It was a big night for the UFC
And if you weren't convinced that was the case, a quick look at the broadcast table drove the point home.
The promotion's monthly pay-per-view extravaganza—branded this time around as UFC 255—emanated from the Apex facility in Las Vegas and marked the first time in five months that the high-profile team of Jon Anik, Daniel Cormier and Joe Rogan was together to call fights on ESPN.
The trio was joined by Heidi Androl, who did backstage and pre-fight features.
And though the dual-title show didn't feature any of the company's biggest names, it did deliver in terms of violence with six stoppages in 12 fights and a handful of noteworthy upsets and exciting brawls.
In fact, all three of the night's performance bonuses went to fighters in the preliminary bouts.
As always, the B/R combat sports team was on hand for every punch, kick and choke, and we pored over the action to compile yet another list of real winners and losers from seven hours of competition.
Read on to see what we thought, and drop a line in the comments to let us know your views.
Winner: Little Big Man
This just in: Deiveson Figueiredo is pretty good.
The self-proclaimed "God of War" came into his first title defense against No. 4 contender Alex Perez promising fireworks, but it was a subtle skill set that led to a sudden first-round submission finish.
"Perez didn't make a mistake. Figueiredo turned that into a guillotine," Cormier said. "This man is real.
The way he seamlessly transitioned from the leg lock to the guillotine, it was incredible."
Though the fight lasted just a few seconds short of two minutes, the sequence that led to the finish was complete in only a moment. A standing Perez controlled Figueiredo's left leg after a kick and went for a takedown by sweeping the right leg, but Figueiredo instead slid to the floor intentionally while attempting to lock up the challenger's right leg.
Perez went to the floor to defend against that maneuver and was quickly caught in a guillotine choke when Figueiredo cinched his left arm around Perez's exposed neck.
The Californian attempted to pull back from the hold and nearly had his head free, but was nevertheless forced to tap in surrender at 1:57.
"There was a scramble, he got his leg caught, and to defend that position he got in a position where Deiveson could get his neck," Cormier said. "Unless he wants him to take his back he's got to turn into him. Alex is a wrestler. That's where he wants to be and it still happened. It was spectacular."
It was the champion's ninth win as a flyweight—which is third-best in history—and his seventh finish in the weight class, which is tied with Demetrious Johnson for the most ever.
Additionally, it was Figueiredo's fifth career win by guillotine submission.
"I promised my master I was going to do this, that this was going to happen," he said, before transitioning to a callout of No. 1 contender Brandon Moreno, who won by TKO earlier on the card when his opponent, Brandon Royval, separated his right shoulder. "Next, I want to face (Moreno). Dana (White), make it happen. I want to make that fight happen."
Winner: Getting it Done
It wasn't exactly virtuoso stuff. But it was still pretty good.
Flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko was pushed a bit harder than the biggest favorite in UFC history might have expected, but she still controlled rugged challenger Jennifer Maia on both the feet and the ground through 25 minutes while earning a unanimous scorecard decision.
"Valentina Shevchenko dealt with the adversity and put on a pretty dominant performance," Anik said. "Sometimes things don't go as planned, but she still won four of five rounds."
All three judges scored it four rounds to one for Shevchenko, matching the B/R scorecard.
The champion took the first round with significant ground control time, but Maia evened things up in the second by getting in close and controlling Shevchenko in clinch-fighting along the fence. The challenger continued to control things whenever it stayed in that position, but Shevchenko was continually able to score with punches from distance and was effective in scoring takedowns, too.
Neither fighter was in serious danger across 25 minutes, but Shevchenko was able to land enough to bloody Maia's nose and scored the 20th win of a professional career that began in 2003.
Her six women's flyweight wins in the UFC are now tied for the most in the promotion's history and her five wins in title fights are fourth. She'd been inactive since a February defeat of Katlyn Chookagian, after which she was sidelined and had to undergo surgery to repair a torn MCL.
"I knew that Jennifer wouldn't be an easy opponent," Shevchenko said. "I knew it was going to be a good fight. Every time I train I work on striking and grappling. I prepare my body to react the right way and I knew what to do because I'd watched her previous fights."
Loser: Always Playing Favorites
It wasn't difficult to hear Katlyn Chookagian's bliss.
The lanky flyweight was back in the cage a month after a violent loss, which prompted oddsmakers to install the division's No. 2 contender as a sizable underdog to fourth-ranked Cynthia Calvillo.
So when the Pennsylvania-born veteran finished off a clinical three-round sweep of the so-called favorite, she wasn't afraid to sneak in a pointed comment or two.
"It feels amazing. There's no better way to follow a loss than with an easy win," she said. "This was a perfect fight. It was a lot easier than our sparring sessions.
"I'll fight anyone. I don't care. Keep putting me as a 2-to-1 underdog and I'll keep winning."
Chookagian wasn't alone in her contempt for betting lines.
Though just three other underdogs were winners across a 12-fight card, they were enough to ensure that betting on each of the dozen favorites would still be a losing proposition financially.
Even with favorites Valentina Shevchenko and Deiveson Figueiredo winning to retain their flyweight titles, bets on all 12 underdogs would have earned a $165 profit to finish the night. On the flip side, wagers on all 12 favorites would have wound up in the hole to the tune of $360.
Beyond Chookagian, also winning in the underdog spot were welterweights Sasha Palatnikov, Nicolas Dalby and Tim Means. Means' win came in the middle of five bouts on the night's main card when he decisioned Mike Perry across three rounds by scores of 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28.
The 36-year-old veteran survived Perry's attempts at a choke submission in the first round and controlled the subsequent 10 minutes with effective punching from distance as Perry tired and had his face systematically busted up.
"It's something when people disrespect you. He definitely got my attention and I wanted to get my hand raised," he said. "We knew he was going to be strong so we had to do what we could to hurt him."
Winner: Bettering a Stalemate
Paul Craig was ready to go to work.
In fact, the Scottish light heavyweight stalked across the cage during pre-fight introductions and actually prompted Bruce Buffer to get between him and opponent Shogun Rua before the opening bell.
Once referee Herb Dean waved them together, though, he was free to punch the clock and Rua.
Eager to avenge an iffy draw when the two fought last November, Craig took the initiative via both striking and consistent takedown attempts and ultimately earned a second-round TKO victory.
"It's taken a year to get it straight," Craig said. "Fighting him a year ago gave me the confidence that I could stand and bang with him, and I knew I could take him down anytime I wanted to."
Craig got Rua to the mat twice in the opening round and continued the aggression in the subsequent session, getting two more takedowns in the initial three minutes.
He was able to get onto Rua's back after that second trip to the floor and strafed the Brazilian veteran with 20 straight strikes before Dean pushed him away at 3:38 of the round.
The win could push Craig up the ladder in the 205-pound division, where he entered ranked 15th.
"I'm always looking for that submission and I'm always looking for the finish," Craig said, "but I felt pretty powerful and I had him in a position where I could pound away."
Winner: Adding to the Highlight Reel
Where Joaquin Buckley goes, highlight reels follow.
Already the author of the runaway favorite for the UFC's KO of the Year last month, the burly middleweight added another memorable stoppage—this time with his fists—in notching a second-round finish over previously unbeaten 185-pounder Jordan Wright.
Fresh off the aforementioned spinning back kick erasure of Impa Kasanganay, Buckley began the decisive sequence with Wright when he hurt him with a series of punches late in the first round.
Wright was clearly compromised between rounds on his stool and instantly found himself on the business end of heavy blows to begin the second.
An overhand right from Buckley prompted Wright to move to his right to elude the shot, but the maneuver put him in the path of a devastating left hand that instantly buckled his knees and sent him toward the floor. A short right to the forehead landed as Wright sagged, initiating a rescue from referee Herb Dean just 18 seconds into the round.
"Joaquin Buckley has left a couple of highly touted prospects cross-eyed in his wake," Anik said. "The guy is so powerful and he's so confident in his ability to finish fights that he just pursues guys."
The win upped him to 12-3 as a pro and was his ninth triumph by stoppage.
"The first round I was hesitating because I didn't want this boy to take my shine," Buckley said.
"When I (saw) his eyes roll back in the back of his head, I knew I had him. When I hurt them, the referee can't save them."
Loser: Ignoring the Older Sister
If you've got to celebrate a birthday with a fight, you might as well win it.
Less-touted flyweight sister Antonina Shevchenko appeared alongside her championship sibling a day after turning 36 and did so in style, grounding and pounding opponent Ariane Lipski into a non-combative shell on the way to a second-round TKO victory.
The No. 15 contender in the weight class ruled by her sister, Shevchenko came out with a striking approach but quickly turned the match into a test of strength by getting in close and controlling Lipski from the clinch position. She scored the bout's initial takedown while holding her foe in a side headlock and maintained a positional edge through the balance of the first five minutes.
More of the same followed in the second round, and the end came after Shevchenko was able to maintain control and work her way behind Lipski. A torrent of strikes from both hands followed as Lipski was beaten into a turtle position, and referee Chris Tognoni intervened with 27 seconds to go in the second.
"It was a close fight at least according to Las Vegas (odds)," Anik said. "It did not play out that way."
Indeed, it was a pleasant departure from the past for Shevchenko, who was grappled into a unanimous decision loss against Katlyn Chookagian in her most recent appearance in May.
"She showed improvement. That's what she wanted to show tonight," Cormier said. "She initiated the wrestling sequences, she initiated the grappling and she dominated."
The win boosted Shevchenko to 5-2 and was her third win by stoppage.
"I wanted it so much. I trained so hard. I needed this victory," she said. "Every fight, lose or win, you must improve as a fighter. You can't just do striking or grappling. You have to be good everywhere."
Winner: A Stand-Alone Newcomer
Debuting in the UFC is a tough enough task. Doing so on a pay-per-view show is even more daunting.
So it's no surprise that four fighters entered the Octagon for the first time during Saturday night's early prelim session and only one exited with a pristine UFC record.
And it was a particularly impressive curtain-raiser for welterweight Sasha Palatnikov, who entered as a prohibitive short-notice underdog against unbeaten pro and fellow newbie Louis Cosce and ultimately stopped him in three rounds in one of the night's most compelling fights.
The first Hong Kong native to appear on a UFC show, Palatnikov was on the verge of a stoppage loss after taking heavy blows in the first round but survived long enough to rally after Cosce emptied his gas tank.
"I knew that if he can't drop you, he's gonna get tired. I don't get tired," Palatnikov said.
Indeed, the taller, longer fighter gave better than he got in the second round and continued to control things in the third, eventually landing a powerful right hand that prompted Cosce into a desperation takedown attempt. The shot failed, however, leaving a turtling Cosce vulnerable to 15 straight ground strikes that warranted an intervention from referee Chris Tognoni at 2:22.
"Everybody wants to shoot on me when they get hit. They don't know where they are," Palatnikov said. "This is what I've been working for my whole life. Two weeks notice. You give me a full camp and I'll take out anyone in that division."
Elsewhere among the first-timers, middleweight Dustin Stoltzfus dropped a unanimous three-round decision to second-timer Kyle Daukaus and another welterweight, Jared Gooden, was on the wrong side of a similarly unanimous verdict against 37-year-old veteran Alan Jouban.
UFC 255 Full Card Results
Deiveson Figueiredo def. Alex Perez by submission (guillotine choke), 1:57, Round 1
Valentina Shevchenko def. Jennifer Maia by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46)
Tim Means def. Mike Perry by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Katlyn Chookagian def. Cynthia Calvillo by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Paul Craig def. Mauricio Rua by TKO, 3:36, Round 2
Brandon Moreno def. Brandon Royval by TKO, 4:59, Round 1
Joaquin Buckley def. Jordan Wright by KO, 0:18, Round 2
Antonina Shevchenko def. Ariane Lipski by TKO, 4:33, Round 2
Nicolas Dalby def. Daniel Rodriguez by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Alan Jouban def. Jared Gooden by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Kyle Daukaus def. Dustin Stoltzfus by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
Sasha Palatnikov def. Louis Cosce by TKO, 2:47, Round 3
Fight of the Night
Sasha Palatnikov vs. Louis Cosce
Performances of the Night
Joaquin Buckley, Antonina Shevchenko