UFC on Fox 20, which emanated from the United Center in Chicago, Illinois, was hit pretty hard by a range of lineup-altering issues. Despite the many adjustments its lineup experienced, however, the card turned out to be a pretty fun one.
Anchored by a women's bantamweight bout between Holly Holm and Valentina Shevchenko, and supported by appearances from veterans, prospects, and contenders alike, the card was packed to the edges with exciting finishes and competitive scraps.
Here's a recap of the madness for those who missed it!
The Main Card:
Shevchenko Outguns Holm Over Five Rounds
Chicago's main event saw former bantamweight champion Holly Holm attempt to bounce back from her UFC 196 title loss to Miesha Tate, and regain some of the mystique she gained by snuffing Ronda Rousey in 2015. Her opportunity to do so came against Kyrgyzstani muay thai specialist Valentina "Bullet" Shevchenko. The contest marked the first non-title women's bout to headline a televised UFC card.
As many expected, this fight between boxing export and muay thai specialist unfolded almost exclusively on the feet. And though Holm entered the fight as the betting favourite, she was ultimately out-struck by her smaller foe. Over the course of encounter, the former champ landed just 69 strikes, while Shevchenko connected with 110. Given that Shevchenko also came out on top in the fight's brief grappling exchanges, the judges seemed to have a pretty easy decision on their hands at the end of the fifth.
With this unanimous decision victory, Shevchenko rebounds from a competitive loss to new champ Amanda Nunes. Though she would certainly be better suited in a smaller division, she stands out as one of the bantamweight division's top dogs with a 4-1 UFC record and 13-2 mark overall.
Holm, on the other hand, stumbles onto the first two-fight skid of her career. Evidently uncomfortable when she can't find success with her counters, she'll need to make some adjustments to her game. She's now 10-2 overall, and 2-2 in the UFC.
Barboza Chops Melendez Up for Unanimous Win
The co-main event of the evening saw former Strikeforce lightweight champion and two-time UFC title challenger Gilbert Melendez look to get back on track after two losses and a PED-related suspension. His opportunity for redemption came against dazzling striker Edson Barboza, a long-time contender who finally seems to be realizing his potential.
Though Melendez was able to rock his foe on one occasion, his comeback unfortunately didn't go as he planned. Over the course of the three-round affair, Barboza did what he does best, pounding Melendez's lead leg into mush with light-speed kicks. By the time the third round ended, Melendez was barely upright, limping around the Octagon in visible pain. The end result? A clear-cut, unanimous win for the Brazilian.
In victory, Barboza extends his win-streak to two, having outgunned Anthony Pettis in his last fight. And while he's still behind a few men in the lightweight rankings, he seems to be closing in on a title shot. He's now 18-4 overall.
Melendez, meanwhile, now finds himself on the first three-fight skid of his career. Though he remains an irrefutable member of the lightweight top-10, he'll certainly have to make his next bout count. He's now 22-6 overall.
Ngannou Mauls Mihajlovic in the First
In the second of Chicago's main card bouts, French-Cameroonian destroyer Francis Ngannou met Serbia's Bojan Mihajlovic in a heavyweight bout that many considered something of a mismatch. These suspicions proved accurate.
From the moment the bout began, the towering Ngannou stalked his smaller foe, walking him down and establishing his range. Then came the right hand. Mihajlovic spilled to the canvas, and Ngannou gave him no time to recover, unleashing a meteor shower of ground-and-pound, and forcing referee Herb Dean stop the action.
With this TKO win, Ngannou reminds the world why he's considered one of the hottest prospects in the heavyweight division. He also proves he's ready for a big step up in competition—perhaps against the likes of Roy Nelson or Stefan Struve. Having finished all of his victories, Ngannou is now 8-1 overall, and 3-0 in the Octagon. Mihajlovic, meanwhile, loses for the first time in almost 10 years. He's now 10-4 in sum.
Herrig Makes Successful Comeback with First-Round Submission
The first bout of the main card came courtesy of the strawweight division; as promising-but-inconsistent prospect Kailin Curran took a big step up in competition against the veteran Felice Herrig.
This time around, experience trumped potential in a big way, as Herrig scored a quick win in front of her hometown fans. It began with a punch that buckled her foe's knees, and ended ended in the following moments with a tight rear-naked choke. The tap occurred at the 1:59 mark of the first.
The win separates Herrig from lopsided loss to Paige VanZant and marks her successful return to action after well over a year on the shelf. She's now 11-6 overall, and 2-1 across 3 UFC bouts. Curran, meanwhile, returns to the loss column after a December defeat of Emily Kagan. Clearly not prepared for a step up of this size, its now back to the drawing board for the 25-year-old. She'll return to Hawaii with a 4-3 cumulative record, and a tough 1-3 mark in the Octagon.
Wineland Snipes Saenz for Third-Round TKO
The prelims were wrapped up by compelling bantamweight showdown. In one corner, we had Frankie Saenz, the division's 12th-ranked fighter. In the other we had Eddie Wineland, a 33-fight veteran and the first-ever WEC bantamweight champ.
In advance of this contest, there seemed to be a widespread opinion that Wineland was on the way out. Yet in the end, the veteran scored a marquee win over a very relevant fighter.
In both rounds one and two, Wineland was able to stun his foe with punches, but chose a patient approach rather than rushing in for the finish. In round three, however, Wineland cracked Saenz in the temple with a right hand off the slip, and this time, he didn't let up. The TKO materialized in the following seconds, as a dazed Saenz struggled to stay upright against the cage.
The victory marks Wineland's first since a January 2014 defeat of Yves Jabouin. It pushes his overall record to 22-11-1, while his Octagon record now stands at 4-5. Saenz, on the other hand, now finds himself on a two-fight skid, having lost his next most recent bout to Urijah Faber. He's now 11-4 in sum, and 3-2 since joining the UFC in summer 2014.
Elkins Scores Vintage Elkins Win Over Pepey
The the second last bout of the undercard paired Team Alpha Male's Darren Elkins with the always exciting Godofredo Pepey in an exciting featherweight booking.
Though Pepey put up a good fight, he ultimately found himself where so many featherweights have before: underneath Darren Elkins, absorbing a ceaseless onslaught of ground-and-pound. By the time the fight had ended, the Brazilian had absorbed nearly 150 total strikes, whilst surrendering almost 12 minutes of control time to his opponent. Needless to say, he'd done more than enough to sway the judges.
With this unanimous decision win, Elkins stretches his streak to three, further distancing himself from a late 2014 loss to Hacran Dias. Though he's certainly no spring chicken, the American is clearly making big strides at Team Alpha Male. He's now 21-5 overall. Pepey, meanwhile, has a three-fight streak snapped by the loss. He's now 12-4 overall, and 4-4 on the sport's biggest stage.
Usman Smothers Yakovlev for Dominant Victory
When he stepped onto the canvas in Chicago, TUF 21 winner Kamaru Usman sought to extend his win-streak to 7. His opportunity to do so came against Russian rapper-turned-fighter Alexander Yakovlev.
It wasn't pretty, but Usman was able to accomplish this mission in a fairly dominant fashion, dragging his foe through grappling hell to amass more than 13 minutes of control time. Considering Yakovlev also had a point deducted for a first-round fence grab, there could be no other outcome than an Usman unanimous decision. All three judges scored it 30-25 for the Nigerian-American.
With the win, Usman vaults to 8-1 overall, and stays perfect in his first three bouts with the UFC. Though "thrilling" isn't the first word that comes to mind when discussing his fighting style, his skill is impossible to deny. Yakovlev, in contrast, will return to Russia with a 2-3 UFC record and a 23-7-1 overall record.
"Tractor" Prazeres Steamrolls Cottrell
The first televised bout of the night occurred in the lightweight division. In one corner, we had the streaking JC Cottrell, who was stepping up to replace an injured Tony Martin. In the other, we had powerful Brazilian Michel Prazeres; built like a tractor and nicknamed accordingly.
The story of this fight was Prazeres' grappling. Over the course of the three-round affair, the stocky Brazilian landed 7 takedowns, and amassed almost 6 and a half minutes of control time. As a result, Cottrell was unable to land any meaningful offense of his own. The end result, then, was a clear-cut decision win for Prazeres.
In victory, Prazeres builds on the momentum of a decision defeat of Valmir Lazaro. He's now 4-2 in the Octagon, and a fantastic 20-2 overall. Cottrell, on the other hand, has a 6-fight streak snapped by the loss. He's now 17-4 in sum.
Oliveira Batters Moontasri to Well-Earned Decision
The Fight Pass Prelims were wrapped up by an exciting welterweight bout between Brazil's Alex "Cowboy" Oliveira and Taekwondo expert James "Moonwalker" Moontasri.
Though this one was very nearly ended by an inadvertent strike to Moontasri's groin in the first, it ultimately ended up in the hands of the judges. Having witnessed Oliveira's dominance in top position and the clinch, those judges had a pretty easy decision on their hands. All three gave all three rounds to the Brazilian cowboy.
With the win, Oliveira distances himself from a submission loss to the UFC's other Cowboy, Donald Cerrone. He's now 4-2 in the UFC, and 14-4 in sum. Moontasri, meanwhile, drifts back to the loss column after a highlight reel KO of Anton Zafir. He's now 9-4 overall, and 3-2 in the UFC.
Knight Edges Alers in Wild Scrap
Bout two occurred in the featherweight division as submission specialist Jim Alers took on a fired up Titan FC veteran in Jason Knight.
With several hectic exchanges on the feet, a handful of wild scrambles, a near wardrobe malfunction, plenty of blood, and lots of in-fight trash talk, this action-packed fight had a little bit of everything. When all was said and done, however, Knight had been the busier, more effective man in the cage—enough to earn him a split decision win.
With the decision victory, Knight rebounds from a loss to Tatsuya Kawajiri in his UFC debut. He's now 17-2 overall, and 1-1 in the Octagon. Alers, meanwhile, falls to 13-3 overall, and now sits at 1-2 with one no contest in the UFC.
Henrique Taps Smoliakov in the Second
The first bout of the night came courtesy of the heavyweight division as debuting Russian Dmitry Smoliakov took on the youngest fighter on the card in 22-year-old Brazilian Luis Henrique.
Despite his youth, this one was all Henrique. After rocking his foe in the first, the Brazilian sealed the deal in the second, tapping his exhausted foe with a rear-naked choke.
With the win, Henrique rebounds from a knockout loss to Francis Ngannou in his UFC debut. He's now 9-2 overall and 1-1 in the Octagon. Smoliakov, meanwhile, loses for the first time and really couldn't have looked any worse in doing so. He's now 8-1 in sum.
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