Michael Chandler's thrill ride through the UFC continued Saturday night with a stunningly violent front-kick knockout of Tony Ferguson during the main card of UFC 274, an event at Footprint Center in Phoenix headlined by a pair of title fights.
It wasn't an easy night for Chandler, though. He got floored by a Ferguson 1-2 early in Round 1, and even after Chandler blasted a takedown and took positional control later in the round, a Ferguson elbow from the bottom left a cut and major swelling under Chandler's right eye. In a wild round that had the fans roaring, Chandler landed some ground-and-pound damage.
They hadn't seen anything yet.
Chandler came out for Round 2 and almost immediately blasted Ferguson with a straight kick to the chin. Ferguson fell forward on his face, unconscious, as referee Jason Herzog waved off the fight at 17 seconds. Ferguson remained prone on the mat for a while, assisted by medical personnel, before waking up.
As Chandler was having his arm raised in victory, Ferguson stood there looking dazed, as if he had no idea what had just happened to him, bringing about his fourth straight loss.
"Tony Ferguson showed up," Chandler said. "You've got to pull out something from inside of you."
He was referring to the kick, but he also had something else brewing inside him: a callout. Yelling into the microphone, he called for the winner of the main event title fight between Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje, both of whom have beaten him. If not granted a title fight, Chandler added, he wants Conor McGregor. "You've got to come back and fight somebody," Chandler said.
Watch the replay of Chandler vs. Ferguson on ESPN+ | Social media reactions to Chandler's KO kick
UFC 274 Results:
Lightweight championship: Charles Oliveira (33-8 1 NC, 21-8 1 NC UFC) def. Justin Gaethje (23-4, 6-4 UFC) by submission (Watch on ESPN+)
Charles Oliveira isn't the official champion. But he's the champion.
Under complicated circumstances, Oliveira submitted Justin Gaethje via rear-naked choke just 3:22 into the first round of their lightweight battle at UFC 274 inside Footprint Center.
Oliveira (33-8) was scheduled to defend his title against Gaethje (23-4) on UFC 274, but was stripped of the belt instead after missing weight Friday by a half-pound. Going into Saturday, only Gaethje could win the belt, and if Oliveira won it would remain vacant.
If that impacted Oliveira's mindset, it was only in a positive way. Oliveira was ultra-aggressive from the opening bell. He staggered Gaethje, from Arizona, immediately with a right hand. He threw kicks to the body, and Gaethje responded in kind. Gaethje dropped Oliveira twice in the short fight, with a left hook and again with a right. Both times he stepped back and allowed Oliveira to get up.
Oliveira even pulled guard at one point, but Gaethje backed off. It was a right hand by Oliveira down the middle, though, that dropped Gaethje again and was the beginning of the end. Oliveira followed him to the floor, set up a triangle and then a rear-naked choke. Gaethje resisted initially before submitting and tapping.
Oliveira leads the way in experts' picks of UFC's best submission artists
Strawweight championship: Carla Esparza (20-6, 10-4 UFC) def. Rose Namajunas (c) (12-5, 9-4 UFC) by split decision (Watch on ESPN+)
Rose Namajunas lost her UFC championship Saturday. Carla Esparza didn't exactly take it, though.
In one of the most bizarre title fights in UFC history, Esparza (19-6) upset Namajunas (11-5) via split decision in the co-main event of UFC 274 inside Footprint Center. Two judges scored the fight for Esparza 49-46 and 48-47. A third had it for Namajunas 48-47.
According to UFC Stats, Namajunas landed just 38 strikes in the five-round fight. Esparza landed 30. It was a fight in which neither woman appeared to have any confidence in her skill set. Neither was willing to take risks. Namajunas defended Esparza's takedowns but still refused to open up with her striking. Esparza marched forward at times with caution. She was mostly ineffective.
"You never want to be a part of a fight like that," Esparza said. "I went out there and did my best and tried to come forward. I got the win, that's what counts."
One of Namajunas' coaches, Trevor Wittman, begged her to be more active from the third round on, but Namajunas' other coach and partner, Pat Barry, appeared to be happy with the game plan. It was obvious that all three wished to avoid Esparza's takedowns. That was a difference when they fought the first time back in 2014, in which Esparza took Namajunas down and submitted her.
Carla Esparza's ultimate plan: Win a title, get married
Light heavyweight: Ovince Saint Preux (26-16, 14-11 UFC) def. Mauricio Rua (27-13-1, 11-11-1 UFC) by split decision (Watch on ESPN+)
Saint Preux moved to 2-0 against the former champ in Rua, as he outbattled him in a split decision victory.
Saint Preux, of Tennessee, knocked out Rua in just 34 seconds the first time they met. That was in 2014, when both light heavyweights were in very different parts of their careers.
As it is, Rua, 40, says he's close to calling it a career, and wanted to get a victory in one of his final fights. He looked relatively sharp early on, trading leg kicks with Saint Preux and countering his front kick attempts with punches. Rua also landed a hard right hand on Saint Preux along the fence in the second round. However, Saint Preux was just slightly more active, and two of the three judges gave him the nod.
Final scores read 30-27, 29-28 and 28-29. Saint Preux snaps a two-fight win streak.
Welterweight: Randy Brown (15-4, 9-4 UFC) def. Khaos Williams (13-3, 4-2 UFC) by split decision (Watch on ESPN+)
The judges had differences in how they saw the fight, and the fight itself was split in how it played out.
Williams put himself in command of Round 1 with a short right hand that hurt Brown. For a short while, it looked like only a matter of time. But Brown recovered, and when he came out for the second, he was a different fighter. He used fluidity and creativity to essentially freeze Williams' offense. The round was his, and the whole fight was swinging his way.
Round 3 was Brown's until Williams again connected with a big punch. But this time Brown gathered himself immediately and returned fire, and a couple of his big, wide punches clipped Williams to put him back in control.
All three judges scored the bout 29-28, with two going for Brown. Somehow, the third judge found two rounds to score for Williams.
Brown, who is 31 and fights out of Queens, New York, has won three in a row. Williams, age 28 from Detroit, saw a two-fight winning streak end.
Welterweight: Francisco Trinaldo (28-8, 18-7 UFC) def. Danny Roberts (18-6, 7-5 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch on ESPN+)
Brandon Royval forces Matthew Schnell to tap out of a submission to notch the win in the first round.
Trinaldo is aging better than fine wine.
The 43-year-old recorded his fifth win in six fights by outpointing Roberts over the course of three rounds. All three judges scored it for Trinaldo, including several 10-8 rounds. Final scores read 30-26, 30-27 and 29-28.
Trinaldo, of Brazil, appeared to be on the verge of a finish in the second round, when he hurt Roberts with a hard right hand to the chin. Roberts, 34, staggered backwards and Trinaldo followed him with another hard left hand to the body, uppercut and elbow. Roberts fell to the ground and Trinaldo tried to lock in a guillotine, but Roberts managed to survive.
In addition to surviving, Roberts even mounted something of a rally in the third. He attacked Trinaldo aggressively with flying knees and punches and had some success, but Trinaldo -- even at his age -- has been known for his durability. He has only been finished twice in a UFC career that dates back to 2012. Roberts, who recently missed two years of competition due to injury, suffers his first loss since 2019.
Huge respect for Trinaldo, 43yo and fighting like a true beast #UFC274— Thiago Moisés (@ThiagoMoisesMMA) May 8, 2022
Women's featherweight: Macy Chiasson (9-2, 6-2 UFC) def. Norma Dumont (7-2, 3-2 UFC) by split decision (Watch on ESPN+)
The UFC has a women's featherweight champion, Amanda Nunes, but not much of a 145-pound division. So when two successful fighters who look suited for that weight class meet, the stakes can be more immediately reachable than in other divisions.
Such was the case in this fight, which was booked as a featherweight match before Dumont missed weight Friday.
Chiasson, 30 and from New Orleans, was fluid and unpredictable through the first two rounds, leaving Dumont seeming bewildered on how to get to her. But after Dumont connected with a big right hand early in the final round, Chiasson leaned on her wrestling, keeping Dumont pinned against the cage in clinches until the final horn.
It was enough for two judges to score the fight her way 30-27, while the third judge went with Dumont 29-28.
Chiasson has won three of her last four. Dumont, a 31-year-old Brazilian, saw a three-fight winning streak end.
Men's flyweight: Brandon Royval (14-6, 4-2 UFC) def. Matt Schnell (15-6 1 NC, 5-6 1 NC UFC) by submission (Watch on ESPN+)
Royval, who fights out of Denver, has been one of the most entertaining men to watch at 125 pounds. The Saturday fight was undoubtedly that, as Royval was hurt early by a Schnell punch, recovered and locked in a guillotine at the 2:14 mark.
After Schnell hurt Royval, he followed him to the floor and worked from top position. Royval attacked a leg from the bottom, which created a scramble and allowed Schnell to go for a guillotine of his own. Royval escaped and finished the fight.
Royval, 29, is now back on a winning streak after dropping two fights in a row to Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja in 2020 and 2021. He has now beaten Schnell and Rogerio Bontorin in back-to-back performances.
Heavyweight: Blagoy Ivanov (19-4, 3-3 UFC) def. Marcos Rogerio de Lima (19-9-1, 8-6 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch on ESPN+)
The punches were heavy and the pace was slow. For much of the first two rounds, Ivanov walked down his opponent, with the keyword being "walked." De Lima landed more of the punches early on, though, putting so much behind them that he tired himself out.
As a result, Ivanov connected with the more meaningful shots in Round 2, and then the third round mostly played out in heavy-breathing clinches against the cage. It looked like a sumo match.
Ivanov was tired in the end but not as tired as de Lima, and the difference in their output as the fight wore on contributed to Ivanov getting the decision, with 29-28 scores on all three scorecards. For the 35-year-old from Bulgaria, the win ended a two-fight losing streak.
De Lima, who is 36 and from Brazil, saw a two-fight winning streak end.
Welterweight: Andre Fialho (16-4, 2-1 UFC) def. Cameron VanCamp (15-6-1, 0-1 UFC) by TKO (Watch on ESPN+)
Francisco Trinaldo makes Danny Roberts double over after he hits him in the body with a crushing left hand.
Fialho has been a busy man, fighting three times in 2022. He didn't have to spend much time in the cage tonight, as he used a tight left-hook counterpunch to knock out VanCamp at 2:35 of Round 1.
Fialho, 28 and from Portugal, had been stunned by a punch earlier in the short fight. That moment of success emboldened VanCamp, who came forward with heavy offense -- but light on the defense. He paid the price.
VanCamp, a 29-year-old from Indianapolis, saw a four-fight winning streak come to a sudden and violent end in his UFC debut.
Women's flyweight: Tracy Cortez (10-1, 4-0 UFC) def. Melissa Gatto (8-1-2, 2-1 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch on ESPN+)
The biggest early-evening ovation from the Phoenix crowd greeted the walkout of Cortez. Once the prelim was underway, the Scottsdale, Arizona, fighter lived up to the enthusiasm in this meeting of rising 125-pounders.
The 28-year-old Cortez showed no fear of Gatto's grappling, taking her down early and often, delivering damage while on the canvas and defending well whenever the Brazilian went for a submission. All three judges scored the fight 29-28 for Cortez, who has won 10 in a row since dropping her MMA debut in 2017.
Gatto, 28, suffered her first career defeat. She threatened several times but seemed a step behind in terms of positioning, getting reversed repeatedly.
Men's flyweight: CJ Vergara (10-3-1, 1-1 UFC) def. Kleydson Rodrigues (7-2, 0-1 UFC) by split decision (Watch on ESPN+)
Andre Fialho manages to land a left hand that drops Cameron VanCamp to secure the knockout win.
In essence, a split decision comes down to a difference of opinion. In this case, the split could refer to what looked like two entirely different fights between these men.
Vergara, 30 and from San Antonio, Texas, earned his first UFC win with his brutal work in Round 2. He dominated on the canvas, delivering elbow after elbow to the head and sending Rodrigues back to his corner at the end of those five minutes with grotesque swelling on his forehead. It could very well have been a 10-8 round, but none of the judges saw it that way. All three scored the fight 29-28.
Rodrigues, a 26-year-old Brazilian, was making his UFC debut amid high expectations while riding a seven-fight winning streak. He showed off aggressive striking in the first round and had moments in the third, a testament to his resilience. But it was not enough to earn him the win.
Strawweight: Loopy Godinez (8-2, 4-2 UFC) def. Ariane Carnelossi (14-3, 2-2 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch on ESPN+)
CJ Vergara and Kleydson Rodrigues go back and forth on the ground in an exciting exchange.
The co-main event much later in the evening will be a strawweight title fight, but those two women have a tall task to try to put on the 115-pound performance of the night after what Godinez did in this early prelim.
The 28-year-old, born in Mexico and fighting out of Vancouver, Canada, was all over Carnelossi from the get-go, securing a takedown in the opening seconds of the fight and maintaining top control for the entirety of Round 1 while delivering a steady dose of ground-and-pound. Rounds 2 and 3 played out the same way, as Godinez thoroughly dominated every second of the fight by going 8-for-8 on takedowns. The judges all scored her way every round, two of them giving her one 10-8 card.
Carnelossi, touted for her physicality and ferocity, could not put either on display. The 29-year-old Brazilian came in having won 14 of 15, but a dominant Godinez performance halted that run.
Men's bantamweight: Journey Newson (10-3 1 NC, 1-2 1 NC UFC) def. Fernie Garcia (10-2, 0-1 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch on ESPN+)
Newson had not fought since September 2020, and during his extended layoff, he developed some urgency, as he was in Garcia's face for much of their 15 minutes inside the Octagon and earned a clear decision for his first victory in his fourth UFC fight.
Newson, a 33-year-old from Portland, Oregon, came at Garcia with an array of punches and kicks, peppering him with shots before hurting him twice in the final round -- once with a punch, once with a kick. Two of the judges scored all three rounds his way, and the other had it 29-28, also in Newson's favor.
Garcia, 30 and from Dallas, saw a five-fight winning streak end in his UFC debut. He showed some boxing skills early but never ramped up his aggression enough to put Newson in danger.