LAS VEGAS -- Derrick Lewis gonna Derrick Lewis. And that's how the UFC's 2021 will come to an end.
Lewis (26-8) took sole position of the No. 1 spot on the UFC's all-time knockout list on Saturday, as he took out Chris Daukaus (12-4) via KO at 3:36 of the opening round. The heavyweight fight headlined the final UFC Fight Night event of the year inside the Apex facility in Las Vegas.
Lewis, of Houston, patiently stalked Daukaus around the Octagon before unloading a flurry along the fence. Daukaus survived the early onslaught and lunged forward into the clinch. Lewis eventually shrugged him off and connected a heavy right hand that put him out (watch Lewis vs. Daukaus on ESPN+). It marks Lewis' 13th knockout in the UFC, which is the most of all time.
Immediately after the win, Lewis removed the cup from his shorts and threw it into the small crowd inside the Apex.
"One day, it'll be an NFT and I'll make some money off that s---," Lewis said.
Daukaus, a former police officer from Philadelphia, approached the fight with caution. He spent the first half of the opening round circling away from Lewis' notorious power and throwing feints. Lewis didn't respect any of it, however, as he slowly closed distance and let loose with combinations.
It was a massive bounce-back win for Lewis, who suffered a knockout defeat to Ciryl Gane in an interim heavyweight title fight in August in his hometown. Lewis admitted the pressure got to him in that bout, and he was happy to finish up 2021 with a landmark win.
"Feels real good," Lewis said. "All I wanted to do was keep moving forward."
Derrick Lewis, the UFC's new KO king
Lewis does not wear a UFC championship belt, but he owns a distinction that for a heavyweight is nearly as significant: After knocking out Chris Daukaus in Saturday's year-ending main event, Lewis is the UFC's knockout king.
The first-round KO of Daukaus at UFC Apex in Las Vegas was Lewis' 13th in the UFC, breaking a tie with Vitor Belfort and Matt Brown. It was the fifth win in his past six fights for Lewis, who is No. 4 in the ESPN heavyweight rankings. Two of those ranked ahead of him, champion Francis Ngannou and undefeated interim champ Ciryl Gane, meet to turn two belts into one on Jan. 22. The other heavyweight ahead of Lewis is the GOAT, Stipe Miocic, who has not fought since dropping his belt to Ngannou last March and is barely mentioned anymore.
So does that line up Lewis for the next title shot? Not necessarily.
First, there's Jon Jones, who cleared up his latest legal matter and is in position to begin his heavyweight career by waiting for next month's winner,
Second, the one defeat in Lewis' recent run came against Gane, and it happened just four months ago in an interim title bout that the Frenchman dominated before scoring a third-round TKO. In order to climb back into the upper echelon of heavyweight contention, Lewis needed a big performance on Saturday. He got it by taking out Daukaus, who had won all four of his previous UFC fights by knockout. In a collision of knockout artists, Lewis showed he was the Picasso.
But the third thing holding Lewis back was his other performance on Saturday, which was not so inspiring for those following the heavyweight division. The second opportunity for Lewis to shine came at the microphone, where he has always performed like part-tough man, part-standup comic. He did so on Saturday, too, but his comments spoke volumes about his ambition at heavyweight.
"F---ing five rounds, man," he said, referring to the scheduled length of Saturday's main event. "I knew I had to get it going, but s---, five rounds? Y'all f---ing me up with that. Three rounds! I don't want to do main events. F--- all that. Just let me get three rounds."
Lewis is aware that UFC title fights are five-rounders. "Yeah, I would love to get a title fight, for sure," he said. "If they can change that rule and make it three rounds for a title fight, hit me up. But if not, don't call my phone."
Lewis has a dry sense of humor, and the whole thing might have been a joke. And there's no doubt he would take on a title bout if offered. But the 36-year-old veteran of 23 UFC fights over nearly eight years might just be satisfied to make his UFC knockout record unreachable for the next generation of KO Rembrandts. And fight fans will not complain a bit -- OK, other than on the technological complaint window known as social media.
Muhammad's case for a welterweight title shot got a big boost in this one, as he dominated a former two-time title challenger in Thompson. Muhammad never came close to finishing the fight, but he outclassed Thompson on the floor, en route to judges' scores of 30-25, 30-26 and 30-26.
Unbeaten in his past seven contests, Muhammad clearly had a game plan going in and executed it well. He secured seven of nine takedown attempts according to UFC Stats, and neutralized one of the division's best strikers. He outlanded Thompson in total strikes 100 to 46.
Thompson, of South Carolina, landed some shots early, but Muhammad wasted no time ducking under a combination and taking him to the floor. He repeated the effort in the second and third rounds, as he put Thompson on the back foot, ran him to the fence and dropped him to the mat.
Muhammad now has six wins in his past seven fights, along with a no-contest due to an accidental eye poke against Leon Edwards earlier this year. He called out UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman in his postfight interview. Thompson has now lost two in a row and four of his past six.
At this point, Hill must be wondering if it's even possible for her to win a split decision. The 36-year-old strawweight fell to 0-4 in split decisions in her career on Saturday, as Amanda Lemos prevailed via judges' scores of 30-27, 29-28 and 28-29 after a hard-fought 15 minutes.
Lemos, of Brazil, was a heavy favorite going into the 115-pound contest, and looked the part in the early going. She knocked Hill down with a front head kick in the opening 90 seconds, and followed her to the floor with hammerfists. Hill survived that early onslaught, and eventually got to work with her own punches, knees to the midsection and ground work.
The final round saw an all-out effort from both women. Hill tried to secure several crucial takedowns, but Lemos either defended the shots or bounced immediately back to her feet. Hill landed a hard elbow in the final moments of the fight, but Lemos answered with kicks and punches in the final exchanges.
Fighting out of Southern California, Hill has been the victim of multiple close decisions that went the other way. She has suffered untimely losses to Michelle Waterson, Claudia Gadelha and Cortney Casey over the course of her UFC career -- all of which were virtually too close to call, and all of which would have had a significant impact on her career had they gone the other way.
Lemos improves to 5-1 in the UFC. Prior to this fight, she had finished three of her past four opponents.
Ricky Simon finishes Raphael Assuncao for statement win
Ricky Simon wins his fourth fight in a row, thanks to a knockout of Raphael Assuncao in Las Vegas.
There's been a lot of love in 2021 for the UFC's bantamweight division. Some believe it to be the company's most interesting division. Moving forward, make sure to include Simon in those discussions.
Simon, 29, extended his win streak to four with a statement victory over Assuncao. The finish came courtesy of a right cross on the feet, followed by a right uppercut at the 2:14 mark of the second round. Simon dropped Assuncao on his butt with the short right hand, then put him away with a right uppercut as Assuncao tried to cover up.
Fighting out of Washington, Simon is now 7-2 in the UFC. He broke into the UFC as a highly touted prospect in 2018, but suffered a couple of setbacks against Urijah Faber and Rob Font in 2019. He has since found his groove, however, and should find himself in the UFC's top 15 going into 2022. Assuncao, who was ranked No. 12, lost his fourth fight in a row.
Gamrot will continue his rise up the 155-pound ranks, following a second-round finish of a tested veteran in Ferreira. The lightweight bout ended at the 3:26 mark, after it appeared Ferreira suffered a rib injury from a Gamrot knee.
The action was very even leading up to the finish. Ferreira did a terrific job of stuffing Gamrot's attempts to get it to the floor. The Polish contender converted four of seven takedown attempts per UFC Stats, but accumulated only 95 seconds of control time. Ferreira either defended Gamrot's shots or scrambled immediately back to his feet after each grappling exchange.
Despite his inability to control Ferreira on the feet, Gamrot's grappling did play a role in the finish. After selling out on a single leg attempt, Gamrot pushed Ferreira to the fence in a scramble, where he landed a clean knee to the body. Ferreira instantly winced and looked to call off the fight, waving to the referee. Gamrot started to lock in a rear-naked choke, at which point Ferreira immediately tapped as the fight was called before Gamrot had a chance to fully lock it in.
Gamrot, 31, improves to 3-1 in the UFC. He has finished his past three opponents. Ferreira, who came into 2021 on the verge of breaking into the top 10 of the rankings, has now lost three in a row.
Cub Swanson punishes Darren Elkins in first-round finish
Cub Swanson drops Darren Elkins three times in the first round on his way to the TKO win at UFC Fight Night.
Swanson, of Palm Springs, California, added another memorable night to his long career by putting away Elkins in a matter of minutes -- with his family present inside the UFC Apex.
In his 40th professional appearance, Swanson absolutely dominated Elkins, who is notoriously difficult to finish. He knocked him down with a slick counter right hand, left hook combination in the center of the Octagon. After Elkins got back to his feet and retreated to the fence, Swanson unleashed a nasty spinning wheel kick to the head that landed clean. Elkins didn't fall back down, but referee Herb Dean had seen enough to call the fight. The finish came at the 2:12 mark of Round 1.
For Swanson, it's his first opening round finish since September 2012. That finish actually came against current lightweight champion Charles Oliveira. It's also a nice rebound from a first-round knockout loss to Giga Chikadze in his in May. Elkins sees a two-fight win streak snapped.
Fighting on his 33rd birthday, Meerschaert capped a comeback 2021 with his third submission of the year -- in a comeback performance.
The fighter from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, came into his 48th career fight with submissions in 25 of his 33 wins. So everyone, including Stoltzfus, knew what was coming. But Stoltzfus did not shy away from grappling, and seized advantages on the canvas in all three rounds. But midway through the third, Meerschaert reversed position, took control of his opponent's back and secured a rear-naked choke to end it at 2:58.
Meerschaert is just the ninth fighter in UFC's modern era to go 3-0 with three submissions in a calendar year. His eight submissions in the UFC tie him for sixth all-time, behind grappling aces such as Charles Oliveira, Demian Maia, Royce Gracie, Jim Miller and Nate Diaz. Frank Mir also has eight.
"Best birthday a guy can ask for," Meerschaert said.
Stoltzfus, a 30-year-old Pennsylvania native who fights out of Germany, has lost all three of his UFC fights.
Justin Tafa needs only one kick to KO Harry Hunsucker
Justin Tafa knocks Harry Hunsucker out cold with a brutal kick to the head at UFC Fight Night.
Tafa made UFC history on Friday by being the first heavyweight ever to miss the 265-pound heavyweight limit. That's not the kind of mark a fighter wants to leave on the sport. So, on Saturday, he upstaged himself.
Tafa, a 28-year-old Australian, knocked down Hunsucker early in the fight with a punch, and after Hunsucker worked his way back to his feet, Tafa finished him with a head kick just 1:53 into Round 1. All five of Tafa's wins have come by knockout.
"I knew he was watching for my hands," Tafa said, "so I showed him my leg."
Hunsucker actually blocked the kick with both hands, but it finished him nonetheless. The 32-year-old from Lexington, Kentucky, has lost two in a row and three out of four.
Gatto arrived in the UFC as a submission fighter. Two fights into her Octagon run, she has remained undefeated -- albeit with a pair of TKOs.
This one was set up by Gatto's grappling. After the 25-year-old Brazilian spent the bulk of Round 1 on her back, fending off Eubanks' offense, Gatto ended up on bottom early in the second round. But this time she quickly reversed position and spent the rest of the round threatening submissions and sapping her opponent's energy.
That left Eubanks open to a front kick to the body that sent her collapsing to the canvas, holding her midsection. That brought in referee Mark Smith to wave off the fight at 45 seconds of the round.
Eubanks, who is 36 and from Springfield, Massachusetts, has lost three of four. She missed weight by 2½ pounds.
"C'mon!" Jourdain yelled in the face of his opponent just before unleashing a front kick that sent Ewell stumbling backward to the canvas.
Where, exactly, did Jourdain want from Ewell? There were 2 seconds remaining before the horn that would end the fight, and Jourdain had beaten down Ewell for the latter half of the three-rounder. Perhaps Jourdain was dissatisfied that he was about to go the distance after getting finishes in all 11 of his previous pro bouts.
But the fact that this fight went to the judges was not because of any Jourdain shortcomings. It was a testament to the toughness of Ewell, who absorbed more than 100 significant strikes in an unrelenting beatdown. The judges scored the bout for Jourdain by scores of 30-26, 30-27 and 29-27.
Jourdain, who is 26 and from Quebec, Canada, has won two of his past three. Ewell, a 33-year-old from Riverside, California, has lost three in a row.
Not so long ago, Pennington had lost three of four and, even though those defeats had been against the steel of the division -- Amanda Nunes, Germaine de Randamie and Holly Holm, who have all held UFC gold -- Pennington's run as a top contender was in question. But now she has won three fights in a row, and is showing new additions to her skill set.
Fighting a short-notice opponent who was a stylistic challenge, Pennington, 33, scored her first submission victory since 2015 by locking up a front choke and eliciting the tapout at 3:07 of Round 2. That finish ended a fight that featured strong standup exchanges.
Chiasson was in the biggest fight of her career and fared well until getting stuck in the choke. The 30-year-old from New Orleans, who missed weight by 3½ pounds, saw a two-fight winning streak end in the first stoppage defeat of her career.
It went into the record as the sixth knockout victory in Mayes' nine-win career. But this was far from a slug-it-out performance.
Mayes scored takedowns in each round -- six in all, in eight attempts -- and beat up Parisian on the canvas for extended periods before immobilizing him in a crucifix position and dropping elbows to his head until referee Herb Dean jumped in to end the carnage at 3:26 of Round 3.
Mayes, who is 29 and from Louisville, Kentucky, has won two in a row.
Parisian, a 32-year-old from Escanaba, Michigan, defended himself well at times but had limited ability to play offense. He has lost two of his past three.
Sayles was successful in Step 1 of how to deal with a grappler, as he fended off a takedown attempt from Leavitt. But there's a Step 2, which is to disengage from any scrambles on the mat and get the fight back to standing. Sayles failed at that, and he paid the price.
After spending much of Round 1 defending submission attempt after submission attempt, Sayles came out for Round 2, stopped a takedown and moved away. But the next time the fighters engaged in grappling, he slammed Leavitt to the mat, but immediately got drawn into Leavitt's world and ended up getting submitted by the rarely seen inverted triangle choke at 2:05.
It was just the third inverted triangle submission in UFC history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. For Leavitt, it was his sixth career submission win.