The Real Winners and Losers from UFC on ESPN 27
Hey, didn't you used to be TJ Dillashaw?
The two-time UFC bantamweight champion, now 35, hadn't been seen or heard from around an Octagon since a first-round loss to Henry Cejudo in January 2019 and a subsequent failed drug test that yielded a two-year ban.
But the Denver-based Californian was finally back to business on Saturday night in Las Vegas, where he shared headline billing with second-ranked 135-pounder Cory Sandhagen atop an 11-bout show from the promotion's Apex facility.
Their scheduled five-rounder capped off a live broadcast on ESPN, which was carried by the team of Brendan Fitzgerald, Daniel Cormier and Dominick Cruz at the cage-side announce table, while Megan Olivi worked the room for breaking news and feature pieces.
Naturally, it wouldn't be an MMA event without the B/R combat sports team, which was in its typical weekend position to put together the authoritative list of the card's real winners and losers.
Read on to see what we came up with, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Winner: Showing Championship Mettle
Going in, both Sandhagen and Dillashaw insisted that they were championship-level fighters.
Both were right.
The No. 2 contender and the two-time titleholder went at it for the full 25 minutes, and both emerged thinking they had done enough to earn a career-advancing decision in the main event.
This time, only Dillashaw was right.
Back in the cage after an absence of more than two years, the ex-champ endured both a left-knee injury and a ghastly cut over his right eye on the way to winning a razor-thin split verdict.
All three judges scored it 48-47, with two tipping in Dillashaw's direction thanks largely to his consistent aggression, two takedowns and better than seven minutes of positional control time. The third judge gave it to Sandhagen, who had a 90-70 edge in significant strikes and scored the lone knockdown with a sneaky left hand to his opponent's chin in the second round.
B/R agreed with the dissenting scorer, also giving it to Sandhagen by a 48-47 count.
Still, it was a triumph of resilience for Dillashaw, who has gone 5-2 in seven lifetime title fights and had won two of the previous three fights in which he had gone the full five rounds.
"Daddy's getting that title belt easy," he said. "I'm here to fight. Either a title fight right away or someone else in the top five."
Six years older than his former sparring partner, Dillashaw started well and controlled much of the first round with pressure, frequently getting Sandhagen in clinch positions along the fence.
He landed some powerful ground strikes as Sandhagen went for a heel hook in the final minute of the session, apparently suffering the aforementioned knee injury at that point.
Sandhagen was more effective in the second with his movement and sharper striking.
He opened the cut over Dillashaw's eye with a right hand about halfway through the round and landed a leaping knee followed by a combination of punches in a memorable sequence in the final minute.
Dillashaw rallied in the third when he was able to get the fight in close, but Sandhagen avoided significant damage and again seemed the more effective fighter in the fourth round and down the stretch into the fifth while sniping from the outside.
Not surprisingly, he thought he had earned the win in his first five-round fight.
"I knew I made some mistakes early, but I adjusted," he said. "I never took any serious damage. But I'll admit, I didn't think he'd be able to take a shot the way he took a shot. Those are the same punches that have knocked other guys out."
Winner: Enduring Damage
"No matter who. No matter when. There will be blood."
That was the simple, graphic and brutal promise Darren Elkins made as he left the Octagon on Saturday.
And it's a statement the 37-year-old featherweight is particularly qualified to make.
Aptly nicknamed The Damage, Elkins earned the 16th victory of his UFC run and the 27th of a pro career that stretches back to 2007, enduring all manners of punishment from Darrick Minner before running his opponent's gas tank dry and taking over for a second-round TKO.
Minner aimed to secure a choke early in the fight, nearly locked in a triangle as he and Elkins tumbled to the mat and subsequently landed a series of ground strikes that left Elkins bloodied as the round ended.
Referee Mark Smith toweled away the excess blood from Elkins' torso as the second round began, and Minner attempted to continue the barrage, going for a guillotine choke as he reeled backward toward the fence.
Elkins wriggled free, though, and consequently had a positional advantage on the floor, ultimately working into a crucifix from which he pounded an exhausted Minner with dozens of unfettered blows.
A follow-up barrage prompted Smith's intervention at 3:48 of the second.
"That's what I'm built for," Elkins said. "I'm built different. Some of these guys have all the athleticism in the world. I'm tough, and I just keep coming."
Elkins finished with a 137-36 edge in overall strikes and a 20-19 margin in significant strikes.
The win gives Elkins two straight since a four-fight skid that had him pondering retirement until his family urged him to continue.
"I was thinking about it," he said. "But they believed in me. They're the reason I'm still here."
Loser: Seizing the Future
Maycee Barber looked like the next big thing.
Boldly dubbed The Future, the flyweight graduated from Dana White's Contender Series at just 20 and mowed down her first three full-fledged UFC opponents in a combined five rounds.
But the older she's gotten, the harder it's gotten.
Barber suffered a serious knee injury in her first loss against Roxanne Modafferi, dropped her return bout against Alexa Grasso 13 months later and was on the short ends of 82-38 and 47-36 margins in overall and significant strikes in a main card bout with Miranda Maverick on Saturday.
Still, thanks to some iffy judging, she managed to avoid a three-fight skid.
Now 23, Barber was awarded matching 29-28 counts on two official scorecards, overriding a 29-28 tilt in Maverick's direction on the third card and earning a split decision in their three-rounder.
"I don't agree. I thought Miranda Maverick won," Cormier said. "It was pretty clear to me Miranda Maverick won Rounds 1 and 2. If [Barber is] watching back and she's honest with herself, she will feel like, 'Oh, I got one.'"
B/R agreed with Cormier, seeing it 29-28 in favor of Maverick, 24, who entered one spot ahead of Barber at No. 13 in the flyweight rankings.
The Virginia-based southpaw had won seven fights in a row, including two straight in the UFC, and seemed to control the first two rounds with superior aggression and activity.
Barber came on as Maverick tired in the third, and she landed the best single strike of the fight, a spinning left elbow about midway through the round.
Each fighter scored one takedown, and Barber held a 2:26-1:21 edge in control time.
"I did," Barber said, when Cormier asked whether she thought she deserved the decision. "Especially with that last round. I wanted to win over the fans. I wanted to win over the judges. I knew I'd be the faster, more athletic and more elusive fighter."
Winner: Earning a Drink
Go ahead and back up the Dr Pepper truck.
Texas-based bantamweight Adrian Yanez made good on a pre-fight wager with social media rival Randy Costa, finishing him in the second round of an entertaining, back-and-forth scrap and earning himself a month's supply of his favorite beverage in his home town of Houston.
Yanez put up his love for Dr Pepper against Costa's desire for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and it looked early on as if the chocolatey treat would be making its way to Costa's hometown of Taunton, Massachusetts.
Costa had his way in the first round courtesy of a sneaky fast and consistently accurate left jab that rendered Yanez's face abraded and bloody in just five minutes. He established a 57-33 edge in significant strikes across that round, but Yanez rallied late as Costa appeared tired in the final seconds.
That trend continued in the second as Yanez became the aggressor, landing a jab of his own and following with heavy power shots that allowed him to control distance. The end came midway through the round when he landed a right and left to the body as Costa backed to the fence, then sneaked a right uppercut between Costa's high guard that instantly dropped the stricken fighter to his knees.
Yanez followed with 14 straight strike attempts, several of which landed as Costa merely held his guard and made no effort to counter the punches. The one-sidedness prompted the intervention of referee Chris Tognoni at 2:11 of the second.
"That body shot melted [Costa]," Cormier said. "He was dealing with emotions he's never dealt with before because he was getting guys out of there."
The win was Yanez's seventh in a row and bumped him to 3-0 in the UFC and 14-3 overall.
Costa is 6-2 as a pro and 2-2 in the UFC.
"I got touched up a bit," Yanez said. "I started off way too slow. He came out fast, and I wasn't ready for it. He kind of outclassed me with that jab."
Loser: Staying Perfect
Punahele Soriano was a hot middleweight commodity.
The Hawaiian-born 28-year-old arrived to Saturday night's prelim feature with an unbeaten record as a pro, including two straight victories—both by first-round finishes—since arriving to the UFC.
But Brendan Allen was less than impressed.
A winner in four of five UFC fights, including multiple trips beyond the first five minutes, Allen was determined to take his man into deeper waters by using his own multifaceted skill set.
So in a scenario where something had to give, it was Soriano's pristine resume that did.
Often reliant on mat acumen, Allen decided to stay upright and control matters with his fists and feet, doing both while avoiding danger for the majority of 15 minutes on the way to a unanimous decision.
The 25-year-old was on the receiving end of Soriano's power shots in the first round but was able to mix in enough movement and striking of his own to survive the session.
He took advantage of a tiring foe in the second, strafing Soriano's with body kicks that left the recipient's mouth hanging open as he gasped for breath.
Allen maintained his edge in the third as Soriano attempted to rally, and he wound up with a 94-66 overall margin in significant strikes, including 66-38 across the final 10 minutes.
In doing so, he earned scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 on the official scorecards, improving to 17-4 as a pro and 5-1 in the UFC.
Soriano is now 8-1 and 2-1.
"I felt a couple of [the body kicks] land pretty flush," Allen said. "My coach said keep going to it, so I kept going to it and kept doing what they told me to do."
Winner: SarJ Taking Charge
Sijara "SarJ" Eubanks was clearly tired of losing.
So the 36-year-old flyweight, who dropped two straight fights to close 2020, made sure her 2021 debut was particularly impressive and decidedly violent.
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace scored her first UFC finish in her ninth trip to the Octagon, pummeling opponent Elise Reed with myriad ground-and-pound strikes until referee Smith waved it off at 3:49.
A champion in the Cage Fury Fighting Championships promotion, Reed had her right eye closed before finding herself on her back and essentially defenseless against Eubanks' attack. She didn't return fire with any strikes of her own and was on the receiving end of 19 ground shots.
Eubanks made her UFC debut in 2018 and won two straight, including defeats of former flyweight title challenger Roxanne Modafferi and Lauren Murphy, who's due to face reigning champ Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 266 in September.
She alternated pairs of losses, wins and losses since, including the aforementioned negative results against Ketlen Vieira and Pannie Kianzad last year.
"I put more dedication and more time into my art than I ever had before," Eubanks said. "It's easy to go to the gym and work hard, but it's those between hours, at home, getting sleep, making sure you're eating clean all the time, not just in fight camp."
Loser: Clarity Among the Bantamweights
It had all the makings of a title eliminator.
Third-ranked bantamweight Aspen Ladd was set to meet No. 10 Macy Chiasson in Saturday's co-main event, with the winner taking a significant step toward dominant 135-pound champ Amanda Nunes.
Instead, Chiasson, who will turn 30 on Tuesday, was forced to pull out of the match Thursday with an injury.
She took to Instagram on Friday to specify the issue as a stress fracture in her foot that was reaggravated during a workout prior to her final weight cut, leaving her hardly able to walk.
"Unfortunately this happens in sports," she wrote. "I really want everyone to see how great I'm fighting. I'm really hoping it will get rebooked for a later date. We have worked too hard for this."
Chiasson is 8-1 as a pro and 4-1 in the UFC, including consecutive decision wins since the lone loss in September 2019. Ladd, meanwhile, is 9-1 overall and also 4-1 in the UFC, but she's not fought since stopping Yana Kunitskaya in the third round of a fight in December 2019.
Her only loss came when she was finished in 16 seconds by Germaine de Randamie in July 2019.
"I want to send out my apologies to [Ladd] and her team for the inconvenience, and I hope to get this fight rebooked," Chiasson wrote. "This is the fight I want and have been working hard for. I'm devastated to say the least."
UFC Fight Night 191 Full Card Results
TJ Dillashaw def. Cory Sandhagen by split decision (48-47, 48-47, 47-48).
Raulian Paiva def. Kyler Phillips by majority decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-28).
Darren Elkins def. Darrick Minner by TKO (punches), 3:48, Round 2.
Maycee Barber def. Miranda Maverick by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29).
Adrian Yanez def. Randy Costa by TKO (punches), 2:11, Round 2.
Brendan Allen def. Punahele Soriano by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28).
Nassourdine Imavov def. Ian Heinisch by TKO (punches), 3:09, Round 2.
Mickey Gall def. Jordan Williams by submission (rear-naked choke), 2:57, Round 1.
Julio Arce def. Andre Ewell by TKO (punches), 3:45, Round 2.
Sijara Eubanks def. Elise Reed by TKO (punches), 3:49, Round 1.
Diana Belbita def. Hannah Goldy by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).