LAS VEGAS -- If Carla Esparza's goal was to cement herself as the UFC's No. 1 strawweight contender on Saturday, she certainly did everything she could to make it happen.
Esparza (18-6) absolutely wrecked Chinese contender Yan Xiaonan (13-2) in their 115-pound co-main event, as she finished the fight via TKO at 2:58 of the second round. The fight, which took place at the UFC's Apex, could earn Esparza a title shot against the newly crowned champion Rose Namajunas.
"I am so stoked," Esparza said. "I've been working so hard on my wrestling in this camp and I've been working this last year to secure those finishes and boom, I got it."
Esparza, who fights out of Redondo Beach, California, took Yan down within the first 10 seconds of the fight, as Yan came aggressively forward. Immediately, it was clear that Esparza was far too much for Yan on the ground, as she easily maintained top position and rained down punches and elbows.
The second round was more of the same, as Esparza got on Yan's lead leg and effortlessly dragged her to the ground. She eventually moved into a crucifix position and calmly went to work with elbows until the fight was stopped.
Esparza holds a former win over Namajunas, from the UFC's inaugural 115-pound title fight in December 2014. Esparza won the championship but lost it to Joanna Jedrzejczyk in her first defense. The 33-year-old Esparza has looked terrific as of late, however, winning five in a row over some of the top names in the division.
Xiaonan was a perfect 6-0 in the UFC prior to Saturday's defeat.
-- Brett Okamoto
One of the best divisions in the UFC has a newly minted contender.
Rob Font put on one of the best performances of his career, beating former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt via unanimous decision (48-47, 50-45, 50-45) in the bantamweight main event of UFC Fight Night on Saturday in Las Vegas.
Vanderaa earned his first UFC win, really earned it. He earned it with his busy array of punches and kicks, his movement to get out of the way of Tafa's big punches, his chin when he didn't quite get out of the way of those bombs and most of all with his blood.
The 29-year-old from Hemet, California, looked like a mess by the time the fight was halfway finished, as a cut on his hairline turned his face, torso and trunks crimson. But he kept fighting, dealing out the volume to keep Tafa off him and even hurt him a few times. While Tafa was throwing everything into each punch, Vanderaa put together combinations that sometimes numbered half a dozen strikes, both punches and kicks.
All three judges rewarded his effort. Two of them gave him every round, and the other scored the bout 29-28.
Tafa, a 27-year-old Australian, has lost three of his last four. He vowed to be more patient in this fight, and at times he achieved that. But much of what he threw had the makings of a one-punch knockout, and while he connected with a few bombs, nothing he dealt out wobbled Vanderaa. Tafa just kept coming forward, and Vanderaa met him there.
-- Jeff Wagenheim
One month after missing weight by 3.5 pounds, Dumont has a new weight class and the biggest win of her career.
Dumont outpointed Spencer, a former title challenger, via split decision (30-27, 28-29, 29-28) in a competitive, back-and-forth bout. Dumont had a lot of success with her boxing in every round, rocking Spencer with a combination in the second.
"I only had three weeks to adjust to fight one of the toughest girls in the division, but I'm always ready," Dumont said.
Dumont looked good at featherweight, but said she likes to stay busy and wants to go to the UFC Performance Institute to see if she can drop back to 135 pounds. There are more opportunities at bantamweight, a much more filled-out division than featherweight.
Dumont, 30, has now won two straight after losing her UFC debut to Megan Anderson in February 2020. The Brazil native filled in for Danyelle Wolf against Spencer on Saturday. Wolf withdrew due to injury. Spencer, a 30-year-old Canadian fighting out of Florida, has lost two straight and three out of four, but coming in her only two losses came against legends Amanda Nunes and Cris Cyborg.
-- Marc Raimondi
Ramos, from Brazil, picked up one of the biggest wins of his career in a very competitive, back-and-forth fight.
The 25-year-old prospect earned a small upset over Algeo, of Pennsylvania, via unanimous decision. Takedowns might have played a major role in Ramos' victory, as he took Algeo down six times in the 15-minute fight, and at least once in each of the three rounds. Judges scored it in Ramos' favor 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.
Algeo, 31, significantly out-struck Ramos according to UFC Stats, but he did not cause much damage. Ramos might have even landed the harder shots of the two, but the wrestling was what truly dictated the bout. Ramos held his own on the feet, but dominated the grappling exchanges. He took Algeo's back twice in the opening round, although eventually lost position both times.
Ramos has emerged as a promising force in the division. He is 6-2 since signing with the UFC, off the company's "Looking for a Fight" reality series. His losses came against Said Nurmagomedov and Lerone Murphy. Algeo drops to 1-2 in the UFC.
Hermansson knew where the fight needed to take place for him to win it, and he made sure that nearly the entirety of the second and third rounds played out there.
After taking a beating in the standup in Round 1, the 32-year-old Swede, who trains in Oslo, Norway, took Shahbazyan to the canvas in the opening seconds of the second round, and it remained there until the horn. Although Shahbazyan reversed position on him late in that middle round, Hermansson was in his comfort zone.
A dominant ending to RD 3 😱 pic.twitter.com/EwmuXvmsNh— UFC (@ufc) May 22, 2021
That became even more evident in the final round, which Hermansson dominated with an early takedown, an advance into half guard and then side control, and a barrage of elbows and punches from the top that beat the fight out of Shahbazyan.
All three judges scored the bout 29-27.
Shahbazyan, who is 23 and from Glendale, California, has lost two in a row after winning the first 11 bouts of his career. He looked good early on with volume punching, and even held his own on the ground for stretches. But ultimately Hermansson, who is No. 9 in the ESPN middleweight rankings, was too much for the young fighter.
"I'm happy with my performance especially after all the adversity," Hermansson said. "I had Covid recently, and coming off from a loss, it's good to be back with a win.
"I think I showed them that I'm extremely good when I get to the ground and I don't think there is anybody out there that can hang with me when I get them down."
Ben Rothwell spoils Chris Barnett's UFC debut with guillotine choke
Ben Rothwell crashes Chris Barnett's UFC debut with a perfectly executed guillotine choke in Round 2 of their fight.
Barnett has been an entertaining heavyweight on the regional and international circuit for some time. His flare for a show came through a bit in his UFC debut, but Rothwell's size and skill was just too much.
Rothwell stopped Barnett via submission with a guillotine choke at 2:07 of the second round. Barnett, exhausted and beat up, shot for a takedown. Rothwell stuffed it and applied a technique that Rothwell has dubbed a "gogo" choke, not a traditional guillotine. Rothwell never went to his back to complete the check, instead finishing from the front on his knees.
"The UFC is another level," Rothwell said in his postfight interview. "Props to him for coming in here."
After some huge exchanges in the first round, Rothwell took Barnett down, got to his back and nearly had a rear-naked choke. But Barnett managed to pop out and return to his feet. At that point, though, Barnett was pretty winded. In the second round, both men landed hard shots and combinations, but Rothwell hurt Barnett several times with uppercuts, leading Barnett to shoot for a takedown.
"I love uppercuts," Rothwell said. "Sorry you haven't seen more of them."
Barnett was coming in on short notice when both Philipe Lins and Askar Mozharov withdrew from fights with Rothwell. Barnett, who is 5-foot-9, was giving up seven inches in height to the 6-foot-4 Rothwell.
Rothwell, 39, has won three of his last four fights. The Wisconsin native was coming off a loss to Marcin Tybura last October. Barnett, a 34-year-old fighting out of Florida, had a three-fight winning streak snapped.
McGee picked up his first win in his last four appearances -- and nearly three years -- as he outpointed Silva in convincing fashion.
A 10-year veteran of the UFC, McGee, 36, controlled the action pretty much from start to finish. He landed right hand counters early, when Silva looked to come forward, and out-grappled him for the entire 15 minutes. He came very close to finishing the fight in the second round, after working into an arm triangle at the end of the frame.
McGee still pushing FWD in the UFC! Silvia is a beast BJJ fighter, but that wrestling of Court shut it all down #UFCVegas27— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) May 22, 2021
All three judges saw it for McGee, via scores of 30-26, 30-26 and 29-27.
Silva, 38, of Brazil, came out desperate and guns blazing in the third round -- and actually had a lot of success initially. He rocked McGee with a pair of straight left hands and an overhand right, but the Brazilian was tired by then and McGee ate the shots well. McGee eventually tied Silva up and took him to the ground to neutralize the threat and seal the win.
For McGee, who fights out of Utah, it's his first victory since he beat Alex Garcia in October 2018. Silva drops to 5-2 in the UFC. He hasn't won since August 2019.
What a start to 2021 for Silva. After winning by knockout in March, he did it again two months later, crushing Rodriguez in just 60 seconds.
The 31-year-old from Brazil, who came into the year winless in three straight, landed a knee from the clinch that landed on Rodriguez's chest, causing him to back off. Silva went right in pursuit, throwing an overhand right that collapsed his opponent to the canvas, producing the stoppage at exactly the 1-minute mark -- the fifth-fastest knockout in UFC men's flyweight history.
Moments later, Silva was holding up a hand-written "75K DANA" sign, his plea to UFC president Dana White that he believes he deserves a postfight bonus. He sure made a strong case.
Rodriguez, a 28-year-old from Soldotna, Alaska, lost his second in a row after coming to the UFC on a four-fight winning streak.
For more than a year, Culibao had been looking for his first UFC victory. He nearly had one in his last fight, but it ended up being a draw.
Now, Culibao finally has what he wanted. Culibao beat Nuerdanbieke via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) in a hard-fought battle. Nuerdanbieke tried hard to get things to the ground, but Culibao staved off basically all of his attempts and kept things on the feet.
"It's been a long journey," Culibao said in his postfight interview. "I think I'm the first fighter to go one loss, one draw and then finally one win. It's a big weight off my shoulders."
Nuerdanbieke had clinch control for almost the entire first round, but once Culibao was able to break free he let his hands go. In the second round, Nuerdanbieke looked winded with all the unsuccessful attempts to get Culibao down and Culibao was able to get off with combinations. In the third round, Culibao had his most success, bloodying Nuerdanbieke's face with big right hands. Nuerdanbieke nearly had a takedown late, but Culibao escaped, got to his feet and landed a hard combination.
Culibao, 26, lost his UFC debut to Jalin Turner in February 2020. The Australia native went to a split draw last October against Charles Jourdain. Those were the only two non-victories of his career. Nuerdanbieke, a 27-year-old China native, was making his UFC debut on a two-fight winning streak.
Dvorak, 28, of Czech Republic, scored an impressive stoppage over a late-replacement opponent in Ronderos.
The flyweight prospect posted his 10th career first-round finish as he tapped Ronderos, 26, of Columbia, via rear-naked choke just 2:18 into the fight. The choke came moments after Dvorak landed a winging right hand that visibly hurt Ronderos and backed him up to the fence.
Ronderos looked for the home run in overhand right hands, but Dvorak saw them coming and expertly slipped out of the way, and landed counter shots.
Ronderos took the fight this week after Dvorak's original opponent -- 25-year-old promising prospect Raulian Paiva -- had to pull out because of weight management issues, according to the UFC.
Dvorak, who hasn't lost since 2012, went into Saturday ranked No. 11 by the UFC.
After nearly two years out of the cage, Ismagulov had a rude welcome back, getting dropped in the opening seconds by Alves, who immediately clamped on a guillotine choke.
But Ismagulov worked his neck free, doing so methodically, just as he did everything else for the rest of the 15 minutes in winning his 15th straight fight.
Ismagulov, a 30-year-old Russian who has not lost since 2015, won by decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28), as he has all but one of his past six. He landed more than twice as many strikes as his opponent, including a series of hard body shots while the fight was on the canvas. He was never in trouble, although he tired in Round 3, giving Alves a chance late in the bout.
But down the stretch Alves, who is 30 and from Brazil, simply did not have the urgency needed to turn the fight his way. As a result, his five-fight winning streak came to an end.