The Real Winners and Losers from UFC Fight Night 188

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistMay 23, 2021

The Real Winners and Losers from UFC Fight Night 188

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    OK, they can't all be mega-events.

    But while Saturday's Fight Night show from the UFC's Apex facility didn't have the star power of the previous weekend's pay-per-view show in Houston, it wasn't without compelling moments.

    Highly ranked bantamweights Rob Font and Cody Garbrandt were the headliners in a scheduled five-round main bout, while the supporting card was dotted with an ex-champion and a handful of fighters with single-digit numbers alongside their names.

    It also included a middleweight bout between Jack Hermansson and Edmen Shahbazyan that had been scheduled for the aforementioned UFC 262 card before Hermansson was shelved when a member of his team was diagnosed with COVID-19.

    Brendan Fitzgerald, Michael Bisping and Paul Felder handled blow-by-blow and analysis for ESPN, while Heidi Androl rounded out the broadcast team with breaking news and backstage features.

    And whaddya know? The B/R combat sports team was in the mix too, taking in the entire show and compiling an authoritative list of its real winners and losers. Click through to see what we came up with, and let us know how you saw it with a thought or two in the comments.

Winner: A Dazzling Premiere

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    Rob Font was in the biggest fight of his career.

    The UFC's third-ranked bantamweight was looking across the cage at fellow top-five contender and former champion Cody Garbrandt while appearing in the first main event of his seven-year Octagonal stay.

    In other words, he had every reason to let emotion trump composure.

    But he didn't.

    Instead, the soft-spoken 33-year-old stayed true to his personality and his striking game plan, continually working Garbrandt with jabs and combinations on the way to a unanimous-decision win.

    He took two scorecards by 50-45 margins and a third by 48-47.

    B/R split the difference and gave Font the edge, 49-46.

    "He hit me a couple times, but I just kept my head together," Font said. "I have the best jab in the UFC, that's for sure. I can't go hook for hook with him. I can't go big shot for big shot, so I just stuck with the jab."

    It was more than enough.

    Font was taken down twice in the first round and again early in the second but never found himself in a submission position and was effective upon rising in the second. He asserted control as Garbrandt appeared to tire in the third and consistently won exchanges while avoiding prolonged firefights.

    At the end, his plus-118 strike differential (180-62) was the second-largest in bantamweight history and helped him secure his ninth win in 12 UFC fights, including four in a row.

    "He did exactly what he said he wanted to do, and he did it in style," Bisping said. "An excellent display of boxing. That man has got every right to be very happy."

Loser: Eluding the Monster

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    Somewhere, you have to assume Rose Namajunas was watching.

    After all, the third- and fourth-ranked contenders to the newly crowned UFC strawweight champion were in the co-main event, which meant a callout after the fight was almost a guarantee.

    But upon further review, Thug Rose might want to reconsider her options.

    Already a submission winner over Namajunas in 2014, former 115-pounder Carla Esparza made a gigantic step toward securing a title-shot rematch with a punishing second-round TKO of Yan Xiaonan.

    And afterward, she delivered too.

    "I want a chance to fight for that title. I think it's an intriguing fight," Esparza said. "I think it's a fight everyone wants to see. Dana [White], let's make it happen."

    Dubbed the Cookie Monster, Esparza frenetically controlled every second of the fight's nearly eight-minute duration, getting Yan to the floor after an ill-advised aggressive approach and opening a hideous cut on her forehead with a clean elbow strike late in the first round.

    Another takedown followed when Esparza caught a Yan kick attempt a half-minute into the second, and another torrent of punches and elbows followed until referee Keith Peterson rescued the helpless Chinese export at 2:58 of the round.

    Esparza entered with existing weight-class records for career takedowns and control time, and her 101 strikes in the first round were the third-highest single-round total in division history.

    "Carla Esparza just went out there and dominated. She made it look easy," Bisping said. "When she got the fight where she wanted it, she beat the crap out of her."

Winner: Bidding Farewell to the Dragon

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    He's become such a fixture on UFC announce teams that some might not even realize that Paul Felder was one of the best 155-pound fighters in the world.

    Now 36, Felder turned pro in 2011, reached the Octagonal big leagues three years later and climbed as high as No. 6 in the UFC rankings before a skid that saw him lose three of five outings from 2018 to 2020.

    The Irish Dragon put an emotional end to his run from the broadcast table Saturday night, formally announcing his retirement between the third and fourth fights on the main card.

    "I feel like it's gotten to a point where I don't have that burning to fight up," he said. "I got as high as No. 6 in the world and got pretty damn close to fighting for that belt. When it's time, it's time. I feel it. I trust it. I believe it. That's it for me."

    Ironically, though he never fought for a title, Felder was the last opponent to beat Charles Oliveira, who's won nine straight and captured the vacant UFC lightweight championship at UFC 262 in Houston.

    Felder won by second-round stoppage at UFC 218 in 2017.

    He retires at 17-6 overall and 9-6 in the UFC.

    "You'll see this ugly mug on TV for a long time," Felder said. "I love the UFC and everything about it. It is my life now, and I'll probably be part of this organization until I'm done working all together."

Loser: Easy Days at Work

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    So you wanna be a UFC fighter, eh?

    Chances are that a few of Saturday's fights might have sifted out a few pretenders.

    Main card heavyweight Jared Vanderaa wore one of the bloodiest masks in recent UFC history after suffering an inch-long gash on his hairline after a left hand by Justin Tafa.

    The blood poured down the left side of California-based fighter's face and covered his chest and midsection, making it appear as if the wound was far, far worse.

    His corner team was able to stop the bleeding after the second round, but it resumed after contact was made in the third and continued to trickle during his post-fight interview.

    Vanderaa won a unanimous decision with scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.

    "Vanderaa's looking like Two-Face out there," Bisping said. "That cut is flat-out leaking."

    Earlier on the show, burly middleweights Jack Hermansson and Edmen Shahbazyan went at it on the feet for one round and on the mat for the last two and left each other a bit worse for the wear before Hermansson emerged with a unanimous decision win.

    Shabazyan, who'd won the first 11 fights of his career, has now dropped two in a row and left the cage with a jagged cut over his right eye and smaller gashes alongside fresh purple bruises around his left.

    Hermansson was less marked, but he did endure 26 significant strikes—the vast majority to the head—in a difficult first round that Shahbazyan won with a persistent left jab and sharp, flashy combinations.

    He defended two takedown attempts in the first five minutes but found himself on the mat just 30 seconds into the middle round as Hermansson laid a methodical beating on him while draining his gas tank.

    Nicknamed The Golden Boy and a former training partner of Ronda Rousey, Shahbazyan was operating on fumes in the final round and was struck 99 times—including 31 significant blows—before the final horn.

    Hermansson won 29-27 scores from all three judges.

    "I couldn't find my timing in the beginning. I felt like a beginner in there," he said. "My corner told me to stay sharp and get the clinches as soon as you can, and I managed to switch it up. I fought with urgency."

Winner: Staking Your Claim

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    Blame Joe Horn. Or maybe Terrell Owens, if you prefer.

    After all, it was those ex-NFL receivers—Horn with a flip phone, Owens with a Sharpie—who first made it a thing to execute a real-time touchdown celebration with a packed-in-advance prop.

    As of Saturday night, it had reached the UFC's preliminary ranks.

    First, Brazilian flyweight Bruno Silva took care of business with a sudden first-round erasure of Victor Rodriguez, ending things in exactly 60 seconds to record the fifth-fastest KO in division history.

    Moments later, a la his football predecessors, he campaigned for a little extra cash by holding up a hand-written sign that read "75K DANA" in an obvious plea for a post-show performance bonus. 

    Silva, who lost two fights in 2020 after a draw in his lone appearance in 2019, has won two in a row in 2021—with this one coming 63 days after a second-round stop of JP Buys.

    "I can go there and finish these guys, get paid and that's my dream. I was dreaming about this for my whole life, for 11 years. Now it's coming true," he said. "It feels awesome. I can't believe I did that. I feel so great. I just said it back there: This is the best day of my life, for sure. I feel great!"

Winner: Being Open to Change

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    It's a UFC weekend tradition.

    A card announced early in the week undergoes drastic changes by the time fight night arrives.

    This time around was no different, as two matches were scrubbed and another was scuttled.

    COVID-19 protocols prompted the cancelation of a bantamweight bout between Stephanie Egger and Sarah Alpar, while separate health issues necessitated the pulling of Damir Hadzovic from a would-be lightweight bout against Yancy Medeiros. The UFC said the latter contest will be rescheduled.

    Elsewhere, it was weight-management concerns that led to Brazilian flyweight Raulian Paiva's removal from his bout against 11th-ranked David Dvorak. Paiva was replaced by Juancamilo Ronderos, who had scored four straight wins in the Warrior Xtreme Cagefighting promotion and was making his UFC debut.

    It lasted just 138 seconds, though, as Dvorak landed a right hand that hurt Ronderos and backed him up to the fence, enabling the Czech to get into position to cinch in a one-armed rear-naked choke.

    "It was really tight, and I felt he was gone," said Dvorak, who earned his third straight UFC win and 16th in a row overall since 2012. "He grabbed my—I don't know if it was the left or right arm—but it was really tight, so I finished him just with one hand. Sometimes I need a second [hand], but it was just with one hand."

UFC Fight Night 188 Full Card Results

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    Main Card

    Rob Font def. Cody Garbrandt by unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 48-47).

    Carla Esparza def. Yan Xiaonan by TKO, 2:58, Round 2.

    Jared Vanderaa def. Justin Tafa by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28).

    Norma Dumont def. Felicia Spencer by split decision (30-27, 29-28, 28-29).

    Ricardo Ramos def. Bill Algeo by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28).

    Jack Hermansson def. Edmen Shahbazyan by unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-27).


    Preliminary Card

    Ben Rothwell def. Chris Barnett by submission (guillotine choke), 2:17, Round 2.

    Court McGee def. Claudio Silva by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 29-27).

    Bruno Silva def. Victor Rodriguez by KO, 1:00, Round 1.

    Joshua Culibao def. Shayilan Nuerdanbieke by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).

    David Dvorak def. Juancamilo Ronderos by submission (rear-naked choke), 2:18, Round 1.

    Damir Ismagulov def. Rafael Alves by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).