The Real Winners and Losers from UFC on ESPN 13
For weeks, it seemed like a futuristic premise. These days, though, it's getting to be the new normal.
The UFC's long-awaited "Fight Island" was the site for a second card in five days on Wednesday, when six prelims and five main-card bouts took center stage at Dana White's international combat sports playpen.
ESPN again handled broadcast duties from the Flash Forum on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where the octagonal promotion will return yet again for another premium cable/streaming extravaganza this weekend.
Similar to the UFC 251 pay-per-view show that debuted the "Fight Island" premise last Saturday, the announce team was led by Jon Anik and Michael Bisping, who were joined this time around by lightweight contender Paul Felder.
The crew was rounded out by Megan Olivi, who did pre-fight and locker room feature pieces.
The card started at 7 p.m. ET, which equated to 3 a.m. at the fight venue.
"I can't decide, do I want a cocktail or a coffee at this point," Felder said. "Or maybe both."
It ended at 1:05 a.m. ET, when Bruce Buffer finished reading the verdict of the main event between Calvin Kattar and Dan Ige.
International time zones and beverage choices aside, Bleacher Report pressed forward with its perpetual mission to recognize the real successes and failures across an 11-fight card that included multiple submissions, strike-prompted stoppages and decisions.
Read through to see what we came up with and where your impressions landed.
Loser: Graduating from Tuesday Night
Both Calvin Kattar and Dan Ige entered Wednesday night as ranked UFC featherweight contenders. And given the way they performed over 25 minutes, neither is going anywhere anytime soon.
Kattar, ranked sixth, and Ige, ranked 10th, exchanged sharp strikes and occasional takedown attempts across five compelling rounds before the better-ranked man emerged with a unanimous decision in their main event match at 125 pounds.
Kattar won by scores of 49-46 on two cards and 48-47 on the third. Bleacher Report agreed with the majority, giving Kattar four rounds to Ige's one.
"I feel like I just went through a five-round fight, but I'm ready for five more," said Kattar, who'd hurt his nose in a fight earlier this year and was bleeding heavily from it by the end of the second round against Ige. "It's tough for it not to get damaged in a fight considering how long I've been doing this."
It was the first UFC main event victory of the New Englander's career, with his only previous trip across 25 minutes having come 11 years ago in the American Steel Cagefighting promotion. It was also Ige's first time past three rounds, and he became the first graduate of Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series to headline a UFC card, albeit in a losing effort.
The two fighters were gracious throughout the run-up to the fight and continued that posture afterward. Ige clapped when Buffer read the decision in Kattar's favor and the two teams posed together for a group picture in the Octagon after congratulations were exchanged.
"Calvin is one of the best in the world. He's super slick and his jab was killing me," Ige said. "I had a lot of fun. I tested myself against one of the best. My gas tank felt good. That was a big test in itself. Just like when I lost in my debut, it's all about going back to the drawing board and coming back to winning."
Though the margins in each round were narrow, Kattar had the better of it when it came to striking, landing sharper shots from distance as the shorter Ige struggled to find an effective range.
Ige failed on all nine of his takedown attempts and was outlanded in four of the five rounds. In fact, his right eye was swollen nearly shut by the of the fight.
Kattar had a 23-11 edge in significant strikes in the first round and later had margins of three, 16 and 16 in the third, fourth and fifth, respectively. Ige's lone win came in the second, albeit narrowly, when he had a 10-9 advantage.
Asked by Anik when he expected to return to action, Kattar mentioned Alexander Volkanovski, who successfully defended his featherweight title at UFC 251 on Saturday night.
"The champ says he wants some contenders," Kattar said. "Well, he's got one in me."
Winner: Pain Threshold
No fingers. No problem.
Flyweight Tim Elliott was in the middle of a gruelingly competitive fight with Ryan Benoit when he looked down and saw something troubling.
"I was kind of numb in my (right) hand," he said. "I looked down and my two middle fingers were doing a Y away from each other."
He was clearly impacted by the injury and spent several seconds shaking his hand and pulling at the fingers, as his opponent took the initiative.
But rather than retreat into a shell or take to his bicycle, Elliott chose fight over flight.
He peppered the attacking Benoit with quick left jabs until the pain subsided, then withstood a final push until the final bell while locking down a unanimous decision in the three-round co-main event.
"I feel great," Elliott said. "I tend to be one of those guys who fights to the level of my opponent. He brought the best out of me."
Elliott, ranked 13th in the division, won a 29-28 score on all three official cards.
"I pulled on (the fingers) and they popped back in," he said. "Now I don't feel any pain. It's the first time I've ever had a jab land more than once in a fight."
Bisping and Felder, while acknowledging the closeness of the fight, both thought Elliott had done enough to earn the verdict. However, several tweets cited on the broadcast suggested Benoit had won.
It didn't matter to Elliott, who praised his coach, James Krause, for the strategic input.
"He's the smartest technical trainer in this sport," he said. "I'm ready to go again right away. I'm just a drone. If I can do what he says, I'll be a champion."
Loser: Quick International Turnarounds
In June, Cody Stamann was heroic in a victory. But just one month later, things seemed quite a bit different.
The Michigan-born featherweight took to the cage at UFC 250 in Las Vegas just days after the death of his younger brother and earned a compelling decision over Brian Kelleher that was followed by a memorable outpouring of emotion.
On Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, it was apparent that the momentum didn't make the trip.
Stamann never appeared particularly comfortable and thus never gained a significant advantage in any facet while dropping a unanimous decision to Jimmie Rivera in a battle of 145-pound contenders.
Rivera, who'd not fought since dropping a decision to Petr Yan in June 2019, was ranked eighth while Stamann came in slotted one position behind at No. 9.
A New Jersey native, Rivera scored well with punches in the first round and was able to successfully defend Stamann's consistent attempts to take the fight to the floor. He continued that success in the second and drove Stamann backward with several quick, short counter-punches.
The fight lingered along the fence for several minutes in the third and Stamann was briefly in jeopardy in a choke position. Rivera continued to land effective strikes as well, leaving his foe nicked above the left eye and below the right and reddened on the insides of both legs.
He won the decision by 30-27 on two scorecards and 29-28 on the third.
"The judges got it right," Felder said. "Jimmie landed more shots, the cleaner shots. It was a beautiful performance."
Rivera, who took the fight on less than 10 days' notice, was content but not satisfied.
"I used my skill instead of pushing the pace," he said. "I'm a perfectionist. I want to do better. I want to get the finish. It was hard to get my groove and I felt a little bit of the gas tank."
Winner: Pristine Resumes
Lerone Murphy was an unbeaten fighter heading into Wednesday night. But he wasn't necessarily expected to win again.
In fact, the UK native headed into a featherweight match with red-hot Brazilian Ricardo Ramos as a slight betting underdog before flipping the script and keeping his run going with a vicious first-round TKO.
He's now 9-0-1 with six first-round finishes.
"I'm really happy to get another first-round finish," Murphy said, after surprisingly taking the fight to the ground and ultimately ending matters with an elbow followed by several hard punches. "It's mixed martial arts, so you train in all facets. If it goes to the ground it goes to the ground.
"After the first elbow I saw his eyes roll back. I felt like he gave up then."
Referee Rich Mitchell intervened at 4:18, and Murphy immediately ran to the cage above the ESPN announce table to chat up Felder, who'd suggested taking the fight to the mat was a mistake.
"Since I fought in September, I've been dreaming about winning in the UFC every night," Murphy said.
Murphy became the second unbeaten fighter on the show to retain a pristine record, following Welsh bantamweight Jack Shore's second-round submission of Aaron Phillips.
Shore is 13-0 with 12 finishes.
Chechen middleweight Khamzat Chimaev later made it a perfect night for the unbeaten fighters, routing Welsh striker John Phillips by submission in two rounds. He improved to 7-0.
He was in the cage with perhaps the night's best fight, but regardless of how compelling the action between welterweights Mounir Lazzez and Abdul Alhassan got, it seemed referee Dan Movahedi wanted to be involved, too.
The veteran official interjected himself each time the three-round fight went horizontal, constantly barking at the competitors to advance their positions and twice ordering them back to their feet in spite of what appeared to be genuine work being put in on the mat.
The over-officiousness drew the notice of Bisping and Felder.
Bisping cleverly changed the referee's surname from Movahedi to "Out of his Mind-y" upon the second intervention during the second round, and Felder later said he'd campaign to have Movahedi assigned to his own bouts because "he apparently does night like wrestling and he does not like jiu-jitsu."
"I've got to talk to (UFC executive) Sean Shelby," Felder said. "I need to get this guy for my next fight."
Amazingly, Movahedi did it again later in the show while working the match between Cody Stamann and Jimmie Rivera, about five seconds after Felder suggested it might happen again.
Movahedi aside, though, the early fight's competition spoke for itself.
Alhassan came out with a barrage of punches and kicks in the initial 30 seconds of the first round and had Lazzez wobbled, but Lazzez weathered the storm and began replying with a varied offense of his own, using body punches, elbows and high kicks to take control.
He scored a takedown in the final 15 seconds of the initial round and again went to the mat in the second before Movahedi's impact.
The fighters continued to exchange punches and kicks throughout as well, with Lazzez's control continuing into the third round before Alhassan rallied with heavy punches in the final 15 seconds.
Lazzez earned a unanimous but rugged decision with scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.
"The guy has an incredibly bright future," Bisping said. "Perhaps a star was born tonight. He has tremendously well-rounded skills."
Anik said Lazzez, who lives in Dubai, got his shot in the UFC after a friend of the fighter met Dana White in a restaurant and showed him a video of highlights.
The UFC president ultimately put him in touch with Shelby, who booked him for his Wednesday night octagonal debut, where he arrived as an underdog.
"I'm against the odds always. I like to shock people," said Lazzez, who called fellow welterweight Mike Perry an "idiot" while issuing a challenge after the win. "I'm blessed tonight for the chance to show my skills internationally."
Winner: Pulling Double Duty
Broadcasters are expected to be neutral, but Felder was about as far away from 50-50 as he could be.
The UFC lightweight was at the announce table for the first two fights of Wednesday's show, but he left his post to head back to the locker room and serve as a cornerman for featherweight Jared Gordon.
Gordon arrived in Abu Dhabi after a tumultuous string of events in which his girlfriend had a miscarriage after 10 weeks of pregnancy and was subsequently diagnosed with the coronavirus.
His training team members also tested positive for the coronavirus, which forced him to take on opponent Chris Fishgold with a substitute team.
It didn't matter once the bout started, however, as the New York native took matters to the mat in all three rounds while battering Fishgold for nearly all of 15 minutes in winning a unanimous decision.
"Total domination for Jared 'Flash' Gordon. He's barely breathing heavy," Anik said. "A near-perfect effort.”
All three judges scored it 30-26 for Gordon, who landed 206 strikes and scored three takedowns.
Felder could be heard shouting from the corner throughout, exhorting his man to go for a finish which he got close to in the third round as referee Marc Goddard frequently checked on Fishgold.
"I feel great. It's been a whirlwind of emotions," Gordon said. "I was going through so much but I came in and did what I had to do."
It was his first fight at featherweight after a prolonged run at lightweight.
"I thought it was a little boring, though I crushed him," he said. "This is the division I should have been in the entire time."
Loser: The Welsh Wrecking Machine
Billed by Bruce Buffer as the "Welsh Wrecking Machine," John Phillips clearly won the nickname battle. But that was absolutely it.
The slugger found himself on the mat via takedown within 10 seconds, on the short end of an eye-popping 78-1 striking margin after five minutes and convincingly in the loss column following a second-round tapout against unbeaten Chechen middleweight Khamzat Chimaev.
The winner used a strong kick to the left side of Phillips' body as his entry to the initial takedown in the opening moments, from which he bloodied the Welshman with a perpetual series of fists and elbows throughout the remainder of the initial round.
The song remained the same in the second round, when, while ducking a Phillips right hand, Chimaev charged in for another double-leg takedown and resumed the battering. He kept Phillips under wraps with another series of ground strikes before working him into a d'arce choke.
Referee Herb Dean acknowledged Phillips' surrender at 1:12 of the second.
"If he wasn't on your radar before," Felder said of Chimaev, "he should be now."
Chimaev immediately went to the fence to chat up Dana White following the victory in his Octagon debut, and he said later that he campaigned to the UFC boss for another fight.
"I want to fight next week. I'm gonna be champion here," he said. "Gimme a guy, I'm gonna smash him. I listened to my coach, he said 'Take him down and smash him.' I did that."
Chimaev jumped to 7-0 as a pro, while Phillips, who'd been looking for a 21st knockout, fell to 22-10.
"It's the same thing (as other promotions)," Chimaev said. "They're people. Like me. But I work harder."
Winner: Cage Warriors Alumni
The UK-based Cage Warriors promotion has been a prodigious feeder for the UFC, priming the likes of Conor McGregor and Bisping, among many others, for octagonal stardom.
Wednesday night's show was a spotlight for another handful of arrivals with star potential.
Former Cage Warriors bantamweight champ Jack Shore kicked off the night with his second win in as many UFC outings, choking out veteran Aaron Phillips midway through the second round.
Three fights later, Lithuanian export Modestas Bukauskas made his UFC debut in similarly successful style, ending Andreas Michailidis' night with a series of elbows to get a TKO after one round.
Stone is now 13-0 as a pro, while Bukauskas improved to 11-2.
McGregor fought with Cage Warriors in 2011 and 2012 and won both the featherweight and lightweight titles in the promotion before heading to the UFC. Bisping, now a UFC Hall of Famer, won and subsequently defended the Cage Warriors light heavyweight belt three times in 2005 before making the transition.
Bukauskas held that same light heavyweight championship until vacating it to make his move up.
"I've been waiting for this moment my whole life," he said. "I've been visualizing every day coming out with a victory."
The triumph also made him the first Lithuanian-born fighter to win a UFC fight.
"We knew he was a dangerous opponent," Bukauskas said. "I was finally happy to get someone to strike with me as opposed to wrestling all the time. For a UFC debut it couldn’t have gone any better."
But it wasn't a perfect night for all the CW alums.
Former lightweight champion Chris Fishgold was punished over 15 minutes while dropping a unanimous decision to Jared Gordon in the only prelim fight that went the distance, and former women's flyweight titleholder Molly McCann was also a scorecard loser after three grinding rounds against Taila Santos.
UFC on ESPN 13 Full Card Results
Calvin Kattar def. Dan Ige by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 48-47).
Tim Elliott def. Ryan Benoit by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
Jimmie Rivera def. Cody Stamann by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28).
Taila Santos def. Molly McCann by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).
Mounir Lazzez def. Abdul Razak Alhassan by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28).
Khamzat Chimaev def. John Phillips by submission (d'arce choke), 1:12, Round 2.
Lerone Murohy def. Ricardo Ramos by TKO (punches), 4:18, Round 1.
Modestas Bukauskas def. Andreas Michailidis by TKO (elbows), 5:00, Round 1.
Jared Gordon def. Chris Fishgold by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26).
Liana Jojua def. Diana Belbita by submission (arm bar), 2:43, Round 1.
Jack Shore def. Aaron Phillips by submission (rear-naked choke), 2:29, Round 2.
Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Mounir Lazzez (Fight of the Night, Alhassan not eligible due to missed weight)
Lerone Murphy, Khamzat Chimaev, Modestas Bukauskas (Performances of the Night)