ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It was a fight that was booked last November, planned again earlier this year and, for several reasons, didn't happen. Until now. And the finished product was even better than expected. Paulo Costa beat Yoel Romero by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) in a key middleweight fight at UFC 241 on Saturday. But the scores were hardly the story. The fans at Honda Center, who were pro-Romero all night, booed Costa afterward. That was unfortunate, because of the kind of battle both men put forth.
From the opening bell, Romero and Costa threw haymakers. Both were dropped in the first round, and Costa was later bloodied. The third round was perhaps one of the best of all time. The fight itself was a surefire fight of the year contender.
Costa had his hand raised at the end and said he would be waiting for the UFC middleweight title. Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya will unify the belt at UFC 243 on Oct. 6 in Melbourne, Australia.
"After this fight, I want my chance to prove I am the champion," Costa said.
Maybe he will. It was a heck of an effort to survive Romero. Costa rocked Romero in the first, only for Romero to come right back with a left hand and drop him. The body work Costa put in throughout, beginning early on and a ton in the second round, definitely helped him as the bout wore on.
There was one wild sequence in the first round. Romero landed a combination against the cage on Costa and backed up. Costa shrugged his shoulders and pantomimed Romero to come back. Romero wanted it in the center of the cage, so Costa came out and landed a right hand to the face.
Throughout, whenever Costa would land or Romero would slip a shot, Romero would stick his tongue out. In the third, a bloody Costa did the same thing right back to him. At one point in the third, they both put their hands behind their backs and challenged the other. Then they commenced throwing big bombs.
Costa (13-0) has won all five of his UFC fights and until now he had knocked all his previous opponents out. The 28-year-old had never gone to the judges before. Romero (13-4) has lost three of four, but those losses were to Costa and Whittaker. At 42 years old, the former Olympic wrestling silver medalist remains one of the most dangerous men in the middleweight division.
The story here was very clear. Benitez felt out Yusuff early, trying to find the range to land his beautiful straight left hand. And he did, rocking Yusuff with several of those punches. Yusuff, though, made an adjustment of his own. When Benitez went for the straight left later in the first round, Yusuff countered with a right hook -- and the fight was over soon after.
Yusuff dropped Benitez with that right hand, then followed up on the ground with hard shots for a TKO victory at 4:14 of the first.
"I'm Nigerian, baby," Yusuff said. "We're built for struggle. This is what we do."
Yusuff (10-1) has won five straight bouts, including three of those in the UFC. The 26-year-old, who now lives in Maryland, is one of four Nigeria-born fighters currently in the UFC, including UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and UFC interim middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. Those four fighters, which also includes Kennedy Nzechukwu, are a combined 19-1 in the UFC. Benitez (21-7), a 31-year-old Mexico native, had his two-fight winning streak snapped.
Considering the opening seconds, it was a fight that could not have gone better for Brunson. After Heinisch cracked him with a head kick to begin the bout, Brunson was able to weather the storm and take over from there in a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) victory. Brunson pressured Heinisch, landed some hard left hands and takedowns the rest of the way.
There was a bizarre occurrence in between the second and third rounds. Polarizing UFC welterweight Colby Covington arrived to his seat at Honda Center to loud boos. Covington, who was wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat, received chants of "Colby sucks!" and "F--- you, Colby!" thereafter. The crowd seemed distracted by Covington's presence and not interested in the actual fight in the Octagon.
Brunson (20-7) has now won two in a row. The 35-year-old North Carolina native, now training out of Hard Knocks 365, came in as a +130 underdog. Heinisch (13-2), a 31-year-old Colorado native, had a five-fight winning streak snapped. This was his first career UFC loss.
It was a performance Worthy of a bright UFC future. Worthy dropped Smith with a big counter left hook-right hand combination and finished on the ground for a TKO victory at 4:15 of the first round. The most incredible thing about it? Worthy took the fight on short notice -- just four days ago -- when Smith's previous opponent Clay Collard withdrew.
The victory was the biggest upset of the year in the UFC. Worthy came in as a +650 underdog. It was Worthy's first first-round finish in his past 12 bouts.
Worthy and Smith have known each other for years and have trained with each other. Worthy said the younger Smith will come back and have a strong UFC run, but "I've got a family -- I've gotta get paid."
Worthy (15-6) has won six straight bouts. This was the UFC debut for the 32-year-old Pennsylvania native. Smith (10-2), a 26-year-old Ohio native, had his six-fight winning streak snapped.
Worthy hyped to talk with Rogan after upset win
Khama Worthy gets pumped up after upsetting Devonte Smith and calls for a performance bonus. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Add the name Sandhagen to the list of fighters angling for Henry Cejudo.
In a comprehensive performance, Sandhagen beat Assuncao by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28). Assuncao, a stalwart at bantamweight, has rarely been overwhelmed in a fight the way he was against Sandhagen, who mixed things up well on the feet, chewed up both of Assuncao's legs with kicks and defended most of Assuncao's takedown attempts.
In the first round alone, Sandhagen landed 25 significant strikes, the most Assuncao has absorbed in a single round in his UFC career, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"I know how good I am," Sandhagen said. "And I know it's going to take a little while for people to learn how good I am."
Coming in, Sandhagen was ranked No. 10 in ESPN's bantamweight rankings. Assuncao was No. 5. So, this was a significant victory for Sandhagen's future title contender hopes.
Sandhagen (12-1) has won seven bouts in a row, including the first five of his UFC career. The 27-year-old Colorado resident has not lost since 2017. Assuncao (27-7) has now lost two straight. The 37-year-old Brazilian, who lives and trains in Georgia, fell to Marlon Moraes by first-round submission at UFC Fortaleza in February.
Sandhagen bounces back from nasty takedown
Raphael Assuncao drops Cory Sandhagen on his back but he quickly recovers and pushes Assuncao against the cage. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Klose pulled out a close one.
He was in trouble in a rear-naked choke in the second round, but Klose rallied for an impressive comeback victory over Giagos via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28). Klose escaped the choke and immediately turned up the pressure on a tiring Giagos; while he ate some right hands, Klose landed a combo, took Giagos down with a trip and landed a ground and pound attack.
The bout turned into a brawl in the third round. Klose landed some very nice uppercuts in the clinch, as well as a slam while Giagos attempted a kimura.
Klose (11-1-1) has won three in a row and five of six in the UFC. The 31-year-old Arizona resident has won his last six fights by decision. Giagos (17-8), a 29-year-old California native, had his two-fight winning streak snapped.
Klose slams Giagos with authority
Drakkar Klose lifts Christos Giagos onto his back and slams him to the mat with serious power. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Being the smaller man didn't matter much here.
In a bout that was moved up to a 140-pound catchweight Friday morning from bantamweight, Kennedy bested the previously undefeated Bermudez, the bigger guy, by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28). The UFC decided to move up the weight limit of the bout due to both men struggling to hit 135, but Kennedy said he only weighed 145 pounds in the cage.
Kenney actually won the bout with his wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu against Bermudez, a submission specialist. Over the first two rounds, Kennedy was able to outgrapple the grappler. Bermudez found his success in top position in the third, but it was too late.
"I knew my grappling was world class," Kenney said.
Kenney (13-1-1) is 2-0 now in the UFC and has won six straight overall. The 28-year-old Arizona resident hasn't lost since dropping a bout on Dana White's Contender Series in 2017. Bermudez (14-1), a 25-year-old prospect from Massachusetts, came in with six straight victories via submission. Bermudez weighed north of 164 pounds today after hitting the scale at 140 pounds Friday at weigh-ins, according to the California State Athletic Commission.
Manny Bermudez weighed north of 164 pounds today after hitting the scale at 140 pounds Friday at weigh-ins, according to the California State Athletic Commission. That's about 17 percent over the contracted weight and the bout with Casey Kenney was initially scheduled for 135.
Kenney calls out a pair of legends for next fight
After defeating Manny Bermudez, Casey Kenney gets on the mic to call out Urijah Faber and Frankie Edgar. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Five months after breaking her arm in the Octagon, Cifers is back with another win.
"Shockwave" defeated Esquibel by unanimous decision (30-28, 30-27, 30-27) in a strawweight fight closer than those scores would indicate. Each round was tight, though it was clear the judges felt that Cifers landed the harder shots throughout.
Cifers nailed Esquibel with some good right hands in the first round and had some good shots in a scramble in the second. The second also saw Cifers try to get Esquibel in a triangle and omoplata, but Esquibel escaped. In the third, Esquibel was able to control Cifers on the ground for a decent duration.
Cifers (10-3) has won two in a row after dropping her UFC debut. The 27-year-old North Carolina native has only lost to fellow UFC prospects Maycee Barber and Gillian Robertson in the past two years. Esquibel (6-6), the 33-year-old New Mexico native, has dropped four straight.
Esquibel escapes the clutches of Cifers
Hannah Cifers attempts a submission but Jodie Esquibel is able to slip out. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
It wasn't a perfect fight for "Mr. Perfect." But it was enough to get the nod.
Kang beat Davis by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) in a back-and-forth bout with some fun striking exchanges and solid ground work. Kang dropped Davis with a right hand in the first round and was able to control him on the ground in the third. In the second, Davis had some nice moments, wobbling Kang on several occasions with hard punches.
Kang (16-8, 1 NC) has now won two straight and he's a shoo-in to be on the UFC's card in South Korea in December. The 31-year-old fighter has won five or six overall. Davis (10-6), a 29-year-old Mississippi resident, has lost four of six.
Kang drops Davis with big right hand
Kyung Ho Kang catches Brandon Davis on the chin with a powerful right hand to send him to the mat on his backside. Order UFC 241 here https://plus.espn.com/ufc/ppv.
It's rare to have a more dominating performance like the one Mazo did without a finish.
The blue-chip Colombian prospect rocked Dobson with a body kick in the first, ate her up in the clinch in the second and hammered away with knees from a Thai clinch in the third en route to a unanimous decision (30-24, 30-25, 30-25) victory. The result was the most lopsided of any women's fight in UFC history. Dobson put forth almost no offense, although she was never really close to being finished.
Mazo (7-1) fell in her UFC debut to Maryna Moroz by unanimous decision at UFC Philadelphia in March. The 22-year-old Kings MMA product made her name with two head-kick knockouts in LFA. Dobson (3-3), a 30-year-old Washington, D.C., resident, has dropped two in a row after winning her UFC debut in 2017.
Heavy leg kicks from Mazo spell danger for Dobson
Sabina Mazo lands a powerful kick to the body of Shana Dobson to back her up against the cage, then scores a nice takedown after a flurry of punches. Order UFC 241 here https://plus.espn.com/ufc/ppv.