HOUSTON -- Israel Adesanya was the story all week. His new, lucrative contract with the UFC. His teammates from City Kickboxing fighting on the same card. His current future stardom.
It felt like no one here was talking about Robert Whittaker, the challenger and former champ who talks no trash and draws absolutely no undue attention to himself. It was almost like it was a foregone conclusion that Adesanya would walk away with his UFC middleweight title without much fuss.
That was very much not the case, though. Adesanya did defeat Whittaker via unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46) in the main event of UFC 271 on Saturday night at Toyota Center. Adesanya did indeed leave the Octagon with his middleweight belt, using his length and reach to counter Whittaker's boxing.
But the fight was incredibly close -- so much so that the crowd here booed the decision, thinking Whittaker was the rightful winner. At the start of the bout, the Houston fans were completely behind Adesanya, but that changed as the bout went on and they sensed a possible upset. Chants of "Bobby!" could be heard in the late rounds.
Full results from UFC 271
Heavyweight: Tai Tuivasa (15-3, 8-3 UFC) def. Derrick Lewis (26-9 1 NC, 17-7 UFC) by second-round knockout (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Tai Tuivasa is starting to look like a potential title challenger.
The shoey-drinking heavyweight from Sydney notched the biggest win of his career in Houston, as he knocked out Lewis with a standing elbow at 1:46 of the second round. The finish came after Tuivasa hurt Lewis on the feet with punches in tight, and then put him out with a right elbow to the temple out of the clinch.
"My name's Tai, like Muay Thai," Tuivasa said in his postfight interview. "I like getting nitty gritty and I'm down to get down, baby."
The win extends Tuivasa's win streak to five, and he's recorded knockouts in each. This was his most impressive yet, however, as Lewis is a two-time title challenger and the sole owner of the UFC's knockout record. Lewis had success in the opening round and even hurt Tuivasa with punches as the Aussie got up from a takedown, but when the tide turned it turned big.
Wow. #ufc271— Rudy Gobert (@rudygobert27) February 13, 2022
Lewis, who lives in Houston, landed several good shots of his own on the feet to start the second round. His success might have made him a bit careless, as when he moved forward and looked to apply pressure. Tuivasa tagged him with a couple short shots on the inside, which caused Lewis to back up. Tuivasa hit him with another shot moments later that had him on skates.
Tuivasa lost three fights in a row between 2018 and 2019, but has not lost since. He went into Saturday's contest as the UFC's No. 11 ranked heavyweight.
Middleweight: Jared Cannonier (15-5, 8-5 UFC) def. Derek Brunson (23-8, 14-6 UFC) by second-round TKO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Cannonier finished his fight, then went back to his dressing room to watch the main event to see who he'll be facing for the championship.
It wasn't easy for Cannonier, who is No. 4 in the ESPN middleweight rankings. He was taken down twice in the first round by the fifth-ranked Brunson, who also scored a knockdown and dominated the session. But Cannonier did successfully defend seven takedown attempts in the round, and when they came out for the second, Brunson looked a bit drained.
Cannonier took advantage by landing an elbow coming out of a clinch, then a backhand, before taking Brunson to the canvas and finishing him at 4:29 of the round.
"It wasn't just the elbow; it was that nice little backhand," Cannonier said. "I keep telling people, 'You get in my face with that disrespect, you gonna catch the backhand.'"
Made a title push . Number 3 vs 4 in the world . I came up short . Life lessons . Im all good , sad but life will give you theses moments . I'll pick myself up for one more fight . Blessings all 🙏🏾— Derek Brunson (@DerekBrunson) February 13, 2022
Cannonier, who has won two in a row and five of his past six, then turned to cageside and implored UFC president Dana White to pay attention.
"I want to say this while looking Dana in his eye," he said. "Dana, I want that shot next. I get that shot next. It's me, nobody else. Me!"
Lightweight: Renato Moicano (16-4-1, 8-4 UFC) def. Alexander Hernandez (13-5, 5-4 UFC) by second-round submission (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Those in the know at American Top Team have touted Moicano as a future top contender for years. Maybe Moicano is now finally starting to put it all together.
Moicano hurt Hernandez with punches and then followed up on the ground with a slick rear-naked choke submission finish at 1:23 of the second round. Moicano landed a right hand to Hernandez's temple that clearly hurt him. Hernandez then shot for a takedown, Moicano stuffed it, then quickly took Hernandez's back.
"The rear-naked choke is the most basic position in combat sports," Moicano said in his postfight interview. "Everybody can do it."
Afterward, Moicano appealed to the fans here at Toyota Center about helping him get a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus. "This is Texas," Moicano said. "I know you guys like big stuff, like big steaks. I like big checks and big money."
Moicano countered well in both rounds. He was working a nice uppercut-left hook combination and landing solid straight right hands. Hernandez had moments in the first round, as well, specifically a nice elbow about midway through the frame. Moicano held the momentum going into the second, though, and capitalized on Hernandez overextending on strikes with his counter punching.
Moicano, 32, has won two straight and three of his past four fights. The Brazil native, who trains out of Florida, has had all this success since moving up to lightweight from featherweight in 2020. Hernandez, a 29-year-old Texan training out Colorado, has alternated wins and losses over his past eight fights.
Lightweight: Bobby Green (29-12-1, 10-7-1 UFC) def. Nasrat Haqparast (13-5, 5-4 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Green got his 2022 campaign off to a good start with a clean, efficient performance over Haqparast. After three rounds, all three judges awarded Green a clean 30-27 sweep.
Straight punches, volume and sound defense carried Green to victory. He held his ground against Haqparast's forward pressure and froze him at times with the jab and counter right hand. Haqparast repeatedly ran into Green's punches and bled from his nose and a cut on his cheek as early as the first round.
Green, of California, knocked out Haqparast's mouthpiece at the end of the second round and began taunting him in the third. He landed 163 total strikes to just 72 for Haqparast, who continued to come forward with his overhand left despite Green's slick counter boxing.
Green suffered back-to-back losses two fights ago, but is now back on a two-fight win streak. Prior to Saturday, he dominated Al Iaquinta in his last fight in November.
Heavyweight: Andrei Arlovski (33-20 2NC, 22-14 1 NC UFC) def. Jared Vanderaa (12-7, 1-3 UFC) by split decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
It's been nearly 16 years since Arlovski has been UFC heavyweight champion. He's nowhere near that level today, but in his 55th career fight, Arlovski looked pretty ageless in capturing his 22nd Octagon victory -- the second most all time.
Arlovski, who turned 43 last week, is a native of Belarussia and a longtime Chicago resident. He has had ups and downs in a pro career that extends into the past century, including several multiple-fight losing streaks during which he endured nasty knockout losses. But in recent years, he has improved his movement and distance control, and even when he does get hit, he finds his way out of danger.
Vanderaa, a 29-year-old from Hemet, California, had trouble finding Arlovski with more than one strike at a time, except when in the clinch. Arlovski managed to keep at distance for the most part and frequently found a home for his overhand right.
All three judges scored the bout 29-28, with two going for Arlovski. Vanderaa now has two losses in a row and three in his past four fights. For Arlovski, the win was his third in a row and fifth in his past six.
Women's flyweight: Casey O'Neill (9-0, 4-0 UFC) def. Roxanne Modafferi (25-21, 4-9 UFC) by split decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Casey O'Neill lands a couple of strikes in her split-decision win over Roxanne Modafferi.
The crowd got to its feet before the start of the third and final round. The incredibly tough Modafferi, for one final time in her pioneering MMA career, got a standing ovation.
O'Neill won the fight via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) and is one of the top up-and-coming fighters in women's MMA. But Modafferi put on a gutsy performance in her retirement bout, fighting back from O'Neill barrages and surviving some huge shots. O'Neill landed the most strikes in UFC women's flyweight history.
"I'm OK with that last fight," Modafferi said in her postfight interview, after leaving her gloves in the center of the Octagon. "I gave everything that I had. It's time for me to pass the torch to the next generation. I'm proud of myself. Even if you don't win every time, you can still have a great time."
Brilliant final fight by @Roxyfighter, pushed the pace and brought out the best we've seen yet in King Casey. Part of me feels like she could've dragged it to the ground whenever she wanted but Roxy wanted a war. Great effort by the prospect and retiree. #UFC271— Angela Hill (@AngieOverkill) February 13, 2022
When the decision was read, the crowd booed because Modafferi was clearly the fan favorite. O'Neill took umbrage to the reaction.
"If you want me to the bad guy, then f--- you," O'Neill said. "I'll be the f---ing bad guy."
O'Neill, 24, has won four straight in the UFC, tied for the second longest such streak in the women's flyweight division behind only champion Valentina Shevchenko. The Scotland native, who trains out of Las Vegas, had finished her last four fights coming in. She landed 229 strikes in the bout.
Modafferi, 39, has lost three straight. The Las Vegas resident is a two-time Ultimate Fighter veteran and actually fought in the inaugural UFC women's flyweight title fight in 2017, a losing effort to Nicco Montano. "The Happy Warrior" started her career 19 years ago, long before the UFC welcomed women into the promotion in 2013.
Men's bantamweight: Kyler Phillips (10-2, 4-1 UFC) def. Marcelo Rojo (16-9, 0-2 UFC) by third-round submission (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Kyler Phillips gets Marcelo Rojo to tap with the slick submission in Round 3 of their bout.
Seven months after suffering his first UFC loss, Phillips got back into the win column with an impressive finish against Rojo. Referee Dan Miragliotta stopped the bout at 1:48 of the final round when Rojo tapped to a triangle armbar.
The finish came after Phillips secured an early takedown and threatened Rojo with a kimura. The kimura didn't hold, but Phillips used it to transition into a mounted triangle. He eventually isolated Rojo's arm and got the tap. It was a strong bounce back from a split decision loss to Raulian Paiva in July.
Rojo, of Argentina, tried to weather Phillips down with pressure on the feet, but Phillips used good footwork to stay one step ahead. He chewed up Rojo's lead leg with kicks and worked effective counter shots. According to UFC Stats, Phillips out-landed Rojo in total strikes 80 to 46.
Fighting out of MMA Lab in Arizona, Phillips improves to 4-1 in the UFC.
Light heavyweight: Carlos Ulberg (6-1, 1-1 UFC) def. Fabio Cherant (7-4, 0-3 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Ulberg stalked his opponent, controlling range but throwing only the occasional strike. He was accurate with what he threw, though, and the meager output was enough for him to score his first UFC win because his opponent was even less active.
Ulberg, 31, from New Zealand, bounced back from his first career loss -- in his UFC debut last March -- by essentially freezing Cherant as he pursued him around the cage. Ulberg did suffer the only knockdown of the fight, but it came in the final seconds of Round 1 on one of only four punches Cherant landed in the round.
Ulberg looking more comfortable every minute #UFC271— QuakeRiddell (@bradquakeriddel) February 13, 2022
Ulberg still won the round, as he did all three on every scorecard, for 30-27 scores across the board.
Cherant, a 27-year-old from Wrentham, Massachusetts, landed just seven strikes in Round 2 and two in the third round. Despite Ulberg standing with his chin up, right there for the hitting, Cherant was unable to get his offense going and lost his third fight in a row.
Men's bantamweight: Ronnie Lawrence (8-1, 2-0 UFC) def. Mana Martinez (9-3, 1-1 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Lawrence was in total control, dominating Martinez for most of the fight's three rounds. But with less two minutes left, Martinez dropped Lawrence with a spinning back fist. Then, he dropped Lawrence again with a punching combination.
Somehow, though, Lawrence was able to grab a hold of Martinez, land a takedown and stymie the comeback. Lawrence hung on for a unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-28) against the scrappy Martinez in a wild affair.
"I didn't know where I was," Lawrence said of that sequence. "I just did a couple of drills on what to do what I'm rocked."
Lawrence dropped Martinez three times in the fight, twice in the second round. He also took Martinez down seemingly at will in what looked like, until the final few minutes, a masterclass of a performance. When asked in his postfight interview by Daniel Cormier who he wanted next, Lawrence was clearly disappointed about the endgame, even if he did pick up a victory.
"Right now, after what I just did, I'm pretty disappointed," Lawrence said. "It's a good question, but I just want to go up from here."
Lawrence, 29, has won five straight, including his first two in the UFC. The Tennessee native has not lost since 2016. Martinez, a 25-year-old Houston native who had the crowd behind him, had a three-fight winning streak snapped.
Middleweight: Jacob Malkoun (6-1, 2-1 UFC) def. AJ Dobson (6-1, 0-1 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Malkoun bounced back from a slow first round to secure a unanimous decision for his second victory in the UFC.
The Australian middleweight couldn't wrestle Dobson to the ground in the opening frame, despite moving into a bodylock multiple times. He stayed with his grappling heavy strategy in the second and third rounds, however, and controlled Dobson on the floor for the majority of the fight. All three judges scored the bout 29-28 for Malkoun.
Dobson clearly got the better of any striking exchanges, but he simply couldn't keep it there. He begins his UFC career with a loss, while Malkoun improves to 2-1.
Men's bantamweight: Douglas Silva de Andrade (28-4, 6-4 UFC) def. Sergey Morozov (17-5, 1-2 UFC) by second-round submission (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Douglas Silva de Andrade defeats Sergey Morozov via rear-naked choke after a brutal first round.
Morozov, whose past success had come on the strength of his high-level wrestling, scored an early knockdown with a slick uppercut and seemed to fall in love with his hands. It cost him.
Silva de Andrade survived the knockdown and a nasty cut next to his right eye to make it to the end of the round. And with the fighters exchanging on their feet in Round 2, Silva de Andrade hurt his opponent with a punch and staggered him with a knee to the head. When the fight went to the mat again, this time Silva de Andrade was on top. He secured a rear-naked choke and got the finish at 3:34 of the round.
WOW!!! What a comeback!!! #UFC271— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) February 12, 2022
Silva de Andrade, a 36-year-old from Brazil, has won three of his past four fights. Morozov, who is 32 and from Kazakhstan, has lost two of his past three bouts after running off a winning streak of five straight.
Welterweight: Jeremiah Wells (10-2-1, 2-0 UFC) def. Mike Mathetha (3-1, 0-1 UFC) by first-round submission (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Jeremiah Wells spoils the debut of Mike Mathetha with a rear-naked choke in Round 1.
Wells almost committed an all-time Octagon gaffe, slipping and nearly falling as he tried to charge in at the opening bell for an attack. Luckily for him, he didn't just recover quickly. He got an early finish.
Wells beat Mathetha with a rear-naked choke submission at 4:38 of the first round, avoiding being part of the MMA blooper reel for the foreseeable future. Wells took Mathetha down pretty quickly after the initial slip, landed some ground and pound, took the back and then cinched in the choke.
"I ended up tripping, so I had to keep my composure and get back in here," Wells said in his postfight interview.
Wells grinded that one out and got the first round sub 🔥🔥 #UFC271— Terrance McKinney (@twrecks155) February 12, 2022
Wells, 35, is 2-0 in the UFC, both victories coming by finish. The Philadelphia native has won four straight and is a former Cage Fury FC welterweight champion.
Mathetha, a 33-year-old accomplished kickboxer, is a teammate of UFC middleweight champion Adesanya at City Kickboxing in New Zealand. Adesanya, who fights in the UFC 271 main event, came to Toyota Center early Saturday to watch the fight.
Heavyweight: Maxim Grishin (32-9-2, 2-2 UFC) def. William Knight (11-3, 3-2 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Grishin managed to pick up his second UFC win in a very forgettable three-round decision over Knight. The bout got off to a poor start on Friday, when Knight missed weight by a UFC record 12 pounds for what was supposed to be a 205-pound contest. He forfeited 40% of his purse for the miss, but the fight continued at heavyweight.
Knight, who has been known during his UFC career for his knockout power, was very inactive throughout, and Grishin took advantage with unanimous 30-27 scores. Knight's only good moments came behind his wrestling, as he did take Grishin down a couple of times. But the Russian quickly reversed position or worked his way back up. He hurt Knight with punches in the final moments of the fight.
Grishin is now 2-2 in the UFC.