The Real Winners and Losers From UFC on ESPN 42
Florida loves the UFC.
And the UFC made it clear on Saturday night that it loves Florida, too.
The company's weekly Fight Night show went on the road to the tourist hotspot of Orlando and was chock full of eye-catching bells and whistles, with no fewer than nine ranked fighters participating in a 14-bout card at a raucous Amway Arena.
Sixth-ranked welterweight Stephen Thompson and popular two-division stalwart Kevin Holland squared off in the main event of a card that was actually trimmed from 15 when a scheduled scrap between flyweights Amanda Ribas and Tracy Cortez was scratched.
It was the second octagonal visit to the Sunshine State in 2022, following the UFC 273 pay-per-view event in Jacksonville in early April. It was also just the ninth time this year (and sixth time in the U.S.) that a Fight Night show was held outside the Apex facility in Las Vegas.
UFC boss Dana White held the company's first post-lockdown pay-per-view show, UFC 261, in Jacksonville in April 2021 and promised during the run-up to that show that he'd continue to bring events to the state.
The B/R combat team was in the house in Orlando to assemble a definitive list of the show's winners and losers. Take a look at what we came up with and drop a thought or two of your own in the comments section.
Winner: Civility in a Brutal Main Event
It was as cordial as 20 minutes of violence can get.
Welterweights Stephen Thompson and Kevin Holland left each other bruised, bloodied, and in Holland's case possibly broken, but acted far more like a couple of friends simply having a top-this competition with kicks and four-ounce gloves.
The two slapped hands at the beginning of each round and after several of their most punishing exchanges, and each was quick to let the other back to his feet after knockdowns or trips sent them to the floor.
In the end, thanks in part to a hand injury Holland said he suffered as early as the first round, Thompson was able to pour it on long enough and hard enough to prompt referee Dan Miragliotta to wave things off after Holland went back to his corner at the end of the fourth.
ESPN analyst Daniel Cormier suggested it could be among 2022's best fights.
"He's tough as nails," Thompson said. "Both of my hands hurt because of his hard noggin. I knew I had to use my longest tools against a guy with an 82-inch reach."
Indeed, Thompson did his best work with strikes from a distance and the twisting kicks for which he's become well known. Holland landed enough strikes in the first round to slice Thompson over his left eye and raise a welt on his right cheek, but the longer the fight went the more dominant the sixth-ranked welterweight became in ending a two-fight skid.
"My last two performances I lost to grapplers and I wanted to show the UFC that 'Wonderboy' is still here," he said. "I feel like I'm 25 (at age 39). I'm still here and I'm gonna be here awhile."
Winner: Dropping the Callout Mic
So much for the Legends Tour.
Though Bryan Barberena promised—five months and a day after dominating former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler—that he'd make ex-lightweight king Rafael dos Anjos his second straight high-profile victim, his 38-year-old Brazilian foe wasn't interested.
And after the older man put his 33-year-old foe through the grappling wringer on the way to a second-round rear-naked choke finish, he saved his biggest competitive flex for last.
"I'm 38 years old. I've had 46 fights," dos Anjos said, drifting into a story about a visit to Orlando in December 2015 for a fight with Donald Cerrone. "I've spent more hours in the Octagon than anyone. I think I've earned the right to make a callout."
Then, rather than politely asking for a match with a fellow senior-level welterweight or another ambitious contender, he cast his line toward the biggest fish in the MMA sea.
"Conor McGregor," he said, drawing a roar from the crowd.
"I had the fight (six) years ago and I broke my foot."
Indeed, McGregor and then-champion dos Anjos were scheduled to tangle for the lightweight title at UFC 196 in March 2016, but the incumbent pulled out with the injury and left McGregor to take on and ultimately lose to late fill-in Nate Diaz.
Dos Anjos wound up losing his belt to Eddie Alvarez a few months later and he'd gone just 6-6 since while bouncing back and forth between lightweight and welterweight. He arrived Saturday night still ranked seventh in the UFC at 155 pounds.
McGregor defeated Diaz in a rematch and beat Alvarez for the lightweight belt by the end of 2016, but has fought just four times since, including a trilogy loss to Dustin Poirier in July 2021 in which he suffered a broken leg.
"He's got a couple months to clean his body of all the s--t he's been taking," dos Anjos said, "then let's do it."
Loser: Killing a Buzz
Sometimes the crowd doesn't get what it wants.
Beer-chugging Australian heavyweight Tai Tuivasa got what was easily the loudest pop of the night as he approached the cage as a pre-fight hype video played with him promising that another of his trademark "Shooey" celebrations was imminent.
To say it didn't work out would be a 266-pound understatement.
Instead of partying with his adopted supporters, Tuivasa was stunned by the first punch he took from opponent Sergei Pavlovich, was dropped by another shot soon after and never came close to recovering on the way to a shocking 54-second KO defeat.
The 29-year-old had climbed to fourth in the heavyweight division with five straight KO victories across 16 months from October 2020 to February 2022.
And he'd become one of the promotion's most recognized fighters thanks to his post-fight habit of downing a shoe filled with beer. But his run ended with a third-round KO loss to Cyril Gane in September and he's now fallen to 8-5 in the Octagon since his debut in 2017.
Pavlovich, meanwhile, has reeled off five straight first-round KOs since an early stoppage loss to Alistair Overeem in 2018. He was loudly booed by the Orlando crowd during his introductions and seemed to embrace his heel role when he raised his hands and gestured to the crowd to get louder immediately after the finish.
But he mellowed by the time his post-fight interview arrived and chose instead to try and make amends with the disappointed crowd.
"I did a lot of work to get here and I did a lot of work to get this result," he said. "Thank you to everyone who supported me on this. This is a very important fight in my career and I think I should get my bonus this time."
Winner: Unnoticed Business
It was probably Roman Dolidze's defining moment as an MMA pro.
But it's a good bet that many in the crowd had no idea.
Lulled into a stupor by a dullish first round and occupied with multiple laps of the wave around the arena in the second, the Orlando fans seemed startled at the abrupt end of a middleweight fight in the late-notice substitute's favor at 4:06.
Eighth-ranked Jack Hermansson had gotten Dolidze to the mat and was posturing up for a volley of ground strikes when grappling ace Dolidze spun him to the face-first floor while locking up his right leg. Dolidze followed with a series of more than a dozen ground strikes to his immobilized for before referee Marc Goddard finally waved things off.
It was a fourth straight victory and sixth in seven UFC fights for the 34-year-old Dolidze, who arrived to the promotion in 2020 and had finished Kyle Daukaus and Phil Hawes in his last two fights. Hermansson, meanwhile, had climbed to single-digit rankings with 10 wins in 15 UFC appearances, including a win over Chris Curtis in his most recent fight in July.
Dolidze will more than likely move into the top 10 when the new rankings come out early next week and he quickly called his high-profile shot by beckoning Khamzat Chimaev,
"I'm a grappler, a world championship grappler, but I can knock people out," he said. "Khamzat. I'm here in the top 10 now and I'm ready for you."
Winner: Florida Fan Favorites
It was a fight Florida couldn't lose.
Orlando-based Phil Rowe and Niko Price, who made the three-hour trip from Cape Coral on the Gulf coast, gave the fans a topsy-turvy welterweight show for two-plus rounds before the local hero's decisive flurry ended matters at 3:26 of the third.
Each man had stretches of success through the first 10 minutes, prompting waves of support from their dueling factions in the arena. Rowe was superior in the first round with striking and nearly got a finish in the second when things went to the ground, but Price was able to fight off a rear-naked choke attempt and ended the round on his feet.
He revved the Southwest Florida contingent's engines when he landed a right hand that sent Rowe reeling backward to the fence and he had his foe stumbling badly with follow-up strikes. His momentum slowed when the fight again went to the floor, however, and he was noticeably tired by the halfway point, allowing Rowe to rally with heavy shots.
Enough of those shots landed to leave Price bent over and not returning fire along the fence, promoting Goddard to intervene. Price immediately looked at Goddard at disagreement but subsequently reeled back toward his corner. He later came and embraced Rowe after the winner climbed the fence and gestured to his cage-side supporters.
Rowe dedicated the fight to his mother, who was unable to attend because of her battle with cancer. The card was dedicated to former ESPN host Stuart Scott, who landed his job with the network after working with an NBC affiliate in Orlando. He died from cancer in 2015.
"These guys got nothing for me in here," Rowe said. "If my mom can do what she do, ain't nobody stopping me in here."
Loser: Retirement Gifts
It wasn't the sendoff Scott Holtzman was seeking.
Instead of riding into the retirement sunset with a smashing finish or a three-round masterclass, the 39-year-old's seven-year UFC run came to an end with him on the short end of a threadbare split decision to fan favorite Clay Guida in a lightweight scrap.
Holtzman, who arrived to the company in 2015 and had gone 7-5 in 12 fights, stared straight ahead before looking at his corner with a grimace as Bruce Buffer read the second and decisive 29-28 verdict in Guida's favor. One judge gave it to Holtzman by the same margin.
Guida quickly came in for an embrace and whispered in Holtzman's ear before breaking the contact and drinking in the approval of the gleeful crowd.
Holtzman had his 40-year-old opponent backing up and on the receiving end of several flashy strikes in the first round before Guida evened things up with a more physical second round in which he took Holtzman down twice and controlled him for nearly three minutes.
Holtzman started out the third with effective striking, too, and seemed to wobble Guida with some shots, but the older man rallied and countered a standing front guillotine by picking Holtzman up and slamming him to the mat. He couldn't do much damage when the fight got to the ground, but the optics of his physicality may have swayed the judges.
B/R scored it 29-28 for Holtzman, who landed a higher percentage of his significant strikes but was on the receiving end of all four takedowns and the wrong end of a control-time deficit as well.
Guida, who debuted with the company at UFC 64 in 2006, is 18-16 in the Octagon.
Loser: Squeamish Fight Fans
No one was happier than the cage-side photographers.
Thirty-eight-fight veteran Darren Elkins may not have had the worst 15 minutes of his competitive career in a prelim duel with rising featherweight Jonathan Pearce, but they were certainly the ghastliest on the way to a unanimous decision loss.
Elkins' face was reddened by kicks in the first 15 seconds and gradually shredded by enough follow-up strikes to make him look like he'd just auditioned for a slasher movie.
The scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26 in Pearce's favor were academic, given the one-sidedness of the fight itself, which saw him land 154 overall strikes and 49 percent (110) of the 222 significant strikes he attempted.
Taller by two inches and more technically sound from distance, Pearce consistently did damage from the outside and eluded his foe's slower, wider shots.
He also handled himself when things got to the ground, ultimately splitting the fight's four takedowns and winding up with better than three minutes of control time to Elkins' 48 seconds.
The blood-letting prompted a visit from the cage-side physician between the second and third rounds, and Elkins drew a giant crowd pop when he emerged from the consultation with arms up and tongue wagging.
The loss was the 11th of his 15-year career and dropped him to 17-10 in a UFC run that began with a win over the long-since-departed Duane Ludwig in March 2012.
Winner: Unbeaten Undercard Swag
An early arriving Orlando crowd was treated to formative steps for two undefeated fighters, both of whom retained pristine marks with second-round wins.
Strawweight Yazmin Jauregui, just 23 years old, improved to 10-0 in a pro career that began when she was still a teenager, defeating Brazilian veteran Istela Nunes by TKO at 4:06 of the second after getting her to the floor and strafing her with punishing strikes.
Jauregui arrived as a solid betting favorite but immediately faced adversity when she was clipped and wobbled badly with a punch in the fight's opening minute. She withstood a follow-up barrage and began taking over before the close of the first five minutes, then got her foe to the ground again early in the second.
She got Nunes to her back and went to work with strikes, eventually getting through with enough elbows and punches to prompt referee Keith Peterson to intervene.
Also 23, featherweight Francis Marshall got his win in a much more abrupt and crowd-pleasing manner, landing a clean right hook that dropped Marcelo Rojo with a thud early in the second.
Marshall immediately pounced and landed four more ground shots at a prone and defenseless foe before referee Larry Folsom dove in to push him away after 1:14 of the round.
It was his seventh straight victory and first official appearance in the UFC after a win on Dana White's Contender Series just four months ago in Las Vegas.
Marshall strutted around the cage with arms waving to get himself over with the fans, and analyst Daniel Cormier gushed in their follow-up interview.
"It's definitely everything I could have imagined and more," Marshall said. "A dream turning into reality every day that goes by."
Rojo arrived with 16 wins in 25 pro fights but had been finished in the third round, once by KO and once by submission, in two previous UFC appearances.
"I thought there was gonna be more grappling," Marshall said, "but I'm happy with the way it happened."
Full Card Results
Stephen Thompson def. Kevin Holland by TKO (corner stoppage), 5:00, Round 4
Rafael Dos Anjos def. Bryan Barberena by submission (rear-naked choke), 3:20, Round 2
Matheus Nicolau def. Matt Schnell by TKO (punch), 1:44, Round 2
Sergei Pavlovich def. Tai Tuivasa by KO (punches), 0:54, Round 1
Roman Dolidze def. Jack Hermansson by TKO (punches), 4:06, Round 2
Eryk Anders def. Kyle Daukaus by TKO (punches), 2:45, Round 2
Phil Rowe def. Niko Price by TKO (punches), 3:26, Round 3
Angela Hill def. Emily Ducote by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Clay Guida def. Scott Holtzman by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Michael Johnson def. Marc Diakiese by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Jonathan Pearce def. Darren Elkins by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
Natan Levy def. Genaro Valdez by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Francis Marshall def. Marcelo Rojo by KO (punch), 1:14, Round 2
Yazmin Jauregui def. Istela Nunes by TKO (punches), 4:06, Round 2