Volkanovski retains featherweight title; Yan TKOs Aldo for bantamweight belt

Fourteen months after losing her UFC strawweight title to Jessica Andrade in Brazil, Rose Namajunas evened the score Saturday night with a split decision win at UFC 251 on Fight Island.

It was not easy.

Namajunas (9-4) snuck by Andrade (20-8) on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, with two of the three judges awarding the 115-pound fight to Namajunas, 29-28. A third had it 29-28 in favor of Andrade. ESPN.com scored it 29-28 for Namajunas.

Fighting for the first time since Andrade knocked her out with a vicious slam in the first meeting in May 2019, Namajunas looked sharp in the opening rounds. She utilized her footwork and jab to keep her 4-inch-shorter and more compact opponent at bay. Andrade turned the tide in the third, however, hammering Namajunas with right hands, cutting the bridge of her nose and swelling her left eye.

“Early in the fight it was great, but then she turned on the desperation button,” Namajunas said. “She really unloaded on me a couple times, obviously. But I stayed strong.”

According to UFC Stats, Namajunas outlanded Andrade in total strikes 82 to 79, although Andrade’s offense appeared to do far more damage. The problem for Andrade, who claimed the UFC title in that win over Namajunas only to surrender it in her first defense against Zhang Weili, is the majority of her offense was consolidated to the final round.

Namajunas, who trains out of Denver, could be next in line for a crack at Zhang, and a chance to become the division’s first two-time champion. It’s a major turnaround from the loss to Andrade, after which she openly contemplated retirement. Another option for Zhang could be an immediate rematch against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, whom she defeated March.

“It was fun, man,” Namajunas said. “I was just in the right state of mind. That’s everything.

“I was hoping to get in there soon, but we’ll see how my nose is doing and go from there.”

— Brett Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN+.


Welterweight championship: Kamaru Usman (c) (17-1, 12-0 UFC) defeats Jorge Masvidal (35-14, 12-7 UFC) by unanimous decision

Recap to come.


Men’s featherweight championship: Alexander Volkanovski (c) (22-1, 9-0 UFC, -220) defeats Max Holloway (21-6, 17-6 UFC) by split decision

Alexander Volkanovski wanted to finish Max Holloway in their featherweight title rematch at UFC 251 on Sunday morning, to prove beyond a doubt he’s the better of the two. Instead, the second meeting proved to be much closer than the first — but, ultimately, Volkanovski maintained the title via split decision.

The final scores reflected how close the 145-pound championship bout was. Two judges gave the fight to Volkanovski by the thinnest of margins 48-47. A third judge saw it for Holloway 48-47. ESPN also scored the fight 48-47 for Holloway.

Read the entire story.

— Brett Okamoto


Men’s bantamweight championship: Petr Yan (15-1, 7-0 UFC) defeats Jose Aldo (28-7, 10-6 UFC) by fifth-round TKO

Petr Yan stopped the legendary Jose Aldo by TKO at 3:24 of the fifth round to win the vacant UFC bantamweight title.

Yan dropped Aldo with a combination early in the final round and then poured it on once on the ground.

Yan landed dozens of unanswered blows on the ground, leaving Aldo facedown in his own blood before referee Leon Roberts stepped in to call it. The finish was the latest in UFC bantamweight title history.

Read the entire story.

— Marc Raimondi


Women’s flyweight: Amanda Ribas (10-1, 4-0 UFC) defeats Paige VanZant (8-5, 5-4 UFC) by first-round armbar

The Paige VanZant era in the UFC is likely coming to a close. But the Amanda Ribas era? That’s just getting started.

Ribas stopped VanZant via submission with an armbar at 2:21 of the first round in the main-card opener. VanZant has dealt with right arm issues since she broke the limb in 2018, including multiple surgeries. And that was the exact arm Ribas torqued on Saturday night.

This was the final fight on VanZant’s UFC contract, and she has made her desire known that she plans on testing her value on the free-agent market.

After a hard exchange from both in a clinch, Ribas was able to take VanZant down near the cage with a hip throw. VanZant tried to get on top, but in doing so gave up her arm. Ribas locked it up, and when VanZant tried to roll into a better position, the leverage only tightened. VanZant had no choice but to tap.

Ribas (10-1) has won five straight, including all four of her UFC fights. The Brazil native, who lives and trains in Florida, said she will move back down to strawweight after this bout, which took place at flyweight. Ribas, 26, has cemented herself as a legitimate prospect in the 115-pound division and, with a pedigree in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo, could be a future contender.

VanZant (8-5) was once one of the most popular names in the UFC, even getting a spot on “Dancing With The Stars” in 2016. Weight-cutting issues and injuries have hampered her in recent years. The Oregon native has dropped three of her past four fights. Still, VanZant is just 26 years old and will certainly have interest from other promotions.

— Marc Raimondi

Watch this fight on ESPN+.


Light heavyweight: Jiri Prochazka (27-3-1, 1-0 UFC) defeats Volkan Oezdemir (17-5, 5-4 UFC) by knockout

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Jiri Prochazka upsets Volkan Oezdemir with a walk-off, right-handed knockout in the second round.

There were a lot of people excited to see Jiri Prochazka’s first fight in the UFC. There will be even more people excited to see his second one.

Prochazka delivered in his UFC debut, knocking out former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir at the 49-second mark of the second round. The finish came after Prochazka stunned Oezdemir with a left head kick, hurt him with a follow-up right hand and then completely separated him from consciousness with a final right.

Fighting out of the Czech Republic, Prochazka is a former light heavyweight champion of Japanese promotion Rizin FF. His style is highly unorthodox, as he constantly dropped his hands against the hard-hitting Oezdemir and spoke to him throughout the bout. Oezdemir did have plenty of success with the counter left hand early on, which Prochazka acknowledged immediately after.

“I feel amazing, but the performance was horrible,” Prochazka said. “So much punches [absorbed]. I want to take the title, that’s all. That’s my mission. But not just the title, my performance — I need to work on it.”

Leading up to the finish, Oezdemir actually outlanded Prochazka in strikes 44 to 33, but Prochazka showed off his ability to wear a shot, as well as give one. Prochazka has now won 11 in a row, dating back to December 2015. He has recorded 23 knockout finishes in his professional career.

Watch this fight on ESPN+.


Welterweight: Muslim Salikhov (17-2, 4-1 UFC) defeats Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (22-7, 8-3 UFC) by split decision (30-27, 29-28, 28-29)

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Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos hits Muslim Salikhov with a series of punches in the first and second rounds.

It wasn’t the kind of all-action fight some expected, but it was another solid notch in the belt of the surging Muslim Salikhov.

In a very close fight, Salikhov was able to get the nod in a split decision win over Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos. The bout primarily remained standing — as expected — with both men having their moments.

Perhaps the most significant strike of the night came right at the end of the first, when Zaleski dos Santos dropped Salikhov with a right hand. Outside of that, Salikhov was able to mix his striking — his nickname is the “King of Kung Fu” for a reason — thanks to his experience in the grappling arts. At one point in the second, he landed a hard throw after catching a Zaleski dos Santos kick.

Zaleski dos Santos actually outlanded Salikhov in significant strikes in the fight (46-40).

Salikhov (17-2) has won four straight and has not lost since his UFC debut, in 2017 against Alex Garcia. The 36-year-old Dagestan native has only that one loss on his record since 2012. The win over Zaleski dos Santos represents his biggest in the UFC and should earn him a step up in competition.

Zaleski dos Santos (22-7) has dropped two of his past three following a seven-fight winning streak. The 33-year-old Brazilian owns wins over the likes of Lyman Good and Max Griffin.

Watch this fight on ESPN+.


Men’s featherweight: Makwan Amirkhani (16-4, 6-2 UFC) defeats Danny Henry (12-4, 2-2 UFC) by first-round submission

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Makwan Amirkhani uses a knee to push Danny Henry up against the cage, then takes Henry down and secures the win by using a suffocating anaconda choke.

Makwan Amirkhani continues to add to his reputation as one of the most entertaining featherweights in the world, as he submitted Danny Henry via anaconda choke just 3:15 into the bout.

Amirkhani, who had won two performance bonuses in seven UFC appearances coming in, locked in the choke as Henry attempted to scramble to his feet after an early takedown. Amirkhani became only the third fighter in UFC history to finish multiple fights via anaconda choke. He defeated Chris Fishgold with the same move in 2019.

“I’m pretty slick with this move,” Amirkhani said. “John Kavanagh, my coach, he’s always laughing at the gym when I do this to everybody. People come and ask how they can defend it, John says it’s a never-ending story. I’m just way too slick with this. There is no defense for this one.”

It also marked the third first-round finish of Amirkhani’s career. The 31-year-old Finnish featherweight has now won three of his past four. This win gets him back on track after a tough TKO loss to Shane Burgos in November.

— Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN+


Lightweight: Leonardo Santos (18-4-1, 7-0-1 UFC) defeats Roman Bogatov (10-1, 0-1 UFC) by unanimous decision

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Roman Bogatov is warned by referee Marc Goddard following a second low blow to Leonardo Santos, then Bogatov loses two points on an illegal knee shortly thereafter.

Roman Bogatov landed a knee below the belt that caused Leonardo Santos to take almost the entire five minutes allotted to recover. Then, Bogatov landed another knee to the groin and, minutes later, an illegal knee to Santos’ head.

Referee Marc Goddard had no choice but to deduct two points from Bogatov for the repeated fouls. The bout ended up finishing with Santos winning a very bizarre unanimous decision (29-26, 29-26, 29-26).

Santos nearly finished Bogatov in the second round. He landed a big right hand out of a clinch that rocked Bogatov. Santos followed up with several more right hands that sent Bogatov reeling. Goddard came close to stepping in on two occasions as Santos poured it on. But Bogatov survived and actually ended the round on top, landing ground and pound on Santos, who was clearly tired from his previous onslaught.

Santos (18-3-1) remains unbeaten in the UFC and has eight straight fights without a loss. Despite the impressive streak, the 40-year-old Brazil native hasn’t built a ton of momentum. This was only his third fight since 2015. But Santos has won six in a row, tied for the third-longest active stretch in the lightweight division. Bogatov (10-1), a 29-year-old Russia native, is the former M-1 lightweight champion.

— Raimondi

Watch this fight on ESPN+.


Heavyweight: Marcin Tybura (19-6, 6-5 UFC) defeats Maxim Grishin (30-8-2, 0-1 UFC)

When history looks back on the UFC’s first event at Fight Island, Saturday’s heavyweight fight between Marcin Tybura and Maxim Grishin will not be one of the first things mentioned.

Tybura, of Poland, picked up a unanimous decision win over former PFL light heavyweight Grishin, in one of the slower-paced fights of the evening. In the end, Tybura picked up his sixth win in the UFC via scores of 30-26, 30-27 and 30-27 — although the performance was not necessarily as dominant as the scores suggest.

Tybura seemed intent on getting Grishin to the floor but struggled to do so in the first and second rounds. He landed a total of 87 strikes in the contest, compared to just 56 for Grishin, but none of them caused any significant damage. The majority of the fight was either spent locked into a stalemate in the clinch or with a great deal of space between the two.

Midway through the third round, Tybura finally got the takedown he was looking for, and he did eventually move to full mount, but there was still not a ton of offense to speak of. Grishin took the bout on short notice after Tybura’s original opponent, Alexander Romanov, was forced to pull out at the last minute.

— Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN+.


Men’s flyweight: Raulian Paiva (20-3, 2-2 UFC) defeats Zhalgas Zhamagulov (13-4, 0-1 UFC) by unanimous decision

Activity. Volume. Pressure.

Those three things seemed to be what helped Raulian Paiva earn a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) over Zhalgas Zhumagulov in a very close fight.

Paiva pushed the pace from the beginning and routinely pushed Zhumagulov’s back against the cage with his striking. Zhumagulov had moments in each round. In the second, he landed a beautiful judo throw to ground Paiva. And in the third, Zhumagulov landed a left hand that wobbled Paiva momentarily, one of the best blows of the bout.

But Paiva, though his shots didn’t do a ton of damage, threw more and was the more aggressive fighter, which the judges seemed to give the nod in the end.

Paiva (20-3) missed weight coming in by three pounds and forfeited 20% of his purse to Zhumagulov. The Brazilian fighter has won two straight. Paiva, 24, dropped his first two UFC fights but has emerged as a flyweight prospect. Zhumagulov (13-4), a 31-year-old Kazakhstan native making his UFC debut, had a four-fight winning streak snapped.

— Raimondi

Watch this fight on ESPN+.


Women’s bantamweight: Karol Rosa (13-3, 2-0 UFC) defeats Vanessa Melo (10-8, 0-3 UFC) by unanimous decision

Brazilian bantamweight Karol Rosa has been scheduled to fight on four separate occasions in 2020, only to see all of them fall through due to circumstances caused by the coronavirus. When she finally got to make an appearance on Saturday, she did not disappoint.

Rosa thoroughly dominated her Brazilian counterpart Vanessa Melo over the course of three rounds en route to a unanimous decision. Rosa won on all three judges’ cards, via scores of 30-26, 30-26 and 30-27.

Melo, who falls to 0-3 in the UFC, showed heart in the loss, but it was obvious she was completely outmatched. Rosa picked her apart on the feet for 15 minutes, landing jabs, inside leg kicks and right hands at will. According to UFC Stats, Rosa outlanded Melo in total strikes 159 to 85.

Rosa was scheduled to face Julia Avila in March, April and May, but every date fell through due to logistical challenges. Avila eventually moved on to a new opponent, as well, as she knocked out Gina Mazany at a UFC Fight Night event in June. Rosa is now 2-0 inside the Octagon.

— Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN+.


Men’s bantamweight: Davey Grant (12-4, 3-3 UFC) defeats Martin Day (8-4, 0-2 UFC) by third-round KO

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Davey Grant catches Martin Day in the exchange with a vicious left hook and knocks him out in Round 3.

Davey Grant fights incredibly infrequently; this was only his sixth UFC fight in the past seven years. Yet, when he’s in the Octagon, he’s usually good for some thrills. He brought those to Fight Island.

Grant put Martin Day to sleep with a left hand to notch a knockout at 2:38 of the third round in the UFC 251 opener Saturday night. Grant finished a punching combination with a left hook. Day didn’t get his hand up in time to block it — he was looking to counter — and ended up falling to the canvas unconscious.

Afterward, Grant said he broke his jaw earlier in the bout. Day dropped Grant in the first round. Grant was able to come back with fast punching combinations that hurt Day in the second. It was a fun, fast-paced bout throughout.

Grant seemed tired in the third, but every time Day landed a combination, Grant came back with every more volume. At the end, Grant whipped a right hand that Day blocked and quickly came with a left, which Day never saw. That was it.

Grant (12-4) has won two straight following a two-fight losing streak. The 34-year-old England native has been to a decision only twice in his UFC run, though this was his first time earning a finish in a UFC win. Day (8-4), a 31-year-old Hawaii native, has lost two straight to begin his UFC career.

“I knew what he was coming for, and I knew what I wanted,” Grant said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to try and be technical in the first two rounds.’ I thought if it was all working, I’d go to town and then have a war. I wanted the first fight on UFC Fight Island to be a good war. I think we gave them that.

“I knew that if I could get inside [I could knock him out]. I knew he has really good kicks and good hands. He dropped me in the first and I didn’t know where I was at. I thought, ‘I’m still going to stand and trade with him.’ I wanted a fight like this in the UFC. I feel like I’ve been a bit cautious. I wanted to stand in the pocket and bang — that’s how you get the knockout. I want to be a main-card fighter.”

— Raimondi

Watch this fight on ESPN+.

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