Ladies and gentlemen, may we present the UFC flyweight division.
Brandon Royval and Kai Kara-France treated the fans to nearly six minutes of high-speed, high-volume, multifaceted combat, with Royval ending it with a second-round submission on Saturday night at UFC 253 on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
After a blistering first round that played out like a video game -- kicks and punches from all angles, too many to keep up with, and even a rare double knockdown -- Royval came out of his corner for Round 2 with a mission in mind.
"I'm gonna pick up the pace," he said was his thinking.
Royval, whose contribution to that double knockdown had been a spinning elbow -- one of two he landed -- did appear to be operating at a slightly higher RPM than Kara-France as the second round opened. And after Royval had landed a few punches and backed his opponent against the cage, Kara-France came forward with a takedown attempt. Royval was ready.
The 28-year-old from Littleton, Colorado, immediately grabbed Kara-France's neck and secured a guillotine choke, then leaped up and wrapped his legs around his opponent's back. When they went to the canvas, Royval adjusted his submission hold to lock it in tighter. The referee jumped in at 48 seconds of the round after Kara-France, No. 8 in ESPN's rankings at men's flyweight, appeared to go unconscious.
For Royval, it was his eighth career submission win and his 11th finish in 12 wins.
"At the end of the first round, I know I got dropped twice, but I thought I won it," Royval said. "I thought, 'I'm winning this round for sure.'
"I knew after watching that whole entire card, I'm like, these 50 G's [for a performance bonus] are mine for sure. I knew that we were going to steal the show right there. Bigger show, bigger performance, more money, it's all bigger and better. The fact that I'm out here, I'm actually making my dream come true, it's the craziest thing ever. I want people ranked above me, I want Jussier Formiga or Askar Askarov specifically."
Royval and Kara-France received the bonuses for fight of the night.
Kara-France, 27 and from New Zealand, came in having won nine of his past 10.
-- Jeff Wagenheim
Israel Adesanya made it look easy against Paulo Costa, rolling to a TKO victory in the second round to retain his UFC middleweight title in the main event Saturday night at UFC 253.
The stoppage came at 3 minutes, 59 seconds.
-- Marc Raimondi
Congrats to new champ Blachowicz!! Sucks to see Reyes go out like that after a very controversial loss to Jones— Chris Weidman (@chrisweidman) September 27, 2020
The UFC's light heavyweight division might not have Jon Jones -- but perhaps, it might still have a dominant champ.
Jan Blachowicz (27-8), an overlooked slugger from Poland, defeated Dominick Reyes (12-2) via TKO at 4:36 of the second round of their light heavyweight title fight on Saturday, at UFC 253. In doing so, Blachowicz became the first man other than Jones and former champ Daniel Cormier to hold the 205-pound title since 2011.
-- Brett Okamoto
Vieira is back on track, taking her place on the short list of women's bantamweight contenders.
In what ended up being her first fight since knee surgery, Vieira outstruck and outpointed Eubanks via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) in a battle between two top women's 135-pound fighters. With the victory, Vieira tied Irene Aldana and Raquel Pennington for the second most wins (5) at women's bantamweight since 2016, the year Vieira debuted, per ESPN Stats & Information research. Two-division champ Amanda Nunes has the most during that span (7).
Damnnn these ladies killed it tonight!! S/O to Sijara for stepping up on short notice too after fighting a couple weeks ago!! Warrior 👏🏻👏🏻 #UFC253— Megan Anderson (@MeganA_mma) September 27, 2020
Vieira landed her precise right hand early and often against Eubanks, setting it up with a jab and the threat of a takedown. Vieira was able to put Eubanks on the mat in the first and land a pretty trip takedown in the second. Eubanks rallied with some hard combinations in the third and the bout ended with her going for ground-and-pound while Vieira was going for a leg lock. But largely, it was Vieira's fight in all facets.
Vieira, 29, was knocked out by Aldana at UFC 245 in December, her first career loss and her comeback fight after having surgery on both knees. Prior to that, the Brazilian wrestler was closing in on a title shot. ESPN has Vieira ranked No. 7 in the world at women's bantamweight.
"I'm like an arrow -- you've got to pull it back to go forward," Vieira said. "In December, that wasn't me. I'm here to be champion."
Eubanks, a 35-year-old Massachusetts native, had a two-fight winning streak snapped. She fought just two weeks ago, beating Julia Avila by unanimous decision Sept. 12 at UFC Fight Night: Waterson vs. Hill.
Dawodu (12-1-1) improved to 5-1 in the UFC with a split decision nod over Tukhugov (19-5-1). Dawodu earned scores of 30-27 and 29-28 from two judges, while a third saw it 29-28 in Tukhugov's favor.
The fight was definitely close throughout. It played out as a high-stakes chess match, as each featherweight looked to feint, set traps and counter off the other. According to UFC Stats, Dawodu nearly doubled Tukhugov's offensive output, out-landing him in total strikes 70-40. However, much of that discrepancy occurred in the final round, when Tukhugov inexplicably took his foot off the gas.
Fair decision. That first round could have went either way I gave it to Tuk because he was first and didn't get countered much.— Matt Brown (@IamTheImmortal) September 27, 2020
Dawodu actually screamed at Tukhugov several times in the final round, imploring the Russian to stop running and fight back. Tukhugov spent most of the last five minutes circling away from Dawodu and doing everything he could to not engage. In the end, it likely cost him an opportunity to win the fight.
Tukhugov, a teammate of lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, drops to 4-2-1 in the UFC. He was nearly cut from the promotion in 2018 after he attacked Conor McGregor in the Octagon after UFC 229, but Nurmagomedov talked the UFC into reconsidering.
Dawodu has now won five in a row, three by split decision.
"I'm not thrilled because it wasn't a very action-packed fight," Dawodu said. "I gotta go back and look how to catch all these guys running from me. Obviously there's something I'm doing that's making all these guys run, so I need to push the gas pedal a little bit more and work on cutting these guys off and really pinning them without running into a takedown, because I knew he just wanted to run and shoot on me."
Matthews' big right drops Sanchez
Jake Matthews dropped Diego Sanchez with a big right hand in the third round, helping set up a unanimous decision win.
Riddell overcame a slow start and two opponents -- Da Silva and, briefly but at a pivotal moment, referee Lukasz Bosacki -- to come on strong for his sixth straight victory.
Da Silva started the fight at fast-forward speed, landing a one-two right off the bat, then shooting for a takedown less than a minute in. He got Riddell to the canvas and kept him on the defensive for nearly all of the fight's first five minutes.
👏👏👏— Alex Volkanovski (@alexvolkanovski) September 27, 2020
But it was Riddell's fight from then on. In Round 2, he started landing combinations, none of which significantly hurt Da Silva but did slow him down. Riddell, meanwhile, did not slow down even a little, and there were stretches in the middle round when the 28-year-old from New Zealand simply could not miss with his punches.
Riddell turned up the pressure in the final round, and when he landed a left hook midway through, Da Silva backed up against the cage and dropped down, hurt. The ref jumped in -- not to end the fight but to pause it, ruling that Riddell had hurt his opponent with an eye poke. The Aussie's cornermen could be heard begging Bosacki to look at the arena video board, which showed that it was a punch, not a poke.
When the action resumed, Riddell ramped up the pressure against his 24-year-old Brazilian opponent but could not put him away. He had to settle for three scorecards of 29-28.
"I have a goal to be in the top 10 very, very shortly -- I'm talking like months away," Riddell said. "I'm going to conquer this company on all fronts. This is a game of Snakes and Ladders, and I'm taking those massive ladders to the top very, very quickly.
"It puts me, realistically, in that top 20. I deserve to be in that top 20 and have someone hanging around there. I'm sure they're all a little bit nervous for me to come knocking on their door as well, so that's where I think this puts me. This is a sports and entertainment business; it's perform and entertain. I feel like every fight I've had so far, I've performed and I've entertained, so as long as I keep doing that, bosses are going to be happy, my bank account is going to be happy, and that's the way I want it to be."
Adesanya unloads on Costa in first two rounds
Paulo Costa catches Israel Adesanya with a kick early, but it's all Adesanya for the rest of their bout at UFC 253.
Matthews caught Sanchez with a straight right hand in the third round, putting Sanchez on rubber legs against the fence. Matthews then pounced, landing hard ground-and-pound until a puddle of blood formed around Sanchez's head on the canvas.
Sanchez, known for being one of the toughest fighters in UFC history, survived the late onslaught. But Matthews was able to take home a one-sided, unanimous-decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26) win in a welterweight bout.
Matthews landed hard shots in each round, including a knee and big right hand in the first and a nice uppercut in the second. It was a lopsided bout, but Sanchez largely avoided a ton of damage until the third round.
"I was 11 years old in my lounge room watching Ultimate Fighter 1 when Diego won," Matthews said. "Now I had the honor of fighting him.
"That last bit of ground-and-pound, I was this close to apologizing to him."
Matthews, still just 26 years old, has now won three straight and six of his past seven. The Australia native debuted in the UFC in 2014, at age 19.
The legendary Sanchez, a 38-year-old New Mexico native, is in the UFC Hall of Fame for his incredible 2009 fight with Clay Guida. "The Nightmare" has lost two of his past three bouts. Sanchez is third in UFC history in terms of cage time (6:37:07), per ESPN Stats & Information research.
"You don't want to let this opportunity go, especially because when we get home we've got two weeks in hotel isolation," Matthews said. "So I didn't want to be sitting there, reading all of the hate messages on our Instagram, so it was good to get the win and it's going to make the isolation that much more enjoyable.
"This camp was unlike any other, the fight week was unlike any other, even the fight was different. We thrive in adversity, especially being Australian -- we go through so much, bush fires, drought, Melbourne probably has the hardest restrictions in terms of the pandemic at the moment, so we managed to train through that, get fight ready and make our way here and get a win, so definitely thrive in adversity.
"I haven't been the type to trash talk or call anyone out. Every name the matchmakers have given me has excited me and it's always been a good matchup for me, but the most exciting thing for me next is going home and giving my daughter a hug."
Riddell cops controversial eye-poke stoppage
Brad Riddell's corner gets vocal after a clean shot to Alex De Silva's eye sees the fight paused in the final round.
Klein (17-2) accepted the fight after Young's original opponent, Nate Landwehr, tested positive for COVID-19. Despite the short notice -- and the fact Klein missed weight during Friday's official weigh-in -- he still closed as a betting favorite over Young. And a little over one minute into the bout, he showed why.
Seriously awesome combo, that! #UFC253— #OnAmission4Gold (@KelvinGastelum) September 27, 2020
After touching Young (13-5) with the jab, Klein staggered him with a nasty left head kick. Before Young could really even cover up, Klein dropped him with a clean right-hand uppercut. Young went crashing to his back and was immediately saved by the referee, even though he came to rather quickly and ended up grabbing the referee's leg.
For Klein, it's his 16th finish in 17 career wins. It's also the ninth time he has finished an opponent inside the first round.
"It's amazing. This is my biggest dream and I am very happy that I am here in the UFC," Klein said. "This is always my style, the high kick and demolish my opponent. I am very, very happy for everything.
"Maybe problem because yesterday I didn't cut weight. I just had one week from the call from the UFC to come here. Short notice there was not so much time to cut the weight. Next time, 100 percent make weight and win fight, everything. It's amazing; this is everything for me, my dream to be the first Slovakian to go in the UFC and I am here now. All of Slovakia will watch me because this is a big, big moment for my country and for me."
Shane Young goes lights out after kick to head
Ludovit Klein kicks Shane Young in the head and follows up with a multitude of strikes to knock Young out cold at UFC 253.
A little over three weeks ago, Knight was on Dana White's Contender Series fighting his way into the UFC. On Saturday, Knight earned his first UFC win, handing Camur his first career defeat.
Knight was simply too much to handle, powering his way to four takedowns over the last two rounds and keeping Camur in dangerous positions for practically the entirety of those 10 minutes. Knight nearly got a kimura finish at the end of Round 2, but Camur was saved by the horn.
The fight went the distance -- a career first for Knight -- but was an easy call for the judges. Two of them scored all three rounds for Knight, and one judge scored it 29-28.
Knight, a 32-year-old from East Hartford, Connecticut, has won three in a row.
"I actually asked my manager, the second I won, because how fast I won on Contender Series, I was like, 'Yo if you can get me a fight as soon as possible, let me know since I'm close to fight weight,'" Knight said. "Next thing you know, we land and boom they give me an opponent, and not only that, we're going to Fight Island. I couldn't turn that down."
Camur, who turned 25 on Friday, is from Broadview, Ohio, and is a training partner of heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic.
Knight, Camur exchange strikes at end of Round 1
William Knight and Aleksa Camur hold nothing back at the end of Round 1 of their bout in the prelims of UFC 253.
Welcome back, Juan Espino.
Gone for nearly two years because of a bad hand injury, Espino returned to the UFC in a big way, stopping Hughes by submission (scarf hold choke) at 3:48 of the first round in a heavyweight bout.
Espino, a talented grappler, looked to take Hughes down right away -- and had plenty of success in doing so. He landed a takedown against the cage, then a big slam. In a scramble, Espino was able to pass to mount and then to side control, where he tied up Hughes' head and arm in a slick choke. The result was read as an arm-triangle, but it was actually a catch-wrestling-style scarf hold.
Espino, 39, won The Ultimate Fighter 28 in November 2018, beating Justin Frazier via first-round submission. The Spain native has won seven straight and has not lost since 2011. Hughes, a 32-year-old Ohio native, is winless in all four of his UFC fights.
"I'm happy. It's been a long time outside of the cage," Espino said. "But every day I never lost motivation. I focused in my training. I'm back.
"I'm a world champion in grappling. It's my first natural move is a submission. All my life I've been grappling, all my life wrestling, it's my instinct. I practice my boxing, I practice my kickboxing, I practice everything, but when I go inside and feel good with my wrestling and grappling, I go."
Marques, who has trained with the likes of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Demian Maia, won the 205-pound contest via judges' scores of 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28, but it was an ugly performance from both at times. Marques appeared fatigued as early as the opening round. Ibragimov, who fell to 0-4 in the UFC, was very inactive on the feet and committed several fouls by grabbing the fence.
Ultimately, it was Marques' work in the grappling exchanges that won him the fight. He took Ibragimov's back multiple times and threatened to secure a rear-naked choke in the second round. Ibragimov hurt Marques with an overhand right late in the fight and nearly submitted Marques with a guillotine shortly after, but that was about the extent of his offense.
Marques, 34, was initially scheduled to compete on Dana White's Contender Series this summer; however, his bout was canceled and he ended up getting the call for Fight Island.