Saturday's UFC co-main event featured two of the featherweight division's most promising prospects, and ultimately it was Arnold Allen who prevailed.
Allen (17-1) defeated Sodiq Yusuff (11-2) via unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night inside the Apex facility in Las Vegas. The 145-pound bout was competitive, but there was no question Allen did enough to take it on the scorecards. All three judges scored the fight for Allen, 29-28.
It's a big win for the 27-year-old Allen, who fought only once in 2020 for a variety of reasons. It runs his current win streak to eight, which is the longest in the division.
Yusuff, who fights out of Maryland, pressured Allen throughout the 15-minute contest, but Allen handled it well. He used jabs and push kicks to stop Yusuff's forward motion, or ducked into takedown attempts or clinches along the fence. He knocked down Yusuff with a straight left in the opening round, and then wobbled him with a left head kick in the second.
According to UFC Stats, Yusuff actually outlanded Allen by a wide margin, 79 total strikes to just 26. Allen's blows were visibly harder, though, and he also converted two key takedowns. Yusuff certainly had his moments, but the first and second rounds belonged to Allen, especially as he hurt Yusuff during those frames.
Allen went into Saturday as the UFC's No. 10-ranked featherweight. He will likely find himself in title discussion in 2021, if he continues this streak.
"Two prospects trying to break through is always going to be a tough fight," Allen said. "It's not like when you get a young prospect fighting an old veteran. Sometimes the prospect blows away the veteran and stakes his claim. When it's two prospects, it's usually a tight matchup. All respect to Sodiq. He's tough as hell.
"I haven't had a knockout finish in a while. I know how hard I hit, but I haven't proven it to the world yet. I need to prove it. There was a lot of pressure on myself to get that finish.
"When I fight people, I don't think they give me a lot of respect. Do I get the respect off this fight? I don't know, maybe. Whatever's next."
I feel like Marvin Vettori owes me money for the blueprint! #UFCVegas23— Derek Brunson (@DerekBrunson) April 10, 2021
Fans tuning in Saturday to ABC were not watching a UFC replay, though they might as well have been.
Kevin Holland fought for the second time in the last three weeks -- and the result was almost exactly the same. Marvin Vettori took Holland down over and over en route to a comprehensive, unanimous decision (50-44, 50-44, 50-44) win Saturday in Las Vegas.
Marquez is making up for lost time.
After nearly three years away from the cage because of injuries, Marquez now has two victories in the past three months. "The Cuban Missile Crisis" finished Alvey via submission (rear-naked choke) at 2:07 of the second round.
Marquez cracked Alvey with a big right hand, then dropped him with a left. Marquez followed with punches with Alvey looking for a takedown, then he got to Alvey's back and cinched in a choke. Alvey didn't tap, he went completely unconscious.
WOW! That was a vicious sequence! Cuban Missile Crisis! #UFCVegas23— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) April 10, 2021
"I squeezed for dear life like I was trying to pop off his head," Marquez said.
Both men had moments. Marquez hurt Alvey early in the first round with a combination and Alvey put Marquez in trouble with a big left hand at the end of the first.
Marquez, 30, finished Maki Pitolo via third-round submission in February. Before that, the Kansas City native had not fought since July 2018. Marquez has won six of his past seven.
Alvey, 34, is winless in his past six fights going back to 2018.
Both fighters earned $50,000 for fight-of-the-night bonuses.
A focused, professional Mackenzie Dern is a dangerous Mackenzie Dern.
Dern, of Phoenix, picked up her fourth consecutive win by submitting Nunes with an armbar at 4:48 of the opening round. The 28-year-old strawweight has been on fire over the past year, and she has credited that to a more committed approach to martial arts. She also has found a long-term home from a training perspective, under head striking coach Jason Parillo.
There's that damn armbar again. Don't mess with her jits— Randa Markos (@randamma) April 10, 2021
Of course, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt's ground game likely will always be the strongest part of her game, and she showcased that again on Saturday. After going for a single-leg takedown, Dern tripped Nunes' other leg and quickly moved to full mount and then locked in the submission.
Dern moves into a tie with Gillian Robertson for the most submissions in UFC history for a female fighter with four. She also set a record for the strawweight division in finishes.
Nunes, 35, came up short in her first appearance since she gave birth to her daughter, Reagan, in 2020. Nunes is married to UFC double champion Amanda Nunes.
"My goal was to get a first-round submission," Dern said. "I was the underdog and she was the favorite. Getting the first-round submission just proves that everything is going well and I'm able to do everything I've been doing in training. Everything I did in the fight, we did in the warm-up room. I was happy to be able to put my game plan into this fight against such a game opponent like Nina.
"Even though this was only a one-round fight, when I land something you can still tell I get excited. Even though I'm getting calmer and I'm getting better technically, but it can be dangerous when you smell that blood like a shark in the water and try to go after it. Fighters will fire back and have counters. That's the biggest thing -- when I feel I land something, don't get so excited and go in recklessly.
"I just want to see who wins with Rose [Namajunas], Zhang [Weili], Carla [Esparza] and Yan [Xiaonan]. I know Joanna [Jedrzejczyk] doesn't have a fight, but everything depends on where I go in the rankings. I'll just see what happens, but I definitely want someone ahead of me. I'm prepared for everyone."
Dern earned a $50,000 performance-of-the-night bonus.
Rodriguez fed Perry a steady diet of one-two combinations, jabs and straight lefts. Perry's face wore every bit of Rodriguez's technical striking output, and though he never went down he found himself on the losing side of the cards.
After three rounds of essentially piecing Perry up, Rodriguez picked up a one-sided unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26) victory in arguably the most high-profile fight of his career.
Rodriguez jab is so accurate #UFConABC2— Casey Oneill (@kingcaseymma) April 10, 2021
"This is exactly what I expected," Rodriguez said in his postfight interview. "This is exactly what I wanted to do on a big stage. ... It couldn't have went any better than this."
Rodriguez peppered Perry all day with his boxing, plus left kicks to the body and the legs. He wobbled Perry with a beautiful straight left in the first round. Perry took Rodriguez down at the end of the first, but didn't do any damage. Rodriguez, a southpaw, was right back at it with his striking offense in the second, where he continued with a nice jab and mixed in a right hook. In the third, the action slowed down, but Rodriguez was still in total control.
Rodriguez, 34, has won 10 of his past 11. The Los Angeles native trains under Muay Thai standout Joe Schilling and with Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone. Perry, a 29-year-old Florida resident, has lost five of his last seven fights.
Youth overcame experience in a battle for New Jersey bragging rights.
Solecki, who was born in Wenonah, New Jersey, bested Miller, of Whippany in the same state, in a three-round unanimous decision. All three judges saw it for Solecki, via scores of 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28.
The 27-year-old showed a lot of respect towards Miller, who set a UFC record for most appearances in the Octagon with 37. It was Solecki's night, however, as he easily out-grappled Miller in the second and third rounds. The two lightweights exchanged punches early in the first round, until Miller scored a takedown and ended the frame on top. Solecki committed hard to a grappling strategy in the final two frames to leave no doubt on the scorecards.
A Contender Series alum, Solecki is now 3-0 in the UFC, with wins over Miller, Austin Hubbard and Matt Wiman. Miller continues to stay active at age 37, fighting three times in 2020. He is 1-3 in his past four.
European fans have long touted the ability of Gamrot, the former KSW lightweight and featherweight champion. Now, he has shown it on the biggest stage.
Gamrot stopped Holtzman via TKO at 1:22 of the second round in a breakout performance. Gamrot dropped Holtzman hard with a beautiful, one-two combination and then finished with hard punches on the ground. It was the first KO/TKO of his career.
"I'm coming to the top," Gamrot said in his postfight interview. "Let's go!"
Gamrot earned a $50,000 performance-of-the-night bonus.
The finish was really set up by Gamrot's wrestling. He took down Holtzman several times in the first and second rounds. With Holtzman thinking about the takedown, Gamrot absolutely rocked him with the big right hand that led to the finish. Gamrot is now training at American Top Team in Florida under coach Mike Brown and appears to be someone to watch in the 155-pound division.
Gamrot, 30, lost his UFC debut by split decision to Guram Kutateladze last October. Prior to that, the Poland native was a perfect 17-0. Holtzman, a 37-year-old Tennessee native fighting out of Arizona's MMA Lab, has dropped two straight.
Bahamondes went into his UFC debut with a good amount of hype, but Makdessi played the role of spoiler to a tee.
Makdessi, of Nova Scotia, looked a little uncomfortable early, having to deal with the 23-year-old prospect's impressive height and reach. He eventually settled in beautifully though, and nearly finished Bahamondes on multiple occasions. The lightweight fight ultimately went the distance. Two judges scored it for Makdessi 30-27 and 29-28. A third saw it for Bahamondes, 29-28.
What a scrap!! 👏 #UFCVegas23— Alex Volkanovski (@alexvolkanovski) April 10, 2021
Born in Santiago, Chile, Bahamondes came out on fire in his promotional debut, switching stances and using his 7.5-inch reach advantage to land from a distance. Makdessi turned the tide in a big way midway through the round, however, when he hurt Bahamondes with a left hand to the temple and then knocked him against the fence with a short right uppercut.
Makdessi never really lost control from that moment on. The entire fight played out on the feet, and the veteran kept the young prospect out of rhythm with his jab and short combinations. Bahamondes did rally late, as he finally pushed Makdessi backwards and placed him back on the end of his punches, but it was too little, too late. Bahamondes' face was badly bloodied and swollen by the end of the fight.
Bahamondes, who has fought at welterweight previously, missed weight for the bout by less than one pound. Still, he showcased why so many feel his ceiling could be high in the UFC. Makdessi, who has fought in the UFC since 2010, moves to 4-1 in his past five contests.
Danho had not fought in nearly five years, but there was absolutely no ring rust to be observed.
Danho crushed De Castro with a huge overhand right that put him out on impact in the first round. He followed up with a hammer fist on the ground, but it wasn't needed. Referee Mike Beltran jumped in to stop the fight at 3:02 of the first, ruling it a knockout.
"After I punched him, I see he was going down," Danho said. "It was perfect for me. ... I trained so hard, so long. Now, I'm back. I came back stronger."
It was the first time Danho, 37, had fought since September 2016, a draw against Christian Colombo. This was the Syria native's first UFC victory in three tries. De Castro, a 33-year-old Cape Verde native fighting out of Massachusetts, has lost three in a row.
"After five years to come back, it was amazing," Danho said in his postfight interview. "It's a good feeling."
Shore, of Wales, managed to keep his perfect record intact, following three competitive rounds with Contender Series alum Azure.
The bantamweight fight was exceptionally well matched, as Shore and Azure each had their moments in the striking and grappling. In the end, two judges sided with Shore via 30-27 scores, while a third had it for Azure 29-28. It is the first split decision win of Shore's career.
A former titleholder in Cage Warriors, Shore appeared to land the harder shots on the feet, particularly his right hand, but Azure was a little busier according to UFC Stats. Azure out-landed Shore in total strikes 86 to 51. The fight went back and forth all the way through the third round. Shore worked into side mount with two minutes left in the fight, only to eventually get reversed and briefly give up his back.
Saldaña was the more effective striker. Griffin nearly got a finish on the ground.
In the end, the judges gave the nod to Saldaña and his proficiency on the feet. Saldaña picked up a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) victory in his UFC debut. It wasn't a blowout. In fact, it was pretty even throughout.
Saldaña had a strong first round on the feet, landing right and left hands from various stances and a pair of leg kicks that took Griffin off his feet. Griffin got Saldaña's back in the second round and nearly finished with a rear-naked choke, but Saldaña held on and was saved by the bell. Both men were tired in the third round, but Saldaña landed some solid shots in the standup.
Saldaña, 30, has won five straight. The Iowa native, who fights out of Fight Ready in Arizona, was coming off a third-round TKO over Vince Murdock on Dana White's Contender Series last November, which earned him a spot in the UFC. Griffin, a 31-year-old Milwaukee native, has lost four of his past five fights.
Knight is pound-for-pound one of the strongest men in the UFC with one-punch knockout power to boot. Jung nullified it all with a wrestling-heavy attack.
Jung took Knight down eight times en route to a unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-27) win. Every time it appeared like Knight was having any success on the feet with big overhand rights, Jung would close the distance, wrap his arms around Knight in a body lock and trip him down to the canvas.
In his UFC run, Jung had never landed a takedown before. But he saw the weakness in Knight's game and capitalized on it -- over and over.
Jung's best round was the second. He had Knight's back, flattened him out and was raining down punches and elbows on him. Knight survived, but he was bloodied and his face was painting the canvas red while he was in that belly-down position.
Jung, 27, is unbeaten in 14 straight fights and appears to be a legit prospect in the 205-pound division. The South Korea native is 3-0-1 in the UFC with the lone blemish a draw against Sam Alvey in his last fight in October. Knight, a 33-year-old New Hampshire native, had a three-fight winning streak snapped.
No hooks? No problem.
Kasanganay latched on to a tight choke early in the second. He didn't fully take Palatnikov's back and never got his legs around him to get his hooks in. But it didn't matter. Kasanganay squeezed Palatnikov's neck with Palatnikov in the turtle position and got the tap at 26 seconds of the second round.
Kasanganay, who has been known as a striker, went to his wrestling early in the first round with some good effect. He got Palatnikov down and worked for an arm triangle. Palatnikov was able to get back to his feet and land some shots in the clinch in what was a very close opening round.
The second round didn't last long. Kasanganay landed a right hand behind Palatnikov's ear, sending him reeling. Kasanganay jumped into a choke and that was it.
Kasanganay, 27, rebounded from a highlight-reel knockout loss to Joaquin Buckley last October and has now won two of three in the UFC. The North Carolina native is now training out of Sanford MMA in Florida. Palatnikov, a 32-year-old Hong Kong native fighting out of Las Vegas, had a two-fight winning streak snapped.