LAS VEGAS -- Sean O'Malley did it again on Saturday. Everything the sport has come to know about him in his short UFC career was on full display at UFC 269.
O'Malley (15-1) earned his seventh win inside the Octagon, and he made it look easy against Raulian Paiva (21-4) at T-Mobile Arena. The bantamweight contest ended at the 4:42 mark of the opening round, when O'Malley dropped Paiva with right hands along the fence and followed with hammerfists until the referee intervened.
It's a perfect way for O'Malley's year to end. He walked to the Octagon three times in 2021 and finished all three of his opponents by knockout.
"Honestly, I think he's one of the toughest guys I have fought," O'Malley said. "But when I land those big shots, I'm gonna take you out. And that's what happened."
Immediately after the result, O'Malley's coach, Tim Welch, revealed he suffered a rib injury during camp. The 27-year-old confirmed he nearly pulled out of the contest.
"I haven't grappled or sparred in three weeks," O'Malley said. "I was laying in bed one night, 99% sure I was pulling out of this fight. I just knew how many people were going to come out here and wanted to watch me fight -- and I just couldn't pull out."
The injury had no ill effect on O'Malley's performance. He confused Paiva with feints and stance switches. He fought with his typical hands-down style and expertly dictated range. Paiva never really landed a significant strike, while O'Malley had his way with body kicks, boxing combinations and counters.
If there is any criticism thus far of O'Malley's UFC career, it has concerned the quality of his competition. Paiva was widely considered his toughest test, but O'Malley still went into the fight as a big betting favorite. O'Malley has made light of the criticism, referring to himself as the "Unranked Champ."
Originally from Montana, now fighting out of Arizona, O'Malley experienced his only loss against Marlon Vera in 2020, in a fight in which he suffered a nerve injury in the first round.
Well another easy one for Suga Sean. Move him up.— Funky (@Benaskren) December 12, 2021
Lightweight title: Charles Oliveira (c) (32-8 1 NC, 20-8 1 NC UFC) def. Dustin Poirier (28-7 1 NC, 20-6 1 NC UFC) by third-round submission (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
There will be no more underestimating Charles Oliveira.
After back-to-back stoppage wins over Conor McGregor, many thought Dustin Poirier becoming UFC lightweight champion was a foregone conclusion. Oliveira had a little something to say about that.
Oliveira weathered an early storm and then finished Poirier via submission (rear-naked choke) at 1:02 of the third round Saturday night in the main event of UFC 269 at T-Mobile Arena. With the victory, Oliveira retained the UFC lightweight title.
"I'm the world champion," Oliveira said in his postfight interview through an interpreter. "I'm the man. They talk. I do it."
Oliveira, the greatest submission artist in UFC history, won the belt with a second-round TKO win over Michael Chandler at UFC 262 in May. That was Oliveira's 28th UFC fight -- the longest journey for any fighter to a UFC title in history. Yet, he remained unheralded with more popular names like Poirier near the top of the division. It'll be hard to doubt "Do Bronx" any longer.
Women's bantamweight title: Julianna Peña (12-4, 7-2 UFC) def. Amanda Nunes (c) (21-5, 14-2 UFC)
Julianna Pena defeats Amanda Nunes to win the UFC women's bantamweight title, one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.
Julianna Peña swore she'd do it. She swore she would take out the greatest of all time, double champ Amanda Nunes. Next to no one believed her.
Then she went out and did exactly that.
Peña (11-4) scored one of the biggest upsets in mixed martial arts history on Saturday, as she submitted Nunes (21-5) in the second round of their bantamweight title fight. The finish came at the 3:26 mark, after Peña hurt Nunes on the feet, took her to the ground, moved to her back and locked in a rear-naked choke.
"I told you," Peña said. "Don't ever doubt me again. ... She tapped and I asked the commission, 'Is it over?' He said, 'Yes, you won.' It didn't [seem real]. It feels crazy. But I expected to win. The world is my oyster. You have the ability to do anything you want in this life."
Full recap of Nunes-Pena from Brett Okamoto
Welterweight: Geoff Neal (14-4, 6-2 UFC) def. Santiago Ponzinibbio (29-5, 10-4 UFC) by split decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
It wasn't the most stirring fight. The techniques used were not so diverse, as the two combatants mostly just stood in front of each other throwing punches to the face and kicks to the legs for three rounds. But Neal cannot complain, as he got the nod on two judges' scorecards to end a two-fight losing streak.
Each fighter received a 29-28 score in his favor, and the other scorecard was 30-27 for Neal. The 31-year-old, who fights out of Dallas, sewed up the victory in the third round, building a 43-30 striking advantage as Ponzinibbio started to lose steam.
It was a slow-paced fight with some odd moments, with the action paused by a groin strike or eye poke multiple times. Referee Mark Smith issued several warnings to both fighters for their fouls but never deducted a point.
Ponzinibbio, a 35-year-old Argentinian who fights out of Coconut Creek, Florida, has lost two of his last three after running off a seven-fight winning streak.
Men's flyweight: Kai Kara-France (23-9 NC, 6-2 UFC) def. Cody Garbrandt (12-5, 7-5 UFC) by first-round TKO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Garbrandt's move down to flyweight could not have gone worse. On the other hand, Kara-France picked up the biggest victory of his career.
Kara-France stopped Garbrandt, the former UFC bantamweight champion, via TKO at 3:21 of the first round. He dropped Garbrandt with a right hand, gave chase and, after shaking off a Garbrandt takedown attempt, landed several more combinations. A final right hand by Kara-France put Garbrandt down, and referee Herb Dean stepped in as Kara-France already began to celebrate.
ESPN ranked Kara-France No. 8 in the world coming in, and this victory could vault him to instant title-contender status. That's what Kara-France said he wanted next in his postfight interview: the winner of the UFC 270 fight between champion Brandon Moreno and former champ Deiveson Figueiredo on Jan. 22.
Wow amazing performance for Kara-France— Jared Gordon (@JFlashGordonMMA) December 12, 2021
"I told you I was gonna answer a lot of questions tonight and I did," Kara-France said. "I know I'm the best in the world. Taking on a former champ, I think it puts me right in line for the title shot."
Kara-France blasted Garbrandt with a right cross, sending him to the canvas. Kara-France tried to flurry as Garbrandt attempted to evade. Garbrandt shot for a takedown and nearly landed it, quickly trying to get Kara-France's back. But Kara-France broke free to land another combination and then a big right hand that finished the fight.
Kara-France, 28, has won two straight, both by first-round KO/TKO. The New Zealand native has won six of eight in the UFC overall. Garbrandt, a 30-year-old Ohio native fighting out of California and New Jersey, has dropped two in a row and five of six. This was his debut at flyweight in the UFC.
Men's featherweight: Josh Emmett (17-2, 8-2 UFC) def. Dan Ige (15-5, 7-4 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Two 145-pounders known for all-action performances put on a fight that lived up to both men's reputations, with Emmett seizing an early advantage with a big knockdown and weathering a gritty, poised bounce-back by Ige that made it a close fight.
Emmett, who is 36 and fights out of Sacramento, California, has won four in a row. His knockdown in Round 1 gave him 11 in his UFC career, tying him with Jeremy Stephens for the most in division history. But Emmett has had just seven featherweight fights, whereas Stephens has had 18.
Ige, a 30-year-old from Las Vegas, has lost two in a row and three of his past four. He looked like he could be a goner after that early knockdown, but he calmly fought his way back into the fight, controlling much of Round 2 and giving as much as he took in the final five minutes.
Beautiful War between 2 monsters!!!— Jamahal Hill (@JamahalH) December 12, 2021
Nonetheless, one judge scored the bout 30-27 for Emmett, while the other two had it a more reasonable 29-28.
Men's bantamweight: Dominick Cruz (24-3, 7-2 UFC) def. Pedro Munhoz (19-7 1 NC, 9-7 1 NC UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
More than a decade after he won his first major title in the division, Cruz remains one of the most difficult fighters to figure out.
Cruz outpointed Munhoz via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28), rallying after nearly getting finished in the first round. Munhoz hurt Cruz badly early, but in the second and third rounds, it looked like vintage Cruz -- superior footwork and the ability to potshot Munhoz with combinations and get out before taking damage.
Munhoz caught Cruz with two left hands in the first round that dropped Cruz. Though Cruz was reeling, Munhoz was not able to close the deal. Cruz survived the round and even mounted some offense late, foreshadowing the next two rounds. "Honestly, I thought I slipped," Cruz said in his postfight interview. "I guess that tells you where I was at."
Cruz was able to work his magic in the final two rounds. Very few fighters in the history of MMA have his level of footwork, with the ability to create angles out of nowhere and then disappear before an opponent can counter. Cruz landed big combinations on Munhoz in the second and third, opening up a cut on the right side of Munhoz's face.
Cruz, 36, has won two straight since losing to Henry Cejudo in a bantamweight title fight at UFC 249 in May 2020. The California native is a two-time former UFC bantamweight champion, known for coming back from injuries and still remaining in top form. Cruz is 15-2 in his past 17 fights and has the most wins in UFC/WEC bantamweight history (14).
Munhoz, 35, has dropped four of five, but no one has had a tougher strength of schedule in the bantamweight division. Munhoz has fought five former or current UFC champions in his past six fights, and coming in, ESPN ranked Munhoz No. 10 in the world at bantamweight. The Brazil native was coming off a unanimous decision loss to Jose Aldo at UFC 265 in August.
Heavyweight: Tai Tuivasa (14-3, 7-3 UFC) def. Augusto Sakai (15-4-1, 4-3 UFC) by second-round KO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Tai Tuivasa thrills the Vegas crowd with an incredible shoey after his knockout win.
It's hard to decipher what a live UFC crowd appreciates more out of Tuivasa at this point: his knockouts or his shoeys.
Tuivasa, of Sydney, gave the Las Vegas crowd both on Saturday. He viciously knocked out Sakai, of Brazil, 26 seconds into the second round with punches along the fence to extend his win streak to four. Immediately after the knockout, he jumped onto the cage and downed his trademark shoey -- a beer, poured into a sneaker.
"I feel I'm getting better and better at this point," Tuivasa said. "I heard my corner say that left [hook] is opening up. I just had to stand on my edge, stalk him and hunt him down. I've said it before: I'm a banger from Western Sydney, and I'll bang with anyone."
Give the man his SHOE!!! #UFC269— Niko Price (@Nikohybridprice) December 12, 2021
The end was violent, but the buildup to it was very calculated for Tuivasa. He took the center of the cage and calmly pursued Sakai around the perimeter. Sakai landed some good knees to the body in the clinch, but Tuivasa's boxing dictated the early exchanges.
After rocking Sakai with a left hook out in the open, Tuivasa followed him to the fence and attacked with right hands until he scored one down the middle to finish the fight. Sakai has now lost three in a row after starting his UFC career on a four-fight win streak.
Middleweight: Bruno Silva (22-6, 3-0 UFC) def. Jordan Wright (12-2, 2-2 UFC) by first-round TKO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Bruno Silva wobbles Jordan Wright with a couple of punches and ends the fight early at UFC 269.
Wright was connecting early with kicks to the body and head, then had Silva trapped against the cage and was landing knees to the body. But Silva weathered the onslaught, even welcomed it. He fought himself away from the cage with a flurry of punches, and when he landed a crisp right-left combination he had Wright wobbled, leading to the finish at 1:28 of the round.
Silva, a 32-year-old Brazilian, has won seven in a row, all by knockout. He used resilience and pinpoint accuracy to quickly get the job done. He is the fifth middleweight to start a UFC career 3-0 with three knockouts, joining Paulo Costa, Nate Quarry, Yoel Romero and Gerald Harris.
December 12, 2021
Wright, who is 30 and from Los Angeles, has lost two of his past three after starting his career at 11-0 with a no contest. Both losses have come by knockout.
Middleweight: Andre Muniz (22-4, 4-0 UFC) def. Eryk Anders (14-6 1 NC, 6-6 1 NC UFC) by first-round submission (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Demian Maia and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza are no longer in the UFC. In their absence, the middleweight division has a new grappling specialist.
Muniz submitted Anders with an armbar at 3:13 of the first round following a supremely slick grappling exchange. It was similar to the sequence that led to Muniz breaking Souza's arm earlier this year. Afterward, Muniz said this proved his prowess had nothing to do with luck.
"As it turns out, we train a lot," Muniz said in his postfight interview. "That's my position and I dominate."
He's like a new age Maia— Belal Muhammad (@bullyb170) December 12, 2021
Muniz shot for a big takedown early in the fight and landed it. Anders was able to work his way back to his feet, but Muniz got Anders' back standing up and then impressively transitioned to the armbar as things went back down to the ground.
Muniz, 31, has won eight straight, including his first four in the UFC. The Brazil native also has three straight submission finishes -- including that armbar win over Souza at UFC 262 in May -- and has won four of his past five via tap.
Anders, a 34-year-old Alabama resident fighting out of Arizona, has just one win in his past four fights.
Women's flyweight: Erin Blanchfield (8-1, 2-0 UFC) def. Miranda Maverick (11-4, 2-2 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
The future of the UFC's 125-pound division was on display in a battle of two women in ESPN's top-25-under-age-25 rankings, and the 22-year-old Blanchfield was thoroughly dominant.
Blanchfield, who fights out of Elmwood Park, New Jersey, won her fifth fight in a row, including her first two in the UFC, by tying the flyweight record with seven takedowns and threatening takedowns the whole way. She spent nearly the entire fight in dominant positions, and Maverick spent the whole 15 minutes playing defense.
All three judges scored the bout 30-27, and they made it seem closer than it was.
Maverick, who is 24 and from Norfolk, Virginia, has lost two in a row after running off a five-fight winning streak. Her July defeat against Maycee Barber was tightly contested, though, while this one was not.
Men's featherweight: Ryan Hall (9-2, 5-1 UFC) def. Darrick Minner (26-13, 2-3 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
It was not an easy victory per se, but ultimately Hall relied heavily on his bread and butter in a three-round decision over a near 40-fight veteran in Minner.
Hall, of Falls Church, Virginia, outclassed Minner on the floor en route to his fifth win in the UFC. Minner did well defending Hall's numerous attempts at chokes and leg attacks, but he consistently lost key positional battles in grappling exchanges. Hall finished the second and third rounds in dominant top position, landing strikes.
Minner, of Nebraska, had some success on the feet but seemed very willing to engage with Hall on the ground. According to UFC Stats, Hall was not credited with a single takedown, but the action hit the mat in every frame -- which favored Hall's style.
Hall rebounded from a knockout loss to prospect Ilia Topuria in his last bout in July.
Elite level grappling and Jiujitsu by both these killers exciting fight #ufc269— Charles Rosa (@CharlesRosaMMA) December 11, 2021
Men's bantamweight: Tony Kelley (8-2, 2-1 UFC) def. Randy Costa (6-3, 2-3 UFC) by second-round TKO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Tony Kelley wins the biggest fight of his UFC career so far with a TKO win over Randy Costa.
Kelley had a game plan and executed it to perfection.
In the first round, Kelley came out and put a relentless pace on Costa, causing Costa to fatigue. In the second, Kelley finished the job, winning by TKO at 4:15 of the round. Kelley dropped Costa with a knee to the body from the Thai clinch and then fired off a barrage of ground-and-pound until referee Mark Smith stepped in to stop it.
"I'm stoked, man," Kelley said in his postfight interview. "But I'm not surprised."
Kelley, 34, has won two straight following a loss in his UFC debut in August 2020. The Louisiana native picked up his first stoppage victory in the UFC here, as well. Costa, a 27-year-old Massachusetts native, had a two-fight winning streak snapped.
Women's flyweight: Gillian Robertson (10-6, 7-4 UFC) def. Priscila Cachoeira (10-4, 2-43 UFC) by first-round submission (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Gillian Robertson gets back in the win column with a submission win over Priscila Cachoeira at UFC 269.
Robertson is at her best when grappling, and she put that on display in the evening's opener, dominating Cachoeira before clamping on a rear-naked choke that elicited the tapout with one second to go in Round 1.
For Robertson, a 26-year-old Canadian who fights out of Port Saint Lucie, Florida, it was her sixth submission among nine pro wins. This win broke a two-fight losing streak.
Cachoeira, 33, from Brazil, saw a two-fight winning streak come to an end. She missed weight on Friday and surrendered 30% of her purse to Robertson.