The Real Winners and Losers From UFC Fight Night 176

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2020

Alistair Overeem celebrates after defeating Mark Hunt during a heavyweight mixed martial arts bout at UFC 209, Saturday, March 4, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher/Associated Press

It won't win awards for star power, but the latest UFC Fight Night show had its moments.

After two scheduled three-rounders went the one-sided distance to begin Saturday's show from the UFC Apex, the rest of the night was a study in varied violence—featuring three submissions by three different maneuvers, a one-punch knockout and a back-and-forth bloodbath in the main event.

Heavyweight behemoths Alistair Overeem and Augusto Sakai met in that scheduled five-rounder, a match that featured certifiably outstanding moments for both before a crunching TKO whose winner you'll have to read on to discover.

The ESPN+ production was again captained by blow-by-blow man Jon Anik and seconded by analyst Daniel Cormier. Meanwhile, Brett Okamoto returned for the first time in a while as the backstage reporter and Joe Martinez filled in for Bruce Buffer as the man with the in-cage microphone.

It was over before 11 p.m. ET, which gave Cormier reason to grab the golf clubs.

"The driving range is open for another two hours," he said. "I could get used to this."

Bleacher Report was there from start to finish to take it all in and deliver the usual comprehensive collection of the card's true winners and losers. Take a look to not only find out about the aforementioned main event, but to see how your takeaways compare with ours.

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Loser: Not Respecting Your Elders

Sakai came into Saturday's main event full of momentum and with nothing to lose.

He was 11 years younger than his opponent, hadn't lost a UFC fight in four outings and seemed poised to shave a few numbers off his prodigious No. 8 contender status in the heavyweight division.

And for a bit more than 10 minutes, everything was going to plan. The 29-year-old's edge in activity had him up two rounds, and he looked as if he'd retained enough energy against a somnambulant Overeem to push the pace for another three rounds.

But as it turned out, the 40-year-old was just getting started.

The ex-Strikeforce champion took the fight to the ground in the third and began making headway with ground-and-pound, battering Sakai in that position for nearly two full rounds before getting the stop against his bloody, exhausted foe just 26 seconds into the fifth.

It was the 47th victory and 42nd finish of his storied career, which included a failed UFC title try against Stipe Miocic four years ago. He's also one of only two fighters, joining former foe Aleksei Oleinik, with pro wins in the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and 2020s.

"Augusto is a tough guy, an up and comer," he said. "But I was very well prepared, and we did it again, even at 40 years of age."

He said the pre-fight style was to let Sakai take the initiative, limit the punishment absorbed and be ready to step on the gas at the opportune moment. Indeed, by the time it was over, Overeem was landing elbows and hammer fists at will and Sakai was on his side covering up as referee Herb Dean implored him to "fight back" before subsequently intervening.

"My corner told me, 'Don't do too much. Don't gas yourself. The opening for the finish will present itself,'" said Overeem, ranked fifth at heavyweight. "I was just chilling, just cruising." 

Cormier suggested possible follow-up matches with No. 3 contender Jairzinho Rozenstruik or No. 4 Derrick Lewis, or perhaps a high-profile match with Jon Jones when he arrives from light heavyweight.

"Overeem's got options," he said. "But because he's fought everybody you don't know exactly where to go."

The winner, for his sake, seemed up for any of the challenges.

"I love fighting," he said. "It's been my passion for 23 years. I'm ready for more."

               

Winner: Stealing the Thunder

The smart money going in suggested that the light heavyweight bout between Alonzo Menifield and Ovince Saint Preux was a matchup of distinctly opposite styles.

Menifield was the burly slugger who'd be hunting for a fight-ending strike, while Saint Preux was the lanky veteran who'd try to coax his opponent into a slower, less dangerous scrap.

And through about nine minutes, it had unfolded exactly that way.

Menifield usually swung and missed, occasionally swung and landed, and always looked for a way to get his man into a firefight. And Saint Preux seemed content to counter and control distance with long kicks.

Until he decided to change tactics.

The former University of Tennessee football player leaned back to elude a winging right hand from Menifield as the second round entered its final minute, then turned and delivered his most precise reply of the night—landing a left hand flush on the side of Menifield's jaw and dropping him flat on his face for a sudden, one-shot finish at 4:07 of the session.

"Boom," Cormier said. "Menifield was going for it all and he got it, but not the way he was looking for."

It was his second straight loss after he'd begun his pro career with nine finishes (eight KOs and one submission) in nine fights, while Saint Preux put at least a temporary stop to a prolonged skid that had seen him lose four of six fights since 2018.

He's now 25-14 as a pro and 13-9 in the UFC.

"I'm feeling good," Saint Preux said. "I feel so good now it's crazy."

           

Loser: Acting Tough at Weigh-Ins

Zelim Imadaev talked the talk.

Or to be more accurate, he shoved the shove.

But while the Russian might have eked out a split decision with his tough-guy antics at Friday's weigh-in, he was in way over his head by Saturday night.

Brazilian dynamo Michel Pereira was a whirling dervish of entertaining violence across a scheduled three-rounder at welterweight, landing all manner of strikes before pouncing on his man at the end at getting a submission by rear-naked choke at 4:39 of the third.

"I came to give the show I told everyone was planning to give," Pereira said. "I was ready for wherever that fight was going to do. I dance the way the music plays."

The winner was unpredictably dominant for nearly every moment leading up to the finish, landing flying strikes off the cage, jumping high knees and open-hand slaps at various spots. He got behind Imadaev for a belly-to-back suplex in the finishing sequence, then locked in the choke and got the intervention from referee Chris Tognoni.

Some debate surrounded the finish, with Imadaev appearing to suggest he hadn't tapped but instead was moving his hands to fight off the choke.

Pereira, meanwhile, went immediately to the post-fight callout and declared his intention to chase Jorge Masvidal for the much-hyped BMF belt.

"I knew it was coming. I was focused. I knew I was going to get it and I got it," he said. "I want the BMF belt. Jorge Masvidal beware. You are next."

     

Winner: Turning 20 in Las Vegas

Andre Muniz already had 12 submissions, 12 first-round finishes...and 19 career victories.

So where better to turn 20 than a Saturday night in Las Vegas?

The Brazilian was a slight underdog to streaking Polish import Bartosz Fabinski as their middleweight bout began, but it was quickly apparent that his varied submission skill set would be decisive.

Muniz defended a takedown attempt with a guillotine choke that Fabinski was able to escape, but in doing so, he soon fell victim to an armbar that yielded a tap out at 2:42 of Round 1.

Once Fabinski got out of the guillotine he moved to top position as Muniz instantly transitioned toward a try at a triangle choke, Fabinski spun toward his right to escape that hold but his left arm stayed locked in and Muniz finished things off with the armbar.

"He gave him a triangle look and when his opponent tried to circle out of the triangle, he put himself right into a finish," Cormier said. "He set him up perfectly with that position."

It was Muniz's 20th win in 24 pro bouts and his second in a row in the Octagon.

Fabinski had won eight of nine fights coming in but fell to 3-2 in the UFC.

"I was expecting him to strike more," Muniz said. "I felt that his hand was under my armpit [as he turned]. My intention was to use the armbar. I told the ref that it was going to break."

        

Loser: Skipping the Scouting Reports

Ray Rodriguez was predictably anxious.

The Texan took a featherweight fight with Brian Kelleher on less than a full day's notice, and as Dean waved the two together, the newcomer seemed ready to make an instant UFC impact.

He immediately charged Kelleher and changed levels for a quick takedown attempt but probably regretted not researching the move about a split-second after he'd made it.

Long known as a master of the guillotine choke, Kelleher defended the attack with his signature maneuver, cinching his left arm around Rodriguez's neck and tightening the grip until his foe was forced to tap out after just 39 seconds of competitive combat.

"That's his move," Cormier said. "He understands that if you take a bad shot against him, he takes out that guillotine, and he has a squeeze like few others."

Indeed, it was the 10th submission win of Kelleher's career and the seventh by guillotine. Its speed also tied for the fourth-fastest submission in the UFC's featherweight division history.

Kelleher, on the short list of fighters with three UFC wins this year, said he got the official word he'd be facing Rodriguez—after two other scheduled opponents were scrubbed—on Friday night.

As soon as the fight was waved off, he ran to the cage and challenged Cormier to a golf date.

"I had a lot of nerves coming in," he said, "and I want to say thanks to him for stepping up and still giving me the chance to fight tonight. I've been a company guy, taking fights on short notice against last-second replacements, and I'm looking forward to fighting at least once more this year."

         

Winner: Women's Flyweight Fans

Women at 125 pounds have provided some of the most compelling recent bouts in the UFC.

And if Brazilian striker Viviane Araujo is any indication, the future will be pretty good, too.

The 33-year-old was athletic, menacing and violent in her fourth outing in the Octagon, leaving No. 11 contender Montana De La Rosa a bloody mess by the end of a unanimous victory in the second of the night's seven bouts.

Now 9-2 overall and 3-1 in the UFC, Araujo moved in and out and peppered her 25-year-old foe with kicks to the left leg and left jabs and overhand rights to the face—leaving her less mobile and gradually more beaten up as blood oozed from her nose and assorted nicks on the face.

De La Rosa was plenty game and hung in there with heavy strikes of her own, but Araujo's work rate was far superior and her blows more impactful as the fight wound through 15 minutes.

She won by tallies of 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 on the scorecards.

"That was a fantastic performance. I thought she won the first round and the third round very clearly," Cormier said. "Her grandmother [who died earlier this year] would be very proud of her tonight."

Araujo, who arrived ranked eighth in the division, landed 78 significant strikes and had a 44 percent connect rate with strikes to the head.

"I feel great. This year was very hard for me. This victory goes to my grand mom," she said. "She's very hard. A very hard opponent. I'm very happy."  

           

Loser: Staying on Script

Less than 12 hours before the first fight was ready to go, the Fight Night card was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. and was to include nine fights. By the time 6 p.m. rolled around, however, it was culled to seven fights, an opponent in another match was changed and the start time was pushed back 60 minutes.

A UFC statement said the changes were related to COVID-19 issues, and the adjustments left the show with just seven fights—the lowest total for a UFC card since another seven-fight show in 2005. 

A scrubbed heavyweight bout between Alexander Romanov and Marcos Rogerio De Lima had been set for the preliminary card, while a lightweight contest matching Thiago Moses and Jalin Turner that would have been the second bout on the show's main portion was also nixed.

As a result, the preliminary card was scrapped and the event went off as one seven-bout event.

Also, Kevin Natividad was pulled from a scheduled featherweight bout with Kelleher and replaced with Rodriguez, who'd appeared previously on Dana White's Contender Series.

                       

UFC Fight Night 176 Full Card Results

Alistair Overeem def. Augusto Sakai by TKO (punches), 0:26, Round 5

Ovince Saint Preux def. Alonzo Menifield by KO (punch), 4:07, Round 2

Michel Pereira def. Zelim Imadaev by submission (rear-naked choke), 4:39, Round 3

Andre Muniz def. Bartosz Fabinski by submission (armbar), 2:42, Round 1

Brian Kelleher def. Ray Rodriguez by submission (guillotine choke), 0:39, Round 1

Viviane Araujo def. Montana De La Rosa by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

Hunter Azure def. Cole Smith by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

       

Performances of the Night

Brian Kelleher, Andre Muniz, Michel Pereira, Ovince Saint Preux