The Real Winners and Losers From UFC on ESPN 39
One week after a pay-per-view event and three weeks ahead of another, the UFC settled back into its Fight Night routine with an 11-bout show from the Apex facility in Las Vegas.
Former lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos and streaking 10th-ranked contender Rafael Fiziev pulled main-event duty with a scheduled 25-minute encounter that the upstart (by comparison) Kyrgyzstan native nevertheless entered as a -205 favorite (bet $205 to win $100) over his Brazilian foe, who'd gone 6-5 since losing his 155-pound belt in 2016.
The familiar non-PPV team of Brendan Fitzgerald and Michael Bisping handled the announce table for the ESPN broadcast, which was delayed briefly by an unusual sudden-death overtime finish to an NBA Summer League basketball game a few miles away at UNLV.
The B/R combat team put together a list of definitive winners and losers from the show and we invite you to scroll through to see what we came up with and drop a thought or two of your own in the comments.
Winner: Answering the Challenge
It was beginning to look a bit perilous.
Fiziev was bruised and swollen around both eyes and the frenetic energy with which he'd fought the first three rounds seemed largely gone by the end of the fourth.
Nevertheless, as coaches in the dos Anjos corner encouraged their man to "empty the tank" to look for a finish, it was the younger and less-experienced man who took the advice.
Already the first Azerbaijan native to win in the UFC, Fiziev earned a career-defining triumph in the main event when he landed a sweeping left hand than dropped dos Anjos to his back and prompted a quick rescue from referee Mark Smith after two ground strikes.
The official time was 18 seconds of the fifth round.
"Of course, I was looking for the finish all around," said Fiziev, who'd gone past three rounds for the first time in his 13th fight. "I was tired."
Indeed, the 29-year-old had controlled things with punches and kicks through the first two rounds while doing an excellent job thwarting the Brazilian's plan to get him to the floor.
Dos Anjos began succeeding more in the third round and had his best moments in the fourth, getting Fiziev to the mat with a clean takedown and controlling him for more than a minute and finishing the session with a hard left elbow as his foe got to his feet.
Given the momentum swing, it made Fiziev's abrupt end even more shocking.
"His goal was to take me down and it was up to me to make my fight in the standup," he said, "and now he knows my power."
Loser: Respecting the Veteran
Michael Johnson has never been a UFC champion.
In fact, chances are pretty good that he never will be a UFC champion.
But one thing is certain. Even at 36 years old and after 20-plus trips to the Octagon, the guy can flat-out fight.
The Missouri-born, Florida-based lightweight went what Bisping labeled an "absolutely epic" 15 minutes with Australian export Jamie Mullarkey to open the main show, but he didn't get any veteran love when the verdict was read with him on the short end of a split decision.
Two judges gave Mullarkey a 29-28 win to offset the dissenting judge's 29-28 lean toward Johnson, which matched the scoring on the B/R card.
Johnson yelled an expletive to express his disagreement, but still came together in an embrace with Mullarkey, who was swollen and bloodied around both eyes.
"You've got to give it up for MJ," Mullarkey said. "He’s an O.G. in this sport.
"I had to dig deep. I knew he’d drag me into the trenches and he put me into wobble mode."
Asked why he didn't follow his coach's advice and focus on wrestling against Johnson, Mullarkey said, "It’s too much fun. It’s like a mutual agreement. You’re like, 'Yeah, let’s go.'"
Loser: Walking the Walk
Tresean Gore isn't anyone's definition of a wallflower.
The burly middleweight struts to the cage with an imposing "Mr. Vicious" nickname and he created a ruckus at Friday's weigh-in when he chirped incessantly into the face of imminent opponent Cody Brundage.
Not surprisingly, Brundage didn't appreciate the chatter and held his finger to his mouth as the two made brief contact before nearby officials and security personnel pulled them apart.
Gore was still yapping as he entered on Saturday night and flexed menacingly toward the cameras, but it was Brundage and not his mouthy foe who got the last word.
The fight was even at the start but Brundage soon eschewed his signature wrestling strategy and landed effective strikes, ultimately dumping Gore to the mat with a hard right hand and following with another dozen strikes to prompt a stoppage from referee Herb Dean.
The end came at 3:50 of the first and Brundage quickly called for a performance bonus.
"Cody likes to fashion himself as a wrestler," studio analyst Rashad Evans said, "but when he settles down and doesn't start to panic wrestler, he's a capable striker.
"That's what he showed."
Loser: Seizing the Moment
Sometimes, opportunity comes late in the game.
That was the case for Florida-based featherweight Garrett Armfield, who got the call for his UFC debut after two bouts planned for Saturday's card were nixed by injury and illness.
The 25-year-old rode in on the strength of a 6-1 streak across three smaller promotions and was matched with familiar foe David Onama, a veteran of two trips to the Octagon who'd beaten Armfield by decision in an amateur bout four years ago.
Unfortunately for Armfield, the late-stage result this time wound up similar to the first go-round when Onama seized his opponent's neck with his right arm and then isolated Armfield's right arm as well, ending matters via arm triangle at 3:13 of Round 2.
The fighters competed evenly for much of the first round before Onama surged late in the session. He scored one takedown in the first and grabbed another in the second that led to the submission position and rescue by referee Mike Beltran.
It was Onama's second straight UFC finish after he'd dropped his debut on the scorecards, while Armfield dropped to 8-3 as a pro and was finished for the second time.
Winner: Naming Familiar Names
If MMA royalty is your thing, Saturday night's show was your jam.
Fighters bearing the surnames Shevchenko and Nurmagomedov on their trunks were on the card, though upon further inspection the actual combatants were connected via family ties or not at all.
Antonina Shevchenko, older sister of flyweight titleholder Valentina, was a winner on the prelim portion of the show, defeating Cortney Casey by a razor-thin split decision in a three-rounder at 125 pounds.
Shevchenko earned 29-28 nods on two cards while Casey got the same margin on a third.
B/R sided with the majority and saw Shevchenko a one-point winner.
Later, on the main show, Said Nurmagomedov, often mistaken as a relative but actually unrelated to recently enshrined UFC Hall of Famer Khabib, beat opponent Douglas Silva de Andrade via unanimous decision in a three-rounder at featherweight.
The win was Nurmagomedov's fifth in six appearances with the promotion since 2018 and boosted his overall record to 16-2.
Nina Nunes, spouse of former two-division UFC champ Amanda, was scheduled to meet Cynthia Calvillo in a main-card flyweight but was removed from the show because of a non-COVID illness and the bout was scrubbed.
Full Card Results
Rafael Fiziev def. Rafael dos Anjos by KO (punches), 0:18, Round 5
Caio Borralho def. Armen Petrosyan by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
Said Nurmagomedov def. Douglas Silva de Andrade by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Chase Sherman def. Jared Vanderaa by KO (punches), 3:10, Round 3
Aiemann Zahabi def. Ricky Turcios by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Jamie Mullarkey def. Michael Johnson by split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
Cody Brundage def. Tresean Gore by KO (punches), 3:50, Round 1
Antonina Shevchenko def. Cortney Casey by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
David Onama def. Garrett Armfield by submission (arm triangle), 3:13, Round 2
Kennedy Nzechukwu def. Karl Roberson by TKO (elbows), 2:19, Round 3
Saidyokub Kakhramonov def. Ronnie Lawrence by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27)