Ali Bagautinov and Tim Elliot kicked off UFC 167 main card action in impressive fashion.
The two sparkplug flyweights fought three closely contested rounds, leaving the judges with a difficult decision.
All three cage-side jurors saw the fight for Bagautinov, giving the Russian prospect his second win inside the Octagon in as many tries.
While Elliot was the aggressor throughout the bout, he fought almost entirely on the defensive, retreating from Bagautinov's punches and failing to link together any significant offense.
For this, the judges made the right call in awarding the decision to the man who did more damage throughout the bout: Bagautinov.
What We'll Remember About This Fight
Elliot presented a frustrating case in this fight.
While Bagautinov came into the matchup highly touted and hyped, Elliot looked like the superior fighter. He moved fluidly, he avoided any great damage, he pushed forward, he dominated grappling exchanges...yet he did almost nothing.
Elliot refused to fire away and push the fight against Bagautinov, and his entire game plan seemed to center on defense.
Bagautinov, on the other hand, showed explosive striking skills, but he also showed that he needs to find a way to push fights when he cannot score the knockout blow.
His offense was mostly limited to a fastball-style overhand right and a blistering right uppercut, and that was enough to earn the judges' nod.
Still, against the top 5 fighters in the division, he will need to bring a better variety of tricks to the Octagon.
What We Learned About Bagautinov
Bagautinov hits hard.
He slings punches with malicious intent, and his power provides enough of a danger to keep opponents cautious, as illustrated by Elliot's refusal to commit to his offense.
Still, he will need to do better as he climbs the flyweight ladder.
As a world-class Sambo practitioner, I would have liked to see Bagautinov's grappling skills in full display, but Elliot, for the most part, owned those few exchanges on the mat.
For Bagautinov, the win over Elliot represents a decent stride forward in the division, but he needs to improve to make the jump into title contention.
What We Learned About Elliot
Elliot needs to let go and strike.
While his unorthodox style and quick reflexes helped him avoid any serious damage throughout the bout, he never brought the fight to Bagautinov.
Despite looking better conditioned and more versatile, Elliot never got off in this one, and his lack of offense cost him a decision.
In my opinion, Elliot was the better fighter—he just never truly seized the moment and grasped the victory.
What's Next for Bagautinov?
Both fighters are potential title contenders with question marks looming over their stock.
Put them in the cage together, and let's see who deserves to vault to the top of the division.
What's Next for Elliot?
Elliot was ranked No. 7 in the flyweight division coming in to this bout, and I do not think he slips too far after the loss.
He still looked good, and the flyweight division is thin, so I expect another top-10/fringe top-10 fighter in his next outing.
Look for him to take on the loser of next month's UFC on Fox 9 matchup between John Moraga and Darren Uyenoyama.