UFC Fight Night 159 Results: The Real Winners and Losers
UFC Fight Night 159 went down Saturday in Mexico City. In the main event, favorite fighting son Yair Rodriguez tried to take a big step up the featherweight ladder against veteran slugger Jeremy Stephens.
They are two great, if dissimilar, knockout artists. The 26-year-old Rodriguez (11-2) is the young buck of the two, and his high-wire striking style and deceptive toughness have made him must-see TV in short order. Seven years his elder, Stephens (28-16) has been crushing fools since the barnstorming days.
Could the young Mexican get over against the native Iowan? And what about the rest of the 12-fight card? As always, the final stat lines don't reveal all. These are the real winners and losers from UFC Fight Night 159.
For the literal-minded among us, final stat lines appear at the end.
Welp, that sucked.
Fifteen seconds into the main event, Yair Rodriguez inadvertently raked a finger down Jeremy Stephens' face. Apparently it caught Stephens across the eye. Stephens, who is as tough a warrior as they come in this sport, coiled up in pain. The rules give the fighter five minutes to recover in such cases. Referee Herb Dean and the ringside doctor gave Stephens five minutes and then some. Stephens, in obvious agony, simply could not gather himself. The bout was ruled a no-contest.
Yeah. It sucked.
You want to know what sucked more than the actual outcome? The fact that the crowd started throwing stuff into the cage, and the boos and whistles were relentless. That's not what you want to see or hear. Yes, those fans paid good money to be there. Yes, this was supposed to be Rodriguez's coming-out party. Yes, once again Mexican MMA was robbed of a signature moment (more on that momentarily).
But it got ugly, and you never want to see that. (And for the record, if Stephens was faking or milking that, it was an Oscar-worthy performance. Most likely it was the real thing; Stephens doesn't seem like the kid of guy who'd want to live with accusations of cowardice.)
There will surely be more to come here. If I ran the UFC—and I don't—I'd call for an immediate rematch and declare a rain check for all the ticket-buyers there. Does that earn me money? Nope. But it's a show of good faith toward a market I've been trying to cultivate for decades. Hey, at the end of the day, it's not like I can't afford it. Will it happen? No, it won't. But it's what I'd do.
Back in the real world, it's uncertain what will happen next. That will unfold in the ensuing hours and days. In the meantime, it's the ultimate anticlimax for a community that really doesn't need another one of those.
Winner: Carla Esparza
Carla Esparza controlled much of her fight with Alexa Grasso with takedowns and top control; there's no denying that. And when exchanges occurred in space, whether they were on the feet or on the ground—any time there was "action"—Grasso wrested control.
Once wrested, however, the action tended to stagnate. A straight right in the second round stung Esparza, but Grasso never followed up. Similarly in the third, Grasso rocked Esparza but inexplicably let her opponent recover, even as her corner screamed for aggression. The coup de grace came a few moments later, when a tight armbar bent Esparza's arm the wrong way. Esparza, who is nails-tough, gritted through and spun out of it, with Grasso apparently unable to match Esparza's grit and finish the hold, come what may.
Grasso did more damage and had more output here, and as such there's a clear case for a Grasso victory. But victory isn't a passive entity. I realize that's not the most tangible of metrics, but it was obvious who wanted it more between these two. Esparza was more boring, but she controlled the fight when, where and how it mattered most.
Is there a case for Grasso? Yeah. But that doesn't make Esparza's win a "robbery." Esparza's arm might have lost. But the rest of her, including the most important parts, won.
Let's set aside the main event for a moment and examine the wider card.
True combat sports fans don't need a refresher on Mexico's illustrious fighting history. In fact, for years they've been waiting patiently for MMA to give them something new to cheer about.
That's a tall order. MMA is forced to operate in the dark there, thanks to the long, imposing shadows of Julio Cesar Chavez, Canelo Alvarez and a million or so other legends from Mexico's boxing world.
And yet, MMA has had its chances. Cain Velasquez was supposed to break that ceiling. The Mexican American heavyweight champ looked unbeatable as he rolled into this same city in 2015. But then he coughed up the title to Fabricio Werdum and in the process made himself and Mexico City's elevation a running joke that persists in the MMA circles to this day. (The fact that his body broke down such that he's only fought twice since hasn't helped, but I digress.)
Rodriguez is the new hopeful for Mexican MMA, and Saturday's unfortunate result—which is temporary—doesn't change that. The card was studded with other notables from a country that could very well, under proper conditions, be a sleeping giant for this sport.
Brandon Moreno, Irene Aldana and Jose Alberto Quinonez all nabbed good victories here in front of their home country.
Grasso, Martin Bravo and Marco Polo Reyes lost, but they'll be back.
I mean, the main event's gonna shadow everything, and understandably so. But other fighters did good things here. When the dust settles, everyone will remember that.
Loser: Sijara Eubanks
It's been quite a tumble for Sijara Eubanks.
The decorated grappler entered the UFC women's flyweight division with authority. Last June, Eubanks grabbed the community's attention when she knocked off popular veteran Lauren Murphy. But her next belt notch was at the expense of an even more beloved competitor, although she missed weight by more than two pounds before handling Roxanne Modafferi by decision.
That's when the wheels started to come off. Eubanks has been open about her steep weight cut, but everyone figured that was behind her when she moved up to 135 pounds. Problem is, she lost to Aspen Ladd in her UFC debut there despite a valiant effort. On Saturday, her professional record dropped to 4-4, and her UFC record to 2-2, when she was upset by the thoroughly unremarkable Bethe Correia, whom you may remember best as Ronda Rousey's punching bag about 23 years ago.
This is what a flatlined career looks like. Can she recover? Sure. But there's no question recovery is in order at this point.
Winner: Warrior Poets
To Vinicius Moreira's credit, he didn't walk into it. Or roll into it, as the case may be. And yet, the final stat line of his undercard bout must have elicited a rueful sigh or three from the Brazilian and his training team.
Why? Because his opponent, Paul Craig, does two things and two things only, and both things are highly, almost scientifically, predictable. First, as a Scotsman, he's gonna wear blue Braveheart paint to the weigh-ins. Second, he's going to try to choke you out. Heading in, Craig was 11-4 as a pro, with 10 of those wins coming by submission and eight of those submissions coming by choke.
So...avoid the choke, right? Moreira must have drilled ad nauseum for that possibility. So he had to be in all sorts of mental anguish when Craig crushed him with a big knee, then another and ultimately grabbed Moreira's back and locked on the rear-naked choke for his ninth professional chokeout win. Moreira clearly didn't want to make it a ground war, but there we all were nonetheless. Oh well, not every fight can shock the world.
UFC Fight Night 159 Full Card Results
Yair Rodriguez vs. Jeremy Stephens ruled No Contest (accidental eye poke), 0:15, Rd. 1
Carla Esparza def. Alexa Grasso by majority decision (28-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Brandon Moreno def. Askar Askarov by split decision (28-28, 28-29, 30-27)
Irene Aldana def. Vanessa Melo by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26)
Steven Peterson def. Martin Bravo by KO, 1:31, Rd. 2
Jose Alberto Quinonez def. Carlos Huachin by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Kyle Nelson def. Marco Polo Reyes KO, 1:36, Rd. 1
Angela Hill def. Ariane Carnelossi by TKO (doctor stoppage), 1:56, Rd. 3
Sergio Pettis def. Tyson Nam by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Paul Craig def. Vinicius Moreira by submission (rear-naked choke), 3:19, Rd. 1
Bethe Correia def. Sijara Eubanks by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Claudio Puelles def. Marcos Rosa Mariano by unanimous decision (30-25, 30-25, 30-25)
Scott Harris covers MMA for Bleacher Report.