round, but Askarov wore it well and did well avoiding risk and keeping Benavidez on the outside.
Benavidez, who fights out of Las Vegas, remains tied with former champion Demetrious Johnson for the most wins in UFC flyweight history with 13. He has been stuck on that number since June 2019. He has now dropped his past three, including back-to-back losses to current champion Deiveson Figueiredo in 2020. Askarov moves to 3-0-1 in the UFC.
-- Brett Okamoto
Bontorin throws mouthpiece at Kara-France after losing via KO in 1st round
Kai Kara-France puts Rogerio Bontorin down with a nice combination for a knockout victory, and Bontorin shows his displeasure as he chucks his mouthpiece across the ring at Kara-France.
Bontorin was on the way to a 10-8 round. And then -- just like that -- his head was crashing to the canvas.
Kara-France escaped after a long stretch of ground dominance by Bontorin at the end of the first round and unleashed a hellish combination. Kara-France landed a right hand that rocked Bontorin and a right uppercut that caused Bontorin to face plant. The finish came at 4:55 of the first round via TKO.
"Mark Hunt walkaway -- vintage," Kara-France said in his postfight interview, referencing his fellow Oceania native Hunt's propensity for walk-off knockouts.
The final sequence was a bit odd. Bontorin fell face-first to the canvas and Kara-France started celebrating. Then, when it seemed like referee Herb Dean had not actually called off the bout, Kara-France ran back to Bontorin in an attempt to blast him with more blows. Dean headed him off at the pass and then officially called the bout over by TKO. Bontorin, who seemed to think the fight was still going, fired his mouthpiece at Kara-France in frustration before cooler heads prevailed.
Bontorin hurt Kara-France with a left hand early in the first and then took him down. From there, he took Kara-France's back and dominated, nearly cinching in rear-naked chokes on multiple occasions. It was completely one-sided until Kara-France got to his feet in the closing seconds and shook off Bontorin.
"I put the flyweights coming up on notice," Kara-France said. "Anyone in that top five can get it."
Kara-France earned a $50,000 performance-of-the-night bonus.
Kara-France, 27, came in ranked No. 10 in the world at flyweight by ESPN. The New Zealand native was coming off a second-round submission loss to Brandon Royval at UFC 253 in September. Bontorin, a 28-year-old Brazil native, has dropped two straight following a four-fight winning streak.
-- Marc Raimondi
Elliott got a takedown early in the first round and dominated Espinosa from top position while delivering damage for the rest of the first five minutes. Elliott got a takedown early in the second round, and proceeded to dominate and do more damage, not allowing Espinosa off the canvas until the horn. The third round? More of the same.
It was 15 minutes of total control, and one judge gave Elliott a couple of 10-8 rounds, making it a 30-25 scorecard. The other two judges scored the bout 30-27.
He made it look easy 🩸 #UFC259— Niko Price (@Nikohybridprice) March 7, 2021
The three takedowns give Elliott 47 for his UFC career, putting him alone in second place among flyweights, behind former champion Demetrious Johnson (58).
Elliott, who is 34 and from Lee's Summit, Missouri, won his second in a row after withstanding a three-fight losing streak against ranked fighters.
Espinosa, a 31-year-old from Albuquerque, New Mexico, nearly landed head kicks in both the first and second rounds, but Elliott ducked under both and rushed forward for takedowns. While on his back in Round 3, Espinosa cut Elliott with an elbow. But that was all he managed in losing for the fourth time in his past five bouts.
These two were scheduled to meet in January, but the bout was postponed after Espinosa tested positive for COVID-19.
Nzechukwu, a light heavyweight prospect out of Dallas, earned the biggest win of his career with a second-round upset of Ulberg.
Nzechukwu got off to a terrible start, as he was visibly wobbled by a left head kick in the opening minute. Ulberg, who fights out of New Zealand and is a close teammate of Israel Adesanya, pressed in looking for the finish, and did so intelligently. He ripped Nzechukwu to the body with punches and knees from the Thai clinch, but Nzechukwu managed to survive and separate.
This card has been insane with only 5 fights in 🤯 #UFC259— Carlos Correa (@TeamCJCorrea) March 7, 2021
As the round progressed, Nzechukwu started to even things behind straight left hands to Ulberg's head. Ulberg looked a bit fatigued between rounds, but still came out pumping the jab and low leg kicks to slow the forward motion of Nzechukwu. Nzechukwu would not be denied, however, as he walked through Ulberg's offense and knocked him out with a short right hand along the fence 3:19 into the round.
Nzechukwu, 28, is now 2-1 in the UFC. His only loss came against the currently ranked Paul Craig. Ulberg drops his UFC debut.
Both fighters earned $50,000 fight-of-the-night bonuses.
Brady taps out Matthews in early prelims
Sean Brady gets Jake Matthews up against the cage and makes him tap to solidify a submission win in the third round.
In a battle of welterweight prospects, Brady showed up in a big way.
Brady steamrolled Matthews, finishing with a submission (arm triangle) at 3:28 of the third round. The undefeated Brady dominated Matthews in every facet of MMA, outwrestling him and outgrappling him -- and even wobbling him with strikes in the third. It was the kind of victory that announced Brady as a real threat in a very good UFC welterweight division. Brady winning by submission was +400 per Caesars by William Hill.
170lbs needs to be very worried about @seanbradymma— Paul Felder (@felderpaul) March 6, 2021
"I think I just deserve a top-15 guy," Brady said in his postfight interview. "Let's see who they give me after this."
Matthews' best moment came in the first round. He dropped Brady with a punch after catching a Brady kick. But Brady was quick to get on top in a ground scramble. And he spent the rest of the round there. Brady went back to that clear advantage in the second round, shooting a double-leg takedown on Matthews and getting him down. Brady dominated from there, getting the back and slipping into mount while landing punches.
In the third round, Brady rocked Matthews with a left hook. Matthews ended up being the one going for a takedown, which Brady stuffed and then won position in a scramble yet again. From there, Brady got into dominant position and wrapped Matthews up into an arm-triangle choke from arm triangle.
Brady, 28, is 4-0 in the UFC with two straight submission finishes in a row. The Philadelphia native is the former Cage Fury Fighting Championship welterweight champion. Brady's four-fight UFC winning streak is the third-best active winning streak in the division, behind champion Kamaru Usman (13) and Leon Edwards (8). Matthews, still just 26 years old out Australia, had a three-fight winning streak snapped.
Lemos finished this fight between Brazilian women with a jab.
The straight punch dropped Souza, and referee Jason Herzog jumped in almost immediately, waving off the bout as a TKO at 3:39 of Round 1. It was a quick action by the ref, almost as quick as Lemos' powerful fists.
Amanda Lemos was credited with two knockdowns in her KO win over Livinha Souza.— UFC News (@UFCNews) March 6, 2021
She is just the fourth female fighter in @UFC history to knock an opponent down twice (Nunes, Calderwood, Pudilova). #UFC259 results ➡️: https://t.co/uYKJuIYOVH pic.twitter.com/L0bhizgYLB
The 33-year-old Lemos, in winning her third straight fight, was in command from the start, taking ownership of the center of the Octagon and stalking Souza, who was overmatched in the standup fighting. The bout went to the canvas midway through the round after Lemos landed an overhand right hand that dropped her countrywoman, but that actually gave Souza a glimmer of a chance. She grabbed hold of Lemos' ankle and went for a submission -- Souza has eight of them among her 14 career wins -- but Lemos escaped, delivered some ground-and-pound, then got the fight back to standing.
That was the beginning of the end for Souza, who is 29. She had no answers, got dropped by the jab, and that sealed her second loss in her last three fights.
Uros Medic demolishes Aalon Cruz in first round of UFC debut
Making his UFC debut, Uros Medic wastes no time as he drops Aalon Cruz early in their bout at UFC 259.
Medic has been saying he's UFC-ready for a while. He proved it big time in his promotional debut.
Medic devastated Cruz with strikes on the feet, en route to a first-round TKO finish. Medic hurt Cruz almost immediately, and referee Mark Smith gave Cruz every opportunity to continue -- perhaps too many -- before finally calling the bout at the 1:40 mark.
This guys a monster !!!— Belal Muhammad (@bullyb170) March 6, 2021
Medic, who fights out of Alaska but was born in Serbia, badly hurt Cruz with a left hook to the temple and followed that with a flying knee that Cruz ate flush. Cruz basically dropped to the ground, covered up and held onto Medic's leg. Medic hit him with a long series of unanswered punches, and dropped him again with a left hand after Cruz somehow managed to stand up. The end was never in question. Medic earned a $50,000 performance-of-the-night bonus.
A former contestant on Dana White's Contender Series, Medic has finished all of his professional bouts, including six in the first round. Cruz, who also was on DWCS and is from Tampa, drops to 0-2 in the UFC with two first-round losses by knockout.
Trevin Jones starts off UFC 259 with a massive KO of Mario Bautista
Trevin Jones shocks Mario Bautista in the second round of their bout at UFC 259 in Las Vegas.
Jones finally has his first UFC victory -- officially.
He actually won his promotional debut last August, knocking out Timur Valiev, but the result was overturned to a no-contest after Jones tested positive for marijuana. He had taken the fight on two days' notice.
Now the 30-year-old native of New Orleans, who grew up in and still trains in Guam, has another knockout. This one came 40 seconds into the second round, when he caught Bautista coming in with a lead right uppercut, dropping him. Jones is unbeaten in his past four fights.
Bautista, a 27-year-old fighting out of the MMA Lab in Glendale, Arizona, saw a two-fight winning streak come to an end.