The Real Winners and Losers From UFC on ESPN: Woodley vs. Burns

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2020

The Real Winners and Losers From UFC on ESPN: Woodley vs. Burns

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    It wasn't your typical Saturday night in Las Vegas, but it's starting to feel more routine.

    The UFC continued to lead U.S.-based sports leagues in the race to get back to normal by hosting yet another live, fan-free fight card—it's fourth of the month—on Saturday night at its home-turf Apex facility.

    Dana White and Co. will produce their second pay-per-view show in 28 days, UFC 250, next weekend from the same venue, featuring two-division world champion Amanda Nunes atop the bill.

    It hosted UFC 249 without fans on May 9 in Jacksonville, Florida.

    Meanwhile, Saturday's show on ESPN featured compelling content across the board for 11 fights, including a returning former world champion against a difficult opponent in the main event and no fewer than six fights that ended in two rounds or less.

    Broadcasters Brendan Fitzgerald, Daniel Cormier and Michael Bisping had the socially-distanced mics, and rather than continuing to conduct in-cage interviews with unmasked winners Cormier remained at his position and chatted with fighters sequestered to a separate interview station.

    Keeping with Fight Night tradition, we looked at the card from start to finish and put together our list of the most memorable occurrences—winners/losers style—from the night's activity.

    Click on through to see what we came up with and to see if your takeaways match ours.

Winner: Brazilian Bravado

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    And all of a sudden, Tyron Woodley hasn't won a fight in 21 months.

    The former welterweight champ expected to return to winning ways in Saturday night's main event against No. 6 contender Gilbert Burns, but he was instead out-struck, out-hustled and essentially manhandled on the way to a wide decision loss to the streaking Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace.

    It was Woodley's first fight since dropping the belt to Kamaru Usman on March 2, 2019, after a reign that had seen him defend four times after winning it from Robbie Lawler in 2016.

    On the flip side, Burns has now win six straight since a KO loss to Dan Hooker at UFC 226 in 2018.

    And he's eager to continue his roll, perhaps even against Usman, who's a training partner.

    "I love the champ, but come on, you've got to give me my shot," he told Cormier. "I just beat him the same way (as Usman), maybe even better."

    It's hardly hyperbole.

    Burns landed 76 significant strikes to Woodley's 29 across 25 minutes, scored the bout's only two takedowns and had 4:57 of ground control time compared to Woodley's two seconds. 

    No wonder then, that he was a 50-44 winner on two cards and 50-45 on the third.

    He greeted the final bell by locating the nearest camera and letting loose with a primal scream, some chest-pounding and a finger drawn across his throat, but had mellowed by the time the official result was read by announcer Joe Martinez, in fact appearing near tears as his teammates congratulated him.

    "I trained so hard for this fight. I'm calling these guys out for a reason," Burns said. "I was working hard and pushing the pace. My coach told me that he's not gonna like that pressure."

    Cormier labeled it a "phenomenal performance" and suggested Burns had turned a corner, then buffeted the fighter's championship plea by saying "It's hard to look at the welterweight division and see a guy more deserving of a title shot."

Loser: Higher-Ranked Fighters

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    Turns out rankings don't mean everything, after all.

    Three fighters who either entered the UFC's home base in Las Vegas with a lower number next to their name—or a number where the opponent had none—wound up leaving the Apex with lesser fanfare.

    No. 11 flyweight contender Tim Elliott was victim of one of the night's biggest surprises when he was submitted via second-round arm triangle by Brandon Royval, and the unexpected outcomes continued when No. 12 heavyweight Blagoy Ivanov was beaten by split decision by No. 13 Augusto Sakai.

    As mentioned earlier, Woodley's No. 1 contender status at welterweight was spoiled by No. 6 Burns in the night's main event.

    "It was a close fight and whenever it's close it's open for interpretation, but for my money Sakai won all three rounds so it was 30-27," Bisping said. "When I heard 30-27 for Ivanov I was like 'Come on, judges.'"

    Indeed, Ivanov got the 30-27 score in his favor that was outweighed by a pair of 29-28 cards for Sakai.

    "Ivanov is a great fighter, but I knew I won the fight. I was sure," said Sakai, who ran the UFC's longest heavyweight win streak to four straight. "Whoever the UFC sends my way, I just want somebody ranked above me."

    Female flyweights Katlyn Chookagian and Antonina Shevchenko stayed a bit closer to script, with No. 2 contender Chookagian defeating her 12th-ranked foe by unanimous decision.

Winner: Big Action in Small Spaces

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    When an announcer's first words following a fight are "Book the rematch," you know it's a good one.

    That's precisely what Bisping asked for in the aftermath of Billy Quarantillo's catchweight defeat of Spike Carlyle by narrow unanimous decision in the third of five fights on Saturday's main card.

    And if action is the determining factor in booking second go-rounds, go ahead and sign the contract.

    "That was back-and-forth action, nonstop," Cormier said, echoing his broadcast colleague's enthusiasm. "What a phenomenal fight by Billy Quarantillo."

    The New Yorker-turned-Floridian won by 29-28 counts on all three official scorecards to get the win, which came after he weathered a significant early storm in the form of Carlyle, who charged across the Octagon at the opening bell and carried the action through the first five minutes.

    Quarantillo began asserting himself in the second, however, going for a pair of submissions before flat-out dominating the final round, including a 26-1 edge in significant strikes at one point.

    Overall across 15 minutes, he held a 48-39 edge in significant strikes, while Carlyle's edge came in ground control time—8:09 to 4:01.

    "I never want to leave it in the hands of the judges," Quarantillo said. "He's a tough kid. I didn't think his wrestling was going to be that good. That was a wild fight."

    Action-packed and wild were buzzwords for the entire night, which saw six of 11 fights ending early—including four by submissions in two rounds or less. Some of the consistent engagement could be chalked up to a smaller 25-foot Octagon at the UFC headquarters facility, compared to the routine 30-footer.

    Veteran referee John McCarthy took to Twitter and suggested the fighters prefer the smaller structure.

    "UFC operations staff knows it can put a 30-foot cage in the Apex. The UFC prefers the smaller 25-foot cage because they feel it creates more action," he said. "Fighters tend to like the 30-foot cage because of the space. ... It’s just preference."

Loser: Hunch Bets

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    Roosevelt Roberts wasted no time showing why he was the biggest male favorite in Las Vegas.

    The outgoing lightweight happily engaged in trash talk before his bout with Brok Weaver, then got to business and ultimately earned the right to celebrate by cinching Weaver into a rear-naked choke and prompting a submission at 3:26 of the second round.

    Roberts entered as a minus-340 betting choice according to odds posted on ufc.com and improved to 10-1 in a pro career that began in 2016. The tap-out triumph was his fifth across those 10 wins.

    "What a fantastic victory," Cormier said. "This guy has the look to be legit down the line."

    The end came shortly after Roberts landed a clean one-two punch combination to Weaver's jaw and went in for a double-leg takedown. He subsequently landed shots while Weaver was on the ground, gained body control and was able to get in position to get the choke.

    "I knew it was slippery," Roberts told Cormier. "All I needed was a little bit of space and I knew it was going to slide right in."

    Women's strawweight Mackenzie Dern was the most prodigious overall betting choice on the card and proved the minus-440 selection a prudent one with a first-round submission over Hannah Cifers.

    In fact, the only favorite on the main card to take a back seat was Woodley, who was taken apart by a plus-145 commodity in Burns. That means five bets on main card favorites yielded a profit of $235, while riding with the underdogs across the board was a losing gamble to the tune of $255.

    Favorites went 4-for-6 across the prelim portion of the show, with welterweight Daniel Rodriguez holding up his end of a prohibitive minus-310 billing by winning a clear unanimous decision over Gabe Green.

    Flyweight Royval, meanwhile, was a plus-135 payoff when he beat No. 11-ranked contender Elliott as the early card's biggest underdog winner.

    Bets on all six early favorites yielded a measly $10 profit while all six underdogs were $150 in the hole.

Winner: Making History

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    It's not your garden-variety mixed martial arts birthday present, but Dern is hardly a garden-variety mixed martial arts practitioner.

    Now 27, Dern stepped away from the sport last year and gave birth to her daughter, Moa, who'll celebrate her first birthday on June 9.

    Just two fights into her comeback, Dern achieved a historical milestone by becoming the first UFC woman to achieve a leg-lock submission win—forcing Cifers to tap out in a knee bar at 2:36 of Round 1.

    It was a satisfying return to the win column for Dern, who'd taken her first pro loss to Amanda Ribas via unanimous decision last October in Tampa, Florida. 

    "It feels so good," Dern told Cormier. "I'm so happy to get the submission. (Cifers is) such a strong girl. I wanted to get close to her and take it to the ground. I went to the jiu-jitsu and of course jiu-jitsu is always going to save me."

UFC on ESPN Full Card Results

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    Main Card

    Gilbert Burns de. Tyron Woodley by unanimous decision (50-45, 50-44, 50-44)

    Augusto Sakai def. Blgoy Ivanov by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 27-30)

    Billy Quarantillo def. Spike Carlyle by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

    Roosevelt Roberts def. Brok Weaver by submission (rear-naked choke), 3:26, Round 2 

    Mackenzie Dern def. Hannah Cifers by submission (kneebar), 2:36, Round 1

    Preliminary Card

    Katlyn Chookagian def. Antonina Shevchenko by unanimous decision (30-25, 30-25, 30-25)

    Daniel Rodriguez def. Gabe Green by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

    Jamahal Hill def. Klidson Abreu by TKO (knee), 1:51, Round 1

    Brandon Royval def. Tim Elliott by submission (arm triangle), 3:18, Round 2

    Casey Kenney def. Louis Smolka by submission (guillotine choke), 3:03, Round 1

    Chris Gutierrez def. Vince Morales by TKO (kick), 4:27, Round 2