Israel Adesanya had just dominated Paulo Costa in his second UFC title defense, and as he stood at the center of the Octagon with the shiny middleweight belt around his waist, he was already looking ahead to his third defense.
"I already DM'd Jared Cannonier," Adesanya said on that night last September. "He's a hell of a dude, I love his energy, he's a beautiful man. And I said, 'You destroy Robert Whittaker, and you're next.' He's the one I want to fight next."
That was quite a feather in the cap of Cannonier, being called out -- with respect -- by the champ.
Cannonier was unable to follow through, however, as four weeks later he lost a unanimous decision to Whittaker, a former champ. The title shot that had been dangled in front of Cannonier suddenly disappeared.
Now Cannonier surely will get Adesanya's attention again. Saturday's unanimous-decision victory was no masterpiece, but the champ knows how tough it is to look good against Kelvin Gastelum. Adesanya was pushed to the edge in his 2019 five-rounder with Gastelum, walking away with a slim victory, an interim title and much respect for Gastelum.
Gastelum earned Cannonier's respect as well, climbing to his feet from two knockdowns to remain the aggressor for five rounds. He appeared to tire Cannonier out with his constant movement, although Cannonier landed the more telling blows and was able to fend off all eight takedown attempts. And in winning for the fourth time in his last five fights, Cannonier did put himself in position for a title shot.
Of course, Cannonier won't be next for Adesanya. That honor will go to Whittaker, who has won three in a row -- including victories over both Cannonier and Gastelum -- since dropping his belt to Adesanya in 2019. Whittaker has earned his rematch.
But Cannonier has earned the next shot after that. If he can wait.
Very competitive. A little more volume and I thought KG would've taken it or even pressing JC against the cage more. Big win for JC but KG is a savage! He's fought all the best guys that 185 has to offer in the UFC https://t.co/Judmz0Crta— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) August 22, 2021
"I'm broke, so I have to fight," Cannonier said after having his arm raised. "Hopefully I get that title flight. But the right name might make me say 'yes.'"
Cannonier might be wise to go ahead and bolster his bank account with a date with one of those four. It's not a title shot, but the waiting game doesn't always work out for fighters, especially when there are others in action with an opportunity to impress and play leapfrog.
-- Jeff Wagenheim
Olympians who transition to MMA always have an aura around them. When the athlete competed in three Olympics and brought home a silver medal -- and also owns three medals from the Greco-Roman wrestling world championships -- that's someone special.
Madsen is that fighter, and while winning by split decision over a fighter less than four months from his 40th birthday might not seem so spectacular, the Dane -- himself a 36-year-old -- was elated. He had gone through a lot, from suffering a broken jaw in his last fight to dealing with his wife's diagnosis with multiple sclerosis.
"I'm so proud, I'm so happy that I can bring home a victory," he said. "That means more to me, honestly, than going to the Olympics. I mean, this is my biggest comeback of my athletic career. I'm so proud. I'm so happy."
It wasn't easy. Fighting a man who was in his 54th career bout, Madsen won his 11th by being steady in the face of Guida's unrelenting flurries. Madsen trapped him against the cage on occasion but could not manage a takedown. But that made Guida cautious, keeping his distance, which made his punches mostly fall short. He did land plenty of kicks to the lower leg, but Madsen countered with jab after jab, reddening his opponent's face enough to impress two of the three judges.
Two of them scored the bout 29-28, one for each man. The deciding judge had it 30-27 for Madsen.
The barrel-chested Porter doesn't look like the kind of heavyweight who can go three hard rounds. Then again, it's better to not judge a book by its cover.
Porter was the fresher, more durable fighter throughout in a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) win over Sherman. Porter said he wanted to use more takedowns, but Sherman did well in defending. So, Porter went to Plan B -- using his pressure, punching combinations and leg kicks to wear Sherman down. It worked.
"The idea was to just push the pace, chop the legs," Porter said in his postfight interview. "I have these big, strong legs."
Porter landed his right hand at will, especially in the second and third rounds. Sherman had moments, damaging Porter's lead leg with kicks early on. But he never seemed to capitalize on those efforts and Porter took control late.
Porter, 36, has won two straight and four of his last five. The Connecticut native is the former Reality Fighting heavyweight champion. Sherman, a 31-year-old from Mississippi, has dropped two straight following a four-fight winning streak.
-- Marc Raimondi
There was less than half a minute to go in his UFC debut, and Kakhramonov had been trapped against the cage for half of the final round. Unable to produce any offense, he was in peril of having the fight slip away.
Then, as Jones made a bid to take him down and left his neck exposed, Kakhramonov seized his opportunity -- his final opportunity -- and sunk in a standing guillotine choke that produced a dramatic finish at 4:39 of the round.
Wow! This Uzbek kid is future! #UFCVegas34— GIGA CHIKADZE (@giga_chikadze) August 22, 2021
The 25-year-old from Uzbekistan, who fights out of Irvine, California, has won three in a row. He was a late replacement brought in just this week and missed weight on Friday.
"You guys saw me on four days' notice," said Kakhramonov. "Give me an eight-week camp. I can take out the champ, too."
Jones, a 31-year-old from Guam, saw a three-fight winning streak come to an end.
Pichel threw winging, hard punches that slammed against Hubbard's head. Hubbard fired back and clipped Pichel with a knee out of a Thai clinch. The finishing sequence was the epitome of what was a war of attrition between the two men -- and it brought UFC president Dana White, who was sitting cageside, to his feet.
In the end, while Hubbard put forth a heck of an effort, Pichel had captured a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) victory.
"I'm still a dog, so just come here and fight like that," Pichel said in his postfight interview.
Hubbard had some success early with his striking. He appeared to be more technical than Pichel, at least early. But Pichel said his game plan was to "out footwork" Hubbard, and that started paying dividends in the second and third rounds. Pichel turned the bout into more of a brawl, hurting Hubbard with a combination in the second round and following up with a big elbow.
In the third, it was more of the same. Pichel was the fresher fighter and landed the harder shots. He outscrambled Hubbard on the ground and got on top and then got up later after a Hubbard takedown. The bout finished with both men throwing haymakers, fitting for such a grueling battle.
Pichel, 38, has won three in a row and seven of his last eight. The California native, who now fights out of Factory X in Colorado, called out Gregor Gillespie afterward. Gillespie is the only man to defeat Pichel since 2012. Hubbard, a 29-year-old Illinois native fighting out of Elevation Fight Team in Colorado, has alternated wins and losses over his last eight bouts.
For all of the first round and for as long as it lasted in the second, this tussle of top-10 flyweights was fought at a fast-forward pace, as the 125-pounders often do.
Pantoja seized an early advantage but had to hang on, as Royval surged into control and threatened a submission late in Round 1. Then, in the second round, Pantoja took advantage during a grappling scramble and locked in a rear-naked choke to get the win.
Pantoja's BJJ is pound for pound high-level. And as I type this we see Pantoja finish a RNC on Royval. Damn, was hoping Brandon would win. Great fight and big win for Pantoja #UFCVegas34— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) August 22, 2021
The 31-year-old Brazilian fighter, who is No. 7 in the ESPN men's flyweight rankings, has won three of his past five fights. This one was big, with UFC champion Brandon Moreno in the building.
Pantoja, who owns a 2018 victory over Moreno and also a win over him in an exhibition on The Ultimate Fighter, called out the champ -- respectfully.
"The first time I win [over] him, on TUF, he come back to UFC, make a bonus and everything," Pantoja said. "And the second time I win [over] him in a fight, he come back like a champ. But now is my time, Moreno, OK? I see you in December. Is December good for you? If it's good for you, it's good for me too."
The ninth-ranked Royval, who is 29 and from Englewood, Colorado, lost in November to Moreno, who would go on to win the belt.
In the first round, it looked like Saldana would win going away. But Lingo was having none of it.
Lingo rallied in the second and third rounds to beat Saldana via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) in a gutty performance. Saldana won the first round with stylish kicks and punching combinations, opening up bloody cuts on Lingo's face. But Lingo upped the pressure late and stole the result.
Saldana looked like the far better fighter early on. He had beautiful kicks and a smooth striking style. Saldana landed nice kicks to the body, head and legs, plus used his boxing well. Lingo, though, was undeterred. His coach, Sayif Saud of Fortis MMA, told him before the second round to get right in Saldana's face. He did so, picking up the pace and not giving Saldana any space. From inside, Lingo landed big punches to the head and body, plus leg kicks.
By the end of the second, Saldana was clearly tired and feeling the effects of shots to the body and legs. Lingo landed a right hand to the body that dropped Saldana, and that all but sealed the win.
Lingo, 27, has won two in a row after dropping his UFC debut to Youssef Zalal in February 2020. The Texan was undefeated before the loss to Zalal and looks like a tough out at bantamweight moving forward due to his guile and durability. Saldana, a 30-year-old fighting out of Arizona, had a five-fight winning streak snapped.
The fight was delayed by nearly three years. When it finally came, Kelleher wasted no time in getting his hands on Pilarte.
Kelleher came across the cage with a purpose at the start of the fight and immediately took Pilarte to the canvas, then beat him up for the rest of the round. The same scenario played out in the next two rounds as well, from the quick takedowns to the unrelenting beatdowns. He didn't get the finish, but Kelleher was a clear winner.
All three judges scored the bout 30-27 for the 34-year-old from Selden, New York, who landed 245 ground strikes during 12 minutes, 26 seconds of ground control.
"Not the most exciting fight for a lot of people, but a smart fight from me," said Kelleher, who came in having lost two of his last three. "Needed the big W."
Kelleher called out Sean O'Malley afterward.
Pilarte, who is 31 from Houston, had not fought in over two years, when he lost a split decision to Filipe Colares in his UFC debut. He originally was scheduled to debut against Kelleher in November 2018.
Josiane Nunes knocks out Bea Malecki with a stunning punch late in Round 1.
Nunes was giving up seven inches of height. No matter.
Despite the huge size difference, Nunes was able to get inside on Malecki at will. And she crushed her with a massive overhand left to finish things via knockout at 4:54 of the first round.
Nunes swarmed Malecki from the beginning with big combinations. The southpaw used a Superman punch with her left to get and let loose with barrages of punches. Malecki was never able to keep Nunes at distance with her reach advantage with any consistency.
Malecki did land a nice head kick and a spinning back elbow. But Nunes weathered those blows, continued to come forward and finally landed the knockout blow -- and it was a violent one. Malecki dropped to the canvas in ugly fashion when the left hand connected.
Nunes, 27, was making her UFC debut. The Brazil native has won seven straight fights overall and her only career loss came against fellow UFC roster member Taila Santos way back in 2013. Malecki, a 29-year-old Sweden native, had a two-fight UFC winning streak snapped.
Knight won a feisty battle of New Englanders by waiting for his opponent to come to him, then making that foe wish he hadn't.
Cherant had found a home for a couple of overhand punches and had just missed with several others. The 26-year-old from Wrentham, Massachusetts, was emboldened, so he moved forward with strikes and landed one. Then he fell face-forward to the canvas.
Knight, who is 33 and from East Hartford, Connecticut, absorbed the punch and clipped his oncoming opponent with a short left hook that dropped him. As Cherant lay motionless on the canvas, referee Chris Tognoni jumped in to end it at 3:58.
Knight came into the fight unhappy with Cherant for suggesting he has no striking skills. "I ate an overhand and threw my left hook," said Knight. "It is what it is. You speak on what you don't see. But that's the most dangerous thing."
Knight has won three of his last four. Cherant has lost both of his UFC bouts.
Ignacio Bahamondes sends Roosevelt Roberts to the mat with an epic spinning kick you have to see to believe.
The UFC might have a bona fide blue-chip prospect on its hands from Latin America.
Bahamondes blasted Roberts with a spinning back kick knockout at 4:55 of the third and final round after an impressive performance throughout. Bahamondes looked worse for wear -- his face was covered in blood -- but he was the more aggressive and effective fighter in each round. The spinning back kick finish was one of the year's best KOs.
Woooow with 6 seconds left lands the KO of the year!!!#ufcVegas— Jamahal Hill (@JamahalH) August 22, 2021
"I know I hit him in the body a couple of times," Bahamondes said in his postfight interview. "I was trying to throw the spinning heel kick to his body and get his attention down. ... Thank God I got it."
Bahamondes went to the body with kicks in every round. He also mixed in a ton of volume with his hands in the form of boxing combinations. Roberts had some moments, too. He landed a hard right-hand counter in the first round and a big uppercut in the second. Bahamondes, though, poured it on with punches in bunches and finished with an absolute flourish.
Bahamondes, who is just 23 years old, picked up his first UFC victory. The Chile native trains out of Chicago with highly regarded striking coach Mike Valle. Roberts, a 27-year-old Miami native fighting out of California, is winless in three straight.
Sasha Palatnikov refuses to tap out, but it's too little too late as Ramiz Brahimaj forces Palatnikov to go out cold.
Brahimaj earned his first UFC victory with efficient urgency, getting a takedown 20 seconds into the fight, quickly moving into half guard, then full mount and clamping on a rear-naked choke to get the finish two minutes, 33 seconds into the fight. All nine of his career wins have come by submission.
Ramiz is a beast! Heavy hands and a brutally offensive ground game! Great fight to kickoff this fight card. Let's go!!! #UFCVegas34— Alex Morono (@alexmoronomma) August 21, 2021
The 28-year-old native of the Bronx, New York, now fighting out of Fortis MMA in Dallas, lost his UFC debut last November by doctor stoppage. But this time it was a referee who stopped the fight, as Palatnikov went unconscious after trying to fight off the choke.
Palatnikov, 32, who was born in Hong Kong and fights out of Las Vegas, is 1-2 in the UFC.